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False 12 Travel Namibia Moro >> News · views · people · places · conservation · community · wildlife · culture The rains arrived late and spectacularly in Namibia this year – the heaviest that some areas have seen for half a century. At Sesriem 85mm of water fell in just 45 minutes, causing the Tsauchab River to flow for the first time in nearly a decade: it seeped into Sesriem canyon and the desert was deluged. Water sat between the dunes at Sossusvlei and within days bright yellow devilthorn flowers carpeted the sands – possibly one of the most extraordinary sights Namibia has to offer. Wilderness Safari’s Natasha Frost visited Sossusvlei a few days after the biggest downpour and found a strange creature at the edge of one of the pans. “ We saw some movement in the water. We were in the middle of one of the driest, oldest deserts on earth and certainly didn’t expect this.” Natasha had spotted a large copepod, a one- eyed prehistoric creature. Copepods are usually seen in the sea but occasionally, and inexplicably, they appear inland. “ It really is a mystery as to how they appear in ephemeral pans,” said Natasha. Further north in Little Ongava D eluge in the desert another of Wilderness Safari’s staff, Martin Benadie, reported “ exceptional” rains. “ The landscape was transformed into lush greenery and many flowers were in evidence – it was quite a sight to see fields of purple lilies,” he said. The rains also caused thousands of Mopane caterpillars, and then moths, to emerge at Little Ongava. The caterpillars are an important food source for local people, who prepare them by squeezing out the gut contents before frying them in the Mopane’s own body fat or boiling them in a little water. In Etosha, 270mm of rain fell in a little over a week. Many of the grazing animals, like zebras, found themselves knee- deep in water. Mushara Lodge’s Marc Pampe said: “ This is a fantastic time of year for photographers in Etosha, as the pans slowly turn into flawless mirrors reflecting the wildlife and blue skies.” But perhaps the heaviest rain of all was in the Caprivi Strip where, around Susuwe Island Lodge, the water reached its highest levels since 1958. Many of the older local people, including Chief Mayuni, say they were children last time the water was as high. Ten years after it was first tagged in Etosha a rare Blue Crane bird has been traced. The bird was found with 37 others in Southern Oponono – possible the largest flock of blue crane ever spotted in Namibia. The sighting brings new hope for the endangered species which was thought to have almost disappeared in the country. Traditionally the Blue Crane breeds in Etosha during the rainy season, and a survey in April 2006 counted 87 birds in and around the park. It was a few months later that a single bird was caught and a radio transmitter attached to its leg. To researchers’ dismay the signal was quickly lost. Over the last decade, during a succession of dry years, sightings of Blue Cranes have become so erratic in Etosha that researchers took to the skies in a light aircraft to see if they could track the birds down, never thinking they would find the tagged bird. I t’s hoped that this year’s heavy rains will prompt the Blue Crane to return in larger numbers to Etosha. Wildlife H ope for the Blue Crane Singing the blues Peter Steyn Curious creature: The copepod at Sossusvlei Natasatasatasha Fuller

False Vulture project A vulture hide together with an observation restaurant has been built on the Namib Rand Nature Reserve. Poison- free carcasses are provided for the endangered Lappet- faced vultures in the area, and it’s hoped the project will help protect the birds as well as provide an opportunity for researchers and interested tourists to closely observe them. The project is a joint scheme between NamibRand Nature Reserve, Raleigh International and the Vulture Study Group of Namibia. DID YOU KNOW? There is a horse grave site just outside Swakopmund where more than 1650 horses and 944 mules were shot in 1915 by the South African Army to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. E ight years ago skippers on Mola Mola Safaris started feeding an orphan Cape Fur Seal pup that appeared on the beach at Walvis Bay. Now the seal, named Robbie, is so fond of the staff he’s climbing onto the back of their boats for his morning snack – much to the delight of tourists. A number of other seals have started to copy him, but Robbie remains the crews’ favourite. “ He doesn’t snap and takes his fish gently from them. When guys show him the fish is finished he turns around and jumps off the boat again,” said Megan Dreyer of Mola Mola. “ He stays in this area all the time, but as he is now adult he disappears for mating in November and December. This year he returned with one tooth missing which shows he is putting up a good fight for the ladies!” she added. Whenever the south- western Namib is hit by a drought the wild horses there are among the first animals to suffer. The animals, which live in the area around Garub, 20km west of Aus in the Namib, have a tough life. Often their ribs stick out sharply because of hunger. Rainfalls are rare and unreliable, just enough to support succulents, thorny shrubs and grasses. In the droughts of 1991 and 1998 grazing became even scarcer and the weaker horses died. The plight of the horses made headlines internationally and resulted in an expensive relief effort. It also resulted in the rekindling of an old debate: should P rotecting the wild horses All aboard R obbie the Cape Fur Seal T he wild horses can go 72 hours without a drink the horses be allowed to live in the Namib at all? Some people argued that, as an introduced species, they disrupt the indigenous plant and animal life – a glaring discrepancy from the aims of the nature reserve. But the horses have become a tourist attraction and as such generate jobs for local people. Biologist Telané Greyling has been researching the problem. She’s found that the plant and animal life is similar in neighbouring areas to the ones where the horses graze, suggesting that the horses have no detrimental impact on the land. Following her research she’s recommended that a core population of 130 horses is supported by providing food and water in times of drought. This would secure the long term future of the herd. More information can be found at www. wild- horses- namibia. com Mola Mola Safarisafaris Gondwana Collection Travel Namibia 13