The Hoanib is one of 12 ephemeral rivers in north-west Namibia. Ephemeral rivers are seasonal; only flowing very occasionally – yet they are critical lifelines, sustaining much wildlife in this arid area. The Hoanib River is more a swathe of sand than a true river, flowing only every few years when heavy rainfall occurs in the central escarpment of Namibia. Then the Hoanib shows its alter ego – a raging torrent of water several metres in depth that can last for several days, even reaching the mouth in the Atlantic as it cuts through rocky gorges and travels over arid sandy plains. This water invariably subsides again as quickly as it came, but importantly, replenishes an underground aquifer, providing much-needed ground water in dry periods.
The transient Hoanib River also supports a ribbon of vegetation and some wetlands along its length, this presenting the only food source for the herds of desert-adapted species roaming free among these desert ramparts. The riverbed is lined with albida trees, the pods of which form the staple dry- season diet of desert-adapted elephant, giraffe, gemsbok and springbok. The ana trees are interspersed with ancient, gnarled mopane and camelthorn trees – that could no doubt share many stories if they could talk. Lions like spending the heat of the day in salvadora and salsola understorey, waiting for the cool of night.
Without water there would be no Hoanib and no wildlife. Water exemplifies the power of small things – the force of water molecules working as a collective. When the mass of water molecules is high enough, clouds release their contents as precipitation. When this precipitation falls onto land, gravity causes it to flow topographically downhill from Namibia’s central escarpment, where the individual droplets combine to form streams that, in turn, combine to form rivers as we see in the raging Hoanib every few years. A true force of nature.
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