A few days ago, Jenna and I climbed up Leopard Hill, a small rocky rise to the southeast of our house. From the top, there is a good view of how CCF’s Namibia Centre is surrounded by an almost endless sea of trees and shrubs, which is called “bush” over here. Our house is circled in the photo.
It didn’t always look like this. One of the biggest environmental challenges in Namibia is “bush encroachment,” where trees and shrubs take over grasslands, diminishing the quality of forage for livestock and the quality of habitat for many kinds of wildlife. When we think of Africa, we usually think of the grassy savannahs, where giant herds of ungulates thrive, along with predators like lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs. Namibia, along with many other parts of Africa, is losing its savannahs to bush encroachment.
It is thought that bush encroachment is caused by the complex interactions of overgrazing and fire suppression with natural cycles of drought and rain. Basically, having too many livestock in an area can kill off the grass species and favor the growth of trees and shrubs, especially when the grasses are first stressed by drought and then a few good rain years let the woody plants get established. It is a very hard process to reverse.
CCF recognizes that too much bush can reduce the number of game animals available for cheetahs to hunt. It also makes it harder for the cheetah to use its speed advantage, since it’s harder to run through thick bush. Also, farmers who have lost prime grazing land to bush will be more economically stressed and more likely to kill a cheetah if they see it. CCF’s Bushblock program is restoring savannah habitat by clearing bush and turning it into compressed wood briquettes that are sold as “cheetah-friendly” firewood.
Speaking of savannahs and bush, I am working on a project here to improve an existing nature trail at the Centre. We are clearing a section of bush along the trail so that visitors can get a feel for what the original grassland used to look like. We are also adding a bird-viewing blind, a salt lick to attract animals, a carcass area (where we will place animal skeletons), and other fun and interactive elements. Oh, and we are also changing the name of the trail 🙂