Khaudum: In The Stranglehold Of Drought

12 Nov 2019

Dirk Heinrich 

No water for the animals, a lack of fuel for pumps and vehicles, a lack of finances, a lack of staff and difficult terrain – these are the challenges that nature conservation officials have to cope with in Khaudum National Park in north-eastern Namibia. But time and again they manage to find sponsors for pumping the vitally important water for the more than 3000 elephants, countless antelopes, predators and birds. 

Under normal circumstances most elephants, with the exception of a few old bulls, disappear shortly after the start of the rainy season. The pachyderms move to areas north, south and sometimes west of Khaudum National Park, and they cross the eastern border into Botswana, because they find enough water in the bush as the pans of varying sizes fill up. Antelope also use areas outside the 3842 km² park, which is fenced only on its eastern side and for 55 kilometres in the west. The absence of elephants from December to July or August allows the vegetation and the bodies of water, i.e. the underground water reserves, to recover with the help of rain. Average rainfall in this park in the south-eastern corner of the Kavango East Region is 400 to 600 mm per season. 

In the past rainy season the maximum rainfall that was registered, was only 200 mm. The pans inside and outside Khaudum did not fill up with water, forcing the elephants to stay in the park. Instead of pumping water for the animals for just three or four months, the Ministry of the Environment has already had to provide water for 15 months an expense which was not budgeted for. The park has twelve artificial water points and two natural springs. Under normal circumstances the solar pumps at the artificial water points easily keep the drinking troughs filled. The heat, however, gives everyone a particularly hard time: the animals, the pumps, the vehicles and the equipment. 

Apart from the many other animals, hundreds of elephants come to the water holes every day to quench their thirst and cool off. Temperatures hovering above 40˚C and uncontrolled bushfires which spread into the park from Botswana and from farms to the west, caused conditions to be even hotter and tougher for all living things. Food is scarce, the charred soil heats up more and there is no shade because leaves were burned or have withered. Animals have to travel long distances to find something edible. The vegetation was already very sparse as a result of the drought and the little that remained was destroyed by the flames. 

To keep the wildlife supplied with water, the pumps are powered by diesel generators at night. This means that conservation official have to drive through thick, soft sand to the water points every day to refuel and start the generators. After 1000 operating hours the generators have to be taken to Windhoek for maintenance and spare units need to be available during that time. 

Leon Boye has kept in close contact with Khaudum National Park ever since his company supervised construction of the new gates, offices and staff accommodation facilities at the Khaudum and Sikeretti entrances into the park a few years ago. For months he has been trying to support the conservation officials. He organized a game count where participants paid for all their expenses themselves and also brought fuel with them for the generators. Eleven water points were manned for 72 hours. Various sponsors, some from the United States, paid for more fuel to keep the pumps and the vehicles of the park management running. Wherever possible, the Ministry of the Environment makes funds available to deal with the emergency situation. Everyone is waiting for rain, which would relieve animals and humans, the park management and equipment of some of the pressure. But until the first good rains go down, much still has to be achieved with very little.

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