WE ARE TOSCO

Our story

HOW IT STARTED

TOSCO was born at a time of adversity, when lions were poisoned in Puros Conservancy in the Kunene Region during 2011. For Félix Vallat, who was working as a tour guide at the time, the incident highlighted the paradoxical relationship between the tourism sector and local communities when it comes to lions and other iconic, but problem-causing species. Communities were vilified for killing the lions, yet they bore all other costs of living with lions and received none of the benefits that were reaped by the tourism sector.

Inspired by Garth Owen-Smith and Dr. Philip Stander, Felix founded the ‘Tourism Supporting Conservation Trust’ in 2012 to assist communities living with wildlife on behalf the tourism sector. This way, he wanted to strengthen the relationship between the tourism industry, conservations and communities, and ensure the long-term viability of travel in Namibia. In that same year, 18 tourism companies joined as paying members. As a result, TOSCO started funding three community members in Puros – Bertus, Kootie and Colin – to monitor lion movements and mitigate human-lion conflict. They were among the first Lion Rangers employed in Namibia.

TOSCO History photo

THE TOURISM-CONSERVATION GAP

Tourism has been amongst the most important industries in Namibia. Since 2014 foreign arrivals started growing significantly, which continued until 2019 with a contribution of approximately 14.7% to GDP. Because of its relatively long value chain, tourism has a substantial contribution to the country’s employment, both directly and indirectly, making up 15.4% of the total in 2019. Namibia’s landscapes, wildlife and authentic cultures, combined with good infrastructure and low levels of crime, will grow Namibia’s popularity as a tourism destination. Although tourism has much potential to make positive impacts, it can put pressure on natural resources including endangered species, lead to soil erosion and habitat loss. Another common issue of tourism is the unequal distribution of benefits.

 

COMMUNITY CONSERVATION IN NAMIBIA

Namibia has been acknowledged worldwide for its conservation success story through its CBNRM (community based natural resource management) approach. Since independence, communities have been empowered to manage and utilise natural resources in so-called conservancies. With the focus on poverty alleviation and rural economic development, community conservation resulted in the largest population of black rhino in the wild and healthy populations of lions, elephants and other species. Today there are 86 conservancies in Namibia, covering 20% of the country’s surface.

TOWARDS RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN NAMIBIA

Since 2012, we reached a peak of 42 members, and expanded our projects beyond human-wildlife conflict mitigation to include other important themes that helped align tourism and conservation, including research, awareness raising and carbon offsetting. In the first ten years, more than N$6 million have been collected and disbursed through TOSCO, mostly from the tourism industry through memberships. During the first decade, TOSCO worked without a budget for operating expenses, relying on a team of tourism professionals devoting their free time to its projects, and so most of the funds were creating immediate conservation impact. The focus has always been on filling critical gaps identified by our partners, whether it was by supporting external projects managed by various organisations, or initiating its own projects.

Going forward, conservation will be more focused on income generation for these conservancies, to secure rural livelihoods, covering conservation costs and ensuring their overall sustainability. At TOSCO we believe this can be linked to the increasing need for tourists seeking to travel with a positive impact on their holiday destination. Travelers do not necessarily know what responsible choices are in the Namibian context and how their money can help make a real difference, and so they are looking for responsible travel agents, including tour operators, accommodations, car rentals and guides, that ensure their impact will be positive.

TOSCO assists these tourism businesses in adapting to this global trend. There is a growing number of tourism businesses that seek to integrate sustainability at the heart of their business, but they may not be aware the actual conservation needs are, or do not have the time and resources to take their own initiatives. Besides, they face the challenge of greenwashing, whereby they have to compete with businesses that purport to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes. By joining TOSCO, we take collaborative action on behalf of the tourism industry and make sure that it is linked to positive conservation results, that in return help to sustain tourism.

Our vision for tourism and nature to flourish in harmony. Tourism numbers go up as natural ecosystems grow more diverse and spectacular, while benefiting local communities for the natural resources that they conserve, in a self-sustainable and infinite way.

