Natural Selection is a young Namibian safari company that is committed to conservation. From its inception in 2016, the business model of Natural Selection focuses on offering guests a safari experience that gives back. Two years down the road, Natural Selection has proudly launched Shipwreck Lodge, a unique safari camp on Namibia’s wild Skeleton Coast. As cofounder dr. Jennifer Lally explains: “Safari tourism, when done correctly, is an incredibly powerful tool for conserving and protecting Africa’s last great wild places.”
Weeks ago, Natural Selection proudly launched its first owned properties in Namibia, Shipwreck Lodge (on Skeleton Coast) and Hoanib Valley Camp. The new sites are situated in the rugged and remote northwest region of the country. Combining the two camps offers safari goers an in-depth experience in one of the most startling landscapes on the continent, far from the normal tourist track in Namibia (Windhoek is a KLM destination since 2016).
It is Shipwreck Lodge that stands out, in many ways. First, it is a joint venture partnership with Namibian businesses and local communities. Also, designed to resemble the shipwrecks that line Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, the brand-new lodge is architecturally interesting. The lodge was designed by a Namibian team, with architect Nina Maritz and interior designer Melanie van der Merwe in the lead. The property was built with the utmost respect for the environment and the 10 cabin-style bedrooms were constructed using only wooden nails. Inside, shades of blue, burgundy, black and white represent the ever-changing moods of the ocean and the use of recycled wood, rope, linen and cotton is authentic yet soothing. All rooms are ensuite and solar-powered, and each has a wood-burning stove.
“A hauntingly beautiful place”
Located a kilometre back from the crashing Atlantic waves, the lodge is the only luxury accommodation within the Skeleton Coast National Park. Natural Selection rightfully advertises this area as “a hauntingly beautiful place where desert dunes and wind-swept plains roll as far as the eye can see and bleached whale bones and the remnants of over a thousand ships litter the sand, the Skeleton Coast seems entirely inhospitable at first glance. It is, however, an irreplaceable and vulnerable wildlife habitat for species of the highest conservation importance, including desert elephant, brown hyena and the Hartmann’s mountain zebra.”
The elusive desert lion
Activities from Shipwreck Lodge are focused around the wild and beautiful landscape. Guests can climb the dunes in time for sunrise, then enjoy an al-fresco lunch in the shadow of the geographically-remarkable Clay Castles; game drive amongst desert-dwelling elephant and track elusive desert lion; discover the extraordinary desert flora (succulents and lichens); sit atop the dunes as the sun sinks below the horizon; spend a morning beach combing and learning the history of the wrecks that dot the coastline; or spend an afternoon fishing for supper.
Natural Selection regards offering safaris supports preservation. Dr. Jennifer Lally: “In recent history, we’ve seen conservation of the natural world grow from a fledgling awareness in the 1960s, to a global interest. But somewhere along the way, Africa’s wild places became second best. Animals were poached, and wilderness areas were stripped of trees, eroded and mined. We believe that by simply visiting a wildlife area, travellers are encouraging its continued protection through tourism revenue.”
Commitment to conservation
Dr. Lally explains how Natural Selection puts its commitment to conservation in practice. “The loss of any natural habitat, in Africa or other, is a sobering loss for us all, and we want to do something about it. We want to make a difference. To start with, we are pledging 1.5% of our gross revenue to wildlife conservation. Our donations are built into our business model and based on our overall income, not just our profit. We are wholeheartedly embracing our commitment to Africa's wildlife.”
“In addition to this, we partner with the local communities, governments and conservation organisations in the areas where we operate to help protect (and sometimes even expand) these important conservation areas, and to create long-term benefits. We build camps that best suit the area, working with the environments and habitats that we find there. Camps and lodges shouldn’t be obvious; they should blend perfectly into their surroundings.”
Photos: Shipwreck Lodge on Skeleton Coast. The area's name derives from the whale and seal bones that once littered the shore from the whaling industry, although in modern times the coast harbours the skeletal remains of the shipwrecks caught by offshore rocks and fog. The Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region "The Land God Made in Anger", while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as "The Gates of Hell".