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Gondwana Collection Namibia congratulates the NTB (Namibia Tourism Board) and MET (Ministery of Environment and Tourism) for bringing the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit to Namibia!

Below you can read the official press release by the Adventure  Travel Trade Association:

Seattle, WA – For its 10th Adventure Travel World Summit, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has selected Namibia – one of the few countries in the world with conservation and environmental management mandated in its Constitution – to host the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) set for 26-31 October in Swakopmund and Windhoek, the first time the ATTA has placed its global gathering in Africa.

The Adventure Travel World Summit has become the industry’s marquee event for networking, discussion and collaboration around industry best practices and global tourism issues affecting adventure travel. For 2013, the ATTA will introduce a new Summit format for its 600 delegates, which will occur over a five-day period, including in-field sessions in real-world situations providing unprecedented learning experiences in a destination whose stark challenges are shared by many other destinations worldwide.

“In Chiapas, Mexico, at the 2011 Adventure Travel World Summit, Namibia boldly said, ‘let us bring the Summit home’,” said the Honorable Minister of Environment and Tourism Netumbo Nandi-Ndwitah. “Today I am happy to report that the efforts of our strong public-private partnership have resulted in Namibia being chosen as the FIRST African country to host the Summit.  We are justly proud of our tourism industry and our conservation initiatives that have made this selection possible.”

In selecting Namibia, the ATTA in part is recognizing the developing nation’s achievements in becoming one of the world’s most progressive destinations working to find the most effective balance between conservation, tourism and community development.

“Namibia offers one of the most compelling success stories in tourism today, one of joint venture tourism and partnerships between communal conservancies and tourism enterprises,” said ATTA President Shannon Stowell, who returned from Namibia in June 2012. “Namibia’s model of conservancies, joint venture partnerships and conservation is a model that we should put on display. It’s a story that should be told.  I’d previously heard the discussions, watched the films and I still didn’t understand it fully it until I came and saw it in action. Our delegates are sure to gain immense insights from their experiences in Namibia.”

Namibia, a nation committed to ensuring tourism benefits reach everyone, has a proactive community tourism policy and recently gave tourism concession rights to communities that border state protected areas. Namibia also is a nation committed to conservation and has, since its independence in 1990, expanded from 13% to an outstanding 42% of land area under some form of conservation management. Furthermore, Namibia recently established the largest national park in Africa, and is the only country in the world with an entirely protected coastline.

“As Namibians we are ready for the challenge of hosting the Summit and are thrilled to welcome the Adventure Travel Tribe to the land of endless horizons where wildlife and humans are free to roam and still experience true nature,” added the Honorable Minister. “Together with the ATTA and the overall Adventure Travel Trade, Namibia is ready to showcase to the world the spirit and essence of a nation committed to conservation, community empowerment and social and economic transformation through partnerships and innovation.”

The ATTA’s Summit conferences engage and energize the leaders of the adventure travel community with networking, business and professional development programs, educational seminars and emerging adventure destination product review opportunities. In addition to the keynotes, a cadre of experts covering core business disciplines of the adventure tourism industry will deliver two key content tracks over the course of three days, one designed primarily for adventure tour operators and the other primarily for tourism boards.

Registration for the 2013 ATWS will open September 17, 2012, at www.adventuretravelworldsummit.com.

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This morning, Wednesday 15th of August 2012, the small town of Aus in the south of Namibia awoke to a unusual weather phenomenon. It was snowing!

Have a look at the pictures below taken by Piet Swiegers owner of the Desert Horse Inn in Aus:

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To read more about the town of Aus, follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aus,_Namibia

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Kalahari’s sands harbour unusual treasure. The Devil’s Claw is one such gem, known to indigenous people for centuries for its medicinal properties. Although its name stems from the claw-like hooks of the thorny fruit, it is the secondary tubers of the Harpagophytum procumbens that are harvested for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Devil's Claw, issued in 2005, artist: Anja Denker

Devil’s Claw, issued in 2005, artist: Anja Denker

One of Namibia’s most famous plants, Devil’s Claw, called Kamangu by many ethnic groups, is known traditionally as an all-purpose tonic, assisting with ailments such as chest pains, emaciation, weakness, fatigue, urinary problems, digestive disorders and fever. The infusion is also taken as an analgesic, especially during pregnancy, and an ointment is applied to heal sores, ulcers and boils. It has become well-known in the western world in the last fifty years as a treatment for rheumatism and arthritis.

