Namibia Wildlife Preservation

Many years ago a remarkable woman, Marietta Van der Merhe, and her family, found themselves taking in orphaned wildlife from throughout Namibia. Today, their sprawling semi-arid sanctuary, Harnas (meaning “shield” in Zulu) is home to hundreds of otherwise doomed creatures. Namibia’s fewer than 2 million people and 800,000 square kilometers translate into a theoretically sparse human ecological footprint. But this impression is soon diminished with the realization that poachers’ snares and poisons are everywhere. Despite several famed national parks for elephants and lions, cheetahs and leopards, white and black rhino, buffalo, hippopotamus, giraffe and two species of zebra and primate, a dozen large antelope and seven smaller ones, over six hundred bird species, as well as the very rare African wild dog, Namibia is a war zone for wildlife. Given the privilege of profiling Marietta for Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence, she led us through her eco-tourist facility a few hundred kilometers from the capital of Namibia, out towards the beginning of the TransKalahari highway into Botswana.

Baby Cheetah and Turtle in Namibia

Dozens of large cats (lions and cheetahs and leopards) and a dozen other species greet her the way family dogs would in more familiar surroundings. Elsa, Shabu, Macho, Dumah, Nekita: all were once clinging to life as orphans, their legs mangled, or their mothers slaughtered before their eyes: familiar stories throughout the world. A baby cheetah sits atop a large rescued turtle. The cats follow us as we go to meet Kevin, Mimi, Smittie and Violet — baboons Marietta and her staff have rescued. At one point eighty baboons lived with Marietta and her late husband, in their ranch house.

Marietta Van der Merhe Kissing Cheetah Cub

Later, we are mobbed by Stinky, Anna and Monsieur Robert, each a rescued native mongoose craving affection out on the grassy playing fields, where a young zebra wanders, as well as large ungulates. But it is the population of African wild dogs that is most remarkable here at Harnas. They represent the largest population of their kind in the world. Rescued from the horrible steel jaws of various devices left out by farmers for the purpose of killing these gorgeous, endangered animals, their coats are painted by nature with a fine Impressionist palette. Harnas is a true vision of paradise in the midst of hardship. The caregivers that work with Marietta Van der Merhe — family, locals and many having coming from Europe on three month internships — prove that the human heart is unlimited in its capacity.

For more information:

> Harnas Sanctuary: protecting an environment that includes all forms of life