Dr. Stephan Getzin | Scientist | Ecologist

Stephan Getzin – All Information about the Namibian Life Journey

Dear Namibia friends,

Herewith I would like to introduce myself.

Stephan Getzin (2017) Already as a child, I was fascinated by Africa with its diverse life and magnificent landscapes, which is why the continent always influenced my life and career. As a natural scientist, I am specialized today in various fields of research such as dryland ecology and the spatial analysis of plant and animal patterns. I am particularly interested in how plants and animals organize themselves together to cope better with water scarcity. In Namibia and Australia I am undertaking active research on fairy circles and other vegetation patterns, my publications can be found in my Google-Scholar profile.

First contact with Africa in the Serengeti

On foot patrol with a ranger in the Serengeti (1995).In 1994/1995, after finishing school, I fulfilled my great childhood dream of getting to experience Africa with my own eyes: I traveled to northern Tanzania for eight months. Half of this time I worked as a volunteer in the Ecology Department of the Serengeti National Park, where I helped mapping bird species and measure rainfall throughout the park. I was able to get to know large parts of the Serengeti ecosystem, its wildlife and surrounding tribes as well as the daily work of the park rangers. When I returned to Germany, I had a new book in my luggage, which played an important role in my life. The book was called “At the Hand of Man – Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife” by Raymond Bonner which was ‘A welcome introduction to the new conscience in African wildlife conservation, which recognises at long, long last the needs and wishes of the African people themselves’. I was very impressed by the book, especially the description of a communal game guard project in Namibia’s Kaokoveld and Damaraland, today’s Kunene. The project is called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC). A big Himba meeting with John Kasaona standing in the center and Garth Owen-Smith sitting to the left side (2000).The aim of this project is to specifically protect wildlife outside of traditional national park boundaries. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages are responsible for this – in the early 1990s, this was a fairly new approach to nature conservation. Project manager Garth Owen-Smith was awarded with many of the highest environmental awards, such as the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa in 1993 or the UN’s Environmental Program Global 500 Award the following year. The IRDNC project has thus become one of the most successful conservation projects on the entire African continent.

Studying in Namibia

 Student excursion, measuring Welwitschia plants in the Damaraland (1998).And it was this extraordinary nature conservation project described in Bonner’s book that brought me back to Africa in 1996 shortly after my first visit – but this time to Namibia. My plan was to study ecology and geography at the University of Namibia (UNAM). At that time, just a few years after Namibia’s independence, there was hardly any contact between Namibian and German universities. A guest student from Germany at UNAM was therefore a very unusual thing. But I was lucky: the administration in Windhoek welcomed me as a foreign student applicant. So I enrolled in the university in February 1997. Wêreldsend, the base station of IRDNC in the Kunene (1998).My luck continued into the second part of my plan. I actually became part of Owen Smith’s IRDNC project. Through my studies of ecology and physical geography I took part in several excursions. One of them led me directly to the remote Damaraland, more precisely to Wêreldsend – which in Afrikaans language means “world’s end”. This was and is the base station of Garth Owen-Smith’s communal nature conservation project. And here I met Garth personally, who then offered me the opportunity to work as a volunteer in the IRDNC project during my study holidays.

Communal nature conservation in Namibia

In the Hartmann’s Valley during boundary negotiations for the new conservancy (1999).This was around the time when the first communal conservancies, such as Torra, were being established or planned. So I was able to attend meetings with the local Herero or Himba. In addition, I accompanied John Kasaona – the current director of the project – on various tours to the Kaokoveld, where, for example, the border lines of the new conservancy in the Marienfluss or Hartmann’s Valley were negotiated. I also got to know new eco-tourism projects such as the Damaraland Camp, which is nowadays mainly run by the local community of the Torra conservancy. One of the most impressive experiences, however, was of a very different nature: tracking down elephants and rhinos and sneaking up to them unnoticed on foot. The local game guards showed me how to track these massive animals. It was also the tours within the framework of the IRDNC project in the remote north-west of Namibia that finally led me to my first fairy circles in 1999.The elephants did not notice us and we are sitting safe from them on stony slope (1998). I was very fascinated by these circular patches in the grassland and undertook a research trip on this topic in 2000. Our research results on this natural phenomenon were published the same year. Since then my enthusiasm for the mystery of the fairy circles has kept me busy until today and I have therefore dedicated a tab on this website entirely to fairy circles. About my time with the IRDNC project and its success story, I finally wrote a long article for the Allgemeine Zeitung of Namibia, which was published in 1999. I don’t want to miss these experiences. For me and my wealth of experience, these practical insights into Namibian nature conservation have had the same significance as all the theory I learnt during my studies at UNAM.

My studies in Namibia meant above all intensive learning and cultural exchange. Through the excursions, to the desert research station in Gobabeb in the Namib, to the Atlantic coast or to the strange Welwitschia plants in Damaraland, I got to know Namibia intimately. The desert research station of Gobabeb is the best place to learn about the Namib’s ecology.As a member of the Namibia Bird Club, I also drove to places like the Waterberg or Daan Viljoen Game Park, where we saw some of the country’s more than 700 bird species. In the Daan Viljoen Game Park I mapped more than two dozen grass species and investigated their suitability as indicators of overgrazing and land degradation using sophisticated statistical methods. This study (“The suitability of the degradation gradient method in arid Namibia”) was later published in the African Journal of Ecology. I have also published my investigations on structural fire effects in savannas and on spatial mechanisms that lead to the coexistence of grass plants and trees in savannas.

All in all, these years of study were a unique opportunity to learn about Namibia’s fascinating ecology. They are therefore the foundation for my travel offer with NAMIBIA-ECO-TOURS. Understanding the value of Namibian ecology, however, involves more than pure science or knowledge of the country’s own biodiversity. ECO-Tours therefore also stands for a sustainable use of resources, which ultimately means a long-term gain for the people who live in this country.

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