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Ostriches continue to resist the prolonged drought in the Banhine National Park (PNB), in the southern province of Gaza, in Mozambique, at a time when some larger species such as buffaloes and elephants have migrated to other regions because of water shortage.
More than 500 ostriches live in the park, a clear sign that the large bird is resisting drought and even multiplying. A few years ago the number was quite small.
Banhine Park, where it has not rained for more than three years, was created to protect particularly ostriches and giraffes. The latter species, however, is practically extinct in the region.
“In the last two months we have sadly witnessed the death of ostriches and we believe it is due to the drought as there are no signs of poaching,” PNB head surveillance Hélder Mandlate says.
Mandlate was speaking on the sidelines of a two-week visit to the park by a group of eight volunteer tourists from Germany which ends tomorrow (Saturday November 26) in the framework of cooperation between the PNB and National Park Unteres Odertal (NatPUOG). This is the second group of volunteer tourists from Germany to visit Banhine National Park this year.
Even with the drought, which also affects the lives of local communities engaged in agriculture and cattle raising, it is possible to see impala, kudu, various species of goat, among other animals mysteriously surviving the prolonged drought.
“If it rained we would have more animals in the park than we have now,” Mandlate says.
Ostriches can withstand hot temperatures and go for long periods of time without water, usually getting enough moisture from the plants they eat. Their diet consists mainly of roots, leaves, and seeds, but ostriches will eat whatever is available. Sometimes they consume insects, snakes, lizards, and rodents. They also swallow sand and pebbles which help them grind up their food in their gizzard, a specialised, muscular stomach. Because ostriches have this ability to grind food, they can eat things that other animals cannot digest.
While other parks, such as Zinave in the southern province of Inhambane, Gorongosa in the central province of Sofala and the Maputo Reserve, have benefited recently from a repopulation program, PNB is not currently covered by any such plan, and the ostrich, the park totem, have been multiplying naturally.
Regarding the constraints facing the park, Mandlate pointed to the reduced number of rangers, poaching and subsistence hunting, lack of knowledge of the limits of the park by the communities, and the promotion of tourism to raise revenue so that communities benefit from the 20 percent share.
At present, the park works with 36 employees for an area of 700,000 hectares. According to the Head of Inspection, effective coverage would require a staff of about 160 rangers.
Regarding poaching, Mandlate said that the perpetrators, mostly from the nearby Inhambane, hunt large numbers of animals using weapons and rolling stock, while subsistence hunting by local communities was the result of hunger caused by the prolonged drought. “So there are cases where we understand and warn and educate people not to do it again,” she said.
Meanwhile, according to Mandlate, the signalling and notification of park boundaries within communities is underway, which requires a lot of investment as it was intended to build a road along the park’s boundaries.
The park was resized from the previous 600,000 to the current 700,000 hectares in 2013. Under this measure, all the population living inside the park was transferred to the buffer zone.
The World Bank-funded Mozambique Biodiversity project, which supports conservation areas, has funded a new management structure including a community development officer and a head of inspection, the absence of which made it difficult to promote conservation area development.
There was already more interaction with the community, which was helping identify and solve problems that communities face in the context of environmental preservation, Mandlate said.
He explained that inspection has been helping the park improve operating results, more than tripling the number of patrols. “This year, we have carried out more than 300 patrols and ambushed a considerable number of poachers. Some 35 poachers were charged,” he says.
Fines of about one million meticais have been imposed, of which more than 200,000 meticais have been collected, representing revenue growth for the park. Two tractors and a car were seized and eleven poachers convicted.
Source: AIM Moçambique