After months with barely a cloud in the sky the first rains have arrived turning Botswana green once again. It is incredible to see the influence of rain and how even bare soil rapidly turns into a lush carpet of grass and herbs. Beetles, moths, butterflies, millipedes, frogs and scorpions have all returned en masse with the frogs feeding particularly well on flying termites.
Within the Makgadikgadi there was sufficient rain to encourage the zebra to migrate east to access the lush growth which has emerged following the fire with the grasslands looking like they have been especially cultivated to grow grass in order to feed the thousands of hungry mouths. However, the rains received so far have not been enough to really fill the waterholes and so they are now nearly all dry again until the next good rainfall. This has meant that the zebra have had to move from the grasslands back to the Boteti or head north west where there has so far been more rainfall. Botswana has been predicted to receive above average rainfall this year and so the zebras, as well as the researchers, will just have to patient!
Since the first rains the Makgadikgadi has begun to look like a large nursery with offspring of zebra, gemsbok, impala and springbok being born as each species maximises the positive effect of the rain. A collared zebra has been one of the many zebra to give birth so far and both foal and mother looked in very good condition when they were observed last week. Being born at the start of the wet season gives the foal a great chance to successfully negotiate the difficult first year of its life. I have named the foal ‘Pula’ which means ‘rain’ in Setswana. Rains are so important to life in Botswana that ‘Pula’ also means money and through the research I have certainly come to realise the importance of both!
Throughout the dry season zebra are reliant on the Boteti River as the only place where they can access drinking water. However, due to the need to find grazing of both sufficient quantity as well as quality, it was necessary for zebra to regularly be travelling 20-25 km away from the river and only drinking once every 3-4 days. By only drinking infrequently zebra are able to maximise the length of time which they spend in the grazing area. However, one collared zebra avoided this journey entirely by remaining on the western side of the river near to Leroo La Tau in an area 5km x 2km in size between the river and the fence for four months! She crossed the river into this area on June 20th and only crossed back again after the first rains in November.
Nearly 3 months have passed since the bush fire spread through the Makgadikgadi in early September. It was horrific to see the impact of the fire with such a large area comprehensively burnt but the ability of nature to respond to such extreme events is always amazing to see. Many of the burnt areas are now thick with fresh grass and the contrast between burnt and un-burnt areas is very noticeable with herbivores favouring the burnt areas. The long-term repercussions of the fire are still to be seen but may ultimately prove to be positive as the fire removed the old grass which forms dense, unpalatable tufts and allowed for new grass tufts to begin again with fresh growth which is more easily grazed by all herbivores.
I will continue to monitor the weather with interest as we wait for the rains to being in earnest. As ever if you have any questions or comments then please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.