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Watch out for chicks – stay on the roads

Avatar of inke inke - 18. December 2017 - Environment, Tourism

This Damara tern was breeding on a salt pan several kilometres from the sea. Damara terns lay only one egg per clutch.

Dirk Heinrich

The coastal areas that people flock to in droves at this time of the year are the habitat of the endangered Damara tern. And the breeding season of these small seabirds and other plover species, some of which are also threatened, happens to coincide with Namibia’s main holiday season in December and January. The Damara tern breeds on the vast gravel plains and salt pans next to the C34 coastal road which runs north – from Swakopmund via Wlotzkasbaken and Henties Bay to Cape Cross and the Ugab River and on through the Skeleton Coast Park to Terrace Bay.   

Several national parks cover the entire coast of Namibia and certain rules have to be obeyed. Far too many visitors, however, still ignore them, especially when it comes to off-road driving. They simply criss-cross the desert wherever they please. This not only destructive to the highly sensitive environment but also destroys or disturbs numerous animals and plants. The Namib Desert is alive, whether close to the coast or further inland. Plants and animals which have adapted to the extreme conditions of the desert thrive in many places where at the first glance there seems to be nothing but sand and rocks. 

Surprisingly, a small seabird is among these desert dwellers. The Damara tern raises a single chick on the vast gravel plains. The plain scrape that serves as a nest is often miles away from the Atlantic Ocean. More than 90 percent of the entire Damara tern population breed on the coast of Namibia. According to estimates only some 2000 to 5370 breeding birds of this threatened species are left. A few of them are found in the furthest south-western part of Angola and there is also a small flock in South Africa. 

In order to preserve this unique plover species, visitors must stay on the existing roads and tracks between the C34 salt road and the shoreline. Some of them are signposted. To be lucky enough to discover a well-camouflaged scrape nest with an egg or an equally well-camouflaged Damara tern chick on its short little legs is an experience that is not easily forgotten. Chicks leave the shallow nest depression soon after hatching. And you will wonder how the parents ever manage to keep track of the egg’s or the chick’s location in the vast expanse of the desert. 

Man is the biggest threat to the Damara tern, with the black-backed jackal in second place. Jackals follow people to feed on scraps of their garbage. They are lured by fish waste and food left at the beach. The increasing number of jackals poses a considerable danger to Damara terns and other sea birds that breed on the coast. It is imperative that visitors keep to well-travelled roads and do not leave litter at the beach or in the desert.    

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