Goodbye Namibia

Love fest at the Cheetah Conservation Fund

Love fest at the Cheetah Conservation Fund

Savoring our last moments in Namibia, we get on a plane in a few hours and head toward California. As we reflect on the past 6+ months, we have a lot to be grateful for. We have been forever touched by Namibian landscapes, wildlife, and people.

Livingstone, one of the most adorable faces at CCF

Livingstone, one of the most adorable faces at CCF

It was phenomenal to work and live at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, becoming familiar with the wonderful ways of cheetahs and connecting with so many people passionate about wildlife conservation.

CCF director Laurie, Jenna, and staff gardener Petrus with a recent harvest from the Chewbaaka Memorial Garden

CCF director Laurie, Jenna, and staff gardener Petrus with a recent harvest from the Chewbaaka Memorial Garden

Our home and neighbors at CCF

Our home and neighbors at CCF

The last several weeks of traveling around this marvelous country helped put our time at CCF into context and deepened our relationship with the ecosystems, plants, and animals in this part of the world.

The big man at Na'an Ku Se wildlife sanctuary near Windhoek

The big man at Na’an Ku Se wildlife sanctuary near Windhoek

An African wild dog at Na'an Ku Se wildlife sanctuary

An African wild dog, the most endangered predator in Africa, at Na’an Ku Se wildlife sanctuary

We thank this country, Namibia, and we thank you, our readers, for coming on this journey with us. It has truly enriched our experience to be able to share it with you.

Deadvlei near Sossusvlei

Deadvlei near Sossusvlei, a classic view of the Namib desert. These dead trees are thought to be 500 years old.

As we prepare to depart, we hold hope in our hearts for Namibia’s future, for the preservation of its wild places, wildlife, and rich cultural traditions.

Sunset at Elim Dune in the Sossusvlei area

Sunset at Elim Dune in the Sossusvlei area

Jenna makes friends with a caracal at Na'an Ku Se

Jenna makes friends with a caracal at Na’an Ku Se

With love and gratitude,

Chris and Jenna

On the Road, Part 2

Sign at our camp site on the Ugab River

Sign at our camp site on the Ugab River

Hello and welcome to Part 2 of our road-trip adventures, where Chris and Jenna go camping all over Namibia and some other places for 3 weeks. This is where the “Condor” part of our blog really kicks in. In this case, the Condor (first name Toyota) is our wheels, our bed, and sometimes our bird-viewing deck.

Chris and our mokoro guide, Twist, on the Okavango Delta

Chris and our mokoro guide, Twist, on the Okavango Delta

After a joyous time with Chris’s family, we promptly headed to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, right next door to Namibia. We drove through a desert without fences, passed many ostriches and some meerkats on the way, and arrived at a town called Maun. From outside of Maun, we took a 1-hour motor boat ride through the Okavango Delta to meet our guide, Twist, at his village. Twist took us out in his mokoro, which is like a dugout canoe, on the delta for 3 days. We sloooooowed down, enjoyed the water, watched birds, took walks on islands, and slept under the stars. The wateriness of the delta was refreshing after so many dry desert months.

A common scene on the road side in northern Namibia - women carrying recently harvested grass for making roofs and fences

A common scene on the road side in northern Namibia – women carrying recently harvested grass for making roofs and fences

Waho the leopard at the AfriCat Foundation, with Crimson-Breasted Shrike

Waho the leopard at the AfriCat Foundation, with Crimson-Breasted Shrike

We then returned to the diverse desert landscapes of Namibia and visited another big cat conservation organization called the AfriCat Foundation, where they focus on not only cheetahs, but leopards, lions, caracals, and African wild dogs as well. We found their work to be complementary to Cheetah Conservation Fund’s, and we were glad to meet another great organization in the area.

Wild cheetah near Grootberg Pass

Wild cheetah near Grootberg Pass

In search of desert-adapted elephants, we headed northwest and found some unexpected surprises. After a long day of driving through infinitely flat desert, we began approaching dry, rocky mountains. We came over a 1,645 meter pass to see a stunning view of mountains upon mountains upon mountains. In front of all those mountains, just on the side of the road, was a truly wild cheetah (!!!), roaming freely in its natural habitat. We quickly jumped out of the car, the cheetah leapt to the downhill side of the road toward a herd of impala, and we spent about 30 minutes watching this magnificent cat with the pink-red sun setting behind all those layers of mountains. It was sooooo special…

These elephants stopped at this farm for a brief drink before continuing their journey

These elephants stopped at this farm for a brief drink before continuing their journey

One day old baby desert-adapted elephant

One day old baby desert-adapted elephant

Well, we did find those desert elephants – 17 of them. They were of all ages, including a 1-day old baby. We were lucky enough to arrive at their water source just when they did – it was truly a celebration.

