NGEPI CAMP’S COMMITMENT TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM – 2015
Ngepi Camp was created in 1987 by Mark Adcock who still owns and oversees it to this day. Today it is a world famous destination and attracts tens of thousands of tourists to Namibia annually. Ngepi Camp’s real success is that (despite the fact that it has been operating for 29 years and has in excess of 22,000 bednights p.a.) the environment is still the same as it was. Such a consistently large number of guests visiting any one property would normally have a significantly negative impact on any biome but Ngepi’s consistent commitment to its environmental plan is proof that a business can be successful and profitable without harming it’s environment.
The owner’s commitment to the environment is clearly illustrated by the fact that he closed his successful helicopter safari business (5th Dimension Helicopter Safaris) on account of it being so pollutant – a helicopter’s CO2 footprint is 10 times that of an equivalent safari in a vehicle. He announced the company’s closure publicly at the next Indaba Show, placing green “WITHDRAWN” stickers over his exhibit and spending the three days of the show explaining to and educating visitors and exhibitors regarding the environmental consequences of helicopter travel. The following is a basic overview of how, over all these years, Ngepi Camp has endeavoured to educate thousands of tourists regarding the environment, as well as how we managed to avoid damaging our surrounds and support sustainable tourism.
We live by the principle that we are the guests and Nature is our host.
Building Materials &Tree Houses
Although we are surrounded by indigenous forests, we do not ever source wood for normal construction from them as we believe that they are under threat. All our building materials are obtained from farmed forests or are available locally from naturally annual crops. We build with as little footprint as possible and all trace or damage caused to the environment by Ngepi Camp could easily and completely be removed if we left. We also practice no hindrance of wetland areas.
Our Tree Houses have all the amenities needed for modern comfort, with ‘your feet still in nature’. This includes a comfortable mattress, feather pillows and natural ‘air conditioning’. We have also learned to emulate nature in that we harness the Coriolis Effect in the southern hemisphere, directing the prevailing wind into a slot on a Tree House roof. This causes internal hot air to spiral upwards in an anti-clockwise direction, drawing it out of the room by means of the vacuum formed on the low pressure side of the cap on the roof. It works a treat! Also we have harnessed evaporative cooling on some tree houses by installing a spray on the roof that evaporates off the floor and thereby cooling the room.
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 our guests without negatively impacting on the environment. Our careful management of power has to take into consideration that Ngepi Camp stretches over 2km, has high volume demands during peak seasons and less demand when there are only a few guests, and needs to be effective during both extremely hot summer days and very cold winter 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. We designed a sophisticated timer management system to save power and only use LED low consumption globes for lighting.
Our water is pumped by solar energy during the day and supply is supplemented by a water flow powered paddle wheel pump for top up. Hot water is normally achieved by solar geysers, but they do have electric elements for days when we are at full guest capacity or when overcast. Although this system generates in excess of 5000 litres of hot water at any one time, this is sometimes insufficient for demand.
To supplement the solar power and 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 as hot water may not be required in each location. We have therefore designed a special control system that allows us to evaluate which hot water geysers are under stress at any particular time and switch ONLY those specific geysers on for a limited time. This results in significant savings on diesel and the ensuing pollution. We are very pleased that our generator needs to run an average of just one hour a day to supplement all of the camp’s power needs over the year.
We are not connected to the National electricity grid at all.
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 as most other lodges in the area do. Our recycling policy entails a sophisticated but simple sorting and packing process that allows storage of a specific waste product until it has reached an economically transportable volume and then it is sent to a recycler in Johannesburg. There is money to be made from this practice and we have led the way in getting one of the local entrepreneurs to take on the project of recycling all the lodges’ waste. It is a slow process but we are making headway.
We even store old batteries 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 are thrown into the river as food for the fish to increase the biomass. We also compost all guests’ leftovers and ash from camp fires is recycled in the gardens.
We also recycle all our vehicles with our in-house trained mechanics and welders. We do not believe that we can justify purchasing new replacement vehicles based on the CO2 production footprint. Some of our vehicles have done in excess of 500,000km and are still going strong. All old oil is contained, removed and recycled.
We email our ‘check out’ invoices instead of printing them, and take the time to educate the guest as to why.
