community based conservation

Kaokoveld – a pathway into another world

Kaokoveld - A pathway into another world

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik hier


Silence… No cars moving in the distance, no chirping sounds of birds, not even a touch of wind. Complete silence… It truly can be deafening, as they say. We were parked on top of a mountain pass, lying in our rooftop tent with all the blinds open. We had crawled into our sleeping bags, looking like big cocoons with only our heads sticking out, the only parts exposed to the chilly night air. Above us was the night sky in its full glory, the Milky Way stretching from one side of the horizon to the other. What a night, what a place!  

Our beautiful view on the mountain top!

Three days earlier we entered the region called Kaokoveld, which lies in the north-west of Namibia. It is believed to be one of the true remaining wildernesses of southern Africa and we were there to test this statement. It is known for its rough terrain and roads, the beautiful landscapes and the local tribe called the Himba. You have probably seen them on the telly or a magazine. The Himba, especially the women, still hold on to their traditions by “dressing” as they have done for who knows how long. As the quotation mark implies the Himba women live in a fairly naked state; their boobs can freely enjoy the wild outdoors (no cloth to hold them back from encroaching on lower regions), as is most of the rest of their body except (luckily) their mid-level private parts. To accent their features, and protect them from the sun, they cover themselves with oker, which gives their skin a beautiful dark red colour.    


Two Himba woman and Kellie

The unofficial capital of the Himba is Opuwo. Driving into this city felt other-worldly, almost like entering a Star Wars movie. In addition to the Himba, the Herero people also call the Koakoveld region their home. Almost to compensate for the cloths that the Himba lack, the Herero women wear long dresses in any colour imaginable as bright as they get (imagine bright pink or fluorescent green) and they finish their style with a hat that would even make our former queen, princes Beatrix, very jealous. The hats have two cool features: firstly, they always seem to match the dress and secondly, they protect the wearer from the scorching sun with a very interesting cap that has the shape of a triangle. Can you imagine that? Now imagine these beautiful people living side-by-side in a small city in the middle of a desert world, kinda begins to feel like Star Wars, huh? Very cool!!

The funny thing is that when arriving in Opuwo, you don’t really have time to adjust to this very different culture. The reason for our visit to this city was partly to prepare for the upcoming trip to the wilderness of Kaokoveld; we had to fuel up the car and get enough provisions to last us at least five days. The first thing we did was a visit to the fuel station where we were immediately bombarded by Himba ladies. Now, you have to know that I am very loyal to Kellie and I think it is very disrespectful to look at a woman’s “Tha-Thas!”, but… When they stand right in front of you to offer you their goodies (here, I mean other type of merchandize 😉) it is very hard not to have a peek. Luckily for me, Kellie agreed.  

Even though we had to get used to it and might make it sound like we're making fun of it, it was pretty obvious how proud these woman are of their heritage, and you can't do anything else than respect that. It is amazing how much royalty they radiate and I felt a vicarious pride for them!

A real African sunset!

The other reason why we were in Opuwo is because we wanted to visit an organization that supports local communities in setting up a conservancy. This organization is called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (thankfully in short, IRDNC). Read more about IRDNC and our visit on the Projects Page, here (not yet published).

After we finished with the pre-trip prep we stayed the night at IRDNC’s camp and left for Kaokoveld the next morning. Now, the previous blog ended with us breaking our rear shocks in Etosha NP (read about it here). Although we fixed some new shocks we didn’t have the chance to thoroughly test them out. With the reputation of Kaokoveld, the knowledge that we need to cross and drive in some riverbeds and the information that it rained a few weeks ago in mind, we were slightly nervous whether we would be able to make it (even besides considering the new shocks). What did not help was that we came across a guy that got stuck in the mud (took him 5 hours to recover the motorhome!) and I saw a 4x4 car like ours getting towed back to civilisation (didn’t tell Kellie this at the time). (Red. aka Kellie: This is the first time I heard/read about it!) Nevertheless, we decided to go anyway! Only one way of finding out if you got what it takes right?

Our goals were to make it to the dots on the map called Orumpembe and Puros. These were two of the handful of named places where people live in Kaokoveld. Our interest in these places was that they were both the “capitals” of Orumpembe and Puros Conservancy. We wanted to know if the local people benefit from setting up a Conservancy, how they do it, what resources they use and if they use those resources sustainably. We already visited a Conservancy (called Mayuni, read about it here) in the Zambezi (former Caprivi) region, which worked surprisingly well. It would be interesting to see if their performance is shared with more Conservancies in Namibia or that it was special.

The first night we wanted to sleep at a campsite about 15 kilometers north of Orumpembe, it was called The House on the Hill. We had to drive about 150 kilometers that day to reach it. Doesn’t sound like that great of a distance, right? Well, it took us close to the whole day to reach it. The first section of road from Opuwo was still okay, relatively speaking. We could drive about 40 kilometers in the first hour/hour-and-a-half. From there on the road got narrower, rockier and hillier (including river bed crossings, which luckily were dry). Can’t imagine we drove faster than 20 kilometers per hour on average. We weren’t bored or frustrated for a second though, because the scenery was nothing less than spectacular (like New-Zealand spectacular, but then dry)! Slowly, as we proceeded, the landscape began to change; the trees and shrubs started to disappear, the mountains became higher and valleys in between flatter. It became more arid. For us this meant that the closer we got to our campsite the more we had to stop to enjoy the landscape and take some photographs. This probably contributed a lot to why it took us the whole day to reach the campsite .

