Albi


Farewell to a Conservationist

Albi Bruckner, the Founder and driving force behind the NamibRand Nature Reserve, and a major contributor to conservation in Namibia, passed away on the 8th December 2016.

Albi was a passionate environmental conservation visionary. The monument to that vision and determination is the world renown NamibRand Nature Reserve (www.namibrand.com), located in southern Namibia. In one of those quirks of fate that we all experience from time to time, I was given the opportunity and good fortune to join Albi and his son, Stephan, as part of their team in developing the concepts, plans and systems that established the NamibRand Nature Reserve in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Albi’s dream was to convert a large number of failed livestock farms, created in a well-intentioned, but misguided, attempt to settle the southern Namib after World War II, into a private wildlife sanctuary. A sanctuary that would integrate with the Namib-Naukluft National Park and reestablish an ecosystem extending from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Kalahari Escarpment in the east. Using his own funds to purchase adjacent farms and persuading some like-minded neighbours and investors to join his dream, Albi oversaw the rehabilitation of these former livestock farms into a single contiguous conservation area. The land covered by the Reserve now extends to some 220000ha and is protected in perpetuity by a Constitution that reflects Albi’s strength of character.

Populations of oryx, hartebeest, springbuck, ostrich, cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena, Hartmann’s zebra and other desert animals have thrived. A number of tourism lodges and mobile safari operations (e.g. www.wolwedans.com) have been established and provide the Reserve with the funding to maintain itself. A highly successful environmental education centre (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust - NaDEET) and a hospitality training scheme have also been established. Research projects and ecological monitoring programmes are conducted from the NamibRand Desert Research and Awareness Centre (NRCA).

The process of regeneration is set to continue through a concept known as NamPlace. Landowners on all sides of NamibRand are negotiating an agreement, between themselves and with the Namib-Naukluft National Park (including Sossusvlei), to lift fences and place the whole area under a single environmental management protocol. This could result in a vast landscape - as envisaged by Albi - stretching from the ocean to the escarpment, and functioning once more as an ecological entity.

During 2015 I was invited to spend a few days at the NamibRand Nature Reserve to participate in the making of a documentary film on the establishment and current operation of the Reserve, and to attend a conference on the origins of the “Fairy Circles“ - still something of a mystery that intrigued Albi. Afterwards Albi and I travelled - wandered leisurely, actually - back to Windhoek together in his beloved LandRover Defender. It was a journey filled with interesting observations and convivial conversation around our shared interests and experiences. I am extremely grateful for that time together.

Albi was a man whose integrity and ethical standards were unquestioned. I was privileged to work for and with him; to learn from him and to share his friendship. I shall miss him, but never forget him, and shall always admire his legacy.

     

        

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Obituary
Nils Odendaal and Andreas Bruckner

Johann Albrecht (Albi) Brückner was born in Windhoek on 14 August 1930. Although he spent part of his child-hood in Germany, he returned to Namibia to matriculate from the Windhoek High School. After completing a banking apprenticeship he changed careers and entered the field of engineering, starting out in product sales and working primarily in the south of the country. He joined the South West Engineering Company in the late 1950s, rising quickly in the business, he built it into the multifaceted Namibia Engineering Corporation, of which he was the Chief Executive Officer and major shareholder. 

During his long business career, Albi served as the Chairman of Air Namibia, TransNamib and the Commercial Bank of Namibia. During the same period he was an active member of Rotary; served on the Deutsche Hoehere Private Schule School Board and the Namibia Intressen Gemeinschaft. 

Albi Brückner had an innate affinity with the natural environment and the wildlife which inhabits it. This was evident in his passion for the conservation of that environment; a passion which led to his appointment to the Board of the Namibia Nature Foundation in 1987, and service as Chairman from 1998 to 2002 He also served as a Founding Board Member of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia from 1990 to 2002, and as Chairman from 1994 until 1998. 

Albi developed a keen interest in southern Namibia during his early working years as a salesman for water pumps and diesel engines to farmers throughout the area. His love for the spectacular landscape and its wildlife culminated in the purchase of the Farm Gorassis in 1984. The region is arid Pro-Namib and conventional stock farming is unsuited to the environment. Severe droughts are regular features and at the time of buying Gorassis, many adjoining farmers were hunting oryx and springbuck to survive financially. 

This resulted in the decimation of the wild herds, something that was of considerable concern to Albi and, as farmers were selling, a number of other farms were soon acquired. Initially Albi retained some cattle and a herd of Damara sheep, but soon realised that an alternative form of land use was required. While ecological sustainability was essential, so was financial viability. Wildlife, adapted to the arid environment and roaming over a large area without the hindrance of fences, was recognised as a possible solution to the future security of the land - it’s conservation and sustainable utilisation. 

By the mid-1990’s Albi had conceived, planned and begun implementation of a large private nature reserve with multiple landowners - landowners who would provide the financial investment into the land that would constitute the reserve. His vision was a legally registered Reserve functioning under a strict Constitution that would protect its status and the integrity of its borders in perpetuity. 

That vision held that the long term financial viability of the Reserve would come from the allocation of low volume, low impact, high revenue tourism concessions for the development and operation of lodges and camps, and from careful management of the large mammal species such as zebra, oryx and hartebeest. 

With the sale of the properties Vreemdelingspoort to Conservation Corporation, Draaihoek and Toskaan to Mr Jurgen Klein and Kwessiegat to Marianna Berker, the signing of the Articles of Association, to register all properties included into a Section 21 Company (Association not for Gain), took place on the 23rd of November 2001. 

Today the NamibRand Nature Reserve has restored 215,000ha (17 former domestic livestock ranches) of desert habitat; re-established the indigenous flora and fauna, including breeding populations of large predators such as leopard, cheetah, spotted and brown hyena and caracal, and implemented long term, professional ecological and administrative management systems. 

The NamibRand Conservation Foundation was created by Albi as a private, non-profit trust. The Foundation raises funds independently and assists with financing ecological research and environmental education and awareness raising. One of the beneficiaries is the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) which operates out of a renovated farmhouse and a purpose built “Camp” that caters for up to 40 participants - mainly school children - on courses at any one time.

Tourism operations on the Reserve assist by collecting a daily park fee from visitors. Two luxury lodge operators, with a total of 62 beds in five camps and lodges, provide the bulk of the tourism activities. A hot air balloon operator; a horseback riding operator; a walking trails operation; a small, self-catering facility and two self-drive camp sites with restricted access to parts of the reserve, make up the remainder of the tourism component. 

The governing body of the Reserve is the NamibRand Nature Reserve Board of Directors, on which Albi served as Chairman. 

The vision of a NamibRand even before it was enunciated; the initial capital to purchase the land; the courage to keep going, to keep investing in the early years when not everyone shared his belief, when low density, high revenue, responsible tourism was a concept in the making - it was all driven by Albi. Profit was not the motive - as he has always maintained and lived by, the Reserve is there to conserve an ecosystem for the future, the profits must be made by the concessionaires, not the landowners. The Park Fee collected from guests visiting these tourism establishments, which are based on a well-managed natural ecosystem, are what ensures the effective management, protection and survival of the NamibRand Nature Reserve. 

NamibRand Nature Reserve is internationally recognised as a model for private sector conservation of large landscapes and for it’s contribution of the unique and fragile Pro-Namib ecosystem. It all comes down to the foresight, passion and drive of one man’s desire and efforts to conserve a small piece of this Planet’s natural heritage. 

Albi Brückner deserves recognition for his achievements, specifically for the creation of NamibRand, but also for contributions over a long career serving the cause of conservation of wildlife and wild lands. 

Rest in peace Albi!


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