For generations, wildlife survived in this unforgiving landscape, migrating in response to the seasons and grazing conditions. In the 1950’s, large areas of the Karoo and Orange River catchment were given as a reward to soldiers who fought for the Allies in the Second World War. On these plots, known as Soldate Plaase or Soldier’s Farms, livestock farmers eked out a subsistence living in conditions unsuitable for farming – and with negative impacts on wildlife and the ecosystem. As farms grew, the land was sliced into pastures and fenced, cutting off migration and sparking human-wildlife conflict. Springbok, oryx, zebra, and other ungulates competed with livestock for grazing and were in most cases hunted to local extinction, and are still hunted for meat today. Predators, such as jackal, cheetah, leopard, hyena, and wild dogs were actively eliminated. 100 years further back, elephants, black rhinos, giraffe, and lion were present whilst buffalo and hippopotamus were settled along the Orange River. The region played host to the Trekbokken, the migration of 20 million springbok, an event that would have dwarfed the wildebeest migration of the Serengeti.
The Nama are an ethnic group spread over Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. They are the largest and only remaining group of the Khoikhoi people, and speak the Khoekhoe language, made famous around the world for their clicks. The traditional ancestral lands of the Nama people ranged from what used to be known as Little Namaqualand (western part of South Africa’s Northern Cape) and Great Namaqualand (southern Namibia), but the end of their lands as they knew them started with the German colonial occupation in the 19th century. It is sadly one of the worst stories of colonial oppression, displacement and even genocide, and one which the Nama and their culture have never truly recovered from. During apartheid, the Nama were forcefully encouraged to abandon their traditional lifestyle in favour of village life, and today there are only a few places where the original Nama traditions survive. Nowadays, the Nama live in the Karas region of southern Namibia, and engagement from central government and NGOs is lower than in the rest of Namibia, primarily due to the long distance from the Southern Namibian landscape to the capital, but also due to underrepresentation of the Nama in central government. The Nama still wear the scars of the past 100 years and have taken on a somewhat insular frame of mind in which they operate within themselves and have not yet recovered their status as one of the most powerful peoples of earlier southern Africa.
Geography and geology
The Southern Namibian landscape is a mesmerizing geological mosaic that is home to rock dating back two billion years. It is a truly ancient world in which the elements of wind and rain have carved a kaleidoscope of colour and shape from the rock, with the life-giving Orange River flowing through the middle. The Orange River is 2,200 km long, the fourth longest river in Africa that drains almost 50% of southern Africa, and has a heightened role in providing the only perennial water source through the 500,000 km2 of desert environment that spreads across southern Namibia and north-western South Africa. This landscape is known as the “Karoo”, which is derived from the Khoisan word meaning “land of thirst”. The Succulent Karoo, one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots, the Nama Karoo and Desert biomes all meet here making the area an ecotone, a catalyst for evolution. Despite the importance of this landscape, ORKCA is the only privately protected area to host this type of ecotone, and less than 1% of the Nama Karoo is formally protected.
Today, most of the Namibian South is still commercial farmland. From an ecosystem perspective there are two major challenges that ORKCA needs to tackle. First, the use of unsuitable livestock breeds and subsequent overstocking has created a negative cycle of overgrazing and land degradation, leading to a reduction of diverse grass species and seed banks, and occasionally desertification. This often results in a critical breakdown in grass recruitment, meaning that grass populations are not able to reproduce and spread their seed before being grazed again. Second, the unbalanced equilibrium between carnivores and herbivores is causing herbivores to become overly relaxed and lessen their movements, thereby overgrazing areas and leaving the ecosystem further out of balance. Large predators require huge territories, particularly in southern Namibia where prey densities are low. At present, ORKCA is not sufficiently large to contain enough game to provide food for breeding populations of large plains predators.
ORKCA currently hosts only a fraction of the biodiversity that was once seen here. Small populations of oryx, springbok, eland, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, greater kudu and red hartebeest are found throughout the reserve, and in western ORKCA, Angolan giraffe are also present. Leopard, brown hyena, caracal, African wildcat, aardwolf, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and cape fox make up the predators, but exist in low densities.