Khaudum National Park Khaudum National Park

Khaudum national park

Khaudum lies along the eastern edge of a jagged triangle created by the Grootfontein-Rundu tar road, the Botswana border, and the gravel road to Tsumkwe. Within this tract of more than 30,000 square kilometres, there are very few built up roads, and no towns. It is one of the most remote, inaccessible areas of Namibia. It is wild, hard country; hard on vehicles, on equipment, and on travellers. It’s a world of heat and sand, of fleeting wildlife sightings and hours of monotonous bushland, of biting flies, sweat and dust. It is wonderful, wonderful Africa.

This is the southernmost realm of the roan, an enigmatic antelope with a patchy distribution across the moist savannah woodlands of much of Africa. It is a stronghold of the wild dog, which more than any other African predator needs space. It is a world of raptors, with the bateleur their foremost advocate.

Much of the Khaudum experience is focussed on the dozen or so waterholes dotted around the park. The game concentrates here. Elephants often dominate them completely. Yet the world beyond the waterholes is perhaps the most enticing and intriguing. The woodlands rarely afford more than a glimpse of wary game, but they are alive with promise. They whisper of nature’s ancient rhythms. Khaudum is one of the last great places for uncrowded wilderness travel in a national park.

The access tracks to Khaudum are a form of initiation, a sign of arrival. They are no more than ruts of deeply churned, loose sand surrounded by seemingly impenetrable bush. Toiling along them in four-wheel-drive brings a growing sense of anticipation, of going far beyond the well-trodden path. But don’t just doggedly traverse these tracks. Stop in the shade of a baobab or false mopane. Breathe this place. The park border is only a line on the map. You are here already.

KHAUDUM TRAVEL TIPS:

WHEN TO BE THERE:
•    Khaudum is open all year, but visits are generally advised in the dry season
•    Travelling is most comfortable & most game is seen during the cool dry months
•    Temperatures can be extreme in hottest months; be aware of fire risks at this time !
•    Tracks may become boggy & less game is seen in the rainy season (erratic, Oct.-Apr.)

WHAT TO DO:
•    Spend time on game-viewing platforms; they offer excellent wildlife viewing
•    Drive along omiramba in early mornings & late afternoons, when game is most active
•    Spend quiet time in woodlands; fascinating bird parties & secretive game = great sightings
•    Plan plenty of time for outings; driving along sandy tracks is slow & the park is large!

WHAT TO REMEMBER:
•    Convoy of 2 reliable 4x4s is mandatory due to the difficult terrain & remoteness
•    Facilities in & around the park are limited; bring fuel, water & food for entire stay
•    The park camps are unfenced; pack away all food & take special care after dark !
•    The park is in a malaria area; take necessary precautions

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Fulvous Duck

Fulvous ducks are found at inland water bodies.

Angola Free-Tailed Bat

The Angola free-tailed bat roost in crevices, caves, attics and expansion joints in bridges.

Variegated Butterfly Bat

Butterfly bats are associated with open plant vegetation, semi-arid regions and riverine forests.

Commerson's leaf-nosed bat

Commerson's leaf-nosed bat is the largest insectivorous bat in southern Africa.

Damara woolly bat

The Damara woolly bat is recognized by it's soft, woolly fur that grows away from the body as the paler tips curl up and give it a 'grizzly appearance'.

Darling's horseshoe bat

Darling's horseshoe bat are competent and active hunters due to their broader wings and superior echolocation abilities.

Egyptian free-tailed bat

The French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire collected this species in Egypt during the Napoleonic wars.

Hairy slit-faced bat

The hairy slit-faced bat is a fragile creature and is characterized by 3-lobed upper incisors.

Mauritian tomb bat

Mauritian tomb bats can be identified by their elongated face with a pointed muzzle and short, broad ears.

Midas free-tailed bat

Midas free-tailed bats are a gregarious species, occurring in colonies ranging from a few dozen to several hundred.

Pale free-tailed bat

A distinguishing feature of the pale free-tailed bat is the pale colouration of the fur.

Rüppells bat

As populations of Rüppells bat are small in southern Africa, they are not often seen and considered rare.

Rusty bat

This small bat is known to emerge at dusk.

