Namibia and Angola’s distant Ovahimba mountains reveal a haven for distinctive vegetation – new survey

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The Kaokoveld area, masking north-western Namibia and south-western Angola, is likely one of the remotest areas in southern Africa. Though it’s extraordinarily dry, it’s a centre of species endemism: many species happen solely there and nowhere else on earth.

New species proceed to be discovered, particularly within the Ovahimba mountain vary, which runs parallel to the chilly Atlantic ocean and is separated from it by the gravel plains and dunes of the northern Namib Desert.

The best mountain peaks of this vary are so inhospitable and troublesome to entry, due to the shortage of roads and water, that few have ever scaled them. The exceptions are native herders of the semi-nomadic Himba, who drive their cattle and goats to richer pastures within the mountains throughout dry intervals.

In 2021, I used to be a part of a workforce of researchers from Namibia and Angola who aimed to analyze the biodiversity and endemism on among the most distant peaks. We hypothesised that the mountain peaks harboured a lot of species, particularly vegetation, bugs and reptiles. That’s as a result of there’s a fast change in local weather and topography (land options) from the hyper-arid, cool desert close to the coast and the arid and seasonally hotter plains additional inland to the cooler mountainous escarpment.

The research space.
V. De Cauwer, picture Bing Aerial

By means of an EU-funded transfrontier conservation undertaking, SCIONA, we had the chance to make use of the one secure choice to get to the Ovahimba mountain peaks: a helicopter.

It’s extremely thrilling to plan a visit to such a distant and exquisite wilderness space the place few folks have intervened within the ecosystem.

Due to the excessive value and complex logistics, we needed to restrict the go to to some days on every of three mountain tops. Two had been in Angola – Serra Cafema and Serra Tchamalindi in Iona Nationwide Park – and one was within the Otjihipa vary of Namibia. The mountain tops had been chosen primarily based on their altitude and remoteness. In addition they have many ecological niches primarily based on publicity to wind and solar.

At every campsite, we left excitedly in numerous instructions, to return and trade findings and tales after sundown.

A dry, mountainous landscape seen from above.

View from helicopter switch Serra Tchamalinde to Serra Cafema.
Vera De Cauwer

Even on this quick go to, we discovered loads of curiosity and a few surprises. Of the 285 plant species we encountered, 34 species are endemic to the Kaokoveld. One is new to science and no less than six endemics fall within the endangered IUCN pink record class. Sixteen plant species that had been beforehand identified solely from Namibia had been present in Angola. We additionally recorded two chicken species, the Cape Eagle Owl and Layard’s Warbler, in Angola for the primary time.

These mountain flora deserve precedence conservation efforts to guard endemic and different vegetation which have survived in these refuge websites, offering a habitat for some distinctive fauna.

Helicopter journey

Our helicopter hops between the mountains gave us unforgettable, magnificent views of the mountains, by way of which the glittering Kunene River meanders. The primary campsite was within the Otjihipa vary, at a mountain that we named Middelberg (1,941 metres above sea degree).

The ridge boasts a various shrub and woodland vegetation, in contrast to the barren plains surrounding it, due to the cooler temperatures, the water bearing capacities of rocks, much less grazing and looking, and what we assume is larger rainfall (there are not any data). It was adorned by lovely Kaoko tree-euphorbias (Euphorbia eduardoi).

Sundown behind Euphorbia eduardoi at Otjihipa.
Vera de Cauwer

We additionally discovered a big underground cave with intact stalactite and stalagmite formations. That is uncommon within the space and will point out that there was way more water there previously.

The second campsite was close to a mountain high within the japanese a part of the big Tchamalinde vary, at an elevation of 1,420 metres above sea degree. The helicopter couldn’t land larger up the mountain the place it was coated with a steady tree layer. The Kaokoveld endemic flower Turnera oculata var. paucipilosa thrives on this space, in addition to the resurrection bush (Myrothamnus flabellifolius) and the black stick lily (Xerophyta retinervis). Resurrection vegetation seem like useless in the course of the dry season however all of the sudden flip inexperienced with the rains.

Turnera oculata var. paucipilosa.
Vera de Cauwer.

Our final campsite was 100 metres from the highest of the very best mountain of Iona Nationwide Park, Serra Cafema (2,050 metres above sea degree). Of the three mountain tops we visited, it was the closest to the coast (85km) and subsequently additionally the coldest and windiest.

Regardless of the cruel local weather, there was a shocking quantity of vegetation, primarily a mosaic of hardy Cape fynbos-like shrubs and dry savanna vegetation with large-stemmed Namib resin timber (Ozoroa crassinervia). It was a shock to search out the tall Euphorbia monteiroi subsp. brandbergensis because it was beforehand solely identified additional south in Namibia. One other lovely Turnera flower (Turnera oculata var. oculata) was frequent at Serra Cafema, in addition to giant specimens of mother-in-law’s-tongue (Sansevieria pearsonii).

Even on the mountain high of Serra Cafema, the very best and remotest of all, there have been indicators of human influence by way of grazing.

Himba path, Tchamalinde.
Vera de Cauwer.

The findings present the very best plant biodiversity on Serra Cafema, with 56 species per 1,000m² in comparison with 47 species per 1,000m² for the opposite mountains. Of the three mountains, Serra Cafema is essentially the most influenced by fog brought on by the chilly Benguela present. Species composition may be very totally different from the encircling lowlands.

Serra Cafema view.
Vera de Cauwer.

Defending biodiversity

We unlocked solely a fraction of the thriller held by these biodiversity hotspots. There isn’t any doubt that but extra uncommon and attention-grabbing vegetation and animals are ready to be found on these inaccessible peaks, particularly as a result of our go to occurred after 10 years of drought. Large swarms of locusts had been within the barren plains at the moment.

Nevertheless, our reconnaissance survey did present that the vegetation right here want safety. They’re threatened by local weather change and overgrazing by livestock. Administration of the Ovahimba highlands is within the fingers of Namibian communal conservancies, the NGO African Parks and the Namibian and Angolan governments. African Parks not too long ago took over administration of Iona Nationwide Park, which can provide alternatives to guard the mountain habitats.


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