Our last Quarterly Update (October 2018) brought you news of our partnership with the Natural Selection Hoanib Valley Camp and our Directors dinner with a certain Prince Charming – read on find out what this Update has in store for you.
At the onset of the hot-dry season, we have seen the desert landscape in northwestern Namibia get even drier and more inhospitable for the giraffe and their fellow desert-dwelling animals.
Watching wildlife in this harsh landscape makes us appreciate how these animals have adapted their behaviour and also their bodies to survive under such adverse conditions. Interestingly, the giraffe in northwestern Namibia are genetically identical to the giraffe that occur in Etosha National Park, where the landscape is entirely different with some man-made water holes. Both are Angolan giraffe, a subspecies of the Southern giraffe, however your adopted giraffe have adapted to life in the desert and do not necessarily need to drink, whereas those in Etosha have not needed to make such adaptations.
“We refer to them as opportunistic drinkers,” explains Julian Fennessy, director and co-founder of GCF. “If water is easily available they will drink, but they don’t actually have to. In fact, during the first five years of my research in Namibia’s North West, I never saw a giraffe drink! Then, the government put in a waterhole, and at that point we began to see them drink regularly.”
Giraffe in our project area have adapted to obtain all the moisture they need from their food. They can often be seen browsing early in the morning when there is still dew to be found on the leaves, left behind by the fog that rolls through most nights. Our studies have also found that the giraffe change their diet seasonally in order to extract maximum nutrition and water.“If you compare a giraffe poo with that of an elephant, the difference is amazing,” continues Julian. “Giraffe have a very efficient digestive system and absorb all nutrients and moisture, while elephant only roughly digest, so their poos have large pieces in them and are rather wet.” As you may have picked up on some of the photos, ‘our’ giraffe are also lighter in colour than most other giraffe, which could be an adaptation for camouflage to better blend into the desert-scape in which they live. No studies have been done on this though, so we can’t yet be certain.
With the food sources becoming even more scarce, many of the animals, giraffe included, moved away from the Hoanib River and up into the mountains.
At the same time, we were still seeing big herds of giraffe in the Hoarusib River – sometimes 25+ giraffe. Photographing each one (left and right) can certainly be a challenge when there are that many!A heavy rainfall further north in the Hoanib River catchment saw the Hoanib flow unexpectedly in late November and bring some much-needed water to the area. Interestingly, we saw only a handful of giraffe in the area at that time – perhaps they knew the rains were on the way and moved to higher and safer grounds. The flash floods caught a number of people off guard and three vehicles were washed away. Fortunately, no-one was hurt but it was a serious reminder of how unpredictable the environment can be and an expensive experience for the car owners as all vehicle were written off. Perhaps the drivers should have followed the giraffe and other animals out of the river!
As mentioned in the last Update Report, we have seen some interesting ostrich behaviour and these flightless birds continue to intrigue us.
Their population is thriving at the moment and we see flocks of youngsters counting more than 50. There is some serious parenting required and it makes you wonder when they will fly the coop!However, we were also treated to some interesting giraffe behaviour. One afternoon we spotted a herd of twenty giraffe hanging out on the gravel plains above the Hoarusib River. Nearly half of them were sitting down, taking a load off their feet. At the same time, a couple of bulls were engaged in a fairly serious necking bout, while further up the road a male and female giraffe were taking their relationship to the next level (wink wink nudge nudge).
While we continue to monitor the giraffe population in the Hoanib and Hoarusib Rivers, our research team is extending our giraffe surveys further North all the way to the Kunene River, Namibia’s border to Angola. These additional surveys and a spate of new calves found in the area, have prompted us to do a quick tally of giraffe in our study area. The results speak for themselves, and as you can imagine, we are very pleased to report that giraffe numbers in northwestern Namibia are on the rise!
Dobby made a welcome return to the study area after a long absence and was seen several times in large mixed herds. On one occasion, we spotted him hanging out in a herd with Monkey. It looks like Dobby has gone through a colour change recently. His spots appear to have faded considerably, making it that much more challenging to identify him correctly. We don’t really know why some giraffe go through colour changes like this., but it may be seasonal or dominance related. What we do know is that more research is needed to fully understand these changes. Interestingly, we see these colour changes/fading more in the Hoarusib than in the Hoanib River.
Monkey made a few appearances over the last few months and wasn’t quite as coy as usual about getting her photo taken. She seems to enjoy the company of younger giraffe as we saw her with several juveniles, including a couple of newborns. With a 15-month gestation period, who knows, maybe she will have a calf of her own next year.
Over the past few months Muffin has remained on the fringes of the project area. We spotted a glimpse of him in the Palmwag concession, a few hours’ drive South of the Hoanib River – apologies for the fuzzy image. He was in the company of a female giraffe, so perhaps he is having more luck with the ladies away from the competition of the dominant bulls of the Hoanib River!
Kaoko was part of the large heard that we found resting on the gravel plains above the Hoarusib River. As with many of the animals in the project area, Kaoko appears to have a core group of friends she hangs out with. Over the past few months, we have repeatedly spotted Kaoko in the company of a handful of the same giraffe. Our genetic study will hopefully shed more light on these of relationships and tell us if Kaoko is hanging out with friends or family.
Winky Wonk was also part of the large herd chilling on the gravel plans, just like Kaoko. It is not often we see giraffe lying down, especially in such large numbers. Perhaps being in such a large herd on the wide-open plains, makes them feel more secure and relaxed enough to take a ‘giraffe’ nap. There always appeared to be a couple of animals standing, perhaps on the lookout for danger. Did you know that when a giraffe rests its head on its rump it is in deep/REM sleep?
After a rare sighting of Kunene a few months ago, she seems to be up to her old tricks and managed to elude us on all our trips. With more rain expected, she might have gone to higher grounds in amongst one of the many hidden valleys that are inaccessible by vehicle.
Similarly elusive as Kunene are the Critically Endangered black rhino.
But on the rare occasion our team is lucky enough to encounter one. So while we can’t give you a recent update on Kunene, we hope that this below image of a rare desert-adapted black rhino somewhat makes up for it …
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