The Oana Nature Reserve is one of the most spectacular areas in the Namibian Deep South, a region of semi-desert broken up by the idyllic Orange River. Extending over 110,000 acres that includes 50km of Orange River frontage, the reserve was established by Ian Craig of Lewa Conservancy in Kenya and Pete Morkel, renowned wildlife vet, to provide a safe sanctuary for the critically endangered black rhino and to conserve a unique and specialised ecosystem in an area threatened by commercial farming heartland. The land is an ecotone that hosts both the Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo biomes and the Namib Desert biome. Only 1% of the Nama Karoo is protected and the Succulent Karoo is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots on earth. The terrain itself is a chaotic geological fusion of metamorphic and igneous mountain ranges, sandy and gravel plains, seasonal riverbeds and the Orange River that provides a kaleidoscopic landscape of colour and shapes.

Oana offers on-going Conservation programs for participants while in-field. The following is a list of some of the projects that participants may be able to get involved in.

Conservation (Reserve Management / Wildlife Research)


The re-wilding program is split into two main concepts: land management and baseline research. Since the area was extensively farmed and trophy hunted, the first phase of management is to gradually transition the land into its natural ecosystem. Efforts are being concentrated on eliminating all human infrastructure detrimental to wildlife, clearing scrap, removing old livestock fences and extracting alien plant species, reconstructing water points for wildlife and revitalising grassy plains.

  • Reserve management – assist in removing invasive trees, human infrastructure and scrap.
  • When possible assist in reintroductions of ostrich, meerkat, grey rhebok, cheetah, giraffe, red hartebeest and blue wildebeest.
  • Construction of sand dams for harvesting rain water (watch video)
  • Construction of wildlife hides
  • Open up areas for migration (removing internal boundary fences)

Photo (left): Sand Dam Construction, (right) Game Count recording large mammals

Baseline Research

Since the region has been farmland, Scientists haven’t had any access to this part of the world, therefore we are conducting extensive biodiversity surveys on fauna and flora. We have partnered with several universities around the world, to offer up the reserve as a study stite. The opportunities for data collection are endless and we are currently looking for more universities to work with. This research will give us a clear idea of which species occur, population size and distribution; essential preliminary information when establishing a conservation area prior to wildlife reintroductions and management strategy and perhaps even identifying new species.

  • Assist in carrying out wildlife research projects involving camera trapping, small mammal trapping, horned adder VHF tracking, brown hyena and leopard research, game counts to monitor our large mammals (kudu, eland, oryx, zebra, springbok) , endemic Hartmann’s mountain zebra camera trap monitoring,
  • Mist netting & ringing birds under Ministry of Environment and Tourism (baseline data on all species to contribute to the Namibia Atlas of Birds)
  • Monitoring of burrowing ecosystem engineers
  • Monitoring small carnivores (caracal, African wild cat & black footed cat)
  • Leopard and Brown Hyaena habituation
  • Leopard monitoring and collaring
  • Biodiversity surveying – assist in building knowledge on insects, reptiles, small mammals, birds and riverine wildlife in a highly understudied part of Africa with potential for new species.
  • Black Rhino tracking on foot and monitoring.
    • This happens on Sandfontein Conservancy (Sandfontein is our neighbouring conservancy: https://www.sandfontein.com). We drive to Sandfontein from base camp – it takes 2 hours on dirt road. The rhino population consists of the rhinos will eventually be re-introduced onto Oana. The plan is to remove the fences separating the two reserves, mean whilst Oana is not quite ready to re-introduce the Rhino due to risk of poaching, instead our students are keeping a close eye on the population, monitoring them and their diet.

Photo: Professor Barry Lovegrove author of The Living Deserts of Southern Africa, leading small mammals survey.

Additional On-going Research:

  • Leopard-Human conflict (Czech University Life Sciences Viktor Nesticky) using camera traps and gps collars
  • Hartman’s Mountain Zebra (Newcastle University Proff. Morris) camera trap survey ID each individual on the reserve.
  • Black Footed Cat Reintroduction (Nadine Lamberski San Diego Zoo)
  • Herpetology & Small Mammals Inventory (Namibian University of Science Technology Dr. Haupfleistch)

Research launching in 2020 (looking for students)

Prosopis Juliflora, A species of mesquite tree from South America is growing like wildfire in Namibia and elsewhere in Africa. 90% of the biomass on the Orange River is Prosopis.

The P. juliflora mesquite was once presented as a solution to some of East Africa’s most pressing problems when it was introduced by development agencies through much of the 20th century, starting in the 1920s. By producing foliage and animal fodder in areas with little of either, it was meant to fortify the region’s crumbling drylands. And by holding the sands at bay with its deep, cloying roots, it was envisaged as a much-needed weapon against desertification. Initially, at least, it proved its worth. However, It’s out-competed weaker, more nutritious species, it destroys habitats and creates monocultures.

At Oana we are removing the trees in land which haven’t yet had the chance to spread like they have done on the Orange River. We are looking for students to research the best way to tackle the trees on the river, systematically and through income generation for our local community of Warmbad. The trees provide excellent timber and therefore could provide generations worth of employment for our local village, if extracted properly for the benefit of the biodiversity that have no adapted to live alongside P, juliflora.

Take a virtual tour of Oana Namibia’s base camp!