The forgotten five plus one endangered species of NamBy: WANJA NJUGUNA
EVER thought that vultures have enemies, other than the animals they fight over a carcass with – and those they can fly away from?
The Cape griffon or Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) is Namibia’s most endangered species and its greatest enemy is the human being.
When a population of only 12 was officially recorded in Namibia in 2000, the Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) based at Otjiwarongo had to do something.
During a recent public talk organised by the Namibian Environment & Wildlife Society (NEWS), Maria Diekmann from REST said that despite the Cape vulture being the most endangered species in Namibia, sadly, it is not the only one in danger of extinction.
Others are the rarely seen pangolin (Manis temminckii), African wild/painted dog (Lycaon pictus), the dwarf python (Python Anchietae), the spotted rubber frog (Phrynomantis affinis) and the Damara dik-dik, only found in Namibia and northern South Africa, with about 20 pairs believed to be alive today.
The problem between humans and vultures, said to have the best eyesight of all species in the world, is because though many breed in national parks, game reserves and protected areas, they often feed on farms and communal areas where they become victims of the struggle between farmers and predatory mammals attacking domestic livestock.
Through ignorance and a misunderstanding of their habits, vultures are sometimes shot or poisoned while well-meaning people may inadvertently disturb breeding birds by venturing too close to the nests. This leads to the parent birds deserting their eggs or nestlings. Electrocution through power line collisions when the birds roost on the poles is a problem too.
To monitor the bird, REST provides an uncontaminated food source to the birds they need to observe. “Our food is donated by our neighbours, Okonjima Lodge and the Africat Foundation. They need to feed cats that are in rehabilitation or non-releasable and the vultures will eat many animal parts that the cats do not eat,” Diekmann explained.
Diekmann said that another endangered species which when funding is available they are considering monitoring like the vultures is the African wild dog, considered the second most endangered carnivore in the world. These are seen in the eastern and northern regions of Namibia. When these dogs move into farmland, there is often conflict due to the effectiveness of the dogs’ killing prey, which can include goats, sheep, calves or even grown cattle.
An interesting and rarely seen species is the nocturnal pangolin, which although it has scales, is a mammal and not a reptile. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on its website says that there are three types of pangolins in Africa — the giant, the tree and the most widespread, the ground pangolin which is the one found in Namibia. Though they have no external ears, their hearing is good, their sense of scent well developed but their sight poor. All pangolins are able to roll themselves into a ball for defence and it takes considerable force to unroll them. They protect themselves through their cutting action of their armour-plated scales that can inflict serious wounds on anything inserted between them.
Pangolins also have anal scent glands that emit strong, foul smelling secretions. “Trade in their scales continues to be a huge problem in many Asian countries as ships were found recently with up to 10 000 tons of scales from different species in Africa and additional tons of whole carcasses,” Diekmann said.
“We had our second live pangolin in 10 years come in recently. Luckily, she had no major injuries and after a few hours of medical checks and observation, we were able to find out where she had been found and release her back into the wild as they do not generally do very well in captivity.”
AWF says the pangolin is believed to be a purveyor of magic and charms. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralise witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door, they are said to give an interested woman power over him and sometimes the scales are burned to keep lions and other wild animals away. Pangolins are also sacrificed for rainmaking ceremonies or hunted for meat.
The spotted rubber frog, a beautiful brown frog with red spots, is believed to be found only in northern Namibia and southern Angola but there is little information on it and worldwide there has been a huge decline in many frog species.
“The exact causes of the decline have not yet been determined, but it is widely believed that it may be due to an introduced fungus killing up to an estimated 80% of the frogs worldwide,” Diekmann said.
Also facing extinction is the beautiful, rare, non-venomous dwarf python found in northern Namibia, southern Angola, Windhoek and the Etosha National Park. It feeds on birds and gerbils and up until about 10 years ago, its biggest threat was illegal capture and selling to the public, due to its beautifully patterned skin and non-venomousness. Not much is known of this species but it is the only python to have bead-like head scales.
The sixth one, thanks to its meat, is the Damara dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii), one of Africa’s smallest antelopes and a protected species in the country. Despite its name, it is not found in Damaraland but is common in the Waterberg area, at Okonjima, in the Etosha National Park, around the Brukkaros mountain in the South and in the Caprivi Region. Because they are so small, they need to eat the most nutritious part of a plant.