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Desert-Dwelling Giraffe of Northwestern Namibia

Word from the Desert

O ur last Quarterly Update – April 2018 brought you news of the beginning of the wet season and the wonderful sight of Namibia’s ephemeral rivers in full spate. Further heavy April rains transformed the arid landscape into vast plains of swaying grasses. While this immediate greening was short-lived, the impact of these rains will be felt long into the upcoming dry season. Even now, in July, the groundwater table remains high enough in both the Hoarusib and Hoanib Rivers to allow for areas of standing water in the riverbed to linger, providing havens for wildlife in the area.

Our research team have enjoyed watching the various desert dwelling species grow fat on the spoils of the rainy season, however, are also relieved that the floods have now passed and all the roads in our study area are once again passable. This has allowed us to return once more to traversing the sandy riverbeds and rocky mountainsides that the giraffe call home and learn more about them in the area.

Spotting new giraffe calves is always exciting. Who does not love watching little slightly out-off-proportion trying to find their desert-legs? During the last months, we have observed a lot of new calves and have been busy adding all of them to our giraffe database. Telling their sex is difficult when they are still young, but we hope to soon be able to further update our files. It is great to report that the desert-dwelling Angolan giraffe population in Namibia’s northwest continues to thrive. Partially, there success may be attributed to the shifts in lion populations in the area. But such is nature and life in the bush and we are glad to see that giraffe numbers on the rise – at least locally.

As mentioned in the last report, the recent rains caused the Commiphora, a low-lying shrub that grows on rocky outcrops, to suddenly turn green. Much to the delight of the giraffe. As the rains continued late into April this year the Commiphora and a number of other desert-hardened trees and shrubs provided a mountain-based food source for giraffe and some other wildlife. As such the giraffe have largely dispersed out of the riverbeds, and while we’ve spotted many of our well-known individuals doing a bit of hill climbing over the past few months, others have taken to the mountains to places that our 4×4 is unable to follow.

Amongst all the excitement of the new growth we are happy to report that we have spotted some of our adopted giraffe among the many groups and individuals we have recorded since April.

Kaoko has again been spotted close to the Hoarusib River. While she usually spends her time just downriver of one of our favourite camping spots, last month she moved with a handful of other female giraffe and their calves into a tributary of the Hoarusib called the Gomatum River. Early this year the ancient trees of the Gomatum River looked quite pitiful, their roots not having felt fresh water in over two years. However, with the recent rains they have put forth new growth and the giraffe have moved in to crop their lower limbs. Kaoko has not just been spending time browsing with her female giraffe friends but has also been spotted on a number of occasions with one of the larger dominant bulls in the area. It is not possible to tell for sure, but it seems quite likely that the next year may bring Kaoko a calf of her own!

While Kaoko seems to always wander into our study transect at the right time, Muffin, after his very welcome appearance in the early months of this year, seems to have wandered off to greener pastures again and eluded us during our recent trips. While we are disappointed not to be able to bring you a photo of Muffin in this report, we are confident that he is using this time of plenty to traverse the great desert plains in search of females and friends. It was wonderful to see how he had grown into a magnificent bull and we are proud to think of him out there doing his thing. Of course, we hope he will show his face again soon, if only for a quick hello!

Monkey continues to be her delightful self. As you can see in her picture she was not (as usual!) particularly impressed with our presence. Her sideways glance says it all! Monkey, like many of the other giraffe, has been spotted high on the hillsides out of the riverbeds over the last few months. We are always a little surprised when we see the mountain climbing antics that these giraffe are capable of. Their long limbs suggest that they are not well designed for clamouring over rocks, however, it seems that they know what they are doing, and we watched Monkey confidently and elegantly step across the loose shale on the mountainsides to find her favourite juicy browse.

Unlike many of the ladies Winky Wonk has decided to stay in the Hoarusib River. Perhaps as an older bull he knows the best spots to retreat to when the water does arrive and so doesn’t feel the need to relocate at the first signs of rain. Perhaps too he has noticed that when everyone else is away there is suddenly quite a lot of browse available, and very little competition! We couldn’t get a great shot of Winky Wonk through the trees, but as you can see he is in good condition and must be enjoying having some quiet time with the riverbed to himself!

T he next few months are set to be action packed as we head towards the hot-dry field season and we can’t wait to see what the giraffe will get up to over the coming months. While the heat often makes for hard and long days in the field, it also dries out the riverbeds and allows our team to move without the added restriction of muddy tracks. We hope that all our adopted giraffe will return to the dry riverbeds over the coming months, so we can bring you updates on all of them. With a developing partnership with local tourism operator Natural Selections who have recently established a camp in the Hoanib River, we hope that our monitoring of the adoptees and all giraffe in the area will increase. We look forward to keeping you posted, so look out in the adoption portal for the next Quarterly Update, which is due in late October/early November. In the meantime, we are pleased to report that the desert-dwelling Angolan giraffe population in north-western Namibia is looking as happy and healthy as ever and continues to thrive!

And finally…

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