Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Cheetah Country of Namibia

We were honoured to be invited to attend the council meeting of a new but dynamic organization in Namibia. This organization is called Leadership For Conservation in Africa (LCA) and was started in August 2006 by South African Parks and aims to involve business leaders across African countries in wildlife conservation, not only financial support but also in business practices. It has quickly grown to such influence in such a short period of time due to the support of many governments and businesses across the continent.
The delegates from 26 countries were high caliber to say the least. I met the Congolese Minister of Economics, Forestry and. Environment - Mr. Henri Djombo, who just returned from Beijing where he led the Congolese team to attend the Olympics, for example. Congo was in world news recently due to discovery of a "new population" of Western Lowland gorillas numbering 125,000. Minister Ojombo will host next year's council meeting in the Odzala-Kokoua National park in Congo, again in September.
We were honoured with the speech by the Namibian president at the Presidential Breakfast during the first day of the council meeting. Namibia is another country that takes conservation seriously and this showed through the President's speech as well as those of other local business leaders, both black and white. The enthusiasm shown by all clearly demonstrates that Africa leads in conservation, both in attitudes and in practice. Also wildlife conservation is regarded by Namibians as crucial in the country's economic development, where the two are intricately linked. How I wish this kind of relationship can be understood by important government and business leaders in China! China should be at a stage to understand that further economic development would not be possible for China without conserving whatever is now left of its natural heritage. Development without conservation will destroy the very foundation on which we, as a member of this planet, have thrived.
After the Presidential Breakfast, we flew in small chartered planes to Etosha National Park, where the council meeting continued. I can't believe that it has been 4 years since I came to Etosha in August 2004 - so much had happened in the past four years....
I continued to be impressed by the representatives from many African countries for the work they have done. Rwanda stood out. It wasn't that long ago, in our memory, that Rwanda was torn by internal ethnic conflicts, but now Rwanda stands as a model for us all in its revival-the remarkable job it has done to conserve its mountain gorillas and make it sustainable for both the gorillas and local communities through eco-tourism. How I wish representatives from Chinese authorities could be present to experience this passion flowing in this meeting of the minds. Given the achievements it has to date, I have no doubt the the LCA will achieve great conservation deeds in Africa.
After the council meeting, Stuart and I flew south to visit Namib Naukluft National Park and the famous Namib sand dunes in Sussusvlei, since this was Stuart's first visit. Nine years ago I came here and it was in this Namib desert that I encountered my first "wild" cheetah. The fate of that abandoned cheetah provided sound proof for our Rewilding strategies for the South China Tigers later.
The desert is still beautiful and the Sand Dunes magnificent. There might have been changes in the shapes of the dunes in the past nine years but the changes were certainly minor compared to the changes I have experienced in my life in the past 9 years, since that cheetah encounter. Then, I had control of my life, but now my life is controlled by the South China Tigers. It was hard for me when I found out that my blackberries did no work here so I could not communicate with our team easily on what's going on. I worry. I could not wait to get back to SA to be at work again. My work is my life and my work, luckily, is the South China Tigers.
I do look forward to next year's Council meeting in the Congo, a place I had always wanted to visit due to my interests in the pygmies, who still live in the forests there...

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