Monday, October 29, 2012

The forgotten five plus one endangered species of Nam



The forgotten five plus one endangered species of Nam


CARING FOR THE WILD ... Maria Diekmann (right) in conversation with a member of the public after her talk about endangered species in Namibia at a recent event in Windhoek organised by the Namibia Environment & Wildlife Society. Photo: Wanja Njuguna

EVER thought that vultures have enemies, other than the animals they fight over a carcass with – and those they can fly away from?

The Cape griffon or Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) is Namibia’s most endangered species and its greatest enemy is the human being.
When a population of only 12 was officially recorded in Namibia in 2000, the Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) based at Otjiwarongo had to do something.
During a recent public talk organised by the Namibian Environment & Wildlife Society (NEWS), Maria Diekmann from REST said that despite the Cape vulture being the most endangered species in Namibia, sadly, it is not the only one in danger of extinction.
Others are the rarely seen pangolin (Manis temminckii), African wild/painted dog (Lycaon pictus), the dwarf python (Python Anchietae), the spotted rubber frog (Phrynomantis affinis) and the Damara dik-dik, only found in Namibia and northern South Africa, with about 20 pairs believed to be alive today.
The problem between humans and vultures, said to have the best eyesight of all species in the world, is because though many breed in national parks, game reserves and protected areas, they often feed on farms and communal areas where they become victims of the struggle between farmers and predatory mammals attacking domestic livestock.
Through ignorance and a misunderstanding of their habits, vultures are sometimes shot or poisoned while well-meaning people may inadvertently disturb breeding birds by venturing too close to the nests. This leads to the parent birds deserting their eggs or nestlings. Electrocution through power line collisions when the birds roost on the poles is a problem too.
To monitor the bird, REST provides an uncontaminated food source to the birds they need to observe. “Our food is donated by our neighbours, Okonjima Lodge and the Africat Foundation. They need to feed cats that are in rehabilitation or non-releasable and the vultures will eat many animal parts that the cats do not eat,” Diekmann explained.
Diekmann said that another endangered species which when funding is available they are considering monitoring like the vultures is the African wild dog, considered the second most endangered carnivore in the world. These are seen in the eastern and northern regions of Namibia. When these dogs move into farmland, there is often conflict due to the effectiveness of the dogs’ killing prey, which can include goats, sheep, calves or even grown cattle.
An interesting and rarely seen species is the nocturnal pangolin, which although it has scales, is a mammal and not a reptile. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on its website says that there are three types of pangolins in Africa — the giant, the tree and the most widespread, the ground pangolin which is the one found in Namibia. Though they have no external ears, their hearing is good, their sense of scent well developed but their sight poor. All pangolins are able to roll themselves into a ball for defence and it takes considerable force to unroll them. They protect themselves through their cutting action of their armour-plated scales that can inflict serious wounds on anything inserted between them.
Pangolins also have anal scent glands that emit strong, foul smelling secretions. “Trade in their scales continues to be a huge problem in many Asian countries as ships were found recently with up to 10 000 tons of scales from different species in Africa and additional tons of whole carcasses,” Diekmann said.
“We had our second live pangolin in 10 years come in recently. Luckily, she had no major injuries and after a few hours of medical checks and observation, we were able to find out where she had been found and release her back into the wild as they do not generally do very well in captivity.”
AWF says the pangolin is believed to be a purveyor of magic and charms. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralise witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him and sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away. Pangolins are also sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies or hunted for meat.
The spotted rubber frog, a beautiful brown frog with red spots, is believed to be found only in northern Namibia and southern Angola but there is little information on it and worldwide there has been a huge decline in many frog species.
“The exact causes of the decline have not yet been determined, but it is widely believed that it may be due to an introduced fungus killing up to an estimated 80% of the frogs worldwide,” Diekmann said.
Also facing extinction is the beautiful, rare, non-venomous dwarf python found in northern Namibia, southern Angola, Windhoek and the Etosha National Park. It feeds on birds and gerbils and up until about 10 years ago, its biggest threat was illegal capture and selling to the public, due to its beautifully patterned skin and non-venomousness. Not much is known of this species but it is the only python to have bead-like head scales.
The sixth one, thanks to its meat, is the Damara dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), one of Africa’s smallest antelopes and a protected species in the country. Despite its name, it is not found in Damaraland but is common in the Waterberg area, at Okonjima, in the Etosha National Park, around the Brukkaros mountain in the South and in the Caprivi Region. Because they are so small, they need to eat the most nutritious part of a plant.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Namibia's Botanical Society Open Day a Major Success

Environmental News


Botanical Society Open Day a major success

GOOD TURNOUT ... Franziska Kangombe, a researcher at National Botanical Research Institute and Botanical Society Open Day coordinator showing off some of the endemic plants of Namibia during the event. Photo: Wanja Njuguna

“FANTASTIC, good turnout,” is how Franziska Kangombe, this year’s Botanical Society Open Day coordinator, summed up the day.

