Managing Grasslands to Ensure a Future for Cheetahs

Today, March 21, is both Namibian Independence Day and the United Nation’ s International Day of Forests. When Namibia gained its independence in 1990, it became the first African country to make environmental protections a part of its constitution. Through the government’s encouragement of community conservancies, where partnerships are formed on a local level to manage the wildlife and ecology, Namibia’s biodiversity has recovered and stabilized.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Forests is Forests and Energy and while only 8.76% of Namibia falls under the criteria to be considered forested land, (The Global Forest Resource Assessment 2000 defines forest as land with a minimum area of 0.5 ha, where the tree crown cover or equivalent stocking level is more than 10%), we do have incredible potential for energy development using native overgrown thornbush.

Digital Atlas of Namibia is part of a multidisciplinary collaborative research project established by the Deutsche Forschungs
Digital Atlas of Namibia is part of a multidisciplinary collaborative research project established by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft German Research Foundation) through the University of Cologne

Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) works to restore thornbush savanna habitat, which is critical for supporting the survival of cheetahs and their prey. The primary threat to the savanna are native thornbushes (Acacia mellifera, Dichrostachys cinerea, Acacia reficiens, and Acacia fleckii) that have become overgrown due to historic rangeland mismanagement such as overgrazing, fire suppression, loss of mega herbivores such as elephants, rhinos and loss of historic migrations. CCF works to clear areas clogged with the densely packed bush and utilize the wood collected to create a clean burning fuel log known as Bushblok. CCF’s sustainable logs can be used for fuel to cook or heat homes, and can also be used to braai (what barbeque is called in South Africa). Because of its capacity to produce energy, Bushblok helps alleviate pressures on the little forested areas we do have in Namibia, by reducing the need to take wood for fuel. In fact, our Bushblok is certified by the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) as an item that provides measurable improvements for wildlife in a wild place. CCF also has certification with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). With the extensive amount of thornbush encroaching on savanna habitat, increasing our removal efforts to produce more Bushblok could potentially employ 5,000 Namibians, a goal that Dr. Bruce Brewer, General Manager of CCF and Bushblok, has been working very hard to achieve, and one that I hope we will see to fruition very soon!

Thickened thornbush also makes the land inhospitable for farming, and reduces the vegetation available for livestock grazing. Since most of the people living in Namibia support themselves through agriculture, the spread of thornbush has a direct impact on the local economy. Our work to restore the savanna helps improve agricultural potential and adds an employment opportunity to the community. CCF hires Namibians at all levels of the habitat restoration project, to identify key areas of removal; to harvest bush and process it into chips; to create, package, and market the Bushblok; and then to conduct vegetation regrowth and natural regeneration surveys to understand post-harvest population dynamics and economics. CCF’s Senior Ecologist and Forest Steward, Matti Nghikembua, leads our habitat restoration efforts through his work with the CCF Bush project, where he focuses on the aspects of biodiversity monitoring and research. The project was started in 2001 and in 2005 was officially inaugurated; we have already made enormous headway. Our research efforts on the physical and chemical properties of harvested and unharvested regions and our annual wildlife counts utilizing observation blinds combined with data collected from camera traps and satellite collars that record wildlife patterns, both before and after harvesting, have been published and referenced throughout the scientific community. Much is changing. Areas that have had thornbush removed are maintaining grass species and consequently are increasing in wildlife diversity.

Sustainable energy and economic freedom will continue to benefit the cheetah and the communities that live alongside them. Highlighting the success of CCF Bush and its potential for growth, job creation and improving the habitat for the people the wildlife of Namibia is how we celebrate both Namibian Independence Day and the International Day of Forests.

On this International Day of Forests, what will you do to help make a positive impact on our world’s habitats? Visit the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at http://www.fao.org/international-day-of-forests/en/ and see their list of suggested activities. You can start by watching their video above.

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