For Nature’s Sake – Game Management in Gondwana Canyon Park
About 600 mountain zebras currently live in Gondwana Canyon Park. (All potos and graphs: Gondwana Collection)
The annual game count in the Gondwana Canyon Park is a social event, and the data collected in the process serve the expert management of the largest nature reserve of Gondwana Collection Namibia. Every year in winter, about 50 participants wrap up warmly and gather in the early morning at the game viewing vehicles to look for and count the animals. This sounds simple until a large herd of springbok appears on the horizon and the excited participants can hardly keep up with the counting.
The annual game count in Gondwana Canyon Park is conducted from open off-road vehicles.
The continuous drought shows consequences
The continuous drought in southern Namibia has taken its toll on the veld in the Gondwana Canyon Park. While the park has not received close to its average rainfall in a six-year period, the animal numbers peaked in 2017 and have been consistently high, putting pressure on the remaining veld in the plain of the Gondwana Canyon Park. The concentration of game in small areas of the park also added to the deteriorating veld condition (Game Population vs Rainfall graph).
In 2019, in consultation with MET the Gondwana Environmental Management team decreased the population in selected areas of the park. Park Management also selectively closed off certain waterholes to move animals to different areas of the park. This management strategy, added with decent well-timed and well spread out rainfall through the park this past season, assisted with the preservation of the remaining veld.
The eighteenth Game Count in the Gondwana Canyon Park conducted on 18 July 2020 showed that not only the carrying capacity of the land has remarkably decreased but also the wildlife population. Since the number of animals reached its highest level in 2014 after several years with good rainfall, it dropped continuously until now. Factors such as the natural migration of animals to areas with better grazing, lower reproduction rates and a drought-related higher mortality rate contributed to this trend. In the meantime, the natural balance has levelled off to an extent where the biomass of the grazers corresponds to the current carrying capacity of the land in the Gondwana Canyon Park (Grazer biomass graph).
Since its establishment in 1996 the Gondwana Canyon Park has been operated by a scientifically sound management plan. The plan includes a wildlife programme designed to increase the diversity of species and restore nature’s original state as far as possible. Through the years, Red hartebeest (2006), Burchell’s zebra (2006), blue wildebeest (2008) and giraffes (2013) have been released in Gondwana Canyon Park. All of these species used to occur in this area historically; many of them were hunted to extinction or driven away by human activities during the past 200 years.
Gondwana Canyon Park covers an area of 116,000 ha (1,160 km²). Most of its borders with adjoining farmland in the north, east and south are fenced in – mainly to avoid conflicts with neighbouring small-stock farmers. In the west, however, where it borders the Ai Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, the fence is open in many places, thereby allowing free movement for the animals between the two parks. There are no internal fences in Gondwana Canyon Park.
In June 2013 giraffe were released in the Gondwana Canyon Park and settled in well.
Annual game counting according to the same concept
The game count in the Gondwana Canyon Park follows the same method every year so that results can be compared, and trends can be established. It is the “Fixed Route” method: counting is done on nine standard routes, from a vehicle, without binoculars, and apart from the number of animals their exact location; and their distance from the route is recorded. Routes have been chosen in such a manner that the park’s different habitats are covered – such as sandy and gravel plains, river courses, rocky hilltops, and inselbergs.
From the data collected the total number of each species is calculated by computer for the entire park. Since small animals are more difficult to spot than larger ones, these projections are computed with correction factors for each species. The total area of each habitat and the total length of the routes through each habitat are taken into consideration as well. In this way a population estimate for certain wildlife species is obtained even though the entire park is not covered by the count.
Steenbok are difficult to spot in rough terrain.