The creeping perennial with grey-green leaves and tubular mauve flowers that appear from November onwards is endemic to southern Africa, growing predominantly in the Kalahari sands of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It belongs to the Pedaliaceae family. The fruit is dispersed by attaching to animals’ fur and the seeds may remain dormant for decades. The cassava-like secondary roots are sliced and dried for medicinal purposes. Traditionally, an infusion is made by mixing the powdered material with boiling water. Capsules, tablets, tinctures and ointments are also now available.

In the 1950s, the medicinal value of Harpagophytum was recognised by a German farmer in Namibia and the first major commercial export of Devil’s Claw began in the 1960s. The international demand increased in the 1990s. Today, Namibia is responsible for a large percentage of the supply of Devil’s Claw, which is mostly wild-harvested by rural people. Devil’s Claw was listed as a protected species in Namibia in 1977 and permits are required to harvest and import the plant. Thousands of harvesters living in remote rural areas rely on the harvesting of Devil’s Claw as their sole cash income.

Leaves, blossoms and thorny fruits of the Devil's Claw. Photo: Wikipedia/CITES Secretariat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpagophytum)

Leaves, blossoms and thorny fruits of the Devil’s Claw. Photo: Wikipedia/CITES Secretariat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpagophytum)

A large amount of Devil’s Claw is harvested in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in eastern Namibia. The conservancy works closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to ensure the sustainability of Devil’s Claw. In the last few years, NGO funding enabled the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) to work with the Centre for Research Information Action in Africa – Southern African Development and Consulting (CRIAA SA-DC) to introduce and implement a sustainable harvesting programme. This also ensures quality of the product and prevents exploitation of the harvesters.

There is concern that Devil’s Claw is threatened by over-utilisation. Studies reveal a need for harvesting to be controlled and restricted to certain months of the year, so as not to disturb the plant during the growing season. It has also been ascertained that although the secondary tubers can be harvested, the primary tap roots must not be disturbed to allow plant regeneration and population growth, ensuring Devil’s Claw survival. Harvesting quotas and long-term monitoring of this valuable resource, which lies so unassumingly on the desert sands, are also recommended.

Resembling a weed, Devil’s Claw could easily be overlooked without its beneficial properties ever being realised. Thanks to indigenous peoples, like the San, we have been made aware of the untold treasures of the natural world.

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The black eagle or Verreaux’s eagle, as it’s officially called, is one of four large African eagle species – the others being the martial eagle, crowned eagle and our national bird, the African fish eagle – each specializing in a different ecosystem.

Black Eagle. Photo: Jutta Luft, Wikipedia

Black Eagle. Photo: Jutta Luft, Wikipedia

This king of the skies inhabits mountains, hills, cliffs and broken rocky habitats throughout southern and eastern Africa, from Table Mountain to Israel, excluding the Kalahari basin. There are about 500 to 1000 pairs of black eagles in Namibia, from the cliffs of the Orange and Fish rivers and the Karas Mountains in the south through the western escarpment belt, the Khomas Hochland, the Waterberg, Kaokoveld and to the Kunene River in the north.

Verreaux’s eagle, Aquila verreauxii, has a wingspan of about 2 m and like most birds of prey (‘raptors’) the female (±4.5 kg) is larger than the male (±3.7 kg). One of the reasons for this may be because smaller males are more agile and proficient hunters, while females need a good supply of body fat reserves to incubate eggs and brood small nestlings for long periods.

