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By Dan Austin /

Damaraland, Namibia

Arrived back in Windhoek early evening, just in time to catch up with our new traveling companions for the week.

It was actually quite a treat to put faces to “emails”.  Some of these folks I have known for many years and actually never met.  A fascinating group, Representatives from World Wildlife Foundation (both Namibia based and stateside), an old friend from Natural Habitat (a premier tour operator), Investment bankers, looking to learn a bit more about the conservancies  and of course our new friends from Wilderness Safaris.

After introductions and dinner we returned to the comfort of Maison Ambre Guest House.

Seems like the sun shines bright every morning in Namibia and today was no exception. Shortly after breakfast we all left for a 1.5 flight to Damaraland in a Cessna Caravan.

Going to be an amazing 6 days. This group of like minded travelers were all hand picked to add a wide range of skill sets and contacts to the mix.  Our goal as I understand it (we know more as the story unfolds) is to bring fresh new light to not only Namibia, but the good work the country is doing with local conservancy groups.  This is truly an “educational” tour for me!

As I learn more, I will break down what exactly is a conservancy and how they directly benefit the “locals”. For now, its sit back and enjoy the flight, northwest over the Erongo Mountains. We land at the Damaraland air strip and shuttle to the lodge for lunch.

Leeana our host (and camp manager) joined us for lunch and shared with great pride her 17 years of working at the lodge.  The Damaraland Conservancy was one of the first in Namibia.  She went on to explain the partnership with Wilderness Safaris and how she and the locals look at the lodge as their own.   How in partnership they work to Train and Educate the staff and support all in the village.  She boasted of having a pension and medical benefits. In return the village leases the land for the lodge and enforces the game laws to insure wildlife for all to enjoy.

In short a conservancy is a partnership between, in this case Wilderness Safaris and the village.  Wilderness builds the lodge, trains the villagers, manages the camp in a 60/40 partnership.   The community puts up the land. The land is leased to the conservancy in 10 year leases. She clearly understands at articulates well the symbiotic relationship between the lodge and village.  She laughs when she explains her now 8 year daughter has the bed she did not.  She shared she did not get shoes until she was in her teens, but now smiles and states her children will always have shoes.

She reminisces as a teen barefoot and hearding goats and all she really wanted was a job. A dream realized when 17 years ago she joined Wilderness.

She beams as she tells the stories of “climbing the ranks” and laughs as she proclaims “I will never have to heard goats again”.  “Now we can afford to hire a goat herder”.

She goes on to point out she was the first black manager since independence.  She tells us of an exchange program where she was invited to US to work in a Ramada Inn.

Proceeds from the lodge (the Conservancy)  supports many aspects of the community. Including game guards, vehicles, schools, pensions for the elderly, health care and so much more.  Leanna expects Wilderness will turn the entire lodge over to the community within the next 20 years. She held our attention well into the afternoon.

But in addition to learning about conservancies, we are here to see game and  Its early afternoon and the game awaits… We headed down to the river bottom, the perfect habitat for the desert elephant. In route we saw plenty of planes game:oryx, springbuck to name a few.

Once at the river bottom it didn’t disappoint.  It didn’t take long to pick up “sign” in the soft sand.  Then the first two, a small bull and newborn.   Then we “cuit the traoil” of a dozen or so.  We shot ahead and waiting as the herd approached our jeep allowing amazing shots in the setting sun.

Back to “camp”, a hearty dinner and good conversation around the campfire awaits.

I should note, the camp is typical in over the top luxury as only Wilderness can pull it off!

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings,

Dan Austin

Dan Austin

Written by: Dan Austin

Born and bred into the outdoor life in California, Dan Austin is the Founder and President of Austin Adventures.

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