Yellow house bat

Yellow house bats have bulldog type facial features and are slightly larger than the lesser yellow house bat.

Peter's epauletted fruit bat

Peter's epauletted bat are mostly found where indigenous fruit-bearing trees grow in particular fig-trees.

Comb Duck

Comb ducks prefer marsh and temporary pans in woodland, woodland-fringed lagoon of flood plains.

African Pygmy-Goose

The African Pygmy goose prefer a well-vegetated freshwater wetlands habitat.

Hottentot Teal

Hottentot teals are found in a permanent and semi-permanent shallow and freshwater wetlands.

Southern Pochard

Southern pochards prefer a habitat of deep, clear, seasonal and freshwater wetlands with growing vegetation.

Cheetah

Cheetah, the spotted cat that does not retract its claws

Lion

Lions love to wander, hunt, sleep, patrol and play. 

African Wild Dog

It is one of Africa’s most endangered species.

The hunters follow game paths and their intuition through the bushland. They’re proud to be out here. Their heritage is being recognised. I’m photographing them in traditional attire as part of a profile of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. After a wide arc through the veld, we arrive back at the village at dusk. A fire is burning. All the older men, the women and children, are huddled around it. I’m transported back, to another time. I’m one of the hunters returning to share the joy of a successful hunt with our families. To ignite wonder in our children’s eyes.

Limited archaeological work has been done in northern and northeastern Namibia. Stone-age tools found near Rundu, and along the higher reaches of the Okavango in Angola, indicate that people have lived along the river for tens of thousands of years. Pottery used to store grain was found west of Rundu and dates back to the year 850 of the Current Era, providing some of the earliest evidence of crops in Namibia. Younger finds from east of Rundu, dated to 1630, include smoking pipes and glass beads and reveal extensive early trade.

Due mostly to the lack of permanent surface water, people would have used the woodlands and omiramba south of the river more intermittently. The Ju/’hoansi (also referred to as !Kung) were the first modern inhabitants of the northern Kalahari. They are believed to have roamed here for at least 2,000 years.

Bantu speakers such as the, Kwangali, Gciriku and Mbukushu only arrived over the past 500 years. According to oral tradition, they originate from the upper Zambezi and settled along the Okavango, planting crops and herding livestock. They traded sporadically with the hunter-gatherers from the waterless woodlands to the south.

The first Europeans penetrated these reaches less than 150 years ago. Karl Johan Andersson, on his trip to Lake Ngami from Walvis Bay in 1853, travelled far to the south of Khaudum; on his way to reach the Okavango River in 1859, he passed to the northwest. Livingstone, who discovered Lake Ngami in 1849 and skirted the fringes of the Okavango Delta, never came this far west.

Migrant Boers are the first people of European origin known to have reached Khaudum. After conflicts with the British, the Voortrekkers had left the Cape to establish the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. Later, some decided to seek their fortunes in the unsettled northwestern interior. They left the Transvaal in 1874 and reached Khaudum in ‘78, guided by Ju/’hoansi hunters. The Trekboere inscribed their names in the Dorsland Boom, a huge baobab still standing south of the park. They stayed for some time at Leeupan before moving on to settle in southwestern Angola. Their journey became known as the Dorsland Trek (Thirstland Trek) due to the hardships they endured in the Kalahari.

The elephant hunter van Zyl, based at Gam in 1879, is likely to have been the first White man to exploit the ivory riches of the area, hunting up to the Okavango. In 1910, a police station was established on the river at Nkurenkuru and became the first official colonial presence in the region.

During the South African administration of the territory after World War I, a broad stretch along the river was declared as the Okavangoland tribal area in 1937. A vast tract to the south remained unallocated. The Odendaal Commission designated all ethnic homelands in the territory in 1968. The renamed Kavango was extended southwards to border the newly defined Bushmanland. This placed what became Khaudum in Kavango and significantly reduced the lands of the Ju/’hoansi.

When the struggle for independence became an armed conflict, the South African Defence Force established military bases throughout Bushmanland in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. These had an enormous effect on the Ju/’hoansi, and on wildlife and the environment.

