Kokomo Camp is due to open in May 2016 and is the base for exploring the wild, remote and stunning Liuwa Plain National Park. A truly off the beaten track destination that has to be on the list for the well travelled Africa explorer.
Christiaan Bakkes on Namibia
Christiaan Bakkes is a writer, guide and conservationist, who has been described as a ‘South African Ernest Hemingway’. He has spent much of his life in Damaraland and lives and breathes Namibia. We took the opportunity to ask him about his life and experiences in the place he now calls home.
Why is protecting the black rhino so important?
The human impact on this planet and its wildlife has been horrific. The least we can do is to conserve what is left. The black rhino does not cope well with human induced changes in its habitat. It is also under severe threat for the demand on its horn. This makes the challenge doubly important. The black rhino has become a symbol of healthy African wildernesses and ecosystems. If we look at its present distribution range, it does not reflect well on conservation efforts in Africa. In Namibia we have taken the lead in black rhino conservation. Through a series of successful conservation projects, Namibia has become a safe haven for black rhino. The black rhino has become a source of pride for all Namibians. This makes our responsibility even greater. It is our duty to conserve the black rhino for future generations.
You work closely with Save the Rhino Trust – can you explain a little more about the relationship between tourism and the trust?
The marriage between conservation and responsible tourism is the next obvious step Save the Rhino Trust has done pioneering work in bringing the desert black rhino back from the brink of extinction under very trying conditions. The next step is for the tourism industry to step into the breach and make black rhino tourism a viable part of the industry. Conservation has aided tourism by protecting the black rhino. Now tourism must ensure the perpetuation of effective rhino conservation by actively supporting groups like Save the Rhino Trust.
For many years you’ve based yourself in Damaraland. What’s so special about this part of Namibia?
It is an area that has defied human desecration for centuries. The very nature of the Etendeka lava fields has made human inhabitation difficult, and made the area a stronghold for rare and endangered desertadapted species. The Uniab River was only mapped in 1900. The fact that it hosts an original black rhino population outside a proclaimed wildlife sanctuary is proof enough. It also boasts a growing elephant and lion population. Most of all – it is home to the magnificent mountain zebra. To me it is truly the last Southern African wilderness.
Talk us through a typical day in the life of Christiaan Bakkes...
The first mug of coffee at daybreak. The early morning walk through the veld with my dog Tier, while the sun bursts over the mountain tops. Springbok and oryx warily eyeing the ferocious predator at my feet. The rumble of the diesel Land Rover through a remote and desolate landscape. That first fresh rhino track at Kaikams spring. The track on foot with the rhino trackers confidently in advance. The heat and the first drops of sweat. The first sighting of the black rhino cow and calf under the lammerdrol tree in the valley. Moving into position downwind onto a rocky perch in time to see the calf suckle. The walk back to the Land Rover to find the back wheel flat. The first swear word as the hi-lift jack slips and takes skin off knuckle. The heat waves that twist and buckle the horizon. The desolate silence at midday. A late afternoon walk with Tier while the setting sun paints the mountains from gold to red to purple. That first whisky around the mopane wood fire.
What has been your most exciting and spectacular moments viewing wildlife?
There are too many. Last week I witnessed an elephant calf birth in the Hoanib River. It was wonderful to see the mother and grandmother helping the young one up with their trunks and feet. The baby fell down spectacularly a few times, but after an hour it was ready to walk. We were very fortunate to witness it. Usually elephant births happen within a protective perimeter from the breeding herd in the thickets. There was only the mother and the grandmother present and another calf. It happened on the edge of a thicket next to the riverbed. In all my years in the bush I have witnessed many spectacular sights. A steenbok once came running into our little human circle during a wilderness trail in the low veld. We were resting under a tree next to a spruit. The steenbok stood there panting among us. I signalled everyone to freeze. Seconds later a pack of wild dogs came running past. They ignored us and the steenbok and headed on. When the steenbok reckoned it was safe it trotted along in a different direction. Every wildlife sighting is unique and special. Just being out there is enough for me.
Tell us more about your dog Tier...
Tier of Damaraland! A fearless Jack Russell terrier. Bitten by leopard, brown hyena, honey badger and snake. Stepped on by zebra and driven over by Land Rover. A Bullmastiff took his eye. He is none the wiser and ready for the next frontal assault.
Is there a hidden gem in Namibia that you’d be willing to share with us?
There’s many. I ain’t sharing! Find your own. Tiger Reef Beach Bar in Swakop is a good start.
“I would never go on safari without...”
The knowledge that exploring the wilderness is one of life’s great privileges and pleasures.