REST is a non- profit organization founded in September of 2000. The founder and current director, Maria Diekmann believes strongly that almost anything can be achieved if you can bring everyone concerned and interested into the process. Her original interest in the Cape Griffon, Gyps coprotheres, began while living on the family farm situated near the Waterberg Plateau cliffs. This is where the last remaining Cape Griffon in Namibia roost. She originally envisioned that she would play a supporting role in their conservation, but then a visitor to her guest house advised her to take a leading role. When Art and his wife Pris arrived, Maria knew nothing about them. After long discussions, she realized that as Director of the San Diego Zoo, Art had played a leading role in the survival of the last California Condors (also a vulture). She was advised from the beginning to get the support of the world's experts and learn from them, which she did. Many of those same experts are now on her scientific board and give advice on major environmental decisions. REST began by helping only the plight of the Cape Griffon vulture, but after a few years it became apparent that there were a few species that needed specific support in Namibia. Thus the start of the “Forgotten Five” began which has developed into the Forgotten 5 +1. (Cape Griffon Vulture, Dwarf Python, African Wild/Painted Dog, Cape/Ground Pangolin, Damara Dik Dik and Spotted Rubber Frog) These animals represent biodiversity within the entire land ecosystem of Namibia.
Quite unexpectantly at the end of 2012, we received a wild pangolin being offered on the black market. Before we could prepare her for release, as we have many others, she gave birth to a little pangolin pup. This experience has allowed us to fast forward our pangolin research which is quite exciting.
REST's headquarters are on a small farm 47 km south of Otjiwarongo. We were officially opened in August 2010 when we were almost 10 years old. We still have many plans but we have developed a beautiful centre with a variety of conservation and research structures with emphasis on fun interactive education facilities for visitors from the community and abroad. Our new centre consists of a number of building and activities for the visitor. Upon entering the driveway you will drive a short way through the nature bush to the student and staff housing. There is public parking here or you can continue up the hill to the visitors centre. All guests are greeted by our daily host. You may visit the lab, hospital and office building and receive a map for a self guided tour of our new sensory trail. This trail is for all visitors but with sponsorship from Natural Encounters it is specifically designed as a ‘touch and feel” experience that can cater to the needs of the physically challenged. We are still developing the trail, with the help of PAWS volunteers at our neighbor’s organization – the Africat Foundation. The first part of the trail will be wheel chair friendly.
When they are finished the visitor is guided up to the educational centre. Once inside you realize that you are actually inside the Nedbank aviary housing all of our non releasable raptors. They live amongst the natural cliffs facing the education centre. This is a perfect opportunity to photograph the birds. There is a verandah attached with a stunning view of the landscape where you can bring and eat your picnic lunch.
Most visitors then walk with us a short way to our wildlife hide. Once a week we feed hundreds of wild raptors here. Most visitors are whitebacked vultures, up to 40 lappet faced vultures, 1-3 Cape Vultures and usually some marabou storks and tawny eagles. The warthog and jackal often visit at the same time. We have a brown hyeana and wild leopard who feed there at night and we hope to set up a night viewing light as funds become available. A special private feed can be booked in advance if you would like.
Our new centre is all solar powered. Our systems are very basic lights at the moment but we hope to upgrade as funds are donated. Our water is solar pumped to a tank on the mountain and then runs naturally to all of our outlets below. Luckily we have excellent cell phone coverage for phones and internet.