Harnas Wildlife Foundation started on a cattle farm in the Namibian wilderness. The owners, Nick and Marieta van der Merwe, were farmers, making a living on the land, when a sick vervet monkey inspired them to do more. They began adopting animals, taking in the sick and infirm, even adopting a healthy pride of lions from a defunct zoo. As their love for animals grew, so did the farm. They hired a staff and expanded their facilities, eventually opening the farm to the public in 1993.
Namabia has a 51% unemployment rate and that means people are desperate. Wildlife conservation is an afterthought when people can’t support themselves and their families. As conditions continued to deteriorate in the country, animals continued to flood through the gates at the farm. Nick and Marieta couldn’t turn them away since turning them away meant condemning them to death. As the farm rapidly grew, the van der Merwes needed help so they founded the Harnas Wildlife Foundation Trust and this opened the doors to private investors. Today Harnas is thriving, and they welcome volunteers.
The Harnas mission: to protect life through responsible and effective management and regulation. To study life. To improve our planet. To be thankful. They are dedicated to restoring the natural balance between humans and animals, to sharing the land and our resources, and to respecting nature in all its forms.
While Harnas was originally founded to protect individual animals, today it has expanded to include welfare projects and wildlife conservation as a whole. They have two branches: The Harnas Bionetwork, focused on conservation projects, and the Harnas Social Network, focused on social projects and humanitarian aid in underprivileged communities.
Harnas volunteers participate in all aspects of operations—from working directly with the animals, to building infrastructure, to working with local communities. Volunteers choose their own level of involvement. Programs last from two weeks to three months, though Harnas recommends that volunteers stay as long as possible to make lasting bonds with the animals and people they encounter. There is a small voluntourist village at Harnas, comprised of four-person cabins with communal showers and kitchens. The village is run on solar power and each room has solar panel lights, part of the Harnas commitment to sustainability and conservation (there are traditional power outlets in the main buildings for charging cell phones, etc.). An interesting side note: Harnas counts Angelina Jolie among its patrons (see above image).