Chris admires a desert plant in bloom despite the drought

Chris admires a desert plant in bloom despite the drought

Twyfelfontein rock art

Twyfelfontein rock art

Still in the northwestern desert, we visited Twyfelfontein, one of the most extensive rock art groupings in southern Africa.  These engravings were made by the Bushmen centuries ago. The Twyfelfontein area has over 2,000 rock art sites.

Himba children near Sesfontein

Himba children near Sesfontein

At the northernmost point of our drive on the western side of Namibia, we went to visit a traditional Himba village. We met Himba women and children, visited their earthen buildings made from wood and cow dung plaster, and admired their beautiful crafts.

Chris and the Welwitschia

Chris and the Welwitschia

After all these years of hearing about it, we finally found the-middle-of-nowhere! It sure is desolate, but they do have these amazing plants out there… Welwitschia! Some of these plants grow to be over 1,000 years old. They only grow 2 very shredded leaves in their whole lifetime. Believe it or not, they are conifers and are related to our redwood trees in California!

Flamingos at the Walvis Bay lagoon

Flamingos at the Walvis Bay lagoon

Making our way further west, we had a sweet reunion with the ocean after 6 long months. How amazing is the ocean! Here in Namibia we see the Atlantic, and her crashing waves reminded us of northern California’s big waves in the Pacific. Where freshwater meets the sea there is a bird wonderland. Flamingos galore!

Greater Blue-Eared Starlings, Mahango Core Area (on the second time around)

Greater Blue-Eared Starlings, Mahango Core Area (on the second time around)

Enjoying the sunset at Bloedkoppie camp site, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Enjoying the sunset at Bloedkoppie camp site, Namib-Naukluft National Park

With only a few days left, we are enjoying gazing upon the Southern Cross and counting our lucky stars…

- Jenna and Chris

On the Road, Part 1

The Friedels, on an island in the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe

The Friedels, on an island in the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe

After an amazing and fulfilling 5 months at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, we have a few weeks to travel through this region and see some of the places we’ve been hearing about for months. For the first part of our trip, we were joined by Chris’s family, who met us at Victoria Falls near Livingtone, Zambia. We spent a few days here on the Zambezi River before beginning a driving adventure through the long and narrow northwest corner of Namibia, called the Caprivi Strip, and then back down into the center of the country. It was amazing to see how the landscape changed along the way – from lush river edges teaming with birds, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles to the familiar dry and thorny beauty of central Namibia. In this post, we’ll share some of the things we saw along the way.

Chris’s parents, Katy and Len, meeting the locals on the Zambezi River

Chris’s parents, Katy and Len, meeting the locals on the Zambezi River

Katy, Chris’s sister Megan, and Jenna at Victoria Falls

Katy, Chris’s sister Megan, and Jenna at Victoria Falls

Visiting a local Zambian village (see straw chicken houses at right)

Visiting a local Zambian village (see straw chicken houses at right)

Len makes some new friends at the village

Len makes some new friends at the village

Getting up close and personal with a white rhino – we were only 15 ft. away!

Getting up close and personal with a white rhino – we were only 15 ft. away!

A herd of red lechwe crossing the Kwando River on the east side of the Caprivi Strip

A herd of red lechwe crossing the Kwando River on the east side of the Caprivi Strip

A hippo showing us who’s boss, on the Kwando River

A hippo showing us who’s boss, on the Kwando River

Vervet monkey, Mahango Core Area in the Bwabwata National Park on the western side of the Caprivi (bright blue man parts have been censored from this photo)

Vervet monkey, Mahango Core Area in the Bwabwata National Park on the western side of the Caprivi (bright blue man parts have been censored from this photo)

Sable antelope and zebra, in the Mahango Core Area

Sable antelope and zebra, in the Mahango Core Area

The whole family enjoys the sunset in the Erongo Mountains of central Namibia

The whole family enjoys the sunset in the Erongo Mountains of central Namibia

- Chris and Jenna

Fighting fires with the community

Training participants meet the Ambassador cheetahs

Training participants meet the Ambassador cheetahs

A few weeks ago, I helped organize two multi-day fire management trainings at CCF for members of nearby communal conservancies. Communal conservancies in Namibia are community-based natural resource management organizations located on communal lands, which are government-owned lands that are locally managed by the country’s traditional communities. CCF is part of the Greater Waterberg Landscape, which brings together private landowners, communal conservancies, and existing protected areas (in this case, the Waterberg Plateau Park) with the goal of managing wildlife and other natural resources across property boundaries. I worked with the NAM-PLACE (Namibia Protected Landscape Conservation Areas) program, a joint effort between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Fund, to organize and fund this training.

Training participants in CCF's classroom

Training participants in CCF’s classroom

For two and half days, participants came and stayed at CCF to learn the basics of how to prevent and manage wild fires in their communities. It was a great chance for me to meet some interesting people and learn a little bit about life in the communal areas. Most of the participants were from the Herero tribe, one of the larger tribes in Namibia.