How we work

Looking into the future, we believe that with its wide-open landscapes, free-roaming wildlife and authentic traditional cultures, Namibia will continue to be an inspiration for travellers from all around the world. The contemporary, conscious traveller will be eager to learn more about Namibia’s conservation successes. This encourages the tourism sector to continue reimagining its relationship with nature, and it inspires us at TOSCO to continue finding new ways to bridge tourism and conservation. To achieve its vision, TOSCO’s work is centered around consolidating its two pillars of tourism and conservation within three relevant and pertinent themes:

 

Through its work, TOSCO aims to grow tourism-related support for community-centered conservation. This growth will be achieved by strengthening and deepening the relationship of tourism and conservation, by ensuring that tourism contributes to poverty alleviation and rural economic development, whilst answering the traveller’s need for transparency in terms of their impact, as well as more authentic and engaging experiences.

Our mission is to provide a benchmark for sustainable tourism in Namibia by ensuring that tourism conserves the natural reources it depends on. By linking travel to actual, positive conservation outcomes for the benefit of nature and communities, we assist tourism businesses in being the responsible agent that travellers are looking for.

OUR TEAM

Our programs are run by a team of dedicated young people, most of them working in the tourism industry or studying tourism, with a passion for the environment and the conservation thereof. Meet our team!
Lara
Lara Potma
Manager
View Profile
Josephine
Josephine Kamelo
Communication and Administration Officer
View Profile
Charlotte
Charlotte Hiernard
View Profile
Blandine
Blandine Iitamalo
View Profile
Agnes1 (1)-min
Agnes Dury
fundraising
View Profile
Timo
Timo Behrens
Operations
View Profile
Rodney
Rodney Tjavara
Lion Ranger and Response Specialist
View Profile
Kaveisire
Kaveisire Rutavi
Lion Ranger and Response Specialist
View Profile
Katukuruka
Katukuruka Karutjaiva
Lion Ranger and Response Specialist
View Profile
Maruru-min
Esau Matundu
Lion Ranger and Response Specialist
View Profile
WhatsApp Image 2022-04-01 at 5.31.27 PM
Jendery Tsaneb
Lion Ranger Patrol Leader
View Profile
Felix
Félix Vallat
Founder and Trustee
View Profile
Dieter
Dieter Risser
Accountant and Trustee
View Profile
David
David Rey
Trustee
View Profile
Mathilde
Mathilde Brassine
View Profile
Our team

