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© 2019 by Anna Rothärmel

 

Holiday à la different

Namibia, 22 April 2019

Time. Ever since I came to Namibia one week ago, I haven’t had too much of it. Things have been busy—not that big of a surprise, after all I came here to work. After having spent a few days in the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary (which I found via The Great Projects btw, you should check it out, they have amazing projects all over the world) just 45 kilometres outside of Windhoek, I am now in Kanaan aka the middle of nowhere, around 350-400 kilometres south of Windhoek. I am sitting outside of our volunteers‘ house and the only thing I see is the desert. Mountains. Birds. It is beautiful out here, the scenery breathtaking, the silence addictive. Sometimes an Oryx* or an Ostrich comes along in the evening and Geckos are our usual guests in the common room when watching a movie or playing games—no drinking games, no, no, never would we do that, no! In our breaks we jump in the bloody freezing pool with Bella, the most adorable dog ever, or pet our three little Mongoose Diesel, Calvin and Chanel or the Goat Gorgonzola.

*I capitalise all animals because I think they deserve it!

Out here I realise how little I need to be happy. There is hardly any internet and I don't even want to try to get a signal. I want to enjoy being away from the usual routines, the stress and the hectic city life. I want to re-discover living in silence without the urge of needing to know every tiny little thing that happens. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. And you know what? I don’t miss it at all. I wish it could be like that every day.

Btw, that's also the reason why it took me so long to post for the first time: a little summary of my first days in the sanctuary was written, but then I got cut off the internet and could not post it anymore. So I will just start again and I am sure that this will be much better than the first part I wrote on my EIGHT HOURS drive here.

So what exactly am I doing down here? Working with animals—yes! But that actually comprises shitloads of things. Shit being one of the buzzwords: cleaning the enclosures and stables is on the daily agenda. And it's by far not as bad as it sounds. First of all I am close to the animals, secondly the others in my group came here for the same reason as me and are happy to help and thirdly I don't do it every day. No day is the same, I get different tasks and so it always stays exciting and new.

So far I have helped building little houses for the Tortoises—it gets freaaaaakin' cold here at night. I helped checking the fences of the reserve, we went on a Game Count to see how many and which animals are out there on Naankuse's land (google Oryx, Impala, Jackal, Springbok, Kudu—they are just wow!), I helped preparing food for the smaller animals on the farm and fed them and I went on Baboon Walks. What the heck that is you ask? It is the best thing in the world.

But before I tell you more about that, it might be good to know what Naankuse actually is and does (no worries, I won’t go into details now, but Angelina Jolie will come up)!

Naankuse was founded by Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren and started with a clinic for the indigenous San people—today, this is the Lifeline Clinic. They did not only want to help humans but also animals that have been injured, orphaned or abandoned and so the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary found its beginning. The animals are taken care of here and released whenever possible so that they can live where they belong.

Today, Naankuse consists of a lot of projects, a school and research sites such as Neuras (a vineyard and animal research site), Mangetti (a research project for Elephants and African Wild Dogs—an endangered species btw) and Kanaan (a research project in the desert focussing on the Spotted Hyena—also endangered and not at all a mean animal that kills everything like shown in The Lion King, quite the contrary!!!)

So what does Angelina have to do with it? The Jolie-Pitt Foundation is one of many supporters of Naankuse and she has been here several times. Last time in Kanaan in 2018 for a photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar and apparently she is super nice and down to earth :)

But now back to my beloved Baboons. They have been declared a pest by the Namibian government which means: nobody gives a shit if they are killed. To be fair, they can be quite wild and destroy your garden, steal your stuff, kill other animals and so on. However, that does not mean that you can just shoot all of them—life trumps death. This is how we, the humans, make animals extinct.

In Naankuse they find a new home, often as babies whose mothers have been shot, and unlike other animals like the Mongoose, the Genets, Meerkats, the Rock Dassies or the Warthogs, they cannot be released into the wild anymore. They have lost their fear from humans and would come too close where they then get shot—the thing with the pest blablabla.

In order to give them as much freedom as possible they go for a little walk every day. And by little I mean around 4 hours daily. We walk with them and there is nothing better than Baboons walking next to you, looking up to you with their cute eyes, grabbing your hand so that you can lift them up and carry them. They can go nuts out there and we don't see most of them until we go back to the farm.

AND they are super smart, only 7% differentiate them to us human beings, and so they know what we do for them and really give this love back. At least this is the feeling I have. Just look at Frodo sleeping next to me. One of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. And a nice plus—during my last Baboon Walk we were walking through a herd of Giraffes plus baby and saw a few Ostriches.

Now I am in Kanaan, one of the most stunning places I have ever been to. Here it is all about research. Which animals are there on this huuuuuge land? Are the carnivores a threat to the farmers' livestock? Where is the Spotted Hyena? For this we do Game Counts and set up camera traps. The more we know the better can we keep the wildlife save and actually alive.