With about 10 kilometres to go we noticed something strange in the distance. It looked like the dust trail of a car, but than huge. At a certain moment Kellie shouted: “it is a sand storm!” Now this is of course really cool, but according to our GPS the sand storm seemed to be in the exact location of our campsite! We drove on, we could always camp somewhere in the wild if necessary. The sand storm had a Namibian desert style orange colour, and as we got closer we could begin to see how the strong westerly ocean winds picked up the sand that was lying on a big plain. Luckily for us, we noticed now that our campsite was positioned just behind the sand storm, on the other side of a hill. We had to go through it though to get there. Just before we entered the storm we closed the windows and drove through. From a far it looked a lot more impressive and we past the sandy plain unharmed.

The small sandstorm!

The campsite was set against a hill (yes, with a house on it) and next to a dry riverbed. We had a lovely braai that night including portobello’s with goat cheese, puffed sweet potatoes and roasted corn. A local dog must have smelled our feast as he paid us a visit to search for scraps. He looked starved and Kellie gave him some bread, a can of salmon and lots of water. I think she made friends for life! (Red. one of the sweetest dogs we’ve come across!)

View on the sunset from the campsite!

The next morning, we talked with a guy called Exit (awesome nickname!) from the Conservancy (read about it here) and afterwards we left for the next destination, Puros. We noticed that in Kaokoveld you have always two options in going somewhere: through the riverbed or next to it. These roads are often connected every few kilometers, which meant that we could get out of the riverbed at any time if the riverbed was getting muddy or worse. Again, we felt empowered by the Tracks4Africa app which showed every little road there was with such accuracy! So, we decided to just give it a try! We deflated the tyres and drove right in. What a great decision that was! For a whole day we drove through a dry but green riverbed with on both sides stunning mountains. We found oryx, ostriches, giraffe and… a donkey?! From a distance it looked like the donkey was hopping strangely, but when we got closer we noticed that its front legs were tight by a rope. Who does such a thing?! We stopped and had a closer look. The rope was burning through its skin and the donkey clearly was struggling to move around. We decided to do something about it. We first tried to gain the donkeys trust by giving it some bread, but it didn’t want any of it. Maybe some water than? Nope, no interest. It was still hopping away from us. The donkey left us without options, we needed to corner him. On a ridge next to riverbed we sparred with the donkey; we tried to get close, the donkey turned its bottom to us as if to kick us and we had to retreat. This went on for about 10 minutes until the donkey finally surrendered and stood still. I talked to him with my soothing voice to keep him calm (red. Yeah right), while Kellie cut the rope. And we succeeded! The rope gave way and the donkey walked away as if nothing has happened. Good for you donkey!

Not long after that we left the riverbed and went up a mountain pass. The plan was to go down the mountain on the other side to another riverbed. When we made it to the top of the pass though, we decided to stop there and set up camp on the highest point, the view was simply too good to drive on. The wind was relentless up there and for about three hours we just sat in the wind (and sun) shade behind the car. With the sun almost setting we positioned ourselves for the show and waited…

With the sun dropping behind the mountains, the wind steadily ceased until it was completely quiet. In the beginning it is kind of unnerving (especially in the darkness), as if something can jump at you in any second. But you quickly get used to it and it is quite special! That night we set the alarm at 2.30 AM (we were sure that the moon would be gone by then) to learn how to make photographs of the night sky. When we woke up, the stars were magnificent!

To get a sense of how desolate this place is. The Kaokoveld is about 45 thousand square kilometres (the Netherlands is about 41 thousand square kilometres) and only a couple of thousand people live in it (excluding Opuwo). We didn’t come across another car while driving for two days straight. I think it is something very special that such places still exist, and we should cherish it as much as we can. And some of you might think that this is dangerous; what if the car breaks down!? If calamity strikes, and we get bogged or have a break down, we could always live with the Himba for a week or so until someone rescued us!

Nothing of the kind happened though! Sisi could take anything that Kaokoveld had to offer. With our confidence boosting we drove off down the other side of the mountain a couple hours after sunrise. Closing up on the next valley we drove around a part of the mountain and saw the next riverbed in the distance. Absolutely stunning! It looked like a piece of the Sahara with a riverbed oasis (including palm trees), but then with orange sand and placed between two mountain ridges. The vegetation was surprisingly lush, and we had the whole valley to ourselves. Well, besides the few giraffes and oryx of course! 

Just after lunch we arrived in Puros and set up camp, and cleaned out the car (dust was accumulating) after which we had a very short talk with a guy from the Puros Conservancy. We did some relaxing in the hammock and had a nice braai and the following morning we moved on to the next place, through, again, a different landscape. The Ongongo hotspring, this is a natural spring and the waterfall coming down was warm water! Here we camped and relaxed some more (Lars by playing around with the camera). This was our last stop in Kaokoveld and unfortunately we only found a lot of dung and no desert elephants. But! They also hang out in the next area we’re going; Damaraland. You can read more about this in our next blog!

Lars playing around with the camera, making pictures of the weavers above the pool!

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, 1 comment

Mayuni Conservancy Namibia – And a way to build up some good karma!

Mayuni Conservancy - Some "good karma"-building

A blog about our adventures ánd a conservancy project!

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

After our beautiful wildlife trip in the Okavango (read about it here), we went for a cultural experience. From Maun, we traveled the long distance to the deserted area of the Tsodilo hills. An area also known as the Mountain of the Gods. We drove up around sunset and we could feel why this area is and has been a sacred area for many different cultures over thousands of years. The mountains arise out of nowhere in an else-wise flat and dry country. In these mountains, there are about 4500 different rock art paintings of which many are over 3000 years old!!

