Dr. Stephan Getzin | Scientist | Ecologist

Stephan Getzin – Information about the Namibian Life Journey

Dear Namibia friends,

Herewith I would like to introduce myself.

Stephan Getzin (2017) Already as a child, I was fascinated by Africa with its diverse life and magnificent landscapes, which is why the continent always influenced my life and career. As a natural scientist, I am specialized today in various fields of research such as dryland ecology and the spatial analysis of plant and animal patterns. I am particularly interested in how plants and animals organize themselves together to cope better with water scarcity. In Namibia and Australia I am undertaking active research on fairy circles and other vegetation patterns, my publications can be found in my Google-Scholar profile.

First contact with Africa in the Serengeti

On foot patrol with a ranger in the Serengeti (1995).In 1994/1995, after finishing school, I fulfilled my childhood dream of getting to experience Africa with my own eyes: I traveled to northern Tanzania for eight months. Half of this time I worked as a volunteer in the Ecology Department of the Serengeti National Park, where I helped mapping bird species and measure rainfall throughout the park. I was able to get to know large parts of the Serengeti ecosystem, its wildlife and surrounding tribes as well as the daily work of the park rangers. When I returned to Germany, I had a new book in my luggage. The book was called At the Hand of Man – Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife by Raymond Bonner which was ‘A welcome introduction to the new conscience in African wildlife conservation, which recognises at long, long last the needs and wishes of the African people themselves’. Especially the description of a communal game guard project in Namibia’s Kaokoveld and Damaraland, today’s Kunene, was impressive. The project is called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC). A big Himba meeting with John Kasaona standing in the center and Garth Owen-Smith sitting to the left side (2000).The aim of this project is to specifically protect wildlife outside of traditional national park boundaries. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages are responsible for this – in the early 1990s, this was a fairly new approach to nature conservation. Project manager Garth Owen-Smith was awarded with many of the highest environmental awards, such as the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa in 1993 or the UN’s Environmental Program Global 500 Award the following year. The IRDNC project has thus become one of the most successful conservation projects on the entire African continent.

Studying in Namibia

Student excursion, measuring Welwitschia plants in the Damaraland (1998).And it was this extraordinary nature conservation project described in Bonner’s book that brought me back to Africa in 1996 shortly after my first visit – but this time to Namibia. My plan was to study ecology and geography at the University of Namibia (UNAM) and to join the IRDNC project. So I enrolled in the university in February 1997 (and finally graduated in 2000 as the first full-time student from Germany with a B.Sc.). Through my studies I took part in several excursions. One of them led me directly to the remote Damaraland, more precisely to Wêreldsend – which in Afrikaans language means “world’s end”. This is the base station of the communal nature conservation project IRDNC and thus it happened that I actually became part of Owen Smith’s project as a volunteer.

Communal nature conservation in Namibia

In the Hartmann’s Valley during boundary negotiations for the new conservancy (1999).This was around the time when the first communal conservancies, such as Torra, were being established or planned. So I was able to attend meetings with the local Herero or Himba. In addition, I accompanied John Kasaona – the current director of the project – on various tours to the Kaokoveld, where, for example, the border lines of the new conservancy in the Marienfluss or Hartmann’s Valley were negotiated. I also got to know new eco-tourism projects such as the Damaraland Camp, which is nowadays mainly run by the local community of the Torra conservancy. One of the most impressive experiences, however, was of a very different nature: tracking down elephants and rhinos and sneaking up to them unnoticed on foot. The local game guards showed me how to track these massive animals. It was also the tours within the framework of the IRDNC project in the remote north-west of Namibia that finally led me to the fairy circles in 1999. The elephants did not notice us and we are sitting safe from them on stony slope (1998).These circular patches in the grassland are fascinating and soon I undertook a research trip on this topic in 2000. Our research results on this natural phenomenon were published the same year. Since then my enthusiasm for the mystery of the fairy circles has kept me busy until today and I have therefore dedicated a tab on this website entirely to fairy circles.

My studies in Namibia meant above all intensive learning and cultural exchange. Through the excursions, to the desert research station in Gobabeb in the Namib, to the Atlantic coast or to the strange Welwitschia plants in Damaraland, I got to know Namibia intimately. The desert research station of Gobabeb is the best place to learn about the Namib’s ecology.With the Namibia Bird Club, we saw some of the country’s more than 700 bird species during excursions to places like the Waterberg or the Daan Viljoen Game Park. In the Daan Viljoen Game Park I also investigated various grass species and their suitability as indicator of overgrazing and land degradation using sophisticated statistical methods which was later published in the African Journal of Ecology. Also other investigations on fire effects in savannas and on spatial mechanisms that lead to the coexistence of grass plants and trees in savannas appeared over the years.

All in all, these years of study were a unique opportunity to learn about Namibia’s fascinating ecology. They are therefore the foundation for my travel offer with NAMIBIA-ECO-TOURS.

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