There is a reason why there are no Giraffes, Rhinos, Lions and Elephants in the South of Namibia anymore. The reason is called human beings. When the first Europeans came here to set up their farms they stole the animals' habitat, their food or just killed them because they wanted their land for themselves. And although carnivores like Cheetahs, Leopards or Spotted Hyenas 

(which look like teddy bears btw, super cute!) are still here, the numbers have decreased drastically. Some farmers kill them because they „kill their livestock“. Studies have shown that this is kinda bulls**t. The only time this would happen is when they cannot find anything else in the wild and believe me, there is a lot out there for them to eat, they don't need sheep, goats or cows.

Every living being has a purpose on this earth and if you had heard everything I just heard about the Spotted Hyena a few hours ago, you would agree with me on that. These animals are just stunning and far from being the evil animals killing everything that moves. I am happy to tell you more about it – just ask me and you will be just as mesmerized as I am.

Namibia, 24 April 2019

 

Kanaan, day 5. My legs are soar. I am bruised. I was bleeding. My butt hurts (nothing naughty, you little pig :P). What happened? Did a cheetah beat me up? Has a horse run over me? I guess luck was just not on my side yesterday.

In the morning we went hiking and with Kanaan having loads of mountains, we had some to choose from. We picked quite a rocky one where other volunteers had previously set up camera traps to observe the caves of Hyenas, Caracals or Leopards, or whatever finds its way in there. In one we found traces of the cute Klipspringer and in one we actually found a dead juvenile Cheetah, who had been there for a few years. Since it is so hot and dry down here nothing decomposes. Or at least it takes a few years to do so.

After about 1.5 hours we reached the peak and by then I have only once cut myself on a rock. Down the mountain, however, was a different story—it was slippery, rocky and steep (at least some parts) and so I was the lucky one ending up with three cuts on my knees, one on my arm and one in the palm of my hands—that's the nicest one. Once back in the house I got alcohol wipes—boy, that was fun #ouch.

Not being an experienced hiker, my legs are of course soar as hell, I walk like a granny and look like a child fallen of the bike :D Ha, and one of the other volunteers also just held his legs saying ouch, so I guess it is not just me :D BUT: this view was worth every cut and every painful muscle. Once we reached the peak we were lost for words. It was like desert heaven. It seemed endless. It was one of these moments where you just don’t say anything, savour the moment and try to find a place in your memory for it, where it will stay forever.

After that I needed some cuddles and I got them from Diesel the Mongoose. He is just adorable—you just pet him behind the ears and bam: falls asleep on you. Btw, there is a reason you can cuddle with him, Chanel and Calvin: they came here as babies and needed to be bottle fed. Back in the wild they could not survive by themselves, so now they get pampered here in Kanaan.

In the evening we got even more action because the day had been really boring (careful: sarcasm!) So we went sandboarding down the dune and that was shitloads of fun!! I only went once because I really did not want to walk back up the sand dunes too many times. Especially knowing what was on the agenda the next morning: Game Count on horses.

I am pretty sure you remember the uncomfortable feeling I had on the horses back in Amsterdam. Here, I wanted to give it another try and ride through the desert. Just as I imagined before taking classes. The horses here are so much calmer than the ones I learned to ride on. They are amazingly trained and you can feel that they are treated and cared for with so much love and time. Nothing is rushed here.

That also made me much calmer and after preparing everything, we started our tour. It was amazing to ride through this astonishing land and see which animals are out here. We found Ostriches, Oryxes and Springbok :) I am very happy that I overcame my fear and did the Game Count on the horse. This was an amazing experience that I (despite my soar body) did not want to have missed. So tonight will be exciting: we will be sleeping outside and I really really hope that we will not get eaten by a lion*.

*Lions don't exist here anymore ;)

Namibia, 25 April 2019

 

"It can get cold in Africa?" After last night I can answer that with an easy yes! I froze my butt off last night, just to discover in the morning that there was a spare sleeping bag lying next to me. Brilliant. But again, as it has been a few times this week—it was worth it! I always thought that the pictures that come up after looking for „starry sky Namibia“ were photo shopped. Nope, they are not. It was so clear that we could even see Andromeda :O Even with the best pic or a million words I cannot described what I have been lucky enough to witness.

With still sore legs it was time for hiking leg 2—you see what I did there? ;D

It was called a „short hike“ on our white board with the agenda . Pffffff, short hike my ass. We climbed and crawled and spidermanned over the biggest rocks and explored an entire cave system of Hyenas, Leopards, Owls and so on. Although it was rocky, steep, exhausting and a little painful, it was amazing and so much fun hiking up there. Just the way down again… not really my cup of tea. But this time I made it without any injuries #whoppee! The cocktail at sunset we really deserved :)

Namibia, 27 April 2019

All good things come to an end. Sadly. I am sitting in the car going back to the Sanctuary and I have to say that saying goodbye to all the amazing people (if you ever read this, I mean you Karl and Georgie!) and Bella the dog was anything but easy.

With their work and commitment they do not only make a huge contribution to keeping this land of unspoilt nature and wildlife the way it should be, but they also gave us an unforgettable week, shitloads of laughter and new insights. To me this week in Kanaan was a mind-opener and hopefully also a (personal) game-changer.

