At the end of August, after returning from the CITES conference in Geneva, Namibia’s Minister of the Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, visited a waterhole in the dried up Chobe River on the border with Botswana. Next to the waterhole, in which 69 hippos survived, the Ministry of the Environment had drilled a 29-metre borehole and pumped water into the waterhole for eight hours every day at the rate of 12 000 litres per hour.

Thanks to the Ministry of the Environment’s intervention the muddy waterhole was once again turned into a large pond sheltering hippos from the scorching heat during the day. Fortunately there is still enough dry grazing on the Namibian side of the river for the pachyderms to feed on in the cool of the night. Some ten kilometres east of the borehole there is another small waterhole with three hippos.  East of Ngoma Bridge and the border crossing, 25 km further on, the Chobe contains enough water but is very shallow.

Hippos
When the relentless heat subsides, the animals venture out of the water and congregate on the riverbank. The row of trees and the hill in the background are on the Botswana side of the border. From there, mainly elephants and Cape buffaloes cross over to drink from this waterhole.

West of the waterhole with the 69 hippos a river section of several kilometres is completely dry. According to nature conservation officials, crocodiles are digging caves into the steep banks to survive the drought conditions.

The water pumped from the borehole not only keeps the hippos alive but also many other game species, including elephant, Cape buffalo and zebra as well as cattle – from Namibia and Botswana – which come and quench their thirst there. Minister Shifeta said that he notified his colleague in Botswana of the situation at the joint border, but the answer was that Botswana has to deal with far more and larger problems of this kind at the Okavango. Therefore Namibia takes care of ensuring the survival of the 69 hippos in the dry Chobe River on its own.

Hippos
This hippo threatens the cattle on the riverbank – so that they wouldn’t dare coming too close.

After Minister Shifeta’s visit no water was pumped for nearly two weeks because a new generator had to be brought in for the electric pump. According to the Director of Nature Conservation, Colgar Sikopo, water will now be pumped at a rate of 20 000 litres per hour. The Minister of the Environment insists that pumping must continue day and night.

Namibia is in the grips of one of the worst droughts. The last rainy season yielded poor results in the neighbouring countries as well, and therefore the levels of all rivers are very low. The Chobe, which can flow in both directions, is usually fed either from the west by the Kwando/Linyanti or from the other side by the Zambezi, when it is in flood. Currently no water is being emptied into the Chobe, which is why sections of the riverbed are partly dry for several kilometres. Chobe River Camp is still on the water, but it is not very deep and excursions by boat had to be discontinued.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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