By 1982, a police station had been established at Soncana. The nearby settlement apparently became known as Sikereti after Chief Inspector Sikereti, who reputedly continued to serve in the Namibian police force after independence. Police officer Pineas Moremi kept a large herd of cattle at Sikereti and shot dozens of lions to protect it. The police station was moved to Tsumkwe after the arrival of the military, while Pineas Moremi and his cattle shifted a hundred kilometres west to Karakuwisa during the negotiations for the establishment of the park.

Today, Khaudum falls within the boundaries of the Kavango East Region and is under the jurisdiction of the Gciriku Traditional Authority.

The name Khaudum comes from the Kaudom Omuramba. It’s interpreted as ‘hollow of the buffalo’. Buffalo were common throughout the park until the late 1980s. The last buffalo of the Khaudum-Nyae Nyae area were captured in 2006 and transferred to a securely-fenced area in the Nyae Nyae conservancy.

Various spelling exists for Khaudum. The omuramba was originally spelt Kaudum, which evolved into Kaudom. The park was gazetted as Khaudum. The new lodge in the park has adopted Xaudum as its spelling.

Negotiations to declare Khaudum as a state park began in 1982 between the Department of Nature Conservation and the Administration for Kavango. A Memorandum of Agreement, outlining the scope of the proposed park, was signed in December that year. This also included consensus on the formal protection of Mahango (now part of Bwabwata National Park) and Popa Falls. All three areas were proclaimed as game reserves at the start of 1989.
As part of the consultations around Khaudum, people living at Sikereti agreed to move to Karakuwisa with their cattle, where water and other infrastructure was provided for them. At this time, there were no longer any Ju/‘hoansi living in the area of the proposed park. They had resettled in the vicinity of Tsumkwe, largely due to the South African military presence and wide-scale enlistment in the army.


The border between Namibia and Botswana had been fenced by 1966, but in all other directions, the limits of the park were lines on a map. Khaudum remained part of a much larger open system. Simple cutlines were cleared of bush to mark the borders and allow park staff to patrol them, but wildlife was unhindered in its movements.
After the proclamation, simple park stations and adjoining camping sites were built along the Kaudom Omuramba in the north and at Sikereti in the south of the park. The biggest development in the newly protected area was the creation of about a dozen waterholes in the early 1990s. The waterholes are set along the omiramba of the park and maintain a natural ambience. No permanent water had previously been available and the artificial provision of perennial drinking places significantly changed the natural wildlife dynamics of the area. Game viewing hides were built at many of the water points during late 1990s.


In 1993, ‘West of Khaudum’ was opened as a conservation hunting concession by the MET to generate income from a managed buffer zone between the park and the Omuramba Omatako. In the mid-nineties, this land was partitioned into private farms by the Ministry of Lands. Despite extensive consultations, the new owners and residents of the farms showed no interest in forming a conservancy or taking part in other landscape-level conservation initiatives. Due to the remoteness of the area and a lack of surface water, development was initially slow. Over the last two decades, numerous boreholes have been drilled and much of the area is now fenced.


The Nyae Nyae Conservancy was one of the first four communal conservancies to be registered in 1998. This set the foundations for collaborative conservation between all national parks and neighbouring communities, which has become a vital component of wildlife management in Namibia. In 2005, two adjoining conservancies were registered north of the park and the Khaudum North Complex was subsequently formed to facilitate joint management between the park and these conservancies.


In 1998, a vision for all parks in Kavango and Caprivi (now the Zambezi Region) was developed, partly based on the recommendations of a socio-ecological survey undertaken in the early nineties. The document created a joint conservation vision amongst stakeholders, and included tourism development and community involvement in, and benefits from, all the parks. Cabinet approved the vision in 1999, paving the way for its implementation. A central aspect of tourism development were tourism concessions in the parks for neighbouring communities. In 2008, a concession agreement was signed between the northern conservancies and MET to establish tourism facilities in Khaudum. Unfortunately, the lodge built in 2015 was still not operational at the beginning of 2018. New entrance gates and park management station were recently built in the north and south of the park and opened in 2017.
The Kavango Zambezi Trans Frontier Conservation Area was ratified by the governments of the participating countries in 2011 and includes Khaudum, Nyae Nyae and surrounding lands. KAZA promotes natural wildlife movements and balanced land use.

