National Geographic : 2011 Jun
acres of its southwest coastline as Sperrgebiet National Park. With this, o cials could say that nearly half the country's landmass was given over to national parks, communal conservan- cies, and private wilderness reserves. With the creation of Dorob National Park in December 2010, the coastline from the Kunene River on the Angolan border to the Orange River on the South African border was an almost solid bar- rier of parks. All the pieces were in place for what may eventually be designated Namib- Skeleton Coast National Park---a single coastal megapark. Namibia seemed a rare, almost im- possibly hopeful story of a young African de- mocracy determined to be a leading example of land stewardship. is optimism seemed well-founded on my second day in the country, when I arrived in the Kulala Wilderness, a 91,400-acre refuge adjacent to the NamibRand Nature Reserve. It was the very day of the scheduled release of two cheetahs by one of Namibia's most celebrated conservation- ists, Marlice van Vuuren, and her husband, Rudie. Raised among Bushmen in the Omaheke region of Namibia, Marlice can speak their language u- ently, one of the few non-Bushmen able to do so. Now in her early 30s, she runs N/a'an Ku Sê, a game sanctuary 25 miles east of Windhoek, where with the help of Bushmen trackers she rehabili- tates orphaned and injured wildlife, relocating the animals from areas where there is con ict with humans to areas where humans, in the form of tourists, are likely to pay good money to see them. The repair and restocking of wild lands is not easy or free. "It takes a massive amount of planning and e ort to reestablish balance in a habitat to the point you can bring cheetahs back," Marlice said. "Everything has to be in place. Is there su cient prey? Is there water? Is this sustainable? If the answers to those questions are At dawn, three weeks before the winter solstice, the last tendrils of fog curled gray against the pinking sky over a sand dune on the eastern edge of the Na- mib Desert. A jackal trotted west toward a stand of camel thorn trees. An oryx cruised doggedly toward a water hole at a nearby tourist camp. A tenebrionid beetle scuttled shiny black on the red sand, leaving perfect beetle tracks in BY ALEXANDRA FULLER PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRANS LANTING its wake. Next to me was Rudolph !Naibab,* a safari guide who grew up on recalcitrant earth in the Kunene region, roughly 300 miles north of this spot in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, raising sheep, goats, and donkeys on his grand- mother's farm. !Naibab is 30, but he has a much older man's acumen, something he attributes to being raised in the desert. " is land makes you consider life and death every day," he said. "And war. I was raised during war. at can also make you wise in a hurry." Namibia's civil war started in 1966 and lasted 22 years. In 1990, when Namibia at last gained independence from South Africa, it was one of the rst countries in the world to write protec- tion of the environment into its constitution. It was as if Namibians recognized that having fought for the land beneath their feet, they were now profoundly responsible for it. "I think there were many reasons that Namib- ia's ecomovement was born at independence," !Naibab said. "During the war, in the mid-1980s, there was also a drought, and farmers were get- ting desperate. eir sheep died, so they started to kill game. It was easy for Namibians to see how close to dying we can get unless we protect and respect the resources we have." Until 20 or so years ago all this land, and the land next door, and the land beyond that, was fenced and stocked with sheep. I tried to imag- ine those sheep farmers with their backs to the wind, buried under oxide red sand, waiting years for rain. "Yes, I am sure those sheep farmers had mixed feelings about this place," !Naibab agreed. "On the one hand, no water. On the other hand, how can you not be in awe of this place? How could you not feel a responsibility to guard it?" I had come to Namibia because in late 2008 the government had proclaimed 5.4 million * e ! before Naibab is one of the notations for click sounds in the local languages.