Going Wild in Namibia; as Prince William Honours Giants in Conservation at the Tusk Awards. SARAH MARSHALL Samples an Unconventional Introduction to Namibia with One of Last Year's Winners I Illi H It I Ti T Th K

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), December 3, 2016 | Go to article overview

Going Wild in Namibia; as Prince William Honours Giants in Conservation at the Tusk Awards. SARAH MARSHALL Samples an Unconventional Introduction to Namibia with One of Last Year's Winners I Illi H It I Ti T Th K


COILING and curving like swirls of bent iron, hardy welwitschias burst through the rust red basalt landscape. Living for more than 1,000 years, Namibia's national plant crawls slowly from somewhere deep inside the Earth's core only to gradually wither away. There is, after all, plenty of time to grow old in the desert.

One of the least densely populated countries in the world, Namibia is vast and frequently empty; the kind of place you could spend all day travelling to get nowhere.

I'm here to explore the northwest region on a very unconventional safari with conservationist Garth Owen-Smith, a man who doesn't like to do anything by the book.

Crammed into a clattering 4WD with a Jack Russell perched on the dashboard and two over-excited Staffordshire terriers licking my face, we head inland from the mistshrouded Skeleton Coast with no clear plan in mind.

Fog thins to reveal ochre sand dunes latticed with oryx trails and rows of gnarled, prehistoric welwitschias, and very soon I've lost my bearings completely.

Rugged and sun-crisped like the land he inhabits, 72-year-old Garth is a man of the bush.

Although born in South Africa, he's been living in Namibia since the Sixties and his work with local communities has earned him numerous awards, including last year's prestigious Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, presented by the charity's royal patron Prince William.

Garth was instrumental in getting conservancy legislation written into Namibia's constitution, making it one of the most environmentally progressive countries in Africa, and in 2010 he set up Conservancy Safaris Namibia with long-term partner, anthropologist Margaret Jacobsohn.

The couple act as trustees for the company, with profits divided between the stakeholders, five Himba communities.

Although there's no set itinerary, our journey will gently wend through the Kunene Province, a wild, remote region where Garth feels most at home.

Over time, the landscape changes slowly. Red becomes black as we drive through abandoned mining areas where shiny dolomite columns soar like organ pipes and the presence of petrified tree logs defies explanation. Veiled mountain peaks fade into infinity as prancing, dust-churning springboks are silhouetted against a setting sun.

Our simple camp for the night is in the dry Huab riverbed. A support team erects tents and prepares dinner for a group of five tourists; Garth only guides small groups and past guests have included members of the wealthy Rothschild and Goldsmith families.

It's a world away from a sumptuous, five-star safari set-up, but the closest you'll get to really understanding Africa's wildlife and people.

Although Garth aims to educate, his teachings are never didactic.

Instead, it's a slow reveal; a sprinkling of shared insights, allowing people to draw their own conclusions.

This mostly takes place around the campfire, as the night sky glitters with stars.

Puffing on a pipe, Garth tells us about his work with communities and the NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, which he and Margie set up in 1983.

Back then Namibia was in the throes of a poaching crisis and people felt disconnected from wildlife. It belonged to the government.

Margie and Garth believed the solution lay with communities, the Himba, Herero and Damara tribes. It was vital they regained stewardship of their environment.

"No-one takes responsibility unless you give them responsibility," says Garth, with a glinting, intent look in his eyes. "No-one was listening to the communities, and we changed that."

dwe " Their hunch proved right, and within two years rhino poaching stopped in Kunane.

In 2000, 40% of the world's black rhino population resided in Namibia and people are able to track them on foot in the arid, rubbly Damaraland region. …

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