We pump water directly from the river to all taps at Ngepi. The locals respect this river as their only water source and therefore do not defile it in any way and drink this water ‘as is’ without any side effects. Contaminants do, however, get into the water via 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 is an attempt to try and prevent plastic bottle pollution and the ensuing CO2 pollution from transporting large tonnage’s 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 located 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 the blocks of ice are later crushed for use in guests’ 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 that then runs down and splashes on the deck like cooling rain. This water soon evaporates and as per Boyle’s Law, reduces the air temperature, which in turn reduces the room temperature. It also doubles as a fire fighting system!
Cooking & Cleaning
We use natural liquid Propane gas in our kitchen for cooking as it supplies instant heat and no manufacturing footprint. The construction footprint and capital cost required to run the kitchen on a solar-powered electrical system is unwarranted.
We never serve beef at Ngepi as we believe the beef industry is the largest polluter on earth. Cows convert approximately 21Kg of cattle feed to only 1Kg of meat. This ratio does not justify the harmful environmental footprint resulting from raising cows in feedlots, the farming of the required feed and the inclusion of hormones therein, or all the other pollutants that originate in the beef industry that make it an environmental killer. All our red meat therefore comes 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 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 five sea fish are needed to harvest just one farmed fish of the same size.
We have a ‘fat’ separator built into the kitchen waste system to cleanse this from water before redirecting the grey water to feeding a tree.
We also only use ‘earth friendly’ detergents throughout for cleaning etc. and supply a small cake of environmentally friendly soap to our guests.
All Ngepi sewerage is treated in our 30 different septic tanks until it’s fully decomposed and is then directed away from the river to a nearby tree. 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 shower chemicals into a garden nearby and allow the elements to oxidise and destroy them. The flourishing gardens are evidence that this works perfectly.
Ngepi is a working profitable business that offers all creature comforts and does not degrade the environment in the process.
We endeavour to be an example to our guests in that it is actually possible to achieve this very unique situation long term. It is not by mistake that we utilise 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 two watering points for the local community so as to prevent them having to be exposed to Crocodile attacks.
We have obtained an agreement from all the lodges in the area to only use multi-hull boats and 4-stroke engines going forward. The reduced wake is far less damaging to the river and its wildlife. Bird’s nests at water level or scooped out on the shallow sandbanks are less at risk of being swamped and/or damaged and unnatural deterioration and erosion of the riverbanks is reduced. The 4-stroke motors are far more fuel efficient and do not use (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 do not permit live bait to be used by our guests and prohibit them from using fishing nets as they harm the fishes’ scales.
We have a floating pool in the river which we jokingly claim is the world’s first Hippo and Croc 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 3km away from Ngepi to ensure wider sustainability.
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 when they are backlit by the rising sun. It is 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 a connected layer from the environment, the rest 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 three surrounding villages. We have one other Namibian from Otjiwarongo and someone from the West of the country managing the lodge. Five other departmental managers are all local people, two of whom are women. Normally more than half of our employees are woman. All permanent staff have shares in the company and upon retirement the employee sells these back to Ngepi who pays out the market value. This will amount to considerable cash benefits.
The suggested Ngepi Pension Scheme has not yet been implemented as the tribal traditional healer still has to clear the blockage! We have proposed that Ngepi pays half and the employee pays half. Half of this money is invested in the highest yielding savings account 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/Community Development
We have successfully put two local people through university. One is now a practising lawyer in Windhoek and the other is using his communication degree as an NBC personality.
We employ many local guides, mechanics, cooks, managers, boatmen, drivers, guards, housekeepers and all were trained by us. All of them are trained on how to manage and interface with the environment at every level, every day. This is ongoing and staff and visitors learn from the many signs and writings we have all around Ngepi.
We understand the importance of C.I.T.I.E.S. and IUCN and follow updates via web broadcasts as well as support WWF and AVAAZ on many matters relating to the environment and pass some of this on to our staff as appropriate.
We take an active part in our staff training and monitor and manage their health when we see that they are no managing themselves adequately. Obviously their medical records and condition is kept confidential.
We support many local entrepreneurs e.g. Frans Shampapi in his diamond mining venture as well as many local 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 environment 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 have trained some outstanding bird guides.
Cutting Trees within Ngepi
No kindling or wood is used – all is left to rot naturally. This allows all manner of insects, microbes and bacteria to flourish and remain in balance, attracting an abundance of birdlife and a paradise for dung beetles – which have right of way at Ngepi.
