Farmers advised against radical debushing
Bush thinning should be structured
Although much maligned, Wildlife Vets say invasive species such as the blackthorn, or swarthaak, can provide crucial cover and shelter for wildlife, and many game species hide their offspring for the first few days of life in dense bush.Game farmers in Namibia are strongly advised against radical debushing.
Wildlife Vets Namibia have advised that before undertaking aggressive habitat manipulation such as radical debushing or planting cultivated pastures, game farmers should consider how this may impact the habitat's future suitability to support a wide variety of wild animals.
"Bush provides food for browsers," the organisation underlined.
In addition, a well-structured bush and tree cover provides nutrients to the soil as well as shelter against elements such as sun, heat and severe winds.
According to Wildlife Vets, many game species hide their young offspring for the first few days of life in dense bush.
Moreover, to provide sufficient bush for browsers and mixed feeders on a farm, the farm should support a wide plant variety.
This should consist of high-quality early growers to kick-start the growing season.
"The much-despised swarthaak or blackthorn is one of the shrubs/trees that greens up and flowers weeks before other shrubs. This means this bush often gives the first fresh food to browsers such as the kudu after the dry winter."
Wildlife Vets said even though this is a frequent invader plant, game farmers should not eradicate it entirely from their property.
It is therefore recommended that farmers undertake a structured bush thinning rather than a radical debushing.
"For example, in the pattern of cheetah skin. Create open grass plains (the yellow part), interspersed with five to 50 hectares or larger-sized patches of denser bush (the black spots), where the animals can find cover from the elements and hide. As an alternative, one could try something along the lines of a zebra skin pattern, which provides game habitat corridors to move in. Avoid long straight lines, as these are not natural and actually make for rather boring game drives."
It stressed that the edge effect, which occurs at the boundary of two or more habitat types, is extremely important.
"When you do structured debushing, you create a perfect habitat for animals. On these edges (e.g., from plains to dense bush), it is where one finds the greatest species variety because this transition zone provides the optimal combination of food and shelter."
Wildlife Vets added that when embarking on a debushing exercise, farmers should keep the concept of resource partitioning for browsers in mind.
"As far as possible, leave the big trees standing and only clear overly dense trees, shrubs and bushes. It is essential not to remove high-quality, low-growing shrubs since these are within reach of and essential food for browsers such as kudu, eland, impala and giraffe."
It said with structured debushing, visibility will be increased, and, as one can look further into the field, it makes game drives more rewarding.
"Grass growth will be encouraged, increasing the carrying capacity of the camp for grazers. The edge effect is increased. Many animals, including birds, mostly live around this edge, as this is where most of the food is found, and refuge is quickly found as the denser bush is close by."
According to Wildlife Vets, a good grass cover with the roots binding the soil is essential to prevent soil erosion.
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