Responsible travel is a hot item and that obviously is a good thing. So now and then I get people asking what I think about my carbon footprint flying so much around the world. And yeah I definitely wish it would be way less, but what can I do? Stop taking planes? That obviously is kind of impossible so I contributed in my own way for a more sustainable world by joining the Namibia wildlife conservation project Oana Flora & Fauna.
Already more than 10 years ago on my first big trip around the world I volunteered at some projects while traveling in Central America. Recalling some of these experiences I actually realized I already participated in a big conservation project in Costa Rica, so Oana Flora & Fauna in Southeast Namibia was not my first.
When traveling in Costa Rica in 2008 I joined La Tortuga Feliz, a conservation project helping the endangered sea turtles on the Caribbean coast. I was stationed on a deserted island with about 10 youngsters working about 4 hours a day either in the hatchery helping little baby turtles hatch or collecting eggs from huge sea turtles coming on shore making their nests. An amazing time! If you have a chance to join a conservation project please do so!
Oana Flora & Fauna Namibia
Re-wilding Namibia’s farmland is the biggest mission two renowned conservationist are trying to achieve on the 45,000 hectare of land they secured. That is an area of 30 x 15 kilometers! For many decades this half mountainous half desert landscape used to be a playground for hunters, but those days are over now. The Oana Flora & Fauna project is doing everything they can to conserve this area and make it home again for endangered Namibia wildlife.
Arriving at base camp
If you have read my article of how to get around Namibia and saw my hitchhiking video then you already must know that traveling to Namibia is an adventure. But what was waiting for me now was from another level. From Windhoek I took the bus at 16.30 going South towards South Africa. The only well-organized public transport option is Intercape. It is not bad, but its timetables are crazy! Therefore I arrived at 1.30am at a random gas station in the deserted city of Karasburg. From here to Oana it was another 1,5 hour on a gravel road through the desert and then another 1,5 hour off road through some rough landscapes to get to tent camp where the project is based. It was after 4.00am but I arrived safe and sound at one of the coolest conservancies in Namibia.
Red, the one who picked me up from Karasburg and who is running the conservation project, showed me my tent. Where can I pee? Just anywhere mate! I walked 10 meters away from my tent and while peeing I started to realize I was far away from the modern world. I could see the silhouettes of the mountain peaks surrounding the camp and when I looked up about a million stars were staring back at me. Wow I felt like I was in heaven!
Namibia Wildlife and nature conservation
By agreeing to join the Oana Flora & Fauna conservation project I basically agreed upon volunteering. As you can imagine there is a ton of work to be done: removing fences, setting up camera traps, collecting wildlife data, analyzing the data, logistics, permits, etc. But there was also time to enjoy the absolutely scenic landscapes. Hiking, mountain biking, multi day camping trips, rafting, game drives and canyoneering can all be done while joining the conservation camp. Volunteering is here doe not feel like working, it is an experience full of adventure!
When I woke up in the morning I got to meet all the other camp members. About 10 youngsters from the UK in their gap year. They signed up for a month long conservation work and volunteering in Namibia. They were only 18-20 years old. How cool was that? And that in one of the most remote areas of the country. When I was that young I did not even travel!
Volunteering might be the wrong word, because when you sign up for this Namibia wildlife conservation project at Oana Flora and Fauna you stick to a schedule created by the camp leaders. But as I told you already counting wildlife, setting up camera traps, river expeditions, multi day hikes are all exciting things to do. So if you are up for an adventure consider signing up for this amazing project and help the Namibia wildlife.
Volunteer in Namibia? Do it!
Luckily things like cooking and cleaning were not part of the daily schedule! There was staff taking care of these things! LOL ;)
My days at Oana Flora and Fauna
Retrieving camera traps data
The way to track wildlife roaming around the 45,000 hectares land is by setting up camera traps. At strategic places wildlife gets attracted by a piece of cloth sprayed with Chanel No.5. Apparently that works, haha! We jumped in an open pick-up truck and drove from one place to another. From where we parked the car it was always a short walk to get to the actual camera trap.
We came across some cool insects completely adapted to life in the Namibian desert!
What they were hoping to capture was the movement of the leopards, as there are many around in this area. I still had not seen one in the wild, so I was already excited finding footprints. Unfortunately someone screwed with most of the camera traps, most likely baboons. We retrieved the data to watch back at the camp later.
This morning I could see a huge part of the land already by hiking up to all the camera traps. This place was so deserted, but so magical! WOW!
Temperatures this time of year (May) were pretty ok in Namibia. Even here in the middle of the desert it did not get hotter than 28 degrees. Still we waited a little bit before we headed out for a mountain biking adventure.
All bikes were put in the back of a pickup truck and we headed uphill for a little while. From here we descended through the rough landscape. Damn I love mountain biking and especially downhill. The sun was slowly setting around us and the landscapes constantly changed colors. At the end of the trail on a big open plane there were ice-cold beers waiting for us. Such a great way to end day 1 at Oana Flora and Fauna and to cheer with all the youngsters having a great time!
