Etosha Preparing for 100th Birthday in March

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The status of the Etosha National Park as Namibia’s flagship park, is set to be restored in the wake of the centenary celebrations scheduled for next year. The park will not only get a facelift through the upgrading of its infrastructure, but will also have new tourism products and facilities. But to carry out scores of activities that the public, private sector and staff have proposed, the ministry and the Namibia Wildlife Resorts are appealing for funds from Namibian businesses and institutions to fund specific activities. So far, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has obtained N$10.5-million from the Game Products Trust Fund. The ministry, in conjunction with the Namibia Wildlife Resorts, has secured funding to upgrade infrastructure to ready the park for the national and international attention it will receive come next year, and beyond. MET Minister, Willem Konjore, told the press this week that some of the repair works to be undertaken at the park include regrading roads, upgrading fences, repairing water points, building new ablution facilities, grading firebreaks, improving the entrance gates and replacing aging equipment. Most of the infrastructure at the national park, which is one of the largest in the world, is over 25 years old and needs to be replaced, said Tobie Aupindi, Managing Director of the NWR. Of the N$120-million allocated to the NWR for it to implement a turnaround strategy for the company, Aupindi said, N$60-million has been earmarked for Etosha. In addition, Permanent Secretary Malan Lindeque said a greater part of the 800km-long fence will have to be electrified and made elephant-proof, an activity that will cost the ministry N$30ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 per km. Come 2007, a greater part of the northern boundary fence of the national park will be rebuilt entirely, said the PS. “There is huge infrastructure to be maintained, developed and upgraded,” he added. Although the ministry has planned a year-long celebration, its main focus is to ready the park. A small celebration has been earmarked for the official birthday of Etosha, which falls on March 22, with the main celebration to be held later in 2007 when the national park will be able to accommodate invited guests and also at a time when game-viewing is at its best. Namibia is one of the few countries in the world to celebrate 100 years of conservation achievements and the minister said the celebrations come at a time when Namibia is moving into an era of conservation where sustainable development and the needs of the people take precedence. The country’s national parks, according to a study that was conducted, contributes between N$1-billion and N$2-billion annually to the national economy, while the ministry spends N$50-million on maintaining and running the protected areas. In addition, the Etosha acts as a donor of live game to conservancies and other game parks in the country. Some of the projects and proposals that MET and NWR are considering include establishing themed information centres at the Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni rest camps; opening western Etosha for guided tours; establishing hides and guided night drives; building kiosks at various points within the park, where visitors can leave their vehicles, use ablution facilities and buy refreshments; putting emphasis on selling; opening a gate on the northern boundary and developing a conservancy for the Hai//om people, and local goods. Lindeque said other envisaged activities include local songs for the centenary, a film festival featuring some of the finest films made about Etosha, commemorative postage stamps, a marathon across a section of the park and establishment of story-telling venues within the park.