WINDHOEK, AUG. 21 – A wildlife study being carried out in the inhospitable southwestern desert environments of Namibia has identified a lone Oryx that covered an area of more than 400 000 hectares – double the size of the NamibRand Nature Reserve – over a period of four years in search of sufficient food and water.
Observers say the Oryx would have covered an even larger area if its search for sustenance was not thwarted by fences and other artificial barriers.
This and other information forms part of the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape (GSNL) project, through which scientists and partner stakeholders are meticulously collecting data on the abundance, distribution and movement patterns and land use of Oryx, springbok and mountain zebra in the central Namib and Naukluft areas.
Ultimately, it is hoped that the data could boost arguments in favour of a fence-free Namib to ensure the long-term survival of key species there.
Murray Tindall is at the helm of the project, and he said mobility is a key adaptation for wildlife to survive in the near-barren landscapes they inhabit in this part of Namibia.
“In such an area, the ability of wildlife to move in order to access the grazing resulting from these isolated rainfall events is one of the key adaptations that allows them to survive,” he said.
As such, any barriers preventing wildlife from free and unhindered movement can drastically impact and reduce their survival.
He added that apart from the data showing the lone Oryx’s expansive movement patterns, there is further strong evidence from other individual animals “on the negative impact of fences on the movements of wildlife, and as expected strong correlations between rainfall and the movement patterns observed.”
Nils Odendaal, the chairperson of the GSNL, says the project’s goal is to strengthen existing evidence that wildlife need large landscapes to prosper in hyper arid environments.
“The project aims to not only scientifically document this fact, but also to aid decision makers on natural resource management actions in response to wildlife populations, distribution and densities. Prior to this project, the migration of wildlife in search of gazing was only documented in reports and eyewitness accounts and there was no ‘hard’ data to substantiate this.”
In addition to developing a valuable source of data for management decisions, “the project will hopefully help to strengthen our argument for a fence-free Namib in the future,” he said.
Tindall said as more evidence is collected on the movement patterns of key wildlife, more properties in the area would hopefully be encouraged to adopt integrated landscape approaches as part of large scale conservation efforts in the area.
One interesting finding has shown that wildlife have found ways around man-made barriers, in some cases.
Mountain zebra in particular, but also to some extent Oryx, are adept at exploiting breaches in fences.
Tindall says in the case of Mountain zebra, this is partly due to the nature of the terrain they utilize and the fact that maintaining fences in rocky and mountainous areas is tricky.
Yet this finding has “great implications for other wildlife, because it means that gaps or breaches in the fence at strategic intervals may be sufficient where the complete removal of fences is not possible due to other factors.”
Ungulate populations in many African wildlife conservation areas are in widespread decline, evidence has shown, which can be attributed largely to a lack of ecosystem functionality of the land encompassed by these areas.
Moreover, humans and developments are increasingly encroaching on historic wildlife migration routes, which restrict movements between areas of water and grazing for wildlife.
Another concern is the impact of climate change, which could further shrink or impede access to ranges among other effects.
Tindall underlined that funding partners such as the Nedbank Go Green Fund are crucial given the challenges abounding in securing resources to undertake studies such as GSNL is conducting.
“In general funding organisations are quite specific about the types of project that they will support … fortunately, the Nedbank Go Green Fund criteria was quite broad and it was relatively simple to match the objectives of the project and get approval for funding.”
The challenges are immense. For Nedbank, directing finances to reducing the vulnerability of local communities exposed to global matters such as climate change and assist in preserving our natural resources is crucial.
“This can however not be done without the support of our valued clients. Through our financing arrangements Nedbank Namibia donate funds to the Go Green Fund whenever clients purchase a new home or vehicle, allowing us to sustain the commitments made towards environmental conservation and protection,” said Selma Kaulinge – Nedbank Namibia Communication Specialist. – email@example.com