Namibia is empty. I mean empty in a post-apocalyptic, only-a-few-remnants-of-humanity-remain kind of way. Sure, I could also describe the country as beautiful, varied, or populated with ethnic groups as diverse as the landscapes in which they live. But over and over again, I find myself overwhelmed by the lack of people. Flying into the Hosea Kutako Airport outside of Windhoek, the capital and main city of Namibia, I kept looking for the lights from the city. I never found them. Even from high points above the airport, as far as the eye can see, lay only bush and cattle ranches.
With fewer than three people per square kilometer, Namibia has a remarkably low population density. Yesterday, I drove 300 miles south from Windhoek to the Neuras estate to begin my fieldwork. Once we were past the outskirts of Windhoek, the only signs of human presence that we encountered were a few rural hamlets and a couple of isolated farm houses. The rest was miles and miles of dry bush and semi-desert scrub, dotted with a few errant sheep or cattle set against a backdrop of mountains rising in the distance.
If anything, the sense of emptiness intensified once we arrived at Neuras. Matt, one of the N/a’an ku sê researchers, took a few visitors and me up to a high point for a sun downer. Before us ran a deep canyon with two mountain zebra perched on the opposite ridge. To the west, the sun set over the mountains with seemingly no one between it and us. I have had the privilege to visit plenty of remote, isolated places, but never before have those places been so representative of the country. It’s spectacular to behold.
It’s spectacular for conservation too. Even though much of the land we passed through is used for ranching, the native vegetation remains largely intact. Wildlife still move freely across most of Namibia, including private land. In my previous post, I mentioned that connectivity is key. All over the world, we’re witnessing wilderness areas and their wildlife populations shrink and become more isolated from each other. Not inNamibia. The lack of physical development (politically and economically, Namibia is a stable and prosperous country) pays huge dividends to wildlife, as evidenced by Namibia holding the largest population of cheetahs anywhere in the world.