Ngepi camp was started in 1987 by Mark Adcock who still owns and oversees it daily. Today it is a very well-known destination and attracts tens of thousands of tourists to Namibia annually. On average we have more than 22,000 bed nights and this large volume of guests at 1 property has its own ‘eye opening’ environmental foot print. Our real success is that we have been here for 29 years and the environment is still the same as it was. This impact would normally kill or change any environment, but our careful and continued sticking with the plan is proof that a business can be successful and profitable and well as function within the confines of environment.
An interesting fact relating to the owner’s commitment to the environment is that he owned and operated a helicopter safari business named 5th Dimension Helicopter Safaris – it was closed on account it was so pollutant – publicly at the Indaba show by Mark standing at his stand for 3 days telling all who asked that it had been withdrawn from the market due to environmental reasons, while having big green WITHDRAWN stickers pasted over the pop up advertising. Fact is that a Helicopters Co2 footprint is 10 times that of doing a safari in a vehicle with the same number of passengers. It highlighted the fact that some privileged people who were able to pay for the safari, were in fact ignorant or ignoring the consequences, so it was closed.
The following is a basic overview of not only the hundreds of thousands of tourists we have ‘educated’ over the years, but shows how we have managed to avoid damaging the surrounds too.
We email our ‘check out’ invoices instead of printing them, and take the time to educate the guest as to why.
We live by the principle of that we are guests here and have to ‘fit in’.
Building materials &Tree Houses
Although we are surrounded by indigenous forests, we believe these are under threat, and we do not use them for normal construction at all. All our building materials are therefore sourced from farmed forests or are annually naturally available locally. We have also built with as little footprint as possible and all trace or damage to the environment caused by Ngepi camp could easily and completely be removed if we left. We also practice no hindrance of wetland areas.
All Tree houses have all the amenities needed for modern comfort, with ‘your feet still in nature’. This includes a comfortable matrass, feather pillows and ‘air conditioning’. We have also learned to emulate nature in that we harnessed the Coriolis effect in the southern hemisphere where we have directed the prevailing wind into a slot on The Swirl’s roof so that the internal rising hot air will be spiralling in an anti-clockwise direction which then ‘draws’ the hot air out of the room and exits it by means of the vacuum formed on the low pressure side of the cap on the roof. It works a treat!
Solar Electric Power
Normally lodges of our size just connect to the mains power grid and ignore the consequences of their Co2 and other pollution footprints. At Ngepi we take the environment very seriously and live by our principle of “if we want to make a successful business, then we cannot negatively impact on the environment at all”.
Ngepi camp has many challenges to provide all ‘comfort’ needs for its guests especially after their long day traveling! To add to our careful management of all this over the 2km Ngepi is stretched over, we have certain times of the year when we have high numbers of guests and other times when there are only a few. These challenge all stirred up by the changing weather that complicates things further. Winter can get down to minus Zero for a few nights!
So, in this SUN rich country we have chosen Solar as our main source of power and water heating. To this end we have a peak output of 36kW of 3 phase 220vac power 24/7- all supplied by the sun. A sophisticated timer management system designed by us is also used, as well as all lights being LED low consumption globes.
All our water is either pumped by Solar energy during the day, but supplemented by a water flow powered paddle wheel pump for top up.
The hot water is normally achieved by Solar geysers, but they do have electric elements for those days when we are FULL or when overcast. This System has more than 5000 Litres of hot water at any one time, but this is quite often not enough because of demand.
To supplement the Solar power & hot water supply we have a backup diesel generator. Normally when this starts it would switch on all geysers that are no longer at temperature. But this is not ideal because guests may have already showered in this location and no further hot water is needed. We have therefore designed a special control system that allows us to evaluate which hot water geysers are under stress at whatever time and switch ONLY that geyser on for a given time. Obviously, this saves hugely on diesel and the ensuing pollution. In fact, we are very pleased with the average of 1 hour per day that our generator runs to supplement all of Ngepi camps needs over the year.
We are not connected to the National electricity grid at all.
Waste and recycling garbage.
We recycle ALL our waste. We have sworn to recycle ALL and any waste that we and our guests produce in the daily business of Ngepi camp. We refuse to dump our waste in a nearby borrow pit and burn it like most other lodges in the area do. This entails a sophisticated but simple sorting and packing process that allows storage of the specific waste product till it has reached an economically transportable volume and then it is sent to the recycler in Johannesburg. In fact there is money to be made from this practice and we have led the way to get one of the local entrepreneurs to take on the project to recycle all the lodges waste. It’s a slow process but we are making headway.