Sun was setting behind the Mountain of the Gods when we arrived. Beautiful!

We arrived at the campsite where we met Craig, a South-African bloke who had been travelling on his own for a while. He and we were happy with the company. We enjoyed a beautiful chatty, star-gazing night together and the next morning we woke up early to hike the hills in the cool of the dawn. We were guided by two local men, Tshebe and Phetolo, who told us everything about the paintings and the area. Besides visiting the paintings, we also did some rock climbing and caving. Okay, I might make it sound a little bigger than it was, but it was very nice for a change to do some active things instead of sitting in a car the whole day! During the hike, and in one of the caves they showed marks in the rocks. These marks in the shape of holes, were made by the many, many tools that were sharpened so long ago. It was very weird and at the same time impressive to see something so touchable and real like the paintings and these marks, and then realize it was made thousands of years ago by people so alike and yet so different from us. Nowadays, however, they still use the holes in the rocks, only not for tool sharpening, but for a game! It’s called Diketo, and works like this: you repeatedly throw a rock up in the air, and while the rock is in the air, you scoop several smaller rocks out of the hole, after which you try and put them back in one by one. Phetolo showed us and made it sound and look very, very easy. But this hand-eye coordination is a lot harder than you might imagine! Lars and Craig both tried, but were failing miserably, throwing rocks in all directions except into the hole! It was kind of dangerous! And I guess, after that, I was afraid to even try. Plus, I might have been a bit more interested in exploring the cave (even though we were told there might be snakes…). By the time we finally got back from our supposed-to-be-2-hour-walk, it was very hot and we took a refreshing shower before we hit the road. As Craig planned to go in the same general direction, we convinced him to join us to the campsite we booked. What we didn’t know was that it was only for 4x4 cars…

When we arrived at the gate, the guy told us we still had to drive about 13 km on a road with a lot of soft sand. And looking at Craig’s car All-Wheel Drive Sabaru, the guy said he probably wouldn’t make it. I suggested he could pack his gear in our car, but with an uncanny amount of faith in his car, Craig said the car could do it! It was sort of a 4x4 after all! The gate guy looked at us sceptically, but let us in anyway... All right, we figured to just give it a try then! And it worked!!! His car kept going, even at the parts I really thought he wouldn’t manage.  But then, about halfway to the campsite we had to drive uphill in deep sand, and the clearance of Craig’s car simply wasn’t high enough. So instead of reaching the top of the hill, he ended up on top of the sand just before the top, without any grip with his wheels whatsoever. As this was the third car (and the fifth time) we had to dig out someone else’s car, we were, what you would call, experts. We knew the problem was the clearance and that we had to remove the sand under the car. We knew we had to get some sticks to put under the wheels for some grip. And we knew that if we would push hard enough, while he kept hitting the gas, we would probably be able to get it out. Of course, Craig didn’t know all this, so he was in a bit of a worry, walking around his car frantically, while we were digging the sand from under his car. Then we told him to hit the gas while we pushed. At first, he hit the gas, stopped and hit it again. If you let go of the gas, you just roll back in the hole. We started shouting loudly at him to keep it going and very slowly we pushed the car out and on to the side of the road. As we were only halfway there, we decided to get his gear and leave the car behind. You should know that all of this happened while we were within a game area, were wildlife roams freely. I was explaining to Craig that our experience is that after a shitty ride (or a stuck car) something good is bound to happen here in Africa, especially in game areas. And not even a minute later we almost drove into a pack of wild dogs! And this is a very, very rare sighting, especially as this was a group of about four adults with nine pups! And there they were, right in front of us on the road. The pups were fighting over a kill that had just been brought over by one of the adults! Beautiful! And there is so much interaction amongst wild dogs, we saw one adult arrive and the pups went running towards her and just jumped on top so she rolled over by the force of the pups. After that, she gave them the kill and they ran off and five of them started pulling it in different directions. Lars and I were so happy and excited! At first, Craig was still with his head in worry mode for his car, but he got dragged in by the wild dog’s behaviour and our enthusiasm. And only after we arrived at camp and the staff told us how few wild dogs they saw, and how envious they were, he finally realized how rare this sighting was (even though we had told him). And it hit him (and us) how much luck we had that his car got stuck; we might have missed them if we would’ve been able to continue!

By the time we did arrive at the campsite, it was already dark, but we were lucky enough that the manager had not given our spot away. Again, we had the best spot of the whole campsite right on the edge, next to the river, and some other people kept on insisting they wanted to move there! I don’t know why we are so lucky with these things, but I am really happy we are. We went to put up the tent when Craig finally realized he had forgotten to take the box with his tent in it! It was so funny, and luckily the managers saw the humor as well when we walked back over to the lodge and he booked one of the luxury tents there. After that, we just got a beer at the boma (fireplace) and called it a day. The next morning, we went on a game drive with a local game ranger named Justus who had been working in the conservancy area since 1992. Besides the regular impala, lechwe and hippo, there was not a lot of game that morning, but we almost found lions! And even more important, Justus told us everything about the area. Which was one of the reasons we wanted to visit Nambwa and the Mayuni Conservancy in the first place. We wanted to know more about how this conservancy was set up, and the fact that, in part of it, hunting is allowed.


Our beautiful campsite with a deck looking out the river. We heard the hippo's and saw some lechwe's right across from us!

