National Geographic Best Ecolodges: Damaraland Camp Namibia
Damaraland Camp in Namibia has been selected as one of National Geographic Traveler’s “25 Best Ecolodges” for 2013 - a nod to the great conservation work with local conservancies in Namibia.
The camp is a joint venture between Torra Conservancy and Wilderness Safaris. “We are extremely proud of our partnership with the community of the Torra Conservancy at Damaraland Camp and of our ongoing commitment to ecotourism in Namibia”, says Rob Moffett of Wilderness Safaris. “Our country’s unique model of conservation, community development and tourism is setting a global standard in the protection of the environment and wildlife, and in engaging with and empowering rural communities in the process.”
The editorial team of National Geographic Traveler worked long and hard to find 2013’s best authentic and most sustainable lodges for its more than 8.5 million readers. The select lodges chosen embody the National Geographic Society’s spirit of exploration and commitment to the environment and will be featured in the magazine’s June/July 2013 issue.
After independence in 1990, Namibia was the first African country to incorporate environmental protection into its constitution. The national government reinforced that commitment by giving communities the right to manage wildlife through communal conservancies. As a result, residents of conservancies could set up joint ventures with investors and travel businesses to operate lodges and tented camps, targeting the eco-travel market.
To date, 79 communal conservancies have been established, incorporating 19.5 percent of the country’s land. Over 40 joint-venture lodges and campsites are operating in partnership with conservancies, and more are in the works. Support organisations such as The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), Save The Rhino Trust and NACSO (The Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), have contributed to the success of the ground-breaking national policy.
Wilderness Safaris partnered with the Torra Conservancy in 1996 to pioneer the joint venture concept with Damaraland Camp, and is engaged with similar ventures with a further four communal conservancies in the remote north-west of the country.
Torra Conservancy holds a 40% equity stake in Damaraland Camp and the democratically elected community body also receives a tourism levy for each guest visiting the camp. More than 95% of jobs at the camp are filled by community members, including lodge and guiding staff. Wilderness Safaris has been in the forefront of empowering local community members, including the manager of Damaraland Camp, Maggie Vries. She and other Wilderness managers have risen through the ranks to work in lodge and tourism management.
Nationwide, more than 1 000 jobs have been created through joint venture partnerships and it is estimated that each job supports a further nine family members. Direct revenue to conservancies from these partnerships is used to fund conservation activities, anti-poaching patrols, school programmes and other needs identified by communities.
The conservancies have made a commitment to conservation and developed innovative strategies to deal with human-wildlife conflict. These wildlife-friendly land uses are paying off – Namibia has increased its free-ranging lion population, as well as numbers of numerous other desert-adapted species such as springbok, oryx, giraffe and even Critically Endangered black rhino. This community-centred approach to sustainable land use has attracted delegations from 22 countries, including some struggling to save their tigers, to learn how it’s done.
The overall philosophy in Namibia can be summed up in five words: “We will live with wildlife!”
All photos courtesy of Wilderness Safaris
Read about Damaraland Camp on National Geographic Traveler here
Find out more about Namibia's unique conservation model here
Find out more about Damaraland Camp here