A prestigious status has been awarded to the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, which is now on an exclusive list of the darkest places in the world.
Obtaining International Dark Sky Sanctuary status from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) means that an area has an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment”, according to the IDA’s website.
The !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park is in the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park, between South Africa and Botswana, which borders Namibia to the west.
It is a remote part of the 38,000km² Transfontier Park, and belongs to the Khomani San and Mier community.
The Heritage Park was formed in 2002, after a successful land claim by the communities it is now owned by. The only other area with an IDA designation in Africa is NamibRand in Namibia.
Terance Fife chairs the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park’s joint management board and expressed his joy at the designation by the IDA.
As the area is an ideal astro-tourism location, Fife hopes that the sanctuary designation will mean increased efforts to create conservation awareness, specifically regarding light pollution.
Being on the IDA’s list of unique locations, Fife added, was a positive step towards sustaining the area’s economy through job creation and tourism.
Preserving darkness is also imperative to the Khomani San, one of the world’s oldest civilisations, whose culture is entrenched in recognising and appreciating the stars.
The IDA designation allows the Khomani San to pass these traditions on to future generations.
Both the Heritage and Transfontier Parks’ flora and fauna hang in the balance of the preserved darkness of the region, as they are located in the Kalahari Desert. Many plants and animals find refuge in darkness to escape the day’s unforgiving temperatures.
!Xaus Lodge, the only lodge to operate in the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park, championed the certification, and is fast becoming an ideal location for starry night gazes.
This is thanks to the lodge’s impressive sky quality meter (SQM), a measure of darkness, with a score of 22 indicating pure darkness. !Xaus Lodge’s SQM score sits at 21.6.