Old batteries are an example – we store them and will return them to South Africa when we have a full load and an available vehicle. This is because Namibia does not recycle batteries at all.
Some kitchen scraps are composted with all other biodegradable Ngepi offcuts, but some is thrown into the river as food for the fish to increase the biomass. We also compost all guests left overs.
We even recycle all our vehicles with our in house trained mechanics and welders. We don’t believe that we can justify purchasing new replacement vehicles based on the Co2 production footprint. Some of our vehicles have done more than 500,000km and are still going strong.
All old oil is contained, removed and recycled.
We pump directly from the river to all taps at Ngepi. The locals respect this river as their only source and would never defile it in any way and drink this water ‘as is’ without any side effects. There are however contaminants that gets into the water through cattle and other animals, as well as rain run off etc. We treat our own drinking water from the river and supply it free to guests. This in an attempt to try and prevent plastic bottle pollution and the ensuing Co2 pollution from transporting large tonnages of water. To make this point we have given empty glass drinking water bottles as Christmas gifts to our guests over the last few years, pointing out why we are doing it as well.
Refrigeration and ice
Our freezers are AAA rated and are in a specially designed cool room where we use the sun to evaporate water on the charcoal wall that keeps the room cool. This temperature reduction obviously reduces the running time on the freezers and helps us save further. Ice cube machines are very inefficient, and we therefore make Ice in plastic bags inside one of our freezers. This is much more efficient and is later crushed for use by guest’s drinks etc.
Due to the hot dry climate of the Kalahari Desert, Ngepi has designed special sprays on the outside apex of all rooms which, when turned on spray water onto the thatch which then runs down and splashes on the deck like cooling rain. This water soon evaporates and fortunately for Boyle’s law, reduces the air temperature which in turn reduces the room temperature! It also doubles as a fire fighting system!
We use natural liquid Propane gas in our kitchen for cooking as it supplies instant heat and no manufacturing footprint. A Solar powered system would not warrant the construction or capital cost footprint to run it on electrics.
We try never to serve beef, as the industry is the largest polluter on earth. Cows converts at around 21Kg of food to 1 Kg of meat and most of the food for these animals is farmed and the beef raised in a feedlot and fed hormones, and aside from all the other pollutants that go with this industry, makes it an environmental killer. We source our red meat mostly from a free range game farm in our area. It converts at 8kg for 1Kg of meat.
We have been purchasing from this same supplier for 20 years and we also attempt to support local products to save on carbon miles.
We also do not serve any fish. The river would not be able to sustain the supply and would impoverish the local community who rely on this food source. Fresh sea fish would have a large transport carbon footprint, aside from which we know that any farmed fish use ‘by catch’ from the sea trawlers to feed their fish. This insane practice requires that 5 sea fish are needed to harvest 1 farmed fish of the same size.
We have a ‘fat’ separator built into the kitchen waste system to cleanse this water before the grey water lands up feeding a tree.
We also only use ‘earth friendly’ detergents for cleaning etc, but we also supply a small cake of environmentally friendly soap to our guests.
All our sewerage is treated in our 30 different septic tanks until it’s all decomposed and then directed away from the river to a tree nearby. The effect is that your meal recycles directly to bio mass in the form of a tree.
We also have ‘hold down’ flush loos to save water.
Showering obviously generates a lot of soap and other chemicals that are all toxic to the environment. The only effective way to mitigate and break down these toxins is that they be left to decompose using sun and oxygen. To this end we dilute and wash your shower chemicals into a garden nearby and allow the elements to oxidise and destroy them.
We have got the surrounding lodges to only use Multi hull boats and 4 stroke engines going forward. The wake is far less and therefore doesn’t kill or drown bird’s nest that are at water level or scooped out on the shallow sandbank. Nor does it deteriorate or wash away the banks of the river. The 4 stroke motors are much more fuel efficient and use no 2-stroke oil for lubrication. The effect here is that they produce half as much pollution in the form of Co2 and sound pollution. This is a good example of the lodges in the area working together. See also HLOA.