Branches and dried grass were lit in the soccer field to practice fighting fire

Branches and dried grass were lit in the soccer field to practice fighting fire

Part of the training was a practical lesson in how to use “fire beaters” to put out grass fires. A fire beater is essentially a large rubber broom that is used to smother fire. They work best when people work together in a line to extinguish the flames.

Practicing the use of "fire beaters" to put out fire

Practicing the use of “fire beaters” to put out fire

As part of the NAM-PLACE program, CCF is helping to bring many different types of trainings and revenue-generating activities to the four communal conservancies in Herero land. It is hoped that the development of wildlife tourism in these areas will create much-needed jobs and help restore habitat for cheetah and other threatened species.

Okamatapati Conservancy chairperson Ebenhard Karita receives his certificate from Chief Forester Helena Lutombi

Okamatapati Conservancy chairperson Ebenhard Karita receives his certificate from Chief Forester Helena Lutombi

Our time at CCF is now over, so stay tuned for news of our travels around Botswana and Namibia before we return home at the end of the month.

- Chris

Thanks Bee to YOU!

Aspiring new beekeepers about to do their first swarm capture.

Aspiring new beekeepers about to do their first swarm capture.

CCF’s apiary has officially begun! Many of you will remember that you helped to see us off on this grand adventure so sweetly by attending our going away party/fundraiser. Contributions from our friends and family added up to more than $1700 for CCF. We’ve now spent the majority of your funds on getting the apiary started. THANK YOU SO MUCH! This post is about what YOUR SUPPORT has enabled at CCF.

Beekeeping protective gear and tools.

Beekeeping protective gear and tools.

The photo above shows the gear and tools bought by funds from our community – protective suits, veils, gloves, boots, bee brushes, hive tools, and a smoker. With matching funds from the Namibian Directorate of Forestry, we were able to double this amount of protective gear and now have total of four full suits.

Three full hive set-ups.

Three full hive set-ups.

The photo above shows enough equipment to set up three large colonies of bees, including boxes with frames, bottom boards, inner covers, and outer covers. All of this equipment was funded by you, our community. I can’t help but love that the bee boxes are stored with the cheetah boxes (behind, in the photo).

CCF’s feral beehive living in a tire.

CCF’s feral beehive living in a tire.

You may remember from the last post that we received a feral hive in a tire from the Directorate of Forestry. The bees chose to stay living in this tire and are working on cleaning up the mess that came out of their move (see above).

The new and improved feral hive.

The new and improved feral hive.

Paul Visser (above right), CCF’s farm manager, built a nice bottom board, entrance, inner cover, and outer cover to improve the tire as a home. The bees should be comfortable in this retrofitted home, and our hope is that this colony will spit out swarms that we can catch to grow the apiary.

Bee swarm at CCF.

Bee swarm at CCF.

Speaking of swarms, one landed on this low branch at CCF just a few days ago. “If you build it, they will come…..”

Capturing the swarm.

Capturing the swarm.

Preparing to install the swarm at the apiary.

Preparing to install the swarm at the apiary.

Unfortunately, this docile swarm flew away as soon as we installed them into the new hive boxes. But it is likely that more swarms are on their way. We took a field trip to the neighboring town of Otavi the next day to meet fellow beekeeper Nicolene and her family. (See photo below.) We did several hive inspections for CCF’s aspiring beekeepers to learn more about what to look for in a healthy beehive. In the process, we learned that Namibian swarms of bees have a habit of leaving their hive boxes. Nicolene taught us a great trick for getting them to stay. We’ll try this next time ;)

Beekeeping field trip to visit Nicolene’s apiary in Otavi. She has 10 hives in her yard.

Beekeeping field trip to visit Nicolene’s apiary in Otavi. She has 10 hives in her yard.

CCF intends to build up the apiary to teach more aspects of sustainability to visitors and local farmers, and to produce honey for food and added income. Once again, huge thanks to our friends and family for funding this project, from both of us and everyone at CCF.

- Jenna

We Got Bees!

Native African honeybees

We finally got honeybees here at CCF! The Directorate of Forestry here in Namibia has a program to help farmers set up beehives. Why don’t we have something this amazing in California??? So we’ve been working with Forestry officers to begin an apiary. They have come out to CCF to give a beekeeping training, helped us acquire some equipment, and now brought us a live colony of bees! A nearby farmer had a wild hive living in a tire in his garage. He didn’t want the bees there anymore, so they needed a new home. Forestry brought us the bees in the tire a couple of nights ago. It was quite a mess with loads of broken honeycomb and unhappy bees everywhere, but the bees seem to have decided that this will be their new home and are settling in peacefully.

