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Video: The Guardian – Chasing the “Greatest Conservation Story Ever Told” in Namibia

An elephant! Her leathery wrinkles are amazing—great texture. Must get a detail shot. Did we get a model release for that beautiful child? Yes, ok good. Who will be the main voice of the film? There is a pride of lions lounging under that tree.  When will we charge our batteries next? Oh there’s an ostrich.  How cool would it be to film him running?  Wow, the sun is bright, must shoot from the other direction. Look at the light on those hills.  A springbok!  A zebra!  We still need to capture good behavior footage of a cheetah. “POW!”  Another flat tire, our third this week.  And another great photo op.

The internal monologue of a filmmaker in Namibia. It’s exhausting to see “the perfect shot” every direction you look, every moment of every day for three and a half weeks straight.  And we loved every minute of it.

We traveled to Namibia in the fall of 2013 chasing what our colleagues at World Wildlife Fund called “the greatest conservation story ever told.” After only a few hours on the ground in the wide-open landscape of Namibia, we are convinced what’s happening here is just that.

For most of Africa, the wildlife conservation situation is bleak—corruption, poaching of species to near extinction, a sense of resentment towards wildlife and motivation to exploit it.  But in Namibia things are different.  Populations of rhino, elephant, cheetah, lion and others are booming.  Local people are financially benefitting from keeping their wildlife alive.  It truly has become their wildlife—instead of a state controlled thing, wildlife is the property of the people.  When in Namibia it doesn’t take much time to feel the difference, the sense of pride and passion, that concept instills.

Not coincidentally, that’s unique to Namibia and wildlife conservation is working better in Namibia than anywhere else in Africa.  Where else in Africa do you see wildlife population numbers increasing more in community owned lands than in national parks?  That is a feat that requires a blend of community ownership, empowerment and government cooperation uniquely Namibian.

Living with wildlife is a choice that has been made in Namibia.  People and wildlife have not always lived together without conflict here, but there is a groundswell happening and great energy being put into mitigating human/wildlife conflict. Communities are seeing an economic benefit from living with wildlife, but it is a choice that comes with certain realities.  Farmers like Jantjie Rhyn (pronounced John-gee Rain) know that lions roam where his children play. They know that they must lock their goats and cattle into Kraals at night to protect them from the predators. But they also know that having healthy populations of lions benefits them by bringing in income from tourism.

We traveled through the many landscapes of Namibia with a man named Africa, an employee of World Wildlife Fund Namibia and Fillon from the Ministery of  Environment and Tourism.  We camped and stayed in amazingly elegant lodges thanks to Wilderness Safaris and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

The result of this trip is a series of short films. The first, The Guardians is the cross-section of wildlife management explored through a local rancher, a lion scientist, and the voice of the Namibian conservation movement.

The Guardians premiered at Mountainfilm in Telluride in May, 2014.