This is what we learned. First, let me just say it is a very successful cooperation between community and lodge owners with the aim of conserving nature so they can benefit from tourism. We had not realized this before we visited, so that was a very interesting finding. Mayuni conservancy was the third community conservancy set up in this region, after Salambala conservancy in the East and Wuparo conservancy in the South. It was started by IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), an NGO which works in Namibia and has pioneered one of Africa’s leading models of community-based natural resource management. This is apparent from the successes of the conservancies we have seen in the Caprivi strip region (now called Zambezi-region). Hopefully we will be able to meet with someone from this organization, as we haven’t been able to get in touch yet, but we will try visit their office in the coming month 😊.

Anyway, back to the Mayuni conservancy, the area where we saw the wild dogs (yaay!). When IRDNC came in, people were skeptical and suspicious of these people and their plans. However, four volunteers started with demarcating the conservancy area, thereby patrolling the border sort of as anti-poachers. However, in the beginning, they did not have any ammunition besides their hands. Locals just laughed at them. But over time, they received ammunition and even a vehicle and the community came to respect them. In the meantime, a meeting was organized, one with food and beers to make it attractive. And a lot of people showed up and the community came to understand what the conservancy would be all about. For example, if someone has a good well-substantiated idea to start a project, e.g. farming or small craft business or whatever, they can ask money from the conservancy. But they can also ask money for a guiding education, where the conservancy will see it as a way of investing in them. So, the money from the conservancy is coming back into the community. Take for example the campsite we were staying at, Nwambwa. This is a community owned campsite of which the profits all went to the community. Three years ago it was expanded with a lodge, which is partly owned by the community and partly by a British-Namibian investor. But besides the managers and a few game rangers, the rest of the employers are from the community.

Then another part of this conservancy is used for professional hunting. However, oppositely to how they do it around Kafue NP (read it in this blog), here they hunt sustainably. Hunters are not allowed to go without a guide and they can only kill old males; old elephant bulls, kudu’s or old hippo’s. If you ‘accidently’ shoot a female, you’ll have to pay a fine. And if you kill two instead of one animal, you must pay double the amount. And the beautiful thing here is that the conservancies in this area work together: at the end of the year each area does an animal count and if it turns out that for example no elephants are in one area, they will refer to the neighbor. Smart!

Justus, who worked for the hunting company in this area for a few years, told us that he thinks in this region they will probably stop hunting within two years, even though they earn money from it. He says enough money will come in from ‘plain’ tourism just like in Botswana. The main reason however, is that if they continue, they will enter a difficult relationship with their neighbors. In Botswana, hunting is not allowed and without fences separating Namibia and Botswana, the Namibian people are killing the animals that wander across the border. And for Botswana this feels like they are killing ‘their animals’, which makes sense. Furthermore, Justus mentioned that lodges are not the only thing that can provide money or the community. The area also needs for example a fresh vegetable garden, a restaurant, a shopping center and even a bakery. So, there will be enough jobs coming around when tourism picks up! And to show that this model has worked, I can quote Justus: ‘People from the village let lechwe and impala walk in their house and don’t see them as meat, but as a way to earn money from tourism.’ And that is a very good way to preserve nature!!

- Kellie -

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, Projects, 4 comments

Simalaha Community Conservancy – Nederlandse versie

Simalaha Community Conservancy

Een beginnend natuur behoud community project.

Zo, dit was me toch een situatie waarin we ons nog nooit hebben bevonden. In de Filippijnen hebben we al het belang van bepaalde tradities meegemaakt. Maar ik ben nog nooit zo nerveus geweest voor een eenvoudige ontmoeting! Al is dit waarschijnlijk heel natuurlijk, omdat onze ontmoeting was in het koninklijk paleis met de koninklijke familie van Barotseland. Blijkbaar is dit vergelijkbaar met een ontmoeting met onze Nederlandse koning, koning Willem-Alexander, en dan met heel veel regels. Ik moest bijvoorbeeld een chitenge dragen, wat in feite gewoon een sarong is. En onze schouders moesten bedekt zijn. De kinderen die rond het paleis woonden, waren degene die ons mee naar binnen namen. Eén jongetje hield mijn hand vast, om zeker te weten dat ik hem wel volgde. We liepen naar een dame, en alle kinderen knielden om haar heen. Het jongetje wat mijn hand vast had, trok me naar beneden.... Schijnbaar moesten we knielen voor deze mevrouw. Deze mevrouw zei dat we plaatst moesten nemen (buiten om een steentje), en we ons gezicht richting een gebouw moesten keren. Een man kwam hier naar buiten, en hij vertelde ons wat we moesten doen voor we de Mwandi Bre Kuta (het gebouw) zouden binnengaan; kniel voor de ingang en klap een paar keer in je handen, ga dan naar binnen en doe hetzelfde voordat je op je stoel gaat zitten. Dit is serieus! Gelukkig hadden we een geweldige kerel bij ons, Mike Mwenda, gemeenteraadslid voor de Mwandi-afdeling. Ik ben er vrij zeker van dat hij het jongste raadslid in Zambia is met zijn 23 jaar, en hij is erg gepassioneerd over zijn gemeenschap en alle mensen daarin.

