Roaming the weathered mountains, gravel plains and broad, mopane-shaded sandy riverbeds of Namibia’s arid Kunene Region, some of the world’s most hunted animals are making a dramatic recovery. This inhospitable environment is home to the world’s largest numbers of critically endangered black rhino – distinguishable from the white rhino on account of its hook-shaped upper lip – as well as swelling numbers of desert-adapted elephants and lions. While the elephant and rhino roam inland, the desert-adapted lions more often prowl the dunes of the Skeleton Coast. All three majestic beasts share the ability to go without water for several days – or weeks in the case of lions, provided they manage a gemsbok or ostrich kill.
They have also all been brought back from the brink of extinction through the combined efforts of dedicated professional conservationists, committed local communities, government support, and – more surprisingly – from tourism. Volunteer programmes and sensitive rhino and elephant tracking, often on foot, are being promoted by the various foundations, often in collaboration with private lodges and community conservancies. Community involvement, above all, is critical to conservation success, as they are bearing the brunt of this increase in elephant and lion populations, as they compete for the scarce food and water resources. Thus, finding long-term solutions to human-wildlife conflict, and ensuring communities benefit from tourism, are two of the main conservation challenges of the future.
For further information contact the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT; w savetherhinotrust.org), Elephant-human Relations Aid (EHRA; w desertelephant.org) and Desert Lion Conservation (w desertlion.info). Wilderness Safaris (w wilderness-safaris.com), a pioneer in this tourism-conservation synergy, offers some of the best tracking experiences in their Desert Rhino, Hoanib Skeleton Coast and Damaraland camps – the latter being almost wholly community-owned and -managed.