CORE TEAM

Lara Potma
Managing Director
My immense love for the natural world made me want to devote my life to conservation from an early age. As an avid traveller, I understand why exploring the unknown can be so enriching for many of us. I left my home country, the Netherlands after completing my MSc in Tourism, Society and Environment. When I arrived in Namibia from the Netherlands, it appeared the ultimate country to learn what successful conservation is about. After having worked in the tourism industry as a sustainability consultant, I could not have found a better organisation than TOSCO to involve tourism into the conservation equation and create genuine conservation impact on behalf of the travel community. I am very excited to see TOSCO evolving and to growing the organisation further!
lara.potma@tosco.org
Mathilde Brassine
Lion Ranger Programme Administrator
I grew up in Namibia, where I arrived in 1997 from Belgium. After a 7-year stint in South Africa, where I obtained my MSc in Zoology from Rhodes University, I returned home in 2012 and became more familiar with the CBNRM (Community Based Natural Resource Management) approach through my position as High Value Plants Project Facilitator at IRDNC. I then moved to the tourism industry, working as a freelance tour guide for 8 years, where I became increasingly aware of the important role TOSCO plays in linking tourism to conservation. In 2020, the pandemic put my guiding career on hold, and I joined TOSCO as the Lion Rangers programme administrator, a role that includes coordinating Lion Ranger patrols in the Northwest, organising ranger training, equipment procurement and overseeing the implementation of the SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) system into the programme. I am passionate about the CBNRM approach and believe it plays a pivotal role in successful conservation!
mathilde.brassine@tosco.org
Anne Botter
Junior Technical Advisor
I started my studies in tourism in 2017 and very quickly found my passion for sustainable tourism and development. When starting my MSc degree in Tourism, Society and Environment in 2021, I was lucky enough to indulge myself in the world of sustainable tourism combined with conservation. I started focusing more of my research on Southern Africa and have been privileged to live in South Africa for a few months for research. In 2023 I was lucky enough to finish my degree at TOSCO, an organisation whose values and goals I highly support. I am very excited to start my career at TOSCO, where I can implement the knowledge that I gained during my studies in the Netherlands.
Kaveisire Rutavi
TOSCO Ranger
I started working as a ranger in 2016. I learned tracking lions at home, when I was a farmer. If they came to another person’s kraal, I used to go there and try to track them to see how far they went and when they arrived at that kraal and how many meters were left between us. I like the lions, because to me they are very important animals and I still want to know more about lions, so that I can also train my children. Even when I get old, then they will already know what the lions do, what they like and what they do not like. And they must know lions’ behaviours. But I like other animals too, to me everything is unique and special. I can say, I am a good tracker and I like to track animals. I hope that I can continue this job for many years and train other people as well in lion tracking!
Katukuruka Karutjaiva
TOSCO Ranger
When I was young, I grew up with a man who was a community game guard. He always took me with him in the field. That’s when I started to see that this job is very important, and when I started to like the lions and all other animals. When I was farming my goats and sheep, I always saw the Human Wildlife Support Team working in the field. I wanted to join them and volunteered myself to their team. I officially became a Ranger in 2018. I enjoy being in the field and going on patrols, to try and be close to the lions so they don’t get close to the farmers’ livestock and create conflict. Because if the lions start to be aggressive then the farmers will start to be aggressive against the lions as well. I am a hard worker, so whatever time you come and tell me that we need to go somewhere or do something now, I don’t say no or tell you that I have something else to do. I am always ready to go! I will always want to stay in conservation. I hope I will get more training in the future, because it helps to do the work well.
Esau Matundu
TOSCO Ranger
I grew up on a farm near Outjo and I have been interested in animals since I was young. I always wanted to become a ranger. I volunteered myself to help build the Ombonde fly camp for Lion Rangers. Then I started working as a TOSCO ranger in 2021. My favourite animal is a lion because one year I stayed with my family near Etosha. There are a lot of lions, so I want to learn more about them. When I used to go to a water point, I used to see even two or three lions and I liked to see them, but they used to be far away, like 50 metres away. My favourite part of being a ranger is to patrol. I want to learn patrolling from someone who knows how to do that very well, like Rodney Tjavara. He taught me many things that I didn’t know. So, I want to go to Rodney even for one month to stay there and work with him and learn other things from him again.
Rodney Tjavara
TOSCO Ranger
I am Rodney Tjavara from Purros Conservancy, and I am looking after the lions. I started working in conservation when I was 36 years old, when I joined Dr. Philip Stander. We met in 2012 in my village, Tomakas and I started helping him as a ranger, until 2014, then I started working at TOSCO as a ranger. I want to work as a ranger because I like nature, but also because I want to help my community. The lions are in my conservancy, and I am fighting for both, on the one side I am looking after the livestock and on the other side I am looking after the lions. I also see the lions are very important for the tourists. And for my kids, to see them in the future and know them in real life. In the future, I want to follow the same way Dr. Philip Stander is going and stay closer to where the lions are.
Felix Vallat
Founder and Chairperson
I was born and raised in France. Thinking that true wilderness was something of the past, I discovered to my surprise that this was not true for Namibia, where upon my first arrival I found most of the country still untouched by humans. The pristine nature, open spaces and free-roaming wildlife made me fall in love with the country, which is why I decided to settle here. I started working as a tour guide, but soon I felt tourism was not doing enough to protect Namibia’s environment. Two conservationists who crossed my path changed my life and career forever. Garth Owen Smith and Dr. Philip Stander made me realise the role that tourism could and should play in conservation. In 2012 I founded TOSCO, with the aim to build a bridge between tourism and conservation. 10 years later, I decided that it is time to let the organisation grow with a new generation, but I will remain an advisor in my position as Chairperson.

SUPPORT TEAM

Timo Behrens
Project Support
I was born and bred at the coast, in Swakopmund where I have resided for all my life. I have always been fascinated with the natural environment, and am most happy when I have the opportunity to explore the great outdoors. In 2017 I started my career in the tourism industry as a tour guide, which is when I learned about TOSCO. In my work as a guide I am committed to safeguarding the environment, and TOSCO is the perfect platform for me to do more for conservation. I have grown especially respect for the game guards and rangers, who walk long distances over challenging and dangerous terrains, sometimes days in a row. We have already supported game guards of various conservancies with uniforms, tents, binoculars and various other equipment. I find it important to bring tourism benefits also to areas where tourism is completely absent, and I hope in the future to also bring my guests to these areas, and introduce them to the communities in these areas that work so hard to conserve Namibia’s wildlife they come to see.

Our strategic partners