Hoe dan ook, we kwamen het gebouw binnen en voelden ons behoorlijk ongemakkelijk bij het uitvoeren van al deze rituelen. Vijf oude mannen zaten op een rijtje langs de muur naar ons te kijken terwijl we dit deden en tegenover ze gingen zitten. Deze mannen worden Induna genoemd en maken deel uit van de Barotse Royal Establishment. Mike was bij ons om te vertalen en we werden bestookt met vragen. We gingen hierheen met het idee dat wij degenen zouden zijn die de vragen stelden, dus hier moesten we ons even op aanpassen! Maar we beseften dat ze probeerden uit te vinden of wij hen van enige hulp konden zijn. Laat me dit even uitleggen. We zijn dit gebied gaan bezoeken omdat dit een uniek Community Conservation-project is in Zambia, waar de initiatiefnemers van het natuur behoud ook werkelijk de lokale bevolking is. En het land is ook van de gemeenschap en niet van de overheid. De koning en een van de induna waarmee we spraken, waren degenen die de Simalaha Conservancy hadden opgezet met de hulp van Peace Parks en Kaza. Ze zijn nu vijf jaar bezig en zijn er klaar voor om toeristen aan te trekken. Echter is er nu nog helemaal geen lodge of camping. Ze wilden weten of wij misschien geïnteresseerd waren in het opzetten van een lodge! Wauw .. dat was wel even iets om over na te denken...


De gnoe's die geintroduceerd zijn in het gebied. Deze stonden op dezelfde vlakte als grazend vee! Erg bijzonder om ze gemixt te zien.

Maar eerst hebben we ons plan aan hen voorgelegd en wilden we meer weten over het beschermde gebiede. De manager van de conservancy werd gebeld en we konden hem de volgende middag ontmoeten. In de tussentijd heeft raadslid Mike ons rondgeleid in de omgeving. We bezochten Sikuzu Village, het dorp direct aan de rand van de conservancy, en de gemeenschapsschool. Deze school is pas een paar jaar geleden opgericht en had nog verschillende problemen, vooral met betrekking tot water. Er is namelijk helemaal geen water en door klimaatverandering waren verschillende waterbronnen in de buurt opgedroogd. De kinderen moeten 2 km lopen om water te halen uit de rivier! En dan heb je ons, de Westerse wereld, en wij vinden het allemaal maar zo vanzelfsprekend dat we stromend water uit de kraan hebben... Een soortgelijk probleem deed zich voor met een project in de gemeenschapstuin. Een zeer succesvolle tuin was hier geplant en onderhouden door de gemeenschap; ze gaven zelfs gratis groenten en geld aan de allerarmsten. Echter, de pomp naast de tuin is een paar maanden geleden kapot gegaan / opgedroogd en water halen uit de rivier is voor deze hoeveelheid planten onmogelijk. We zagen dat alle groenten waren uitgedroogd en er nog maar een paar rode tomaten aand de planten hingen. Dus ook al hadden we een gebied verwacht dat het allemaal onder controle had, ook hier vonden we toch de voornaamste problemen die je vind in Afrikaanse Derde Wereld landen. En, zoals we hier ontdekten, worden deze problemen alleen maar verergert door klimaatverandering. We kunnen dus aannemen dat deze problemen in de toekomst alleen maar toenemen in plaats van afnemen!

Na dit trieste verhaal nam Mike ons mee naar het visserskamp Mabale waar zijn vader en zijn familie in het droge seizoen wonen. Dit is precies aan de rand van het natuurpark. Hij vertelde ons dat er nog steeds mensen leven in het park waar ze vissen en zelfs vee hebben! We zagen deze koeien en de zebra’s gemixt grazen! In het visserskamp ontmoetten we zijn vader en familie, en hij toonde ons de eenvoudige, één jarige huisjes van gras waar ze in wonen. Op de terugweg hebben we nog even drie jonge vrouwen met hun baby's in de auto gepropt zodat ze niet dat hele stuk naar het dorp hoefden te lopen (kostte ons 15 minuten met de auto, kun je je voorstellen hoe lang dat te voet duurt!).

Zoals Mike ons hier vertelde horen deze kinderen eigenlijk op school te zitten, maar in plaats daarvan zijn ze bij hun ouders om te helpen met vissen. Hij wil dit graag veranderen.

Toen we eenmaal terug waren, kregen we te horen dat we konden kamperen in de lodge naast het Koninklijk Paleis. Pas later beseften we dat we in de achtertuin van de prins logeerden!!! De volgende dag zouden we om twee uur weer een vergadering hebben. En ik was al helemaal voorbereid op weer zo’n ongemakkelijke traditionele ontmoeting als de dag ervoor. Alleen deze keer zelfs zonder onze vertaler, want hij was er niet!? Maar verrassend genoeg kwamen ze naar ons toe, en zelfs een uur te vroeg. Terwijl we aan het lunchen waren, zagen we een van de induna, de oudste man die meehielp met het opzetten van de conservancy, samen met de manager naar ons toe lopen! Het was een beetje ongemakkelijk omdat we net aan het eten waren, maar ze hebben op ons gewacht op het terrasje van de lodge. Hier kwamen we er eindelijk achter dat de man die in aardig armoedige kleren rond het terrein liep, eigenlijk de prins was... Holy shit, dat was raar, wij hadden gewoon aangenomen met hoe hij eruit zag, dat het een van de jongens was die het terrein verzorgde. Desalniettemin was deze bijeenkomst veel meer casual en konden we antwoorden krijgen op onze vele vragen. De prins was zeer behulpzaam en de manager had geregeld dat een paar jongens ons na de ontmoeting meenamen naar de conservancy. Tijdens deze vergadering leken ze te beseffen dat we niet degenen waren die een lodge zouden komen oprichtten, omdat we met andere intenties naar Afrika waren gekomen. Dit was de dag ervoor ook onze conclusie, vooral omdat we van mening zijn dat dit Simalaha-project al aardig in de goede richting gaat, zowel in gemeenschapsontwikkeling als in natuurbehoud. Met de leiding van de koning van Barotse en de hulp van de Peace Parks en Kaza, zijn er genoeg mensen geïnvesteerd in dit gebied om het succesvol te maken. Als je echter iemand kent, of als je iemand bent die een lodge in Afrika wilt opzetten, dan is dit je kans!!

