Around the world, our planet is experiencing the effects of El Nino, including drought in many countries. The first thought is always: what will happen to the wildlife in times of drought? And is it always a bad thing? Map Ives shares his thoughts on how this impacts on wildlife in seasonal weather patterns of a green or a dry season.
A lot of people may not have lived here for long enough to have experienced a previous dry spell, but there is enough data for us to know that there is a chance of such dry spells occurring about once every two decades and which can last anywhere between one and three years. I have lived in the northern Botswana region for the last 35 years and have experienced at least two other episodes of dry spells, such as we seem to be heading for, and I have noted some extraordinary movements of wildlife – which actually allows for a pattern of ‘use and recovery’ (if I can use that phrase).
The Okavango, for example, will still receive floodwaters from upstream in Angola, but the area that is inundated will probably vary considerably over the next few years. (In fact, in the dry spell of 1987/88, the flood that arrived in 1988 was actually quite large due to increased rain in Angola.) The grazing ‘lawns’ that occur around the floodplains of the Okavango and Linyanti systems become incredibly valuable and I have noticed an increase in buffalo, lechwe and other grazers as well as their attendant predators along the edges of the islands and land masses. I expect that there will be a return to the ‘buffalo days’ at Mombo and around Chitabe, as well as at Vumbura and the lower floodplains below Kwetsani. It was during these dry spells that sitatunga were common in the permanent swamp zones around Xigera and in the Jao Reserve.
This is repeated all along the Linyanti fault where the elephant numbers will actually make for some of the very best elephant viewing on the African continent, whilst it is well known amongst all of us who have spent time there that the Savute Channel attracts large congregations of wildlife. There are some wonderful Cynodon grazing areas along the drying channel flanks which makes for much better game viewing than when the channel is full.
In summary, the dry spells up here are as important to wildlife as are the so-called wet spells, with the animals utilising the environments in different
ways. Many of the adaptations to wet and dry involve moving to different browsing and grazing areas. Much of this information is passed on from female
to female, mother to daughter, in what I call “matriarchal memory” so that the young animals know where to go and what to do when the next wet or dry
spell comes along, as it surely will.