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Gardener Petrus and Ecologist Matti suiting up for their first time

CCF is excited about having bees for many different reasons. Honey harvesting and sales will add to CCF’s diverse income and food sustainability. Now that we have a big garden, bees will pollinate the crops and increase food production. We have a model farm here with goats, sheep, livestock guarding dogs, and a creamery. All this is to demonstrate predator-friendly farming techniques to locals and visitors. Honeybees are part of an integrated farming system which diversifies income and adds value to the landscape – great things to share with Namibian farmers.

Proud beekeepers with our new hive - Petrus, Jenna, and Matti

Proud beekeepers with our new hive – Petrus, Jenna, and Matti

We’ve heard a lot about African honeybees being very aggressive so everyone was a bit concerned. What will be the personality of our bees? Lucky for us, these bees have been extremely friendly. Despite their tough and messy transition, they have not tried to sting or chase us off. Another concern is honeybee predators – mainly honey badgers and baboons, both of which can be pretty aggressive at times. This is why we chose an area that is completely fenced in from floor to ceiling and put the hive on a bench several feet off the ground.

Bees are living in the tire. The box on top is serving as a temporary ceiling.

Bees are living in the tire. The box on top is serving as a temporary ceiling.

When the bees came to CCF on a cold dark night, their tire home was somewhat of a disaster. We put the hive box on top hoping they would see it as their newer better cozier home and move on up. This didn’t work. Now, on day 3, it is clear they are staying in the tire so we plan to build an appropriate lid and bottom adapted to fit the tire very soon. Because of their tire home, these bees will remain an unmanaged feral hive and CCF plans to catch swarms of bees from it during the flower blooming time (September-ish) to establish new colonies and grow the apiary.

Now that we are off to a good start, I’m hoping to go on a shopping spree in Windhoek sometime next week and load up on the rest of the gear, equipment, and books we need to have a fully fledged apiary ready to receive more live honeybee colonies. Hooray for bees!

A bee on the tire

A bee on the tire

- Jenna

Chris’s Road Trip to AfrikaBurn

Two weeks ago I took a road trip down through Namibia and into South Africa to visit the AfrikaBurn festival, which is South Africa’s answer to Nevada’s Burning Man. Jenna stayed at CCF to take care of the garden and her other projects.

My trusty car / house

My trusty car / house

I rented a car in Windhoek that came with a built-in bed and camping equipment – necessary items for surviving out in the dry “karoo” desert where the festival has taken place since 2007. The car might be the only “Condor” that you will see in our Condor and Cheetah blog!

Quivertrees, or Kokerboom, named because the San used hollow branches to hold their arrows

Quivertrees, or Kokerboom, named because the San used hollow branches to hold their arrows

My first night was spent at the Quivertree Forest near Keetmanshoop in Southern Namibia. It was an unreal landscape with Dr. Seuss style trees, and I found some unusual friends living in the rocks nearby.

Curious rock hyrax at the Quivertree Forest

Curious rock hyrax at the Quivertree Forest

The B1 highway that runs south to the South Africa border is long and lonely, with tiny towns spaced widely apart with drier and drier landscapes in between.

Crazy plant along the lonely B1 highway through southern Namibia

Crazy plant along the lonely B1 highway through southern Namibia

After a surprisingly easy border crossing, more desert driving and a night camped on the side of a gravel road south of Calvinia, South Africa, I arrived at AfrikaBurn. The following pictures will give a little taste of this festival, which celebrates radical self-sufficiency, gift sharing and free expression (and of course, lots of art, dancing and burning stuff).

The view out on the "Binnekring" - the main open area where the art pieces stand

The view out on the “Binnekring” – the main open area where the art pieces stand

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Nice day for a... purple wedding

Nice day for a… purple wedding

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This mutant bus comes complete with a dance party

This mutant bus comes complete with a dance party

The San Clan (the central art piece) burns on Saturday night

The San Clan (the central art piece) burns on Saturday night

After 4 days of wandering around, meeting friendly South Africans, enjoying desert art and dancing at night, it was time to start making my way back up north to my home base in Namibia.

At the Nieuwoudtville Wildlife Reserve

At the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve

My campsite on the Orange River, the border between South Africa and Namibia

My campsite on the Orange River, the border between South Africa and Namibia

I left enough time to make a detour out to see the Fish River Canyon, which may be the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) depending on how you measure it. The road from the Orange River to the canyon was one of the driest, most desolate and fiercely beautiful roads I have ever driven.

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Fish River Canyon - the largest canyon in Africa?

Fish River Canyon – the largest canyon in Africa?

It was a long way to drive, but I had a lot of fun and saw some amazing sights.

Back with the quiver trees, at the Mesosaurus Fossil Site, near Keetmanshoop, Namibia

Back with the quiver trees, at the Mesosaurus Fossil Site, near Keetmanshoop, Namibia

- Chris