Catch and release fishing has been agreed by all the lodges in the area.
We have a floating pool in the river which we jokingly claim is the world’s first Hippo and Crock cage dive. This pool is a strong steel cage that is welded together to keep all unwanted ‘chompers’ out and the bather safe. The net effect is that the Pool is always clean and uses no chemicals at all.
Ngepi supports local industry and buys all its firewood from community members. We pay double the asking price but insist that all the wood is sourced only from already dead trees and at least 3 km away from Ngepi to ensure a wider sustainable footprint.
Toxic Insect sprays
At Ngepi we have never in our 29 year history sprayed any chemicals to eradicate any insects or vermin. This has resulted in an abundance of tiny mosquito eating spiders that frequent the trees around the swampy waters surrounding Ngepi. The only time you will see their tiny webs is in the early morning backlit by the rising sun. Its spectacular and you will soon appreciate why there are so few mosquitos at Ngepi – a Biome in balance! Our neighbours in Botswana did unfortunately spray the Okavango to eradicate Tsetse Fly. No one considered the mosquito’s natural enemy, the microbes or bacteria that may be destroyed in the process and this has led to an imbalance and a profusion of Mosquitos and other insects. A Biome out of balance! We believe that we should not destroy or remove anything from the biome as it will impact on something else. In fact, it is a well-known fact that if you remove something from the environment that it will collapse.
Under no circumstances do we ever put down bait for any vermin. This would be carried to the birds and all other predators, bacteria and microbes, and they would also die.
We employ on average around 90 people during the busy times of which 96% are from the 3 surrounding villages. All permanent staff has shares in the company and upon retirement the employee sells these back to Ngepi who pays out the market value. This will have amounted to considerable cash benefits.
Pension scheme – suggested but not implemented as the Witch Doctor still has to clear the blockage!
Ngepi pays half and the employee pays half. Half of this money is invested in the highest yielding savings acc at the local bank and the other half is used to purchase cattle. Depending on the duration of service the employee gets a healthy financial return, as well as some cattle.
Training of local people
We have successfully put 2 people through university.
We employ many local guides, mechanics, cooks, managers, boatmen, drivers, guards, housekeepers and all were trained by us to run Ngepi on every level.
All of them are trained on how to manage and interface with the environment at every level every day. This is ongoing and the staff learns from the many signs and writings we have all around Ngepi.
We support many local entrepreneurs like Frans Shampapi in his diamond mining venture. We have supported many initiatives in particular the Frans Dimbare youth group and have lectured on the environment to the tribal and school leaders. We have also been instrumental in ensuring that the Eutropha bio diesel project did not get off the ground in this area to safeguard this environment. We have taken many school groups and lectured them on Ngepi environmental policy. We have also taken many game drives through the national park with community members so as to sensitise them on what value they have here and the responsibility they must carry to maintain it. We have also put together a proposal with the community for a community lodge planned for the Mahangu national park.
We support ALL projects and attempts to evaluate and highlight the environments and manage it sustainably.
We support our local village soccer team and they are doing very well. In return we ask them to help fight fires and be environmentally useful.
Community support with curios and carvings
The good craftsmen are from Zimbabwe and therefore we buy quality items from them. Locally the community supply firewood as above, but are great drummers, singers and dancers whom we have at Ngepi regularly. We DON’T IMPOSE OUR IDEAS on the community but rather encourage and support what they are good at and maintain complete respect for their traditions and culture.
Our local tribe is the Hambukushu and they speak Thimbukushu. We also have some !Xwe bushmen across the river. It’s a real treat to go on a village walk to these communities. You will find that they are very friendly and will soon try and make a lasting friend of you! In this way we bring them buyers for their goods and curios and they get to share their philosophy with the world. We believe that knowledge of each other is the key to peace.
The Ngepi habitat is ideal for many migratory and resident birds and we boast in excess of 560 species with some very rare resident species. We also have trained some outstanding bird guides.
Cutting trees within Ngepi
No kindling or wood is used – all is left to rot. This allows all manner of insects, microbes and bacteria to flourish and remain in balance, attracting mega birdlife while dung beetles have right of way.
We have propagated and planted around 6000 trees at Ngepi and currently we sponsor the local village to plant and look after 2000 trees. For these we pay N$10 per tree per month to the family who look after them. See website for more details.
