Ecology

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Ondili and ecological responsibility

Use good tourism for sustainable nature conservation.

The Ondili Group attaches the highest importance to promoting nature conservation through its lodges. This self-imposed commitment is the foundation that drives the Ondili Group. 

  1. Every year, since its inception, the Ondili Group invests all of its profits in the establishment and maintenance of the Ondili Nature Reserves. 
  1. For every guest room at the Ondili lodges, the Ondili Group creates at least 1,000 ha (10 km²) of nature reserve in Namibia and maintains the already existing reserves. 
  1. All lodges generate their electricity and hot water through their own solar systems (except on cloudy days and during technical disruptions). 
  1. Vegetables, herbs and some meat products are produced locally at (almost) all the lodge locations. 
  1. The local population benefits from jobs offered in the nature reserves and the organic farming sector. At Ondili, two jobs in tourism create another job in nature conservation. 
  1. Firewood for the Ondili lodges is obtained by de-bushing the nature reserves. 

Ondili maintains and develops nature reserves in various parts of Namibia. 

The denotation and definition of “nature reserve” in Namibia is to be regulated by law in the near future. The relevant law is currently being finalised. In order to gain nature reserve status, the designated area is to be registered with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as soon as the law comes into force. Such area will be subject to an official inspection to verify compliance with all the required criteria and standards. According to these standards, which were made public some time ago, Ondili has restructured its areas over the years and therefore already refers to them as nature reserves. 

ONDILI’S LARGEST PROJECT, THE NAMIB TSARIS NATURE RESERVE, IS PRESENTED HERE AS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW A NATURE RESERVE IS DEVELOPED.

The Namib Tsaris Nature Reserve currently covers 120,000 ha. It is situated in the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape, which is particularly worthy of protection.  

Namib-Naukluft National Park, with the massive coastal dune belt known as the Namib Sand Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site, forms a large part of this landscape initiative. The private NamibRand Nature Reserve borders on the national park, and the Namib Tsaris Nature Reserve also connects to these conservation areas. It adds its own special features – like the Tsaris Mountains, characterised by plateaus, as well as gorges and wide open plains. The vast protected area from the Skeleton Coast to the Sossusvlei dunes, NamibRand and the Nubib Mountains now also extends east to the Tsaris Mountains and towards the Maltahöhe limestone plateau. 

In the past, sheep farms were operated in the areas that were not yet under protection. However, farming has increasingly become less economically attractive. Lack of rain and the impending retirement of farmers, with nobody to take over, are factors which opened opportunities to buy farms over a period of several years and create larger continuous areas for conservation. 

These are the costliest measures when turning farmland into a nature reserve: 

  • Deconstruction of existing agricultural infrastructure 
  • Better water management 
  • Different road network 
  • Establishing a ranger station with machinery and equipment, including telecommunication facilities 
  • Restoration of the natural balance among the flora, among the fauna and in the flora/fauna relationship. 
  • Erosion control 

DECONSTRUCTION OF AGRICULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Dismantling fences 

Farms are usually divided into at least 14 grazing camps. They are used in a rotational system to graze sheep for about one month before moving them to the next camp. Some camps are kept as reserve grazing in case the next rainy season is late. The camps are secured with fences which are 1.00 m to 1.20 m high, which is sufficient for keeping sheep. But wild animals are not easily stopped by such a fence, and attempting to cross it causes many fatalities. They may injure themselves, for example, by just running into the fence. Or they try to slip through between the wires, get entangled and die. Or they get stuck when jumping over the fence, which also results in death. Boundary fences are usually higher and sturdier and block the natural migration of wild animals. Dismantling fences is therefore a vital step in the creation of a nature reserve. Vast unfenced areas are the aim.  

Fences adding up to thousands of kilometres had to be dismantled in the Namib Tsaris Nature Reserve. A job that kept several teams busy for years. Fences even run through gorges which are difficult to access, sometimes up to 10 km away from the nearest farm road. The dismantled material – iron posts and wire – has to be carried to the nearest road. Iron is heavy. A worker can carry a maximum of five fence posts to the next road, where all the dismantled material is picked up by a Unimog and brought to a depot, to be stored until further use. 

Material from dismantled fences is used in the reserve for the following purposes: 

  • Wire mesh  
  • for gabions used for erosion control 
  • in road construction for reinforcing long steep slopes by holding soil and rocks in place, and also for erosion control on the road 
  • Iron posts  
  • to raise and reinforce boundary fences 
  • for erosion control, as pegs to hold down woven mats or gabions when barrages are built in dry river courses 

 

 Other measures 

  • Dismantling all farm buildings, i.e. stables, garages, water tanks etc. 
  • Excavating the rubbish dumps that have developed over the decades, containing not only household waste but also hazardous waste and machinery remains.  
  • Deconstruction of all dams (i.e. large water reservoirs built with stone or concrete and located in the camps); they waste water because they always leak, they don’t fit into the landscape and they are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. 
  • Deconstruction of other infrastructure such as drinking troughs. 
  • Digging out and removing the manure from the kraals that has accumulated over decades. 
  • Deconstruction of the kraals. 
  • Deconstruction of overland water pipes and windpumps. 

