Can you believe that we are already more than halfway through 2019? The festive season is literally around the corner …
In the far northwest of Namibia, the severe drought conditions are taking their toll and its impact on all the animals in the region is becoming obvious.
The tinges of green that appeared almost over night after the rains in late March have long disappeared again and the area is left in shades of red and golden sand with some rocky outcrops in-between.
The last remnants of surface water have also dried up by now. This lack of open water combined with the lack of grazing has forced most of the local Himba people out of area along with their livestock, in search of sustenance elsewhere.
The Himba are an ancient tribe living in north-western Namibia as well as on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola. They are a semi-nomadic, pastoralist people, belonging to the Bantu family who uphold their traditional lifestyle. Most notably, Himba men and woman wear few clothes apart from a loin cloth or goat skinned mini-skirt. They rub their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect themselves from the sun and also gives their appearance a rich red colour.
Wildlife stubbornly persists in the region though in much reduced numbers. It is in hard times like this that their special adaptations to their inhospitable desert home become more evident. Elephants, in particular in the Hoarusib River, can be seen to use their feet and trunks to dig up fresh water from the aquifer in the apparently dry riverbed. They know exactly where to dig to find shallow water. How do they know these spots? Your guess is as good as ours if this information is passed down through the generations or if they are able to guess the depth of the water table by smell.
Despite the increasingly harsh conditions, giraffe (and ostrich!) continue to thrive – no matter how unforgiving the environment.
While drought is obviously serious business, it is actually fantastic for game viewing. All animals are forced into the dry river beds as these are the only potential sources for food and water. During times of lush grasses we often drive for hours without spotting a single animals – quite the opposite now: in one single day of surveying in the Hoanib River last month, we encountered as many as 31 giraffe as well as 23 elephant – including four very young babies!
After spending much of the last few months in the far west of our long-term conservation monitoring site, giraffe have started making their way east again along the river. Much to the delight of our GCF team and tourists visiting the area as the western part of the area is less accessible. While we have permission to follow giraffe into the remote Skeleton Coast National Park, even for us access is limited due to the few drivable tracks in the area and other visitors are restricted from entering the park.
Our team was recently also treated to an amazing lion sighting: we found two female lion and their 10-month-old cubs feasting on not one but two zebra! Nature is cruel but encountering these giant cats in the wild is very special and we spent hours watching them interact with each other and enjoying their feast.
If you follow GCF’s social media or read our News Updates you will have heard about Twiga Tracker before. Twiga Tracker is the largest giraffe GPS satellite tracking programme ever in Africa (‘twiga’ is Swahili for giraffe). To save giraffe in Africa, we need to gain a better understanding of where giraffe live, where they move and how they use their habitat. Twiga Tracker aims to track a minimum of 250 giraffe across their range with innovative GPS satellite solar units. The new tracking technology was first tested in Namibia and so far, we have deployed tracking units in Botswana, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia, Namibia, Niger, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Data analysis has just begun, but already we are seeing some fascinating results and are learning so much more about giraffe and their movements.
In north-western Namibia, we remotely track several desert-dwelling giraffe to learn more about their movements and habitat use. Deploying the units is not an easy feat and earlier this month we fitted seven solar-powered GPS satellite units (so-called ossi-units) to six female and one male giraffe. For this our team was joined by wildlife veterinarian Dr HO Reuter, several students and a lecturer from the Namibia University of Science and Technology and a few volunteers to complete the capture team. The new units were fitted further north than before in the Nadas and Khumib Rivers as we know only very little about these giraffe. We can’t wait for the data to come in and the movements of these animals will be fascinating to watch. They will hopefully give us a more accurate account of how far these giraffe range in search of food and breeding opportunities.
As always, during all our activities in the programme area, we have been on the lookout for our adopted giraffe.
Despite our best efforts we haven’t seen Muffin or Dobby since late last year. Giraffe have to travel further during the dry season to find food. It is likely that these two have temporarily moved out of the area in search of food and females.
Coffee Bean, one of the Hoanib River’s dominant bulls, has had a busy few months. Earlier this year we spotted him on his way back to the Hoanib River from the Palmwag concession area south of the river – hot on the heels of a young female. Last month we saw him again, this time as part of a large group of giraffe moving up the river from the Skeleton Coast National Park. More recently we heard from one the guides at Hoanib Valley Camp that he had seen Coffee Bean in a fight with another bull. Giraffe bulls use ‘necking’ to fight for dominance and while Coffee Bean stood his ground, he sustained a minor wound on his neck. We will keep you posted.
Eros is one of the bulls we see regularly along the Haonib River. He is often spotted in the company of Coffee Bean and it is possible that it was those two who were spotted ‘necking’ or fighting for breeding rights with females in the area. Male ossicones (horns) are normally thicker than female ones and mostly bald on top as a result of frequent necking. Combined with extra weight from ossifications on their heads they can deliver heavier blows during necking contests.
Kaoko is a regular in the Hoarusib River and did not disappoint over the last few months. She doesn’t venture too far from the northern banks of the river close to Purros village where she can usually be seen browsing on the plentiful supply of Salvadora and Acacia (now Vachellia or Senegalia) as part of a large herd of giraffe – often between 15 and 20 animals. In the late afternoon it is not uncommon to see Kaoko and her friends on the gravel plains where they enjoy the afternoon breeze – or perhaps they admire the stunning sunset …
Kunene made a welcome return to the Hoanib River. We spotted her deep in the Skeleton Coast National Park hanging out with nine other Hoanib River regulars. While we had hoped to find her with a calf, it didn’t look like it. We will keep our eyes peeled over the coming months and let you know Kunene is a very distinct young female and with her leaf-shaped patches with jagged edges could easily be confused with a Masai giraffe. She is a living example on what one of our studies shows: it is not possible to determine the species of giraffe by pattern alone as there is much variation within a species.
As so often, we have spotted Monkey, but she has been up to her usual tricks of hiding from the camera during the last few months. However, we did manage to snap one photo of her in May when she was spotted in a huddle of giraffe in the middle of the Hoarusib River.
This year we celebrated World Giraffe Day (21 June – the longest day or night of the year, depending on where you live) in style in north-western Namibia. We spotted Windy in the Hoanib River and from the looks of her we suspect that she is pregnant. This comes as a big surprise as Windy is one of the oldest females that we know in the area. We checked old records and she was first recorded as one of Julian’s first study animals in the late 1990s. We will be watching her progress closely over the next few months and keep you up-to-date.
Last month, Winky Wonk enjoyed a game of hide-and-seek with us in the Hoarusib River. Together with 13 other giraffe he hid in amongst the tall tamarisk bushes along the dry river bed. He popped out briefly for a single photo before disappearing again in search of food. At certain times of the year, feeding can take up to 75% of a giraffe’s day! No wonder he didn’t want to stick around for more photos!
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