Guests encouraged becoming involved in tree project and getting a bi monthly newsletter showing what we have achieved and the news of Ngepi.
The ‘Ngepi Poftjie Kindergarten’ was built by us in the Divayi village near our gate and our teachers focus more on lessons on environment rather that the western education system. We have 3 teaching assistants from the local village who are amazing – we supply a TV with only environmental programs and on the odd occasion some big soccer games to entertain the community at large, who now use this kindergarten as a community centre.
Orphans & Vulnerable Children
OVC – we have taken on the roll of the parent in exile.
This project is in process of having the 36Ha of land officially allocated to us in Divundu. Ngepi has donated N$250,000 and we are driving and managing the whole project.
The OVC is based on the logic of the local custom and tradition of the parents leaving the children with the grand parents to raise. Granny has all the life experience and is definitely the best person to raise the child, while the young parent is fit and strong and is definitely the best suited to earn money and provide for the family. Unfortunately, sometimes far from home, and this has exacerbated the HIV pandemic and has resulted in Granny being left without an income.
There are now more than 3000 orphans in our area struggling to survive without an income.
Our plan is to have a receiving facility on the property where we will have a social worker and a nurse in the main building, as well as a small dormitory. On the rest of the property we have planned for many homesteads where Granny will hopefully able to bring up around 10 kids in the traditional customary way.
We will not interfere and just be the no-resident parents who send the money to keep the home fires burning.
Garden of Eden story
Ngepi is the Garden of Eden and if you happen to like it here and Mark is around – ask him to tell you how come we are still allowed here even though we ate the apple?
Ngepi is a working profitable business that offers all the creature comforts and does not degrade the environment while doing this.
In fact, we try to be that ‘example’ to show our guests that it’s possible to achieve this very unique situation long term. It’s not by mistake that we ‘use’ this sandy island to filter all our used water back into the river. We believe that we in fact don’t consume any water at Ngepi if you take the use and return policy into account.
We supply 2 watering points for the local community to prevent them having to be exposed to Crocodile attacks.
Today and Tomorrow – our permanent Environment exhibition ablution!
Today and tomorrow is one of the campsite showers and acts as our permanent environmental exhibition as well.
You enter through one door at which time you can choose to go to TODAY shower or TOMORROW shower. Both are just showers…. But TODAY is a shower in a large tree. The small enclosure size also demonstrates using only enough.
Tomorrow (if you allow it) is a shower in a desert without any greenery as far as you can see, demonstrating ‘taking more than you need’ thinking. There are dead animal skulls and dead trees laying around… all a shattered memory of what was. With the 4 Cities placed North, South, East & West of the world hanging on in one corner, all fed by a water supply that reads ‘recycled toxic waste’. All of them are built on major rivers and all of them are dumping disgusting pollution into that river without a concern. This in turn all flows into the sea around the shower drain. Many of the sea fish are already dead from the toxins that all flow into your BIG smiling mouth around the drain, symbolising ‘I don’t care about the poisons’ but they are flowing into your body and will eventually kill you too…..’if you allow it’!!
All our ablutions have an environmental ‘theme’ that we hope guests will ‘get’ and carry the message on with them.
Mokoro traditional dugout canoe.
Copy Mokoro canoes made from fibreglass that last 30 years that we use to give the traditional river experience with a guide telling stories and pointing out the animals and birds along the way. Locals are encouraged not to cut trees for this purpose for their fishing outings.
Hippo’s are a very important part of the Biome as the first source of enzymes to feed the Zoo plankton, and although we don’t encourage them to come into Ngepi, they do at night and the security just keep an eye on them and only chase them in the early morning. Hippos understand that we are not the enemy and treat us as such. No blood has been spilt over the 28 years we have been here.
Many and varied other animals that frequent the ‘Garden of Eden’ include Bush Babies, Tree Squirrels, Meercats, Monitor Lizards, Monkeys, Cape Clawless Otters, Crocks, snakes and a huge variety of birds and insects. We practice ‘no habitat loss’ inside Ngepi and ensure that we do not ‘clean up’ the undergrowth. We are privileged to have the river between us and the Bwabwata National park on the other side of the river where every imaginable animal resides, and noisily cavorts for the pleasure of our guests.
We are expert at catching snakes and relocate them to the other side of the river to protect our guests.