De jongens die ons rondleidden in het park lieten ons ook de plekken zien die gereserveerd zijn voor toekomstige lodges. En ze zijn behoorlijk geweldig!  Net als de visie van het hele project. Er is een grote vlakte die plek heeft voor een grote hoeveelheid grazers en veel mopane bos eromheen voor de browsers. Momenteel zijn ze in het proces van het herintroduceren van zebra's, impala's, gnoe’s en giraffen, afkomstig uit Botswana, Namibië en zelfs Kafue NP. Op dit moment is het gebied nog steeds omheind, maar in de toekomst zal het een kruispunt worden voor wilde dieren tussen Botswana, Namibië, Zambia, Zimbabwe en Angola. Een initiatief genaamd Kaza met als doel de verschillende natuurgebieden in deze landen met elkaar te verbinden en daarmee het grootste natuurgebied van Afrika te worden (lees hier meer over).


Omdat Simalaha precies op de grens ligt tussen Chobe NP en Kafue NP, is dit precies de verbinding die ze nodig hebben. Bovendien is het een goede plek voor toerisme omdat het aan de rivier de Zambesi ligt. In noord-westelijke richting zijn er de prachtige Ngonye watervallen die we hebben bezocht. En in de zuidoostelijke richting ligt Victoria falls. Als ze echter willen dat het toerisme zich ontwikkelt, is er één ding die ze echt eerst moeten verbeteren, namelijk de weg naar Livingstone (Victoria Falls). We hebben nog nooit in ons leven zo'n slechte weg gezien. Een reis die ongeveer anderhalf uur zou moeten duren, duurde nu vier uur! Deze weg heeft meer kuilen dan weg! Maar goed, dit heeft niets afgedaan aan de indrukwekkende ervaring die we hadden in Simalaha en we zijn blij dat we deze inspirerende plek hebben bezocht.

Posted by bylifeconnected in Projecten, 1 comment

Simalaha Community Conservancy

Simalaha Community Conservation - Mwandi

A Project with Climate Change problems and Third World issues

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik hier

Now this was a different experience from what we have ever been in. In the Philippines we have encountered the importance of certain traditions and official ways to do things. But I have never felt this nervous for a simple meeting than what I felt in Mwandi! But I guess this is only natural, as we set out to meet at the Royal palace with the royal family of Barotseland. Apparently, it is kind of like meeting with our Dutch king, King Willem-Alexander, and then with a lot of rules. For instance, I had to wear a chitenge, which is basically a sarong. And our shoulders had to be covered. Some kids that lived around the palace took us inside, one was holding my hand. We walked over to a lady sitting there, and the kids all kneeled before her. The kid who was holding my hand started pulling me down. Apparently, we had to kneel! Then the woman told us to sit down and face towards the building. A man came out and after we explained what we were doing here, he told us what to do when we would enter the Mwandi Bre Kuta (the building); before the entrance, kneel and clap your hands, then go in and do the same thing before you sit on your chair. Luckily, we had a wonderful guy with us, Mike Mwenda, honorable councillor for Mwandi ward. I’m pretty sure he is the youngest councillor in Zambia with his 23 years, and he is very passionate about his community and all the people in it.

The wildebeest that have been re-introduced to the Simalaha Conservancy area.

Anyway, we entered the building, feeling quite uncomfortable doing all these rituals. Five old men were watching us, lined up against the wall, and we were seated opposite them. These men are called Induna and are part of the Barotse Royal Establishment. Mike was with us to translate and we were bombarded with questions. As we went here with the idea that we would be the ones asking the questions, this was a bit of an adjustment! But we realized they were trying to find out if we could be of any help to them. You see, we went to visit this area because this is a one-of-kind Community Conservation project in Zambia where the initiators of the conservation are the actual people of the community. The King and one of the induna we spoke to, were the ones who had set up the Simalaha Conservancy with the help of Peace Parks and Kaza. They are now five years into the project and are ready to take on tourism, but there is no lodge yet. They wanted to know if we were interested in setting up a lodge! Wauw.. that was something to consider...

But first we laid out our plan to them and we wanted to know more about the conservancy. The manager of the conservancy was called and we could meet with him the following afternoon. In the meantime, councillor Mike showed us around. We visited Sikuzu Village, the village directly on the border of the conservancy, and its community school. This school was only set up a few years ago and still had several issues, especially concerning water. There was no water and due to climate change, several of the wells in the vicinity were dried up. The kids have to walk for 2 km’s to haul water! And then you have us, we just take all of this for granted in the Western world…. A similar problem had occurred with a garden community project. A very successful garden was planted and maintained by the community; they even gave free vegetables and money to the very poor. However, the pump next to the garden broke down/dried up a few months ago and hauling water from the river for this many plants is impossible. We saw that all the vegetables were drying out and only a few red tomatoes were left on the plants. So even though we had expected an area that had it all figured out, the major issues of Third World African countries remain. And as we found out here, climate change is increasing these problems. We can safely assume these problems will become even worse over time!

