Namibian

Erongo mountain sanctuary raises bar for conservation

News – National | 2018-01-26

Page no: 6

by Adam Hartman

EXPANSE … The 180 000-hectare Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary is a pristine world-class wilderness conservation project, surrounded by the Erongo mountains.

BEFORE concerns became public over four problem lions relocated from the Kunene region to the Erongo region last November, the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary (EMRS) was fairly unknown – something its members preferred, for obvious reasons.

Besides succeeding in reviving the numbers of many indigenous animals over the past two decades, the sanctuary is also considered a world-class haven for the highly endangered black rhino.

Since its establishment 20 years ago, EMRS has managed an unprecedented success rate in ensuring the adoption, accommodation, protection and revival of black rhinos – under the government’s rhino protection programme. Due to this, the sanctuary is a world-class wilderness conservation project.

“It is a very sensitive matter, and for us to give exact figures will be too risky as it may attract the wrong attention,” said founding member and chairman of EMRS, Kai-Uwe Denker.

But the success of the rhino is not all there is to the sanctuary.

NEW WAY

In the years before Namibia’s independence, cattle farmers enjoyed good subsidies from the South African government to keep on occupying the farms in the area – for political reasons.

Farmers now admit that the mountainous area, surrounded by Usakos, Karibib and Omaruru, is not for cattle production.

Nevertheless, cattle farmers dominated, and wildlife disappeared. Come independence, the subsidies dried up, and so farming was no longer viable for many of the cattle producers.

Those who did not sell and move on stayed and became converted conservationists, introducing a new way forward that would capitalise on conservation with a unique, holistic approach.

With the blessing of government, EMRS was established in 1998 – but it remains a private initiative.

An agreement between the 24 member farmers and 12 incorporated supportive non-member farmers (most of whom have businesses in trophy-hunting, guest houses, camps, game drives and walking trails), is that all fencing separating the different farms be removed.

“Not only does this create a true wilderness that had not been pedicured, but also allows game – from predator to prey, to roam freely,” said Hubert Herzog, who is the treasurer and also a founding member.

It is also one of the reasons why the sanctuary has had success in the revival of indigenous wildlife on the 180 000 hectares. Wildlife can roam freely using mountainous and ecotone habitats by ‘migrating’ according to seasonal conditions”.

“It’s a big place. Sometimes rain is better on one side, so there is always food,” the treasurer said.

SECURITY FOR ALL

Thanks to the rhino, other game also enjoy special protection, which is another reason for the success. The main road through the sanctuary, which is open to the public, is gated at the two entry/exit points, east and west of the refuge.

Security officers stationed there record particulars of entrants’ vehicles. Closed-circuit television also monitors the gates.

There are security fences along the eastern and northern borders of the sanctuary, while the mountains also create a natural boundary to the west and south.

The fences keep criminals out, and they keep animals from venturing into nearby communities at Omaruru.

This does not mean animals cannot move in and out of the sanctuary, though. Besides the mountain, the west is fairly open, allowing even elephants to step in and out of the refuge from Kunene.

Then there are the experienced and trained anti-poaching unit members living in the sanctuary. They are employed solely for the protection of the animals – all paid by the member farmers.

With these security features, and the daily aerial patrols by farmers in the gyro-copters, criminals, especially poachers, have little chance to kill and steal.

There were poaching incidents in the past, but these were mostly for meat, and involved snares. This past year, there had been no incidents.

NUMBERS

Although no detailed comparative data for the years since 1998 was available at the time of going to print, a background study in 2017 gives some indication of EMRS’ conservation success.

It must be noted that rabies had a significant impact on kudus in the past, while the recent drought devastated animal numbers by 60%.

There are about 10 000 animals in the sanctuary, which include zebra, kudu, oryx, warthog, springbok, impala, eland, giraffe, wildebeest and hartebeest. It also has hyena, leopard and cheetah.

Some of the animal populations were built up from zero after they were reintroduced in the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is also viable for lions, as there are enough prey and space.

EMRS proposed to government in 2016 that it was willing to take problem lions, as this would benefit the ecosystem.

Unfortunately, due to objections from a handful of farmers who are not members of the sanctuary, the recent relocation of four problem lions from Kunene has been reviewed, with them now having to be relocated again – this time to Etosha National Park.

Besides succeeding in reviving the numbers of many indigenous animals over the past two decades, the sanctuary is also considered a world-class haven for the highly endangered black rhino.

Since its establishment 20 years ago, EMRS has managed an unprecedented success rate in ensuring the adoption, accommodation, protection and revival of black rhinos – under the government’s rhino protection programme. Due to this, the sanctuary is a world-class wilderness conservation project.