Ben Beytell was passionate about this region. He worked here for over a decade. He witnessed
Ju/’hoansi hunters taking ‘their share’ of meat from a giraffe killed by lions, while the cats glared from nearby bushes. He had to hunt livestock-killing lions around Tsumkwe. He was chased by thirsty elephants while repairing Khaudum water points. He negotiated agreements with communities, and with hunting and tourism operators. As Director of Parks and Wildlife, he oversaw the management of all parks in Namibia. Khaudum was always close to his heart.

Negotiations to declare Khaudum a state park began in 1982 between the Department of Nature Conservation and the Administration for Kavango. A memorandum of agreement, outlining the scope of the proposed park, was signed in December of that year. This also included consensus on the formal protection of Mahango (now part of Bwabwata National Park) and Popa Falls. All three areas were proclaimed as game reserves at the start of 1989.

During the consultations around Khaudum, people living at Sikereti agreed to move to Karakuwisa with their cattle, where water and other infrastructure was provided for them. At this time, Ju/’hoansi were no longer living in the area of the proposed park. They had resettled in the vicinity of Tsumkwe, largely due to the South African military presence and wide-scale enlistment in the army.

The border between Namibia and Botswana had been fenced since 1966, but in all other directions, the limits of the park were lines on a map. Khaudum remained part of a much larger open system. Simple cutlines were cleared of bush to mark the boundaries and allow park staff to patrol them, but wildlife was unhindered in its movements.

After the proclamation, simple park stations and adjoining camping sites were built along the Kaudom Omuramba in the north and at Sikereti in the south of the park. The biggest development in the newly protected area was the creation of about a dozen waterholes in the early 1990s. The waterholes are set along the omiramba of the park and maintain a natural ambience. No permanent water had previously been available and the artificial provision of perennial drinking places significantly changed the natural wildlife dynamics of the area. Game-viewing hides were built at many of the water points during late 1990s.

In 1993, ‘West of Khaudum’ was opened as a conservation-hunting concession by the MET to generate income from a managed buffer zone between the park and the Omuramba Omatako. In the mid-90s, this land was partitioned into private farms by the Ministry of Lands. Despite extensive consultations, the new owners and residents of the farms showed no interest in forming a conservancy or taking part in other landscape-level conservation initiatives. Due to the remoteness of the area and a lack of surface water, development was initially slow. Over the last two decades, numerous boreholes have been drilled by government to supply water to the farmers, and much of the area is now fenced.

To the south, the Nyae Nyae Conservancy was one of the first four communal conservancies to be registered in 1998. This set the foundations for collaborative conservation between all national parks and neighbouring communities, which has become a vital component of wildlife management in Namibia. In 2005, two adjoining conservancies were registered north of the park and the Khaudum North Complex was subsequently formed to facilitate joint management between the park and these conservancies.

In 1998, a vision for all parks in the Caprivi (now Zambezi) and Kavango regions was developed. The vision was based partly on the recommendations of a socio-ecological survey undertaken in the early nineties. The document created a joint conservation vision amongst stakeholders, and included tourism development and community involvement in, and benefits from, all the parks. Cabinet approved the vision in 1999, paving the way for its realisation. A central aspect of tourism development is tourism concessions in the parks for neighbouring communities. In 2008, a concession agreement was signed between the northern conservancies and MET to establish tourism facilities in Khaudum. Unfortunately, the lodge built in 2015 was still not operational at the beginning of 2018. New entrance gates and park management stations were recently built in the north and south of the park and opened in 2017.

The Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area was ratified by the governments of the participating countries in 2011 and includes Khaudum, Nyae Nyae and surrounding lands. KAZA promotes natural wildlife movements and balanced land use.

’The Bushmanland – Eastern Kavango and Western Caprivi areas have been neglected by museum workers in the past. This is well demonstrated by two recent books… which show large record-less gaps precisely in this particular area of interest. Since this region was being considered for various Nature Conservation utilization programs the decision was made to conduct a complete survey into the occurrence and distribution of all vertebrates.’ Mike Griffin’s groundbreaking survey, published in 1985, is a wonderful tome of scientific observations and distribution maps.