After this sad story, Mike took us to the Mabale fishing camp where his father and family live during the dry season. This is right on the edge of the conservancy. He told us there are still people living inside the conservancy where they fish and have cattle. We saw these cattle mix with the wildlife! At the fishing camp we met his father and family, and he showed the simple, one-year houses from grass where they live in. On the way back we squeezed in three young woman with their baby’s in our car, so they didn’t have to walk to the village (took us 15 minutes by car, can you imagine how long by foot!). And once we were back we were told we could camp at the lodge next to the Royal palace. Only later did we realize we were staying in the backyard of the prince!!! The next day we were to have another meeting at two ‘o clock, I’m already feeling anxious around one, imagining a similar meeting to the day before. Only this time without our translator!? But surprisingly enough they were an hour early. While we were having lunch, we saw one of the induna, the elderly one who helped set up the conservancy, walk up to us together with the manager! That was a bit awkward, but then they went and waited for us at the deck. Here we finally realized that the guy who was walking around the terrain in kind of shabby clothes, was actually the prince... Holy shit, that was weird, as we just assumed it was one of the guys maintaining the terrain. Nevertheless, this meeting was a lot more casual and we were able to get answers to our many questions. The prince was very helpful and the manager had some guys come over so they could take us into the conservancy after the meeting. During this meeting, they seemed to realize we were not the ones to set up a lodge as we had come to Africa with other intentions. This had been our conclusion as well, especially as we feel that this Simalaha project is already heading in the right direction in both community development and nature conservation. With the guidance of the king of Barotse and the help of the Peace Parks, there is enough people invested in this area to make it successful. However, if you know anyone, or are that person that wants to set up a lodge in Africa, here is your chance!!

The guys that showed us around in the conservancy after the meeting, pointed out the places they have reserved for a lodge, and they are pretty amazing! And so is the vision of the conservancy. There is a large floodplain that will have a very high carrying capacity for grazers and a lot of mopane forest for browsers. They are in the process of restocking with zebras, impalas, wildebeest and giraffes, coming from Botswana and Namibia and even Kafue NP. At the moment, the area is still fenced, but in the future, it will become a crossing area for wildlife between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. A initiative called Kaza that has the aim of connecting the different wildlife areas in these countries, thereby becoming the largest wildlife area in Africa (read more about it here).

As Simalaha is right on the border, between Chobe NP and Kafue NP it is the crossing they need. Plus it is actually a good place for tourism because it is located along the Zambesi river. Going in the north-western direction there is the beautiful Ngonye falls we have visited. And in the south-eastern direction there is Victoria falls. However, if they ever want tourism to develop, one of the things they will have to improve is the road to Livingstone (Victoria falls). We have never in our lives seen such a bad road. A trip that should take about one and a half hour now took four! The road has more potholes than road! But that didn’t take anything from the impressive experience we had in Simalaha and we are happy to have visited this inspiring place.  Read more about it here...

Posted by bylifeconnected in Geen categorie, Projects, 2 comments
Our Plan

Our Plan

Introduction to our plan

Nederlandse versie - klik hier

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

Peter Marshall

In Kafue National Park, located in Zambia, there is still much to be gained in terms of nature and local economy. Many of the locals live in poverty, and in combination with a lack of involvement or sense of ownership, enough people choose to enter the park (not fenced) for often unsustainable sources of income (bush encroachment and poaching). They simply need to feed their families. The result is that the vegetation and animal populations suffer on a large scale. With regard to animal populations, it is estimated that only 10% to 20% of carrying capacity is left.

The whole situation seems unnecessary, because the potential for preservation of nature, but also prosperity for the locals, is enormous in and around this Park. The Greater Kafue National Park (gKNP) is 1.3 times the size of The Netherlands, this includes the National Park but also the Game Management Areas surrounding the park. This gKNP area contains a variety of landscapes; from Serengeti-like grasslands to marshes and dense forests. In addition, it is part of the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Areas which links large nature parks (including the Okavango and Chobe) from five different countries. When the ecological corridor of KAZA is completed, animals can migrate freely from one park and/or country to another. This would make the rehabilitation of Kafue more than plausible.

It has always been our belief that nature can only be maintained in the long term by involving all stakeholders in its conservation. In order to achieve this, there is a great need for a holistic sustainability policy in which effective communication is essential. There are so many potential connections, opportunities and gains to be obtained by sharing information and effective communication, but the problem is that the infrastructure that makes this all possible is incomplete. There is a lack of solid infrastructure that helps people and organizations understand each other and thereby gain and maintain trust. By developing this, By Life Connected can contribute to the preservation of nature (including humans and cattle) in and around Kafue National Park. Imagine a central place, both physically and digitally, where reliable information, services and ideas come together and are displayed and distributed as clearly and equally as possible. A local market, knowledge centre, job site, database, bank, training institute, volunteer bank, etc. All in one. Under the direction of By Life Connected, this Information & Communication platform could serve society as part of nature. From here we believe that new business opportunities and charity projects will automatically arise, set in motion by the people that are connected through the platform. Our personal life goal?:

  • Promoting the harmony between people and nature so that ultimately the natural world can be preserved for the current generations of people, plants, wild animals and livestock, and the future generations of babies, seeds, cubs, chicks and calves.

The ambitions of By Life Connected with regard to the greater Kafue National Park?:

In the digital world:

  • Identifying the role of stakeholders (residents, businesses, philanthropy and government) in the gKNP, so that integrated cooperation can be achieved between all these parties involved. Who is who, what do they do, where and why?
  • Classifying and linking the supply and demand of stakeholders in the gKNP on the basis of relevant social sectors, so that unforeseen opportunities can be realized. Who offers and requires what?
  • Combining, analysing and visualizing data of stakeholders in the gKNP, so that all stakeholders can make informed decisions. What happens to whom, what and where through time, and why?

In the physical world:

  • Informing, empowering, connecting and involving stakeholders by setting up community-based associations and organizing activities in the gKNP, so that all stakeholders can jointly built on the foundation for co-creating a sustainable future.

Read more about the research behind this plan below.