Speaking to The Namibian at the end of the event held last Saturday, Kangombe, an agricultural researcher at the Namibia National Botanical Research Institute, said that despite other major events that were going on in the city the same day such as the Windhoek Show and the Old Wheelers car show, they were happy that over 400 people attended the Open Day.

“We hold this event every 18 months to sensitise Namibians about the indigenous plants that this country has, besides educating them on how to preserve the country’s ecology,” Kangombe said. “We did not expect such a good turnout due to the other major events happening today.”

Namibia has over 4 300 plant species. Of these, about 17 percent are endemic (don’t occur anywhere else in the world) while 25 percent are also found across the borders and the rest are found mainly in Namibia.

Information provided by the Botanical Society says that areas which have high plant diversity include southern Namib, Kaokoveld, Otavi highland/Karstveld area, Okavango Basin and the Khomas Hochland, while 39 areas of Namibia are considered internationally important because of their unique plants.

Many species of plants in Namibia are used for food, constructing houses and medicine, among other uses. Several are already under commercial development, while the majority of Namibia’s people depend directly on plants for their day-to-day subsistence.

The institute boasts one of the best botanical gardens in Africa, where plants are left to grow in their natural environment.

“We celebrate the joy of seasonality here. You can come today and find half the plants have dried up and another half are green, because of the season they are in”, Kangombe said.

You can come tomorrow and find others are flowering, while others look dead but a few months later, the dead looking ones are alive and the alive ones look different,” she added.

Kangombe has been working at the institute for the past seven years, first as an intern while studying for her Bachelor in Science degree at the University of Namibia and later as a full-time researcher since graduating from the University of Pretoria with a Master’s degree in Plant Science.

Speaking to The Namibian during the Open Day, plant ecologist Dr Antje Burke said that Namibians need to increase their appreciation of the diversity of plants in the country and work towards sustaining them instead of destroying them – something she also emphasised recently during one of the Society’s monthly Thursday talks.

During the talk, Burke said many plant species are threatened by habitat loss and illegal collecting, with at least 23 of these species threatened with extinction.

At the Open Day, holding her favourite plant, Cephalophyllum Herrei, Burke said: “My special plants are these succulents you see here, because they can survive anywhere even in extreme weather. Namibians need to understand where plants occur and conserve them in their natural environments.”

Emphasising the importance of the botanical garden, Burke said: “Those who visit the garden are lucky to view most Namibian plants in one setting, as many of the plants have been transferred from their habitats across the country to the garden so that everyone can be able to see the varied Namibian vegetation without having to travel far afield.”

The Botanical Society’s chairperson, Diana Thompson, said that more Namibians should participate in events such as these “to learn more about the unique Namibian plants and how best to conserve them, as pressure on our plants is growing as population and development increases”.

Besides other activities of the day, which included a talk and video by the co-author of ‘Trees and Shrubs of Nambia’, Coleen Mannheimer, those who attended had 15 stalls to sample and buy varied goodies from.

The children were not left out. As their parents shopped around, they were kept busy in a tent where their artistic juices were kept flowing in an art competition on the environment. At a table nearby, Maretha Snyman, 18, a student at Windhoek Gymnasium, painted the children’s faces to resemble their favourite animals or plants.

Speaking to The Namibian, Pietre, who said he was visiting the country from Europe, said he had been told about the event at his guesthouse and decided to go and see what it was all about.

“We do not have anything like this back at home [he did not elaborate where] and I wish today was a day for the guided tour I have heard about so I could see more than what is on sale,” he said.

The National Botanical Research Institute’s core functions include, but are not limited to, planning, designing and conducting inventories of the botanical resources of Namibia, undertaking research on the vegetation, flora and plant genetic resources of the country, promoting the development of indigenous plants with economic potential, curate and maintain national plant collections, cultivate awareness and instil appreciation of Namibia’s floral heritage.

Other activities are to analyse, interpret and advise on international instruments and provide appropriate input when required as a national responsibility of ratification, undertake environmental monitoring through input into review of environmental impact assessments, and research and collecting permits and maintain a comprehensive botanical reference library as part of National Agriculture and Water Information Centre.

Among the many activities are guided tours of the botanical garden, the provision of an environmental education and recreational facility, creating awareness and instilling appreciation of Namibia’s flora through the walks and participation in national, regional and international initiatives pertaining to horticulture and botanical gardens.

During the week, guests can walk unguided around the garden while special arrangements are made for schools and other institutions.

For more information on the activities of the institute and the garden, visit