WATER MANAGEMENT

Water supply is a vital issue in this semi-arid region. Most sheep farms ran their pumps permanently. Water was pumped out of the ground, whether or not it was needed immediately, and thereby a good deal was wasted. Windmills pumped whenever there was wind, diesel pumps as long as there was fuel, and the more recent solar pumps as long as the sun was shining – which is virtually every day. Pipes leaked, the dams, i.e. the above-mentioned large reservoirs built of stone, always leaked. Drinking points were constantly overflowing. And that happened at every drinking point, usually shared by four camps. 

A nature reserve is managed very differently. 

Wild animals cover longer distances to water points than domestic animals. Thus the number of drinking points in a reserve can be reduced to every 7-10 km, depending on the topography and the presence of boreholes. Drinking points are not troughs, but shallow depressions in the ground that are gently sloped and lined with stones to prevent slipping. This way, also small animals can access the water, and the drinking point can be used to wallow. Where possible, natural springs are integrated into the water supply concept. 

To pre-empt the answer to the possibly arising question about the compatibility of artificial water points with the nature reserve concept: 

Our nature reserves are already very large in terms of area. But if there were to be no artificial water points at all, the reserves would still have to be a lot larger to allow for the natural migration of game animals following the rainfall. Even the largest national parks cannot do without artificial water points. The necessary agricultural use of land sets limits to the size of nature reserves. When discussing the issue of artificial water points in nature reserves one quickly arrives at the ethical questions. Farming and livestock breeding in order to produce food is contrary to nature. We believe that with our concept we have found a good compromise. 

ROAD CONSTRUCTION AND DECONSTRUCTION

Roadways in a conservation area have other objectives than those on farmland. Farm roads are mostly control roads along inner camp fences to the kraals and watering points for the livestock. In addition, farm roads are not intended as links to neighbouring farms, but to serve only the specific farm in question. These roads often run through the farm in a dead straight line. 

In a nature reserve, planning the routing for developing the entire area comes first. If possible, existing roads are used to create a feasible connection to a main route running through the reserve. Roads are primarily laid out to help the rangers with their monitoring tasks. Access to areas of scenic interest is another aim. A border control road, as far as topographically possible, is a necessity. 

Existing roads which are no longer needed have to be rehabilitated. Apart from scarring the landscape they are prone to erosion and would wash out deeper and deeper over the years. 

In terms of cost, road construction is the biggest investment in the reserve. Proper development is indispensable for many reasons. Thus, the issue of road construction is very important. 

CONSTRUCTION OF A RANGER STATION

The need to monitor a nature reserve at all times is self-evident. Many tasks are never-ending and repetitive. Checking the boundary fences and the water points are typical examples. A permanent presence is also important to prevent poaching. 

One of the existing farmhouses has been picked out to serve as a ranger station. Internet and telephone, an office and staff accommodation are needed, as well as a small petrol station with a workshop and storage space. 

RESTORING THE NATURAL BALANCE OF FAUNA AND FLORA

Former farmland does not automatically regain its natural state. Farming the land for a century has left its mark on flora and fauna. 

Flora 

Overgrazing leads to scrub encroachment. Grass is displaced by bush. At the same time, lack of grass cover causes susceptibility to soil erosion. 

De-bushing takes place in areas with a conspicuous imbalance in favour of bush. Grass needs to take over in some parts of the reserve again. 

Fauna 

Wildlife was hunted. Predators because they killed sheep, ungulates because they were useful as a source of meat and because they competed for grazing with the farm animals. In a nature reserve, a balanced variety of species is the aim. Animals are actively reintroduced, some species have returned on their own. 

EROSION CONTROL

Aridity, extended periods of drought, overgrazing and tracks laid unwisely are the root cause of soil erosion when it rains. On parched soil without swards, rainwater immediately runs off in small rivulets. They wash away the ground and combine to form ever-larger channels. As the soil is eroded, the typical deltas develop.  

Protective measures: 

  1. Surface erosion 
    Build large flat obstacles on the slopes to break the runoff speed. 
  1. River erosion 
    Build small dams to reduce the river’s velocity. 
  1. Road erosion 
    Build drainage channels, set the road higher than the channel so that water does not run in the road. Build humps to redirect water. Build curves with drainage. 

Since these measures have to be carried out in vast areas, they are costly and a lengthy process. Erosion control is an ongoing issue and will keep us busy on the reserve for years. 

Ondili has been involved with the Namib Tsaris Nature Reserve for years and many of the measures described above have been implemented. Some are still ongoing. Between 20 and 100 people have been working on the rehabilitation of the land since the reserve was established. Once it is fully rehabilitated, Ondili will provide about 30 permanent conservation jobs in this reserve alone. 

The annual profits of the two lodges in the Namib Tsaris Nature Reserve, Desert Homestead Lodge and Desert Homestead Outpost, are fully set aside for the conservation of this area – thus each and every one of our guests contributes to it.