The eagle’s main prey is the rock hyrax or dassie. In some areas where hyrax are plentiful and readily accessible they may comprise 90% or more of the eagle’s diet while in other areas they comprise as little as 50%, with other medium sized mammals (e.g. hares, rabbits, small antelopes) and medium to large birds (e.g. guineafowl, francolin and bustards) making up the balance. Verreaux’s eagle will also scavenge. It sits imperiously on top of a carcass which, if it is a sheep, leads farmers to assume that the eagle killed the animal.

Seven such incidents were investigated with farmers and in six it was found that the sheep died of other causes, mainly predation by domestic dogs, birth problems or disease. In the 1970s and early 1980s farmers in the Karas Mountains, because of perceptions of small-stock predation, largely eliminated Verreaux’s eagles from the area. This resulted in an explosion of rock hyrax, which ventured out far from their rocky areas over the plains where they competed with small-stock for grazing. (Twelve hyrax eat the same amount of grass as one karakul sheep.) Once the Karas farmers understood this they started protecting Verreaux’s eagles and today the Karas Mountains once again supports a healthy population of this magnificent eagle.

Aquila verreauxii (Black Eagle), issued in 1975, artist: Dick Findlay

Aquila verreauxii (Black Eagle), issued in 1975, artist: Dick Findlay

The nest is a large stick platform lined with green leaves, usually built high on a ledge on a sheer cliff face, safe from baboons. Verreaux’s eagles are monogamous, forming lifelong pair bonds, and are territorial, defending their home range. Breeding starts in late April and May with spectacular courtship flights and displays. The peak egg-laying season in Namibia is June and most clutches comprise two eggs. The eggs usually hatch 2-3 days apart after an incubation period of 45 days.

On hatching, one of the most interesting biological events takes place. The first chick to hatch, which is larger and more developed, attacks the second in what has become known as the Cain and Abel struggle. Reasons suggested for this are that the second egg serves as a reserve in case the first is infertile and that one fit young eagle has a better chance of surviving and ultimately rearing offspring than two less fit young eagles. The fledgling leaves the nest for the first time at about 95 days after hatching, and is chased from the territory about 30 days later.

Verreaux’s Eagle is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the Namibian Red Data list because of persecution from small-stock farmers and because it is vulnerable to the use of poison, usually set to kill mammalian predators of small-stock. It is a sad fact that, for every target species killed in this way, over a hundred non-target scavengers are poisoned, most of them vultures and scavenging eagles. Fortunately, because of the remote mountainous terrain in which they live, the population of Verreaux’s eagle in Namibia is stable.

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Few tortoise species are as well-known as the African leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis, former scientific name: Geochelone pardalis). The reasons for being so easily recognised are their attractive markings, appealing size (in some areas females may reach up to 70 cm!) and their distribution throughout Africa.
Leopard tortoise. Photo: Alfred Schleicher

Leopard tortoise. Photo: Alfred Schleicher

Leopard tortoises are found in an area stretching from southern Sudan and parts of Somalia across Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and all over southern Africa. This versatile species occurs in Mozambique and South Africa as well as Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, in the arid regions of Namibia as much as in the rain forests of Angola, no matter whether annual rainfall is just 100 mm or well above 2,000 mm.

The leopard tortoise favours semi-arid thorny to grassland habitats but seems to thrive anywhere from coastal to mountainous landscapes. It is able to cope with heat as well as extreme cold, aridity as well as humidity. Tortoises in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in South Africa are known to dwell in the abandoned holes of small predators during the cold winter months. Likewise, in the arid scenery around the Tiras Mountains in southern Namibia, they shelter in similar holes to survive the heat and extended periods of drought. There, however, the occurrence of leopard tortoises is no doubt proportionately much smaller than it is in the vast savannah of Serengeti National Park in East Africa, for example.

Leopard tortoises are herbivores which graze on grasses like lawnmowers. They also favour various fruits, succulents and thistles and even eat the dung of other herbivores. The key to success seems to be versatility combined with resilience.

