And climate change is inexorable. Over the past half century, temperatures in parts of southern Africa have risen twice as fast as the global average. (…) It is difficult to predict how the rise in temperature will affect the amount of precipitation. But in this part of the continent, the summer rainy season is likely to start later and be shorter. Rain showers, if they come at all, could be more violent and bring larger water masses within shorter periods of time, which could lead to flooding. There could be longer dry periods between rainstorms.
If there is no rain, the vital net can tear
The “Ardvaark” looks like it came straight out of a nonsense poem: the snout of a pig, the ears of a donkey, in between an incredibly long face. As a doctoral student, Nora Weyer observed aardvarks in Tswalu from winter 2012 to spring 2015. To count the population, she lured ants into traps and kept an eye out for the characteristic cone-shaped termite structures. She collected feces to determine which and how many insects the animals were eating, and found that aardvarks get about 90 percent of their fluid and energy needs from harvest determinants. (…) While she was watching her aardvarks and deciphering their droppings, Weyer noticed a drastic decline in grasses, which, she knew, would lead to a decline in harvest determinants. At the end of summer, the scarcity of food also affected the aardvarks. The normally nocturnal animals also began to leave their burrows during the day to look for food and to make up for the starving nights. (…) Weyer discovered the carcasses of many other dead aardvarks in the savannah, and the survivors looked apathetic, dazed and emaciated. The message was clear: if the rain doesn’t come, even if it is only for a single summer, the vital network that connects grasses, ants, termites and insectivorous animals can tear. (…)
It’s late in the evening. Panaino and Phakoago are scanning the radio waves for signals from Hopewell 3 and other nearby study animals when the weather changes: It begins with iridescent balls of light that silently explode over the western horizon. Less than an hour later, lightning bolts illuminate the surrounding dunes, followed by the pounding of a drumstick pulled over a corrugated iron roof. The sky seems to be bursting. Luminous cracks split the clouds, from which dazzling, glaring lightning flashes down onto the surrounding hills. The background music is provided by bright bell tones such as cymbals and cymbals and dull bangs.
A rain of drums pounds on the ground, forming fleeting islands of moisture in a sea of dried up sand and impregnating the air with the smell of damp iron. The two scientists decide to retire for the night – it’s too dangerous out on the dunes, and in this weather the pangolins are very likely to stay inside too.
The crescendo is short. The distances between the lightning bolts and the thunderbolts that accompany them become longer, the luminosity and volume decrease, and the thunderstorm continues eastwards. It’s over for now, but that’s how the rain should come. This is how the greening should begin. The grasses will raise lush green stalks, bulging seeds will ripen at their tips, and the table will again be richly covered for all life that depends on their abundance. The whistling geckos join their choir again and send their distinctive click calls into the night.
Translated from the English by Dr. Eva Dempewolf
The books by the South African science author Leonie Joubert include “Scorched”, “Boiling Point” and “The Hungry Season”. Thomas P. Peschak, who often works for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, photographed the story about sea turtles in the October 2019 issue.
This article appeared in full length and with many other photos and graphics in the August 2021 issue of the German NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. Never miss an issue again and now one Take out a subscription!