The Namibs’ existence hangs in the balance

Tough drought conditions and hyena predation have taken a drastic toll on the wild horses and their numbers have dropped tragically from 286 to 76 over the last few years.  Sadly, since 2012 and up until late February, none of the foals have survived and the youngest mare is now 8 years old.  Yet could there be the slimmest chance that the wild horses can come back from the brink of extinction? Hope now rests with February’s newborn foal,  a little filly, just a couple of months old ……..

But let me pick up the story where i left off in the previous post!

As the horses drew closer to the water trough it appeared to us there was raucous delight in their greetings, upbeat nickering and neighing.   From a distance we could hear the thrum of galloping and watched in awe as a group of bachelor stallions came roaring in, stirring up dust clouds and arriving in a swirl of energy.

The scene was filled with their dynamic presence.  After slaking their thirst, it was time to sandbathe and attend to additional dietary needs by feeding on nutrient-rich dried manure.  Coprophagy is a natural behaviour and an energy-efficient way of deriving nutrients.  The Wild Horses’ manure contains almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass (Stipagrostis obtusa) and almost twice as much protein (6.1 instead of 3.1%).*

Coprophagy manure adds nutrients to a sparse diet.

To give a contrasting glimpse at the hardships and the tough conditions which the Wild Namibs endure at the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, here are a couple of shots taken in 2017.   Drought seared the land and the animals were so pitifully emaciated, but for the dedicated work undertaken by the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, it is doubtful whether they would survive.   Through the years the foundation has raised finances to provide supplementary feed for the horses as well as pursuing with dogged determination negotiations with the Namibian MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in saving the herd from extinction.

Further details in my next post will reveal “Zohra, the Little Foal”.  Keep a lookout it’s coming soon!  Below is a link to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the critical work which they undertake.

 

* More information can  be found here.

 

The Wild Horses of the Namib

Dawn crept in across the desert plain catching the gossamer dust clouds in a golden light.  The spellbinding scene cast a sense of elation as the wild horses drew closer.   We were at the Garub viewing terrace following their trail in anxious anticipation as they neared the borehole water site.  We’d heard that they were in reasonable shape after low rainfall had resuscitated the grass and foraging opportunities had improved.  Small family groups kept together, and we could make out the figures of two small foals.   Lone stallions came from different directions keeping a distance from the small herds.

They are recognised as a separate breed, the “Namibs” after 100 or so years of their blood lines merging through natural selection across the generations.   Elegant and long-limbed, they’re handsome creatures.  Living free on the plains of the eastern edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, has it’s challenges.  Their story of survival in this unforgiving environment is one that evokes awe, but are the odds stacked against them as their numbers dwindle and predation by the spotted hyaena is a continued threat?

To be continued …..

 

Earth Day: For Whom the Bell Tolls?

 

Today we’re marking the 49th Earth Day after it’s inception in 1970.  Celebrations?!  It should be a wake up call, an urgent clarion call to action right round the globe!  Let us not kid ourselves the environment is in a deteriorating state and we’re killing Earth’s creatures.

Scenes are pictured at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where beaches are littered with plastic and storm strewn fishing gear from nets to piles of rope, fish traps.  Recent whale carcasses washed up near Buffels Bay and another on the Atlantic side near the Tommy T Tucker shipwreck.

What’s on the Menu?

This is another post on the theme of baboon foraging  – whether a seafood repast, or vegetarian delight, the baboons here on the Cape Peninsula are masters at sourcing a varied diet.  Though at times there are opportunities to raid for ‘human derived food’, for the most part they’re out foraging in the natural environment.

I came across this scene in the late afternoon when this troop of baboons was making it’s way to an overnight sleep-site.  Most had well stocked cheek pouches but a few were still adding to this stash with a last snack or two.  Of interest was a mother with a baby riding jockey-style, confidently perched atop her back, munching on a clutch of succulent grass roots.  Suddenly she veered off into the bush.  Aha!  She’s spotted something of interest, i thought and stopped to watch.  Up she jumped and junior had to react quickly, but for the arched tail (Chacma baboons belong to the Old World monkey group and do not have prehensile gripping tails), he may have slid off ignominiously.   What was the prize up there in the shrubbery ….. ?

Confident baby riding on mother’s back supported by the arched tail.
Up she jumped into the shrubbery
Scrabbling in the shrubbery, baby and all.
The prize is a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg nest!
Baby baboon might not be so interested.
Discarded rain spider’s (Palystes supercilliosus) egg nest.

It was a surprise to find that she’d discovered a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg sac.   It appeared she was after the eggs, as I examined the image in close-up view and couldn’t make out any hatchlings.  The mystery was where did Mother Rain Spider lurk, as they have a reputation for aggressively guarding their egg sacs until the spiderlings hatch?!    Now where were we with that menu?  A couple of weeks ago I observed this same troop sucking on condom wrappers –  this incident left me wondering about the dangers of spiders and whether baboons suffer from spider bites as we humans do?

Butcher birds: stocking the larder

Don’t know if you’re like me and always root for the underdog?   With the nesting season in full swing, the birds around the garden have adapted to wary vigilance – there are raptors about, and smaller more common birds of the prey, the fiscal shrike.   They too have chicks in the nest and we watch as they stake out an area and then swoop down to catch their prey.  Commonly known as ‘butcher birds’ for their custom of spiking their live prey onto sharp thorns or barbed wire.

We regularly sight the little four-striped field mice and i’ve been lucky to grab photo opportunities when they’re out sunning themselves or at times raiding our kitchen.  There’s no harm done (other than the loss of cotton tassels from the carpet runners used for nesting material) as we shoo them out sometimes with an added bit of encouragement with the use of a broom.

A far cuter species is the dainty Cape pygmy mouse – about half the size of a field mouse but a most engaging and agile creature.    My neighbours have a policy of catch and release when these little fellas pitch up in their kitchen and for some years we’ve been relocating them in a custom designed box to an open patch of vegetation on the other side of our houses.

The smallest of the mice species, the pygmy mouse.

Imagine then, while we were quietly enjoying a beer at sunset, a butcher bird flew in and spiked a mouse on a sharp thorn at the top most reaches of the bougainvillea creeper.  Brutal!  But was it one of the relocated pygmy mice?!  Or was it more likely to be a ‘stripey’?   Darn it’s cruel out there.