Drought in Etosha National Park causes headaches - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection
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Drought in Etosha National Park causes headaches

Avatar of inke inke - 16. August 2019 - Environment

An elephant bull at the waterhole Twee Palm east of Namutoni in early July this year looking for water to quench his thirst. The artesian spring has turned into a mud hole where it is difficult for the animals to move forward and get to the water. Burchell's zebras, blue wildebeest, springbok, kudu and pachyderms are drawn to this waterhole which still has some grazing left in the surroundings.

Dirk Heinrich

The current drought is worse than that of 1981, which is known as the drought of the century, says the Chief Conservation Officer of famous Etosha National Park, Deputy Director Pierre du Preez. The last rainy season (2018/19) on average yielded only 30 percent of Etosha’s normal rainfall, and the problem is further aggravated by the fact that especially the park’s western parts have experienced drought for the past three years.  

“We had some good rains in places; there is grazing, but no water. And where there is water there is no grazing,” Du Preez says. The animals returned far too early from the summer grazing areas and have already finished the winter grazing now – three to four months before the start of the next rainy season. Some of the natural waterholes (fed by artesian springs) are no more than mud pools or about to turn muddy, like Twee Palm and Chudob in the Namutoni area, while others provide unexpected quantities of water, like Rietfontein and Homob in the Halali area. At some of the artificial waterholes the water table has dropped so drastically that it is no longer possible to supply sufficient water, especially as more and more elephants come to drink there. “We still do not know enough about our groundwater reserves and how the water of the artesian wells and for the boreholes is being replenished”, says Chief Conservation Officer du Preez.

 “We have drilled four new holes in areas where grazing exists but where water is normally only present in small pans during the rainy season”, he explains. In addition, unused existing holes are to be activated, i.e. they are to be equipped with pumps and drinking troughs. The idea is to lure especially elephants to these areas to reduce the pressure on other waterholes and make use of grazing where it still exists. At Ozonjuitji M'Bari a second well was drilled because the existing one could not supply enough water for the numerous animals.

Ostriches are able to survive under extremely arid conditions, but currently even these survivors have difficulties finding something nutritious, while the wind carries dust over the plains west of Okaukuejo and the vast expanse of Etosha Pan.

In the western reaches of the park, where drought conditions have been prevalent for several years, animals had to be moved from Kaross, the most south-westerly and demarcated part, to other areas because of insufficient grazing and water. Among those resettled are near-endemic black-faced impalas, Burchell's and Hartmann's zebras, which in Namibia are classified as highly protected species, and giraffes, also classified as protected.

In 1981, the devastating year of drought, more than 1000 animals classified as fair game species (springbok, oryx, kudu and warthog) were “harvested” at night, while many protected and highly protected species were caught and resettled during the day. Tsessebe, or sassaby, as well as sable and roan antelope, for example, were introduced to Waterberg Plateau Park and other species were brought to the eastern parts of Etosha National Park. “No game harvesting will take place in the current drought”, emphasizes du Preez. “We hope to be able to keep our stocks with the measures already implemented and with further planning.”

Another problem is to keep animals, especially elephants and predators, away from the southern border of the park, where conflicts arise on adjacent farms when pachyderms destroy the infrastructure in search of water and predators pursue cattle and small livestock. The biggest challenge that the administration of Namibia's leading national park has to deal with is the relevant ministry’s lack of financial resources. “We need pumps, solar panels, diesel engines and spare parts, there is a shortage of simply everything. If a problem comes up somewhere at one of the many water points I should have at least ten solar pumps in stock. But we have no replacements and the animals are without water for days, while we try to repair the pumps or get a spare”, says du Preez. At some waterholes generators keep the otherwise solar-powered pumps running at night in order to provide enough water for the animals.

Nobody knows when the first rains of the next season will arrive. And whether it will be enough rain, whether the grazing and the groundwater reserves will recover, cannot be predicted either. So far, only a very small number of animals have succumbed to the drought, but the tide could turn.

For the visitor, the current drought is an advantage, as many animals gather at the water points to quench their thirst. The large herds in turn attract predators. The probability of seeing lions, cheetahs and leopards is currently higher than usual, especially as the predators lack cover due to the sparse vegetation.

Waterholes which still have some grazing in the vicinity are under enormous pressure, mainly due to elephants. Here at Aus, altogether 56 of the grey giants as well as some kudu, an eland antelope and a few black-faced impala had assembled on the afternoon of July 3rd, 2019. An adult elephant will consume up to 150 litres in a single visit to a waterhole.
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1 comments

Hagen

19. August 2019

Definitely hard times, but in the end part of the natural cycle. All the measures they implement or want to implement will only cause severe damage to the environment in the long run. Unbelievable that this is done actually, and on no apparent scientific principles.


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