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Free e-book field guide unlocks Sperrgebiet’s rich plant diversity

Free e-book field guide unlocks Sperrgebiet’s rich plant diversity

A digital guide on the endemic plants of the Tsau //Kheib National Park, the former Sperrgebiet, was published earlier this year by expert xerophytic botanist, Dr Antje Burke in digital format.

Illustrated throughout with colour photographs and sketches, the guide targets a lay audience, but borrows extensively from Dr Burke’s scientific work. It is the first botanical field guide in e-format.

A paper in the Namibian Journal of Environment provides the scientific underpinning of this work and the four accompanying posters are available on the Environmental Information Service.

The uniqueness of this uninterrupted biome lies in the fact that it was the Sperrgebiet – German for an area where entry is prohibited – for the better part of one hundred years. This means humans had no impact on the larger environment and the area is completely free of domesticated animals, save for the small herd of feral horses in the park’s north-eastern corner.

“The park has not only the highest plant diversity among Namibia’s parks but also the highest number of plant species which only occur there and nowhere else on earth. These endemic species deserve particular attention because of their limited geographical range and numbers. Many are restricted to very special habitats within their already limited range. Any mining, infrastructure, tourism or other developments need to take this into account,” stated Dr Burke.

Citing the reason for publishing the field guide she said “Due to the high plant diversity in the park overall, most endemics are not easy to recognise,” adding that some 30 species are endemic and special care must be taken that they are not compromised by inconsiderate developments.

Closed for a century to any outside visitors, it is the intention to develop the park for specialised eco-tourism but the entire area is basically devoid of any infrastructure. Two towns, Rosh Pinah and Aus are situated just outside the park’s eastern boundary while only two towns, Lüderitz and Oranjemund are located inside the park on the shoreline where it borders the Atlantic. Along the shore, there is also some diamond mining activity in localised areas. For the rest, the roughly 150km by 350km expanse of desert, is virgin.

Dr Burke said that two existing field guides cover the park’s common plants but include only a few endemics. And with a major shift in visitor preferences, the need for a digital publication was obvious. Furthermore, much of the field work done in the park so far, is also based on digital platforms.

With the support of the Namibian Chamber of Environment this project focussed on identifying the endemic plants of the park and producing an e-book with four accompanying posters. “This e-book will give conservation officers a much-needed tool and with some practice, will enable them to recognise the most restricted plant species in the park.”

Yet, naming the endemics was not easy, eventually turning out to be more complex than anticipated. In the end, Dr Burke and colleagues from the National Botanical Research Institute identified about 30 true endemics and another 30 near-endemics.

The publication can be downloaded free of charge from the EIS website at


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