Adaptability is also reflected in the reptiles’ size within different tortoise populations. The largest ones are found in areas where food is plentiful and, perhaps, where the reptiles have enough time to grow. In many African cultures large leopard tortoises are seen as a food source. For the San (Bushmen) in the Kalahari this tortoise used to be a special treat and the empty shells were treasured as containers for collecting berries and roots. But the numbers of tortoises always remained stable, even though baby tortoises have many natural enemies to contend with – hornbills, eagles, hawks and secretary birds. Bush fires are another threat.

Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), issued in 1982, artist: Arthur Howard Barrett

Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), issued in 1982, artist: Arthur Howard Barrett

Leopard tortoises are very prolific. In years with generous rainfalls females lay up to three clutches of up to 12 (sometimes 20) eggs each, even in Namibia. Eggs are the size of a ping-pong ball. Females, as in all tortoise species, use the strong nails of their hind legs to dig a nesting hole of 30 to 35 cm deep. They moisten it by emptying their anal bladder and then, sliding down the hind leg, one egg after the other is dropped to its place in the hole. After the last one the nesting site is carefully covered up again and smoothed over with the plastron to make it less conspicuous.

Incubation time differs from 80 to 120 days in areas which are humid and always warm, to more than one year in mainly arid regions – like Namibia, for example. This is another form of amazing adaptability: if the rains stay away the hatchlings would find no grass and starve. It does in fact happen that fully developed baby tortoises hatch but stay in their nesting hole in a state of ‘drought hibernation’, waiting for the proverbial better times. After sufficient rain has fallen they will finally make their appearance. In typical tortoise manner the baby ‘leopards’ are immediately able to look after themselves without restriction and have all four little feet firmly planted on the ground.

In some parts of their original habitats leopard tortoises have nevertheless become rare. The reason will most certainly be the impact of the most destructive of all living creatures, modern man. Because even the most adaptable species are unable to cope with fast changes in their habitat. Perhaps we, as humans, should take a leaf out of that book.

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The Mbalantu live in the extreme northern parts of the Omusati Region and part of their tribal area extends into southern Angola. As they take a rather insignificant position among the OshiWambo-speaking groups, they were neither frequented by early traders during the nineteenth century nor did they participate in the agreements, which were signed between the German Government and various OvaWambo chiefs in 1908. Mission stations were also only founded much later, which contributed towards the Mbalantu having retained some of their traditions, e.g. the skills to make handsome pottery and the rather spectacular headdresses of their women, for a much longer period of time than some of the other tribes. At the age of approximately twelve years, Mbalantu girls started preparing their hair for later headdresses. As among the Ngandjera and Kwaluudhi, the Mbalantu girls also covered their hair with a thick layer of finely ground tree bark of the omutyuula tree (Acacia reficiens), which was mixed with oil. The mixture was applied to improve hair growth. A few years later the thick fat-mixture was loosened so that the hair became visible. Subsequently, fruit pips of the bird plum were attached to the hair ends with the aid of sinew strings.

Mbalantu, issued in 1997, artist: Mary Jane Volkmann

Mbalantu, issued in 1997, artist: Mary Jane Volkmann

If a girl had reached the age of sixteen years, the headdress consisting of fruit pips was discarded and instead long sinew strands, which often reached the ground, were attached to the hair. According to reports dating to the early 1900s, some 80 strings of sinew were sometimes used.

Just before the girls could enter the ohango initiation ceremony, the long sinew strands were converted into two or four thick plaits, which were known as eembuvi. They were hanging down on the sides of the head and at the back. Sometimes small ornaments, which were adorned with white porcelain beads, were attached above the forehead at the base of the plaits. If one considers that the plaits remained part of the head of the girls for day and night, one can imagine the extreme exertion the young girls had to go through during the initiation ceremony, which was just about to commence.