Since Griffin’s comprehensive 1985 vertebrate survey, a variety of scientific work has been carried out in the Khaudum area. Extensive enquiry into the occurrence and movements of large predators was done in the early 1990s. This project used innovative research techniques, employing the traditional knowledge and skills of the Ju/’hoansi to track predators, and even tranquillise lions using a bow and arrow. The study investigated the ecology of the various species, as well as human–wildlife conflicts created by them. Populations for Khaudum were estimated at around 80 leopards, 55 lions, at least 50 wild dogs and about 75 spotted hyaenas. Numbers of brown hyaena and cheetah were found to be very low. The study also included a broad survey of antelope occurrence.

A more recent study explored the effects of climate change on roan and gemsbok as part of a climate-change adaptation project. Implants placed under the skin of the antelopes measured their daily body-temperature fluctuations over an extended period. The ability of gemsbok to keep their brain temperature constant while their body temperature rises has been well documented. A similar capacity was confirmed for roan. This allows African antelopes to survive the extreme temperature variations of arid areas without using much water for evaporative cooling through sweating.

Currently active research includes detailed work on wildlife movements, focusing on roan, wild dog, spotted hyaena, lion and elephant. Some of the fascinating results show the journey of a young male lion from Khaudum all the way to the central Kalahari in Botswana, over 500 kilometres away. Wild dogs also range far into Botswana, and west to the Omuramba Omatako. Elephants move deep into the neighbouring conservancies, especially south into Nyae Nyae. The observations also show that human activities to the west of the park are having an impact on the park’s wildlife. Clearly, a park as big as Khaudum is still too small to contain mobile species.

Regular monitoring of all large wildlife is done through an annual full-moon count over a period of 72 hours at all of Khaudum’s waterholes. In addition, intermittent aerial surveys are carried out, which provide a good indication of changing wildlife dynamics over time.

There was a wilderness once blanketing the eastern Kavango Region; a place largely untouched by our modern timeline when I first came here in 1993. Samagaigai, no more than a few huts on the area’s southern fringe (already marked on German maps as Amangagai in 1912), was the only settlement in a vast stretch of undeveloped land between the Khaudum Park and the Omuramba Omatako. The omuramba lies more than 80 kilometres west of the park border, winding northeast to the Okavango. Between these watercourses and the park, an area more than twice the size of Khaudum was uncharted.

Since independence, a much healthier balance than had previously existed was created between indigenous wildlife and introduced agricultural species, on both freehold and communal land across Namibia. Unfortunately, some large swathes of valuable conservation land have nonetheless been ‘lost’. The uninhabited frontier to the west of Khaudum, an area of poor soils and limited agricultural productivity, was apportioned as private farmland in the 1990s. Over 250 farms were allocated, mostly to politicians and the well-connected, living in Windhoek, Grootfontein or Rundu. The theoretical buffer area between the farms and the park is being ignored. Cattle fences now run along much of Khaudum’s western border. Conflict with wildlife is growing: lions, hyaenas and wild dogs have all been shot just outside the park. This raises questions over the future management of Khaudum as an open system.

To the south and north of the park, the opposite is true. Nyae Nyae is one of the oldest communal conservancies in Namibia, and is more than twice the size of Khaudum. Its attractive mix of culture, landscapes and wildlife make it a unique wilderness destination. It is also one of the best conservation-hunting concessions in the country. Hunting, tourism and other resource uses generate significant returns for the Ju/’hoansi. Beyond Nyae Nyae, other conservancies extend south and west.

In the north, George Mukoya and Muduva Nyangana conservancies also generate income from conservation hunting, enabling a buffer zone between the park and the settlements, fields and livestock areas near the Okavango. The northern conservancies hold tourism concessions in Khaudum, which are subleased to tourism operators who offer accommodation in the park. All three conservancies are also registered as community forests to manage plant resources.

Khaudum and the communal lands around it (including the farms to the west) are part of KAZA. The border fence between Botswana and Namibia currently blocks natural wildlife movements within the transfrontier conservation area, impeding one of its central aims. But there are discussions to address this by developing game-movement corridors, especially for elephant. This would certainly relieve some of the current elephant pressure in Khaudum.

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