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Studying the impact of man-made obstacles in the natural dispersal of large desert animals

Studying the impact of man-made obstacles in the natural dispersal of large desert animals

A single oryx in the Namib dune sea around Sossusvlei has roamed over more than 400,000 hectares in a period of four years, instinctively following isolated showers in anticipation of forage.

This animal was tracked as part of a wildlife study to determine the impact of fences on the dispersal of populations in a hyper arid environment. The study is sponsored by a grant from Nedbank’s Go Green Fund.

Research leader, Murray Tindall, emphasised the importance of mobility as a key adaptation for wildlife to survive in the near-barren landscapes they inhabit in the Namib. “In such an area, the ability of wildlife to move to access the grazing resulting from these isolated rainfall events is one of the key adaptations that allows them to survive,” he said to underscore the point that man-made obstructions reduce the survival rate for many desert species.

This study forms part of the Greater Sossusvlei Namib Landscape project which meticulously collects data on the abundance, distribution, movement patterns and land use of oryx, springbok and mountain zebra in the central Namib and Naukluft areas.

Ultimately, the scientists and their project partners hope that the data would boost arguments in favour of a fence-free Namib to ensure the long-term survival of key species.

Project chair, Nils Odendaal, said their goal is to strengthen existing evidence that wildlife needs large landscapes to prosper in hyper arid environments.

“The project aims to document scientifically, not only this fact, but also to aid decision-makers on natural resource management actions in response to wildlife distribution and population 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,” said Odendaal.

Building on conservation practices at the adjacent Namibrand private nature reserve, Tindall said that as their data grows, more properties in the area would hopefully be encouraged to adopt integrated landscape approaches as part of coordinated conservation in the Namib.

Even so, Tindall said that wildlife often find ways to cross artificial barriers. Oryx are a prime example for their notorious ability to find the tiniest gap in a fence, and then by using their powerful chests and necks, to lift an entire fence and let it slide over their straight horns.

Similarly, mountain zebras, renowned for their sure-footedness in hilly and mountainous terrain, are adept at finding holes and gaps between fence posts and rock faces, quickly learning new routes that enable them to get around fences.

The scientists are learning from this natural behaviour. For the human observers, it has shown a possible solution to reduce the impact of fences. Gaps or breaches in fences at strategic intervals may be sufficient for wildlife to access larger or new areas, where it is not possible to remove all fences due to other considerations.

Tindall said the partnership with their funding partner, the Go Green Fund, is crucial to develop a comprehensive understanding of wildlife mobility to implement adaptive solutions that benefit the entire Namib ecosystem.


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