We have propagated and planted around 6000 trees at Ngepi and currently sponsor 2000 trees in the local village. We pay N$10 per tree per month to the family who planted and ensures survival of these trees. See website for more details.
Guests are encouraged to become involved in the tree project and will receive a bi monthly newsletter showing what we have achieved and the news of Ngepi.
The ‘Ngepi Pofotjie Kindergarten’ was built by us in the Divayi village near our gate and our teachers focus more on lessons on environment rather than the western education system. We have three 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 role 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 sometimes 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 Grannies will hopefully be able to care for 10 kids each in the traditional customary way. We also see Grannies already living in homesteads around the area as part of this larger scheme and they will also receive benefits as and when we are able.
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
This 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?
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. This allows it to water the tree as well as the flourishing garden around. It’s a biome in balance with Hippo, Kudu and Lion spoor all having been for a visit. The small enclosure size also demonstrates using only enough.
Tomorrow (if you allow it) is a large enclosure 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 four cities placed North, South, East and 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 see around the shower drain. Many of the sea fish are already dead from the toxins that all flow via 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 are made out of fibreglass that lasts 30 years and used 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 sometimes enter at night and the security 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 29 years we have been here.
Many and varied other animals that frequent the ‘Garden of Eden’ include Bush Babies, Tree Squirrels, Monitor Lizards, Monkeys, Cape Clawless Otters, Crocs, snakes and a huge variety of birds. 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 for the safety of our guests.
White Water Rafting
We do a gentle version of 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 – Guided Village Tours & Respect for Local Culture
Our model of tourism; more respectful of the locals. Villagers will not have to beg or behave like beggars within their own village. Many people come to Namibia to help local people, but we are concerned that some of their ‘gifts’ may bring only harm to the community.
Volun-tourism: Ngepi Camp appreciates that many ‘foreign’ organisations or groups of people come to Namibia to “HELP” local communities. Some come in the form of teaching foreign languages to the local Hambukushu indigenous tribal people. We are concerned however that some of the volun-tourists may actually be doing more damage to local communities than helping to preserve or strengthen them. Local people are educated in a different way.
We feel that it is better for the visitor to learn more from the local people rather than having the visitor teaching the local people and believe that there are many things that visitors could learn from the local community. Also, by learning from local people we will be able to preserve the local culture and not change it.
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 modern education, that there is still room to teach ‘highly educated’ people. See more of our philosophies in this regard on our website: www.ngepicamp.com
Story telling by interesting members of the community to Ngepi guests at evening gatherings reinforces and shares cultural understanding and we encourage it wholeheartedly. This as well as traditional drumming and dancing cultural evenings are arranged whenever we can at Ngepi.
We are a part of the community and they all benefit via our many projects and from ± N$150,000 per month that is paid in salaries and sponsorship of our Wood Project, Kindergarten and Tree Project.
We also try and resolve all labour issues using the traditional cultural norms first.
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 three 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 in excess of 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.
HLOA (Hambukushu Lodge Owner’s Association)
This association and all that is has achieved was driven by us and has benefited the local people hugely, as well as helping stabilise the lodge/community interface and resulting in huge revenue for 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. We offer our ‘aerial spotting’ and wildlife management services to MET and are involved in poacher reporting, boat wake reporting and private boat control.
We have our own veggie garden that provides us with herbs and other seasonal supplies, but we support any locally grown produce as we know that all other fresh goods come from RSA and the carbon miles just do not warrant it.
We also only use safe bio-degradable insect controls such as chillies, eucalyptus and marigold flowers and apply the principles of companion planting.
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 throwing things 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 also don’t allow any feral cats as they imbalance the natural environment.
To punt sustainable environment philosophies at every opportunity and showcase that Ngepi is an example of a system in balance that provides all the comfort things whilst doing no harm to the environment. Our guests see this (not by accident, as we have fun signs everywhere) and they walk away realising that Ngepi Camp is a profitable business that is not effecting the environment and that they can do the same at home.
We aim to live in symbiotic harmony with our environment and have all guests leave as converted environmentalists!
So how are we mitigating our footprint? We are definitely not letting our cultural pollution contaminate the locals, but are we contaminating this natural resource? After 29 years it’s very clear that we are not!