“It is a very sensitive matter, and for us to give exact figures will be too risky as it may attract the wrong attention,” said founding member and chairman of EMRS, Kai-Uwe Denker.

But the success of the rhino is not all there is to the sanctuary.

NEW WAY

In the years before Namibia’s independence, cattle farmers enjoyed good subsidies from the South African government to keep on occupying the farms in the area – for political reasons.

Farmers now admit that the mountainous area, surrounded by Usakos, Karibib and Omaruru, is not for cattle production.

Nevertheless, cattle farmers dominated, and wildlife disappeared. Come independence, the subsidies dried up, and so farming was no longer viable for many of the cattle producers.

Those who did not sell and move on stayed and became converted conservationists, introducing a new way forward that would capitalise on conservation with a unique, holistic approach.

With the blessing of government, EMRS was established in 1998 – but it remains a private initiative.

An agreement between the 24 member farmers and 12 incorporated supportive non-member farmers (most of whom have businesses in trophy-hunting, guest houses, camps, game drives and walking trails), is that all fencing separating the different farms be removed.

“Not only does this create a true wilderness that had not been pedicured, but also allows game – from predator to prey, to roam freely,” said Hubert Herzog, who is the treasurer and also a founding member.

It is also one of the reasons why the sanctuary has had success in the revival of indigenous wildlife on the 180 000 hectares. Wildlife can roam freely using mountainous and ecotone habitats by ‘migrating’ according to seasonal conditions”.

“It’s a big place. Sometimes rain is better on one side, so there is always food,” the treasurer said.

SECURITY FOR ALL

Thanks to the rhino, other game also enjoy special protection, which is another reason for the success. The main road through the sanctuary, which is open to the public, is gated at the two entry/exit points, east and west of the refuge.

Security officers stationed there record particulars of entrants’ vehicles. Closed-circuit television also monitors the gates.

There are security fences along the eastern and northern borders of the sanctuary, while the mountains also create a natural boundary to the west and south.

The fences keep criminals out, and they keep animals from venturing into nearby communities at Omaruru.

This does not mean animals cannot move in and out of the sanctuary, though. Besides the mountain, the west is fairly open, allowing even elephants to step in and out of the refuge from Kunene.

Then there are the experienced and trained anti-poaching unit members living in the sanctuary. They are employed solely for the protection of the animals – all paid by the member farmers.

With these security features, and the daily aerial patrols by farmers in the gyro-copters, criminals, especially poachers, have little chance to kill and steal.

There were poaching incidents in the past, but these were mostly for meat, and involved snares. This past year, there had been no incidents.

NUMBERS

Although no detailed comparative data for the years since 1998 was available at the time of going to print, a background study in 2017 gives some indication of EMRS’ conservation success.

It must be noted that rabies had a significant impact on kudus in the past, while the recent drought devastated animal numbers by 60%.

There are about 10 000 animals in the sanctuary, which include zebra, kudu, oryx, warthog, springbok, impala, eland, giraffe, wildebeest and hartebeest. It also has hyena, leopard and cheetah.

Some of the animal populations were built up from zero after they were reintroduced in the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is also viable for lions, as there are enough prey and space.

EMRS proposed to government in 2016 that it was willing to take problem lions, as this would benefit the ecosystem.

Unfortunately, due to objections from a handful of farmers who are not members of the sanctuary, the recent relocation of four problem lions from Kunene has been reviewed, with them now having to be relocated again – this time to Etosha National Park.

FARMER BENEFITS

So, besides enjoying a wilderness and successful conservation project at own expense, what is ‘in it’ for the farmers?

“It’s a symbiosis. Not only is Namibia’s famous wilderness being preserved, but species which were previously driven out or endangered have been revived, and are protected. This is what most people want. By having this, we can offer tourists a unique experience,” explained Herzog.

This experience includes safaris and hunting – which in itself is part of the conservation effort as only the oldest animals are targeted, maintaining a strong gene pool for reproduction. The money is an income for the farmers and the sanctuary, while the taxes go to government.

According to the chairman and treasurer, the direct income for government through taxes and levies, mostly from tourists, amounts to about N$1,2 million a year.

Several years ago, EMRS compiled a project profile, and at that time, over 16 000 tourists were visiting the project annually. This has increased to about 25 000 visitors.

“The sanctuary is proudly Namibian and not at the expense of the taxpayer, but to the benefit of everyone. Our dream ultimately is to become the next Etosha National Park – but in that case, it would be a “private park”.