White water rafting
We do a gentle version of the white water rafting between the rapids and islands upstream to showcase the magnificence of the untouched islands and backwaters. It’s a great day exploring and learning about the untouched wild places left in this world.
Message to Tourists.
Our model of tourism is more respectful of the locals, and villagers will not have to beg or behave like beggars within their own village.
Many people come to Namibia to help local indigenous people, but we are concerned that some of these gifts may bring only harm to them.
We feel that is better than the visitor learned more from the local people rather than having the visitor teaching the local people.
We feel that there are indeed many things that they could learn from the local people. Villagers have many things to teach the visitor. In this way the visitor will leave Namibia richer in knowledge and experience.
They will return to their countries knowing that even if the local people did not attain high levels of education, that there is still room to teach ‘highly educed’ people.
Local people are educated in a different way. By leering from local people, we will be able to preserve the local culture and not change it.
Story telling by interesting members of the community is great at guest gatherings at night. It reinforces and shares cultural understanding and we encourage it wholeheartedly. This and drumming and dancing cultural evening parties are arranged whenever we can to entertain everyone.
Ngepi is a place of harmony and balance and in this light, we have over the years taken on many young lost people who just needed a bit of ‘steering’ in the right direction to focus them. This process normally takes about 3 months and with the input of the local staff and their happy community living, the interesting broad spectrum of guests and a ‘take no nonsense management style’, we have helped more than 40 people become positive contributors to society. We feel very privileged to be able to assist in this way and we have made some lasting friends.
This association and all that is has achieved was driven by us and has benefited the local people hugely, as well as helped stabilised the lodge/community interface and brought huge revenue to the Tribal Authority.
It has also brought a stable working environmental agreement between the lodges that has sensitised the lodges to their footprint and protects our natural heritage and environment.
We have also offered our ‘aerial spotting’ & wildlife management services to MET and are involved in poacher reporting, boat wake reporting and private boat control.
Respect for culture
We are a part of the community and they all benefit via our many projects and around N$100,000 per month that is paid in salaries, wood project, Kindergarten and tree project. We also try and resolve all labour issues using the traditional cultural norms first. See our website www.ngepicamp.com
Garbage along the road
We do not pick up any of the litter generated by the community along our entrance road. This often prompts guests to ask or point it out as though we are responsible! We immediately kick into gear and explain that in fact the only people that can sort this out are the guests themselves. They are obviously flummoxed and only understand when we point out that these local people have been ‘sharing’ things by throwing them down forever (read Dear Mr Westerner) and that we have no right to demand that they change, but that the guest should rather cause a stink at home and demand that manufacturers use bio degradable packaging. We love putting environmental ‘fleas’ in people’s ears…. particularly in our fat cat industrialist guests, so they can see where their packaging lands up!
We love talking about the environment!
We also don’t allow any feral cats at Ngepi as they imbalance the natural environment.
My question to many thousands of people has been
“How long can this consumerist western capitalist system continue”
All agree that it has a short life expectancy, and I then have to ask “why are we selling it so hard to Africa then?”
Africans can teach us – we need to listen a bit.
And so this is our Westerner vs African logic…
Voluntourism: Ngepi camp appreciates that many foreign’ organisations or groups of people come to Namibia to “HELP” local communities.
Some of these types of help come in the form of teaching foreign languages to the local Hambukushu indigenous tribal people.
We are concerned however that some of the voluntourists may actually be doing more damage to local communities than helping to preserve or strengthen it.
We feel that it is better for the visitor to learn more from the local people rather than having the visitor teaching the loacl community.
We therefore feel that there are many things that the visitor can learn from the local people instead.
In this way the visitor will leave Namibia richer for the knowledge and experience. They will return to their countries knowing that even if some Namibians did not atain high levels of education, there is still room for them to teach highly educated people.
OUR TOURS BENEFIT LOCAL & INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE
Although we punt sustainable environment at every opportunity, Ngepi is the example of a system in balance with ALL the comfort things that us westerners have come to like, and our guests see this (not by accident, as we have fun signs everywhere) and they walk away thinking that it’s a profitable business and it’s not effecting the environment and I’m going to do the same at home.
So how are we mitigating our footprint? We are not letting our cultural pollution contaminate the locals, but are we contaminating our resource? After 29 years we are sure that we are not!
We are only happy when all guests leave as converted environmentalists!