In June this year, Namibian conservation lost one of its true champions, when Chris Eyre, despite his many victories over narrow-mindedness, poaching, and the march of time, finally succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 72.
He died peacefully in his sleep and was surrounded by friends and family to the end.
Chris Eyre’s lifelong love affair with Namibian Conservation officially began in 1971 when he joined the Directorate of Nature Conservation, working on Von Bach Dam, at Ganab in the Namib-Naukluft Park and at Etosha National Park’s Otjovasandu, before being appointed as the principal nature conservationist at Khorixas in 1980.
Together with chief Taapopi of Uukwaluudhi, he shared a vision of communities becoming actively involved in conservation long before it became such a major part of the Namibian dream.
The unlikely pair, with the assistance of their allies Lucas Mbomporo and Garth Owen-Smith campaigned tirelessly for the establishment of a game reserve at the site of Uukwaluudhi – a pasture rich cattle grazing area.
At a time when poaching was out of control in the Koakoland, they pioneered the principle of using the community as an early alerting system against this scourge. Guards were hired from within the community and even ex-poachers were employed to help anticipate the moves of suspects.
These tactics managed to bring the epidemic in hand by 1985, and wildlife numbers began to recover.
This prompted the WWF, government, and the once sceptical local chiefs to come on board, and the Uukwaluudi conservancy was gazetted in 2003.
As much as they set out to develop the park, this crew of committed conservationists also involved the community. When water points were set up within the park boundaries for the wildlife, so too were watering holes established for the tribesmen’s cattle outside of the proposed park and so on. Slowly the local people began to see that wildlife, apart from being an integral part of their heritage, could become a part of their daily existence too.
Today, Uukwaluudhi has achieved astounding success – eland, duiker, hartebeest, elephant, plains zebra, giraffe springbok, black-faced impala and springbok populations are starting to breed among the hill-speckled savannahs of the conservancy and during 2005, four black rhino were successfully introduced into the fray.
Chris Eyre and King Teapopi were the joint recipients of the Namibia Nature Foundation Go Green Environmental Award in 2004 and Chris himself was presented with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, the highest honour awarded by the ministry.
If you would like to see some of these conservation successes for yourself, make your way to Namibia and enjoy the spoils of these environmental victories.