In current debates on nature conservation, nature conservation and economic growth are often represented as two extremes. However, nature conservation and economic growth are not opposites, they are interconnected. In our pursuit of economic prosperity, people influence nature in different ways and on a global scale, such as changes in climate and land use. As humans we are a fully linked, interactive part of planet earth. This connectivity shows that nature is not only influenced by us, but it also shows how dependent people are of their natural environment. This philosophy is the basis of what we, from By Life Connected, stand for. We see sustainability as thé way to think carefully and deliberately about the role we play in the global ecosystem. Not only for the benefit of flora and fauna, but also for the welfare of the present and future generations of people. We regard "nature conservation" therefore not only as the conservation of flora and fauna, but also of man and their cattle. Everything that is alive is in fact connected through socio-ecological systems (SES). The question that then remains is: what is needed to make people live sustainably?

A very important aspect in answering this question is trust; trust in the SES you are part of. This trust depends on four personal incentives: knowledge, belonging to a community, trust in each other and self-enrichment. The extent to which the SES complies with the equal realization of these incentives is an indication of social stability. For example, a lack of opportunities for self-enrichment, or an unfair and unjust distribution of this, can lead to social dilemmas and discontent. The result is that people tend to switch to short-term thinking to protect their interests, which will lead to less sustainable use of natural resources.


Due to the interdisciplinary nature (environmental, social and economic) and different scale levels (individual, nation, world) of sustainability challenges, they cannot be solved in isolation. For e.g. nature conservation to work, all stakeholders need to collaborate for the long-term.

Because sustainability challenges are goals that require long-term cooperation, frictions and uncertainties between stakeholders could reduce the chances of achieving these goals. This makes such challenges and their achievement vulnerable. For many governments this vulnerability is one of the reasons to regain central control of the management of natural resources. However, in practice this often results in unsustainable use of the available resources. But there is a way to a middle ground between mistrust in the SES and centralization that will eventually lead to social stability and trust. According to experts in the field of nature conservation, the solution lies in the basis of human organization: effective communication. Communication is essential for everything that people do together; it connects us, it enables us to understand each other and through which we can organize ourselves. Effective communication is a property that is not self-evident and in which investments must be made. With increasing complexity of human collaboration, effective communication requires an ever-increasing investment; it requires more resources, expertise and clarity about the distribution of responsibilities. With a purpose such as nature conservation, however, organizations must communicate on such a large scale, and with so many people, that the investment required to achieve this becomes too great and is no longer viable for organizations to carry alone. Subsequently, gaps may occur in the communication, due which e.g. hard-to-reach population groups are excluded. This could result in an unequal realization of the four personal incentives which jeopardizes the collaborative effort of all stakeholders to co-create a sustainable future. To counter this, there is a growing need for an organization that facilitates this collaboration, by focusing on the exchange of information and maintaining effective communication. By doing so the gaps in communication can be filled and organizations can use their limited resources more efficiently. We at By Life Connected strive to be that organization.

Kafue National Park

We have seen with our own eyes what effective communication and collaboration between stakeholders can mean for an area in terms of nature conservation (see case study below). Let's take the greater Kafue National Park (GKNP) in Zambia, consisting of both Kafue National Park and the Game Management Areas (GMAs), as an example to show what role By Life Connected could play here. As with other nature parks in the world, many stakeholders are active in and around this nature reserve. As far as they can, they contribute to the sustainability policy. However, they all have their own agenda and effective communication and collaboration can still contribute significantly to stabilizing the SES. Research indicates that the local population living around GMAs do not know the exact boundaries of the nature reserve, or what their rights are with regard to participation in the management of natural resources and the distribution of the benefits. There is also friction between the locals in Namwala GMA and between the locals and the management of the nature reserve (DNPW)vi. Immigration and land disputes among tribes, but also the failure to honour existing agreements, lead to a lack of identity and trust in each other. In addition to a lack of knowledge, identity and trust, communication could also contribute a lot to self-enrichment. For example, who is going to put effort into connecting a small supermarket in Nalusanga, that still has tomatoes left, to Pinnon Lodge, that is still looking for tomatoes to feed their guests? Who facilitates the connection between Mark from Mumbwa, who has just completed his Resource Management training, and The Nature Conservancy, who still have vacancies open? Who communicates that an investor in the Netherlands, who wants to mean something for others in Africa, can help Tamara from Namwala GMA, who has just developed her business plan?

Case study: in the tropical primary forests of Palawan live the last nomadic, native tribes of the Philippines. Before they became part of the Philippino society and the global market through globalization and other developments, they trusted their relatively small SES; all four principles were realized in an equal and just way. The connection to the outside world, and the associated products, services and opportunities, changed their personal incentives; they had little knowledge about the outside world, they were seen as "the people from the forests", their vulnerability was abused by others and they could not compete for jobs. Once they were part of the larger SES though, they couldn’t go back, resulting in great social insecurity. The result of this is that the natural resources they had easy access to, resin from the Almaciga and honey from forest bees, were overexploited. In the long, this not only endangered the conservation of nature, but also their own environment and livelihood. This situation has largely been remedied by the intervention of the Centre for Sustainability, an NGO in Palawan. They became the intermediary for the local tribes and the municipality. By means of effective communication and stimulating cooperation between stakeholders, they have ensured that the indigenous tribes now have more knowledge about the outside world, they have been able to determine their identity in this larger SES, they have more chances for self-enrichment and they have a better relationship of trust with the outside world that has expressed itself in the realization of Cleopatra's Needle Critical Habitat.


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Posted by bylifeconnected in About us, Blog, 0 comments