11 Jul 2015 13:00pm
By Anna Tervahartiala
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
WINDHOEK, 11 JUL (NAMPA) - The quiver tree forest on Farm Gariganus was declared a national monument in 1955. For years now the forest, situated 14 kilometres northwest from Keetmanshoop in the //Karas Region, is one of the most notable tourist attractions in the area, drawing visitors from far and near to wander under the magnificent crowns of the trees.
Quiver trees, officially known as Aloe Dichotoma, are protected by the Nature Conservation Ordinance 1975, but now face an unexpected threat.
The climate is changing, says Coenie Nolte, the owner of the Quiver Tree Forest Rest Camp located at Farm Gariganus.
He has been in charge of the camp since the 90s, and has grown with the plants, spending his childhood on a farm close by. Nolte has seen droughts and disasters before but now, the changes seem to be for good.
There is less rain, it comes later and the winters are not so cold, he lists the changes he has noted during the past years. When talking of the rainfall pattern, Nolte describes the changes as drastic.
In the 90s, the first rains would come at the end of October. Now, we receive our first rains in April.
According to a report titled On the Road to Adaptation: Understanding Climate Change in the Karas Region published by the Namibian Nature Foundation in 2011, it is yet impossible to know the direct impact of climate change in Namibia. One thing that the report is however certain of is uncertainty. The future will see weather patterns that are more unpredictable and erratic than the ones the world has grown used to during the past centuries.
Climate change will most likely alter both the nature and amount of rainfall in the country. Looking at //Karas only, the report mentions that winter rainfall will most likely decrease and be limited to the far southwest.
What the report can say with certainty is that the next 50 years will see an average temperature rise of 1 to 4 degrees Celsius.
This rapid impact of climate change is due to the growing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps sun energy causing the atmospheric temperature to rise. The past 30 years have thus seen an average temperature rise of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade.
Even though climate change is a natural process, the change the world is undergoing at the moment is too fast to leave time for adaptation.
While the quiver tree is adapted to the bare dryness with the aid of its water-absorbing storing trunk and leaves, the plant relies on seasonal rains. According to Nolte, the water storage of old and big plants is enough to overcome droughts but it is the young plants that suffer. Even though the lifespan of a quiver tree can reach up to 300 years, unless there are young plants to renew the population, the forest will see a slow, but sure death.
Approximately 150 kilometres southwest of Keetmanshoop, the chief warden for the Gondwana Canyon Park, Sue Cooper, has news that resembles Nolte's; the past year has not been easy for the quivers.
Summer rainfall varies but we are used to receiving approximately 100 millimetres of rain per year. Even though last year was normal, this year we only received 38 per cent of what we expected, Cooper says.
She has worked in the area for the past five years and says that since her arrival, winter rainfall has been virtually non-existent. Like Nolte, Cooper says young plants have been hit the hardest. The lack of rain has affected all grass plants in general and this has made it harder for the young quivers to survive.
Quivers often rely on nursery plants to give them moisture, shade and protection. Now there is no grazing so the small plants have to make it out on their own. she said.
To prevent the loss of quiver trees, Cooper is actively engaged in the re-population of plants in the area.
We have a nursery and we are planting new trees in order to keep the population healthy, she explains.
Even though the work done for the preservation of the forest is an effective measure to keep the forest green, studies done by researchers from the South African National Biodiversity Institute suggest that a permanent change in the distribution range of the quiver tree is likely if the temperature keeps rising.
A research published in 2007 by Wendy Foden (et al.) suggests the quiver population in the north or warmer locations have suffered more in respect to the ones further down south. Even though populations in the south have been able to sustain themselves, the species has failed to expand to new terrains, naturally.
When looking at the future of the quiver tree on a wider scale, it is not only the climate that Nolte worries about. He says donkeys, horses and human beings are a current, but often forgotten, threat to the plants young and old.
Animals eat the crown part of the young plant and there is no re-growth. Then there are people who steal the trees, Nolte mentions.
He started irrigating some of the smaller trees during the past summer but does not see artificial irrigation as a long-term solution to keep the plants alive. As the quiver trees wait for the rains, they will continue to consume the water stored in their strong bodies hardened by the sun.
Whether the predictions of climate change become reality remains to be seen, as the only thing certain at the moment is change.