Posts Tagged ‘gondwana canyon park’

Once upon a time a giant snake dwelled in southern Namibia. Every so often it devoured the sheep and goats of the people and finally they decided to kill the snake. Armed with spears and accompanied by their dogs the men set out for the hunt. They encircled the snake, kept it at bay with torches, shot arrows at it and thrust spears into its body. Even though it was a giant snake it stood no chance against the superior numbers. In its death throes the snake tossed and turned, tearing deep furrows into the ground.

Nama legend about how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Source: mural in the Cañon Village

Nama legend about how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Source: mural in the Cañon Village

An old Nama legend explains in this vivid manner how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Geologists offer a more prosaic but no less fascinating explanation. It also involves an epic death struggle – though not of a snake but of a super-continent and it does not happen overnight but goes on for hundreds of millions of years…

Once upon a time in the area of today’s canyon there were deep fissures in the earth’s crust. Some 350 million years ago part of the surface caved in along those fissures and a rift valley, about 20 km wide, emerged. The Fish River chose the rift for its bed. Due to the low gradient the river meandered through the valley in wide loops – also called a meander belt.

The ancient southern super-continent of Gondwana disintegrated some 120 million years ago. South America and Africa drifted apart. The rims of the African fragment rose – Namibia’s interior is a high plateau even today – and with it the drop to the sea level. Starting from its mouth, the Gariep (Orange) River dug deeper into the earth and the Fish River, its tributary, followed suit on the high plateau in southern Namibia. Thus its shallow meander belt turned into the Fish River’s winding system of gorges.

Fish River Canyon, (5 Cent), issued in 1981

Fish River Canyon, (5 Cent), issued in 1981

Standing at one of the viewing points on the edge of the canyon you are able to visually relate to the geological explanation. You are on the shoulder of the rift, looking onto a plain below – the floor of the rift valley. The plain is also termed the ‘upper canyon’ and the meandering gorges that have been cut into it are the ‘lower canyon’.

In total the Fish River Canyon is about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and 500 m deep. It is seen as the second largest canyon on earth – after the Grand Canyon in the US. Hot springs are found in some places on the canyon floor: at Sulphur Springs, several kilometres south of the main viewing point, for example, or at the Ai Ais spa.

The canyon is situated in the Nama Karoo on the western fringe of the summer rain area. Rainfalls are unreliable and limited to small areas at a time. The annual average is around 80 to 100 mm. Thus the gorges of the Fish River and its tributaries have served local inhabitants as lifelines for hundreds of years. Rock engravings testify to the presence of people in ancient times. In the 19th century missionaries wrote about groups of Nama living there. From 1890 onwards the Nama were displaced first by German settlers and later by South Africans. Now they live in places like Warmbad, Keetmanshoop and Bethanien. Efforts to protect the canyon started relatively late, if compared to Etosha National Park in the north, for example. The canyon was proclaimed a national monument only in 1962 and a nature reserve in 1968.

'Hell’s Bend' in the Fish River Canyon at the main viewing point. Photo: Gondwana Collection

'Hell’s Bend' in the Fish River Canyon at the main viewing point. Photo: Gondwana Collection

Looking at the canyon landscape it is hard to believe that is was – and still is – utilized for livestock farming. Many farmers, however, were forced to give up due to overgrazing and a prolonged drought. As a result a private nature reserve, Gondwana Cañon Park, was established on the north-eastern boundary of the national Ai Ais Richtersfeld Transfrontier Park.

The famous 80 km canyon hike from Hiker’s Point to Ai Ais (5 to 6 days) is part of the national park. In Gondwana Cañon Park hiking tours with or without mules are offered in the wilderness of the canyon landscape some 40 km north of Hiker’s Point.


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Ten mule foals are romping around the paddock at Grenspos, the mule breeding and training station in Gondwana Cañon Park. Another ten youngsters are being trained here until up to the age of three years for the trekking tours of Mule Trails Namibia. Mules make ideal trekking companions since they combine the good qualities of horse (mother) and donkey (father): they are tireless, surefooted, smart and patient.

Breeding was so successful during the past years that Mule Trails Namibia is very well equipped by now. Apart from the young animals at Grenspos there are another 20 mules at the Cañon Mule Station which have finished their training and accompany the tours.

Since mules reach an age of some 50 years, the next generation is secured for some time to come. The six breeding mares (horses) will soon move to their new home at the Cañon Roadhouse, where they will be available for horseback excursions. The stud’s only donkey stallion returns to his previous owner. Mules have to be bred from horses (mare) and donkeys (stallion) because – like all animals with parents from different species – mules are unable to reproduce.

