Namibian greens, tour firms say filming of Mad Max damaged desert

Environmental and tourist groups claim film crew destroyed sensitive areas; government agencies say there was no lasting impact

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 3:13am


Namibian environmental groups and tourism companies expressed fury about a film crew's alleged destruction of sensitive areas in the world's oldest desert while shooting Mad Max: Fury Road.

"They added tracks in untouched areas," tour operator Tommy Collard said from Swakopmund.

"What is worse is the film crew tried to remove the marks they left themselves by dragging nets over them, ripping plants out.

"Together with other coastal tour operators we have collected a lot of photographic evidence. One cannot rehabilitate the landscape of the Namib Desert."

Smaller creatures such as lizards, geckos and chameleons suffered, as well as the rare lithops cactus, he said.

Filming took place in a section of the Namib Desert recently proclaimed as Dorob National Park.

The coastal watchdog Nacoma (Namibian Coast Conservation and Management) project had commissioned ecological scientist Joh Henschel to compile a report on the environmental damage.

It was sent to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) last December for response and actions.

"Nacoma contracted me as consultant about the tracks left by the Mad Max film crew and yes, some areas in the Namib Desert were destroyed," Henschel said.

"In one area a ploughing device was used." He declined to give more details, citing "contractual obligations".

A copy of the report seen on Monday laid some responsibility at the door of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

"The permit and environmental clearance granted by the MET to the Mad Max project were not sufficiently specific so as to serve to guide the management of environmental compliance of the project."

In an angry response to media reports about the alleged devastation, the Namibia Film Commission (NFC) ran a large advertisement in state-owned newspaper New Era to "refute the allegations ... in the strongest terms".

" Mad Max(4): Fury Road has to our satisfaction ... faced up to their responsibilities within Namibia... we register no reservations and give Mad Max(4): Fury Road a clean bill," the NFC said.

The commission blamed media for reporting alleged "untruths" and wanting "to tarnish" Namibia's reputation.

Similarly, the ministry of environment's permanent secretary Simeon Negumbo said the film company conducted land rehabilitation to the ministry's satisfaction.

"From the beginning the experienced, dedicated team used tried and tested methods like vehicle and hand-dragged fishing nets, tyres, brooms, chains, ropes and leaf blowers, which worked perfectly in the area", he said.

Namibia last year applied to Unesco to have a more southerly part of the Namib Desert declared the "Namib Sand Sea" to be included on the World Heritage List.

According to the application document, in that desert area there are "vast panoramas of majestic dunescapes, strikingly crystallised in sharply silhouetted forms continually transformed by wind and time".

The World Heritage Committee will meet this June in Cambodia to decide on the heritage application.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth film in the franchise directed by George Miller, and stars Tom Hardy in the title role made famous by Mel Gibson. Charlize Theron co-stars with Hardy.

It was filmed between July and December last year.