The eembuvi-plaits of Mbalantu women. Photo: CHL Hahn, Collection Antje Otto

The eembuvi-plaits of Mbalantu women. Photo: CHL Hahn, Collection Antje Otto

If the girls had managed to proceed through the initiation ceremony, they were called “brides” (ovafuko). At this stage another thick layer of ground tree bark and fat was applied onto the head. Various ornaments made from beads were attached on top. Finally, the long plaits were taken up and arranged in a specific manner along the sides of the head and at the back, where they were attached. According to historical reports this headdress was a “mighty coiffure” and its weight was of such nature, that the upper ends thereof were often attached to a piece of rope or skin, which was fastened around the forehead in order to distribute the weight more evenly. The front edge of the coiffure, which was known as omhatela, was often decorated with a band of large, white beads (omawe gomupolo). At the back just below the omhatela a leather strip decorated with cowrie-shells was also sometimes attached. The young girls were now regarded as married. The omhatela-coiffure was often worn long years after marriage

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It’s surprising to think of penguins in the African heat rather than in colder climes, but the African penguinis endemic to the southern tip of Africa. An unusual flightless bird, ungainly on land, it is an agile master of the water world as it careens swiftly through the water powered by its webbed feet and small flipper-like ‘wings’.Because of its loud braying call, it was once referred to as the Jackass penguin. The tough 60-70 cm bird has an attractive black-and-white colouring that serves as camouflage; the white underbelly to disguise it from underwater predators below and the black back from predators above. Its disguise has not protected it, however, from its greatest competitor – man, and African penguin numbers have plummeted over the last century to a fraction of what they were. In 1956/57 the total population was estimated at 141 000 breeding pairs, a number which had decreased by 60% in 2009 to just over 25 000. The Namibian population comprised approximately 5 000 pairs in 2008/9 and the South African, 21 000.Historically, the decline in penguin numbers has been attributed to the harvesting of penguin eggs and the collection of guano. Without the guano layer, penguins are unable to dig their burrows, which protect them from predators and provide cover from the hot African sun.

Jackass Penguin, issued in 1997, artist: David Thorpe

Jackass Penguin, issued in 1997, artist: David Thorpe

The African penguin is now facing an even more severe crisis – food scarcity, being unable to compete with the commercial fisheries. Many penguin mortalities have also resulted from oil spills. Natural predators include seals and sharks in the ocean and the mongoose, gull and genet on land. The dramatic decline in numbers led to the African penguin being reclassified on the IUCN’s Red List in 2010 from Vulnerable to Endangered.The distribution of the African penguin Spheniscus demersuscoincides with the area influenced by the nutrient rich waters of the Benguela Current that runs up the coast of Africa and the availability of off-shore nesting sites. (Some mainland sites have been colonised in recent years. This has been attributed to an eastward shift of pelagic fish.) Its breeding range extends from Hollamsbird Island, off central Namibia, to Bird Island in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape. In Namibia, Halifax Island, Mercury, Ichaboe and Possession islands account for approximately 96% of the Namibian penguin population. Sardines and anchovies, the penguins preferred diet, were overfished in the 1960s/70s making it difficult for penguins on islands like Halifax to find food. The guano layer covering the island was also removed for fertiliser during this period.Several distinctive behaviours are evident in the penguin colonies during the year, most noticeably the annual moult, where penguins fatten-up for weeks before their 20-day starvation period when they are unable to enter the ocean, and the breeding season. In Namibia most penguins moult in April and May, and in South Africa from November to January.

African penguin. Photo: Gondwana Collection

African penguin. Photo: Gondwana Collection

There are also regional differences of breeding season, with the peak of the breeding season occurring in Namibia in November and December and in South Africa from March to May. The African penguin is monogamous, the breeding pair sharing the 40-day incubation and feeding duties. About 60 days after hatching, the chicks’ down has already been replaced by blue-grey waterproof plumage, and from 60 to 130 days the ‘baby-blues’ are ready to leave their natal colony. They will return after 12 to 22 months, after journeys of up to 1 900 km, to moult into adult plumage.There are ‘happy feet’ and success stories these days as more protection is being granted to the species, nesting boxes supplied and organisations like SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) rehabilitating abandoned chicks and oiled birds. Over a hundred birds from Lüderitz were transported to Cape Town in a rescue mission in 2009 where the oiled penguins spent 4 weeks rehabilitating before their release and long swim back to Namibian waters. After 18 days, the first of the group were seen arriving home.

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