Jan van de Reep slowed the Land Cruiser to a stop in the dry sand of the Huab River. Poking his walking stick into the damp sand of a shallow hole, he said, “The elephants used to dig holes with their feet here to get at the water, but recently it’s mainly oryx and baboons that are doing the digging.”
We were in the far northwest of Namibia near the Angolan border on an old farm he and his wife Suzi had purchased years ago to restore habitat for the desert elephant and other desert species. One of Namibia’s leading naturalists and safaris guides, he and Suzi had built a small, beautiful guest lodge to provide an income stream to help fund their conservation efforts, making it as eco-friendly as possible: all electric power is from solar, they grow many of the vegetables used in the excellent cuisine they serve their guests and all of their staff come from local tribes.
Jan and Suzi’s elephants had come back for a time, but several bulls have been shot as so-called problem animals (“The bigger the tusks, the bigger the problem,” says Suzi, not without irony.) and the others had wandered elsewhere. They are confident that the herd will eventually be back, but for now, oryx, kudus, baboons and a stunning variety of birds will have to do for their guests.
Despite the Huab River area’s setback with their local elephants, and worry over whether the explosion in demand for ivory and horn will eventually drive poachers back to Namibia, this nation is known as one of the greatest success stories in stemming poaching in Africa.
In 1980, when what is now Namibia was called Southwest Africa, and a South African colony, there were only around 155 desert elephants (a population group that subsists in one of the driest areas on the planet), today there are around 600. Nationwide, the numbers have swelled from about 13,000 a decade ago to about 20,000 now. Similarly, black rhinos have jumped from only 300 thirty years ago to about 1,700 today. In 2013, just one rhino is known to have been poached, though some six elephants are known to have been poached to date, mainly in the remote Caprivi Strip region. Herds of antelope, once decimated in the tribal regions, have returned along with their attendant predators, lions, leopard and cheetahs. More....