Hello, it's me—from post-holiday depression

Amsterdam, 12 May 2019

It is 8.30 am and this is the longest I have slept in weeks. You can tell, I am back. How does it feel? A bit awkward, I would love to jump on a plane and go back. On the other hand I am also happy to see my little Coco and my friends again. And my city. A few days in I realize how much I love it here.

But I am happy to travel back a bit and tell you about the last week I had on the farm and more about how things worked, since a few people have asked me "So what did your days look like?"

Breakfast 7 to 8 am—hence today being the day I have slept the longest in a few weeks. I was in one group for the entire week and we had our fixed schedule (which you can change a bit if e. g. you are leaving soon but have not had done a certain activity). The coordinators then told us, which group was doing what and with whom. That's basically it, then we started working and discovering until we had lunch at 1 pm. At 2.30 pm we met again to see with whom we would be on our afternoon activity. 

I think Naankuse does a great job in combining the work from us volunteers—which is absolutely necessary, there is so much to do, it could not be accomplished by the coordinators alone who, in my opinion, are all the greatest superheroes—and by giving us unforgettable and unique experiences. I think, they have to do that. If volunteers felt like "cheap labour", or rather "labour that pays", no one would come. But this is not the case at all, I felt appreciated every day for every single thing I did there and I loved doing it. What I loved the most? No matter what you do there, everything has a purpose. Even if you "just" grate veggies for two hours: you know you do it for the Tortoises. That is just one example of many of course ;)

But what exactly did I do in my last week? 

One day my group took care of the horses, "Cowboys of Naankuse" that activity is called. What that means you ask? Cleaning, feeding, brushing and of course going for a ride. Yes, I did it a second time and no regerts—ehm, regrets ;) I was riding on Cappuccino. Due to cancer he had lost one eye, but that did not matter one teeny tiny bit. He is the sweetest horse ever. We were riding next to Giraffes and Zebras and saw Waterbucks, Warthogs and our friends who were on Baboon Walk at the same time :D

Baboon Walk was also on my agenda, for the last time #tear. I love those little ones so much, but we have already talked about that, so let's skip it. Oh, I saw two snakes in the tree. A Green Mamba and something else, I can't remember. Bit scary tbh.

We were on Fence Patrol one day, checking that the fences around the reserve didn't have any holes and if they did, we closed them by shovelling, shovelling and shovelling sand and stones.

Research on the Reserve—that was an amazing morning. Four hours in the back of the car driving through the 10.000 hectare reserve checking camera traps and seeing the whole array of wildlife. This was just indescribable. We even set up a new camera trap since some Hyena and Cheetah tracks had been found at one spot a few days before. I would have loved to sort out the pics of this camera trap, so whoever was the lucky one to do that, I just want to let you know that I am jealous!

Hyena tracks

The reserve

Cheetah Walk. Yes, we went for a little walk with the Cheetahs. Just as with the Baboons, they want to let the Cheetahs run wild for a bit instead of just being in their enclosures. Once they had human contact for more than 3 months, you cannot release them back into the wild. It was tried last year and it did not work—all three Cheetahs died. So that is off the table for now. Still, going into the wild with them gives them back some freedom. They even kill if they want to. They killed a baby Zebra in my first week. I didn't see them killing it, just the Zebra later in a bucket in a fridge. Yes, happens. Nature that is called. Not the fridge. The killing.

We went on a Night Drive. It would have been Night Watch next to the Lions' enclosure but it was a public holiday so they cut it short. What we did there? We drove through the reserve and checked if there was anything suspicious—poachers and stuff. Thank God there was not, but you'll never know. Better safe than sorry.

Last but not least: Carnivore Feed. Boy, that is amazing! Not the raw meat we give them... Cutting intestines or plucking chicken is not so nice (the latter I have not done thankfully), but feeding it to the Cheetahs and the Wild Dogs and paying a little visit to the Lions and the Leopards made this one of the best days ever. Namibian Lions and Leopards are the biggest in Africa and when you see them, you get goosebumps. Just as in Jumanji when the lion slowly walks out of the shade... That was what I felt when Kilimanjaro went through the bushes towards us. And then decided to take a nap behind the last bush, so I didn't see him. Well, still a stubborn cat after all.

So yes, I paid a lot of money so that I can work during my holidays. Coo-coo for some and I kind of get it why they would think that way. But: where can you get so close to an array of animals, learn tons about African wildlife and nature, meet people who will remain your friends forever and most importantly, make a difference in this world? Because, believe me, with climate change already being here, plastic pollution soaring and species having decreased by on average 60% in the last 50 years, this world needs it! Desperately.

This holiday changed my mindset completely. If I had done that before my studies, I would have surely gone a different path. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I know that I want to continue learning about wildlife and our world and making a difference. In some way or the other. This was the best experience of my life, by far, and I cannot wait to go back to Naankuse to see how they further maintained conservation through innovation.