The 20 ‘working’ mules at the Cañon Mule Station are on holiday at the moment because hiking tours in the Fish River Canyon are only conducted during the cooler months of the year, from 15 April until 15 September.

Book your Mule Trail today!

To read more about Mules click here




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Braving the early morning freeze that comes with the annual game count in Gondwana Cañon Park was all worth it again. As expected, numbers have increased after the exceptional rainy season this year. The count was conducted on 25 June.

Especially two large herds of Oryx antelope, 180 and 140 animals respectively, caused an excited stir. They heralded promising results for the preliminary projections later on. According to projections the number of Oryx in Gondwana Cañon Park has risen from 600 (game count in June 2010) to 1,100. Springbok showed a similarly rapid growth, increasing from 3000 last year to 5000 this year.

The game count in Gondwana Cañon Park is conducted once a year from open off-road vehicles.

The number of Kudu caused amazement: it has risen to 890 (700 in 2010). Experts had in fact expected a decrease because after a good rainy season these antelope usually withdraw to rocky terrain where they are not so easy to spot.

Smaller numbers than last year were recorded for two species, but there is a feasible explanation. According to preliminary projections the number of mountain zebra has decreased from 470 last year to 360 this year. The reason is the natural migration of mountain zebra. After low rainfalls in neighbouring Ai Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park during the 2009/2010 season large numbers of mountain zebra moved east – into Gondwana Cañon Park. This year’s abundant rainfalls prompted the animals to return to the Ai Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

The preliminary results of the 2011 game count also show that there are 180 ostriches in Gondwana Cañon Park at present, compared to 600 last year. This decrease had to be expected due to the poor rainfalls in 2009/10. But lots of ostrich chicks, which hatched during the past rainy season, were spotted during the count this year. They are not included in the count, however, because the result would become distorted due to the high mortality rate of ostrich chicks.

More than 50 participants travelled to Gondwana Cañon Park for this year’s game count, led by park managers Trygve and Sue Cooper. They were supported by nature conservation experts Chris Brown and Jo Tagg as well as former park managers Rachel and Danie Brand.

The game count in Gondwana Cañon Park follows the same method every year so that results can be compared and trends can be established. It is the ‘Fixed Route’ method: counting is done on standard routes, from a vehicle, without binoculars, and apart from the number of animals their exact location and their distance from the route is recorded. Routes have been chosen in such a manner that the park’s different habitats are covered – such as sandy and gravel plains, river courses, rocky hilltops and inselbergs.

Animals spotted and estimated distances are recorded in game lists.

From the data collected the total number of each species is calculated by computer for the entire park. Since small animals (e.g. steenbok) are more difficult to spot than larger ones (e.g. oryx), these projections are computed with correction factors for each species. The total area of each habitat and the total length of the routes through each habitat are taken into consideration as well. In this way a population estimate for certain wildlife species is obtained even though the entire park is not covered by the count.

Gondwana Cañon Park covers an area of 126,000 ha (1,260 km²). Most of its borders with adjoining farmland in the north, east and south are fenced in – mainly to avoid conflicts over predators with neighbouring small-stock farmers. In the west, however, where it borders the Ai Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, the fence is open in many places. Rainfall is very low in the Nama Karoo Desert on the south-western fringe of the summer rain area: the annual average is about 80 mm and fluctuations from one year to the next are considerable. This means that availability of food resources for game changes accordingly. Sustainable management of the park therefore includes seeing to it that fauna and flora are in balance.

The return of jackals to Gondwana Cañon Park is a very good sign for a balanced ecosystem. Over the decades they had almost been wiped out by farmers but now their numbers are increasing quickly. According to this year’s projections there are 330 jackals in Gondwana Cañon Park. Park management regularly checks the jackal-proof fencing on the eastern boundary to the farms to ensure that our neighbours, who farm with sheep and goats, are not troubled by the increasing number of jackals.

Gondwana operates a scientifically sound game management programme in order to increase the diversity of species and restore nature’s original state as far as possible. Red hartebeest (2006), Burchell’s zebra (2006) and blue wildebeest (2008) have been released in Gondwana Cañon Park. It has not been possible to record these species accurately during the past game count because of their low distribution so far. All of these species used to occur in this area; many of them were hunted to extinction or driven away by human activities during the past 200 years.

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