The food at Oana was prepared by Raul, an excellent chef from Angola. He was also the one who taught me my the basic steps of hitchhiking in Namibia. After a big breaky we started hiking uphill to one of the peaks in the area. The south border of the Oana conservation project is the Orange River, which is also the border of Namibia and South Africa. As we hiked and climbed our way up to the top I caught my first glimpse of a green stretch of land in this crazy dry landscape. Seeing the Orange River and South Africa from up here made me realize how extremely big 45,000 hectares are. We humans are so small, but we have such an enormous impact on this planet.
Sitting on top of a mountain always makes me think about life. I stare into the distance for hours and get up and with a smile on my face. Because Earth is so amazing and life is incredible!
Volunteering in Namibia was another experience that made me realize I am alive!
After lunch there was an optional hike down a canyon for those keen to go for another adventure. The youngster all bailed out and I kind of understood as they were here for almost a month already and on their last two days. There was another camera trap that needed to be retrieved but it was down a canyon about 1,5 hours hike. Of course I joined and with just the three of us we started hiking.
Before we even reached the canyon we saw a huge group of baboons running across the plane in the distance. I was already excited before we started this adventure! It did not take long before I was in disbelieve why these youngsters didn’t join us. Where did I end up? Wow this place was like nothing I had ever seen. The first 30-minutes I already climbed down 3 dried out waterfalls, the deep canyon was not just another canyon walk this was canyoneering. There was a waterfall of about 30 meters high we somehow had to climb down. There were massive granite faces on the side of the canyon may be more than 200 meters high.
Unfortunately this photo does not do justice to the beauty of this canyon. The drop down below was probably a good 50 meters, but hard to see with my GoPro. I did not bring my DSLR so I unfortunately have no better pictures.
Many years ago water flowed through this canyon towards the Orange River and I started to phantom how that would have been! It must have been a spectacular place on earth. It still was of course! How the hell did these huge boulders get here. Every part of the canyon had a different story to tell that probably was millions of years old. And the cool thing, probably hardly ever had someone hiked down this canyon!
Funny fact: we never found the camera trap. We even tried to find it with the help of a satellite phone and GPS coordinates! It was getting dark and baboons were following us on the rim of the canyon even throwing rocks at us. This was a damn cool adventure again!
To spot wildlife you obviously have to leave as early as possible and so did we all get up before sunrise. It was still pitch black and cold outside. Temperatures drop here to 10 degrees at night, but we started our game drive early. The first two days I did not see any wildlife and it was kind of hard to imagine how wildlife would even be able to survive here in this desert. This morning we drove around for almost two hours and did not see anything either.
Game drives are always fun even if you don’t see anything. There is always that excitement of catching a glimpse of an animal in the distance. It is like playing hide and seek. Honestly I am really bad in spotting wildlife and I always try my best to see something before someone else sees it. I never succeed! ;)
Even at one of the waterholes we did not find any Namibia wildlife! Where are they?
The piece of land of this Namibia wildlife and nature conservation project is incredibly diverse. There are perfectly shaped black volcano mountains, wide-open planes without a single piece of vegetation and there are flower fields for as long as you can see. There was not a moment the landscape stayed the same while driving around. We did not spot any wildlife but there was never a boring moment. Driving around in a 4x4 was already an adventure in itself.
It took a little while but then we got lucky and started to spot Oryx and other antelopes in the distance. When we drove closer up to an elevated area we were suddenly able to spot more than 100 animals in one time. In the distance there were Zebras, Oryx, Eland, Springbok and many more species. We all got super excited, it was like in a movie someone put all the animals together in one area. It was even hard to count them all.
Unfortunately I don't have a zoom lens yet so no photos of the wildlife for you! The photos taken during my tiger safari in India were with the help of my rangers who borrowed me their massive zoom lenses!
Responsible travel in Namibia
if you are looking for an incredible adventure and responsible travel in Namibia, Oana Flora & Fauna is the place to go. Unfortunately I had only 3 full days to get a feeling of what goes into conservation work.
What mostly touched me was the passion Red and Andrea were running this amazing volunteer project in Namibia. Doing conservation work must be mentally a challenge. All the big efforts they are doing right now, may result in some great things in the future, but are hard to measure right now. Lets plant trees here so in the future this can be a feeding ground for giraffes. Small things like this made me have a lot of respect for their incredible patience setting up this wildlife conservation camp.
The camp you sleep in is built up from scratch and has a kitchen, electricity, a satellite connection for emergencies, a living room tent, modern flushing toilets, hot showers, fresh drinking water. They have come from far!
There is no phone reception and all you do in the evenings is gather around the fire and chat with the other camp members. This isolated place bonds people and because you are disconnected from the rest of the world there are no negative influences. Oana Flora and Fauna is one happy place!
Basically Red and Andrea are playing a real life computer game! They are legends to give up their lives and settle in a tent camp in the middle of nowhere. It was an honor to have been participating in one of the most amazing conservancies in Namibia.
Thank you Red and Andrea for letting me be part of Oana Flora and Fauna for a couple days!
More about my trip to Namibia? Take a look at my 7-day itinerary for Namibia including all the cool tourist spots: Deadvlei, Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park.