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Your oasis in the Otavi mountains

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One of Namibia’s monuments for 50 years
  • Entrance hall of the Ghaub cave, of which the ceiling partially collapsed in 1913

    Entrance hall of the Ghaub cave, of which the ceiling partially collapsed in 1913. Photo: Alexander Heinrichs

The Ghaub Cave in the Otavi Mountains celebrated a jubilee this year. However, considering the age of the karst cave, due to experts millions of years, this is only one of three anniversaries – and by far the most recent...

For 50 years, the Ghaub Cave has been a treasure of Namibia's natural heritage. On May 1, 1967, the Monument Council of the then South West Africa officially put the cave on the list of National Monuments.

Four years ago, the karst cave celebrated another anniversary, with the double amount of years: the one of its discovery. In 1913, the roof of one of their halls apparently collapsed after heavy rainfalls. Missionary Heinrich Vedder, who was in charge of the Ghaub mission station at that time, discovered the entrance. One year later, the Ghaub Cave was mentioned in scientific records for the first time.

In the period of its existence, however, both anniversaries are little more than a blink of an eye. By taking into account the length of the stalactites and stalagmites as well as other evidence experts estimate the age of the cave at about seven million years.

Today, it is considered the third largest of about 100 known caves in Namibia. It is up to 38 meters below the surface. Its passages, chambers and halls stretch for 2.5 kilometres through the dolomite and sandstone rocks of the Otavi Mountains. Highlights include dripstone and rock formations such as the organ or the crocodile – and the gallery of clay figures.

One of the deepest chambers is filled by crystal clear water throughout the year. Geologists regard it as very likely that the Ghaub Cave is connected to the farther eastern Dragon’s Breath Cave, which houses the world's largest underground lake.

Guests of Ghaub Nature Reserve & Farm can explore the Ghaub Cave on a guided excursion.

Rhinos saved from bush fire
  • Chain of flames on the mountains of Ghaub

    Chain of flames on the mountains of Ghaub. Photo: Ghaub

Shortly after it got dark, Ghaub suddenly got into a flap: fire alarm! After a lightning strike, the grass on the high plateau of the farm was on fire. Fuelled by the wind, the wall of fire moved down the slope of the mountain and approached the wilderness area of the rhinos...

In the early morning everyone was on his feet to stop the fire. About 20 employees of the lodge and the farm formed a cordon with intervals of 50 to 100 meters. A fire truck shuttled back and forth, a tractor widened the firebreak; a neighbouring farmer came to help. In a valley cut, one of the men all of a sudden got trapped by the flames; he and his three dogs were barely able to run to safety.

The rhinos and the rest of the game sensed the approaching danger. Fortunately, the animals did not panic, which might have driven them into the border fences. They only kept their distance to the burning mountainside. The rhinos gathered at the waterhole near the farmhouse, where there is also a mud bath.

When the wind was favourable, it was decided to start a back burn. A risky measure, because you can never be sure that the wind will not change. In this case, however, it was successful: The back burn remained under control and by burning the bush it created a firebreak which finally stopped the fire. However, the area still had to be patrolled for days, because the wind again and again fanned embers in burned branches or trunks.

At the end of the day the bush fire destroyed 6,000 hectares of pasture on the high plateau of Ghaub, which is used for game and cattle. Fortunately there was hardly any loss of animals.

  • Risky, but successful: The back burn creates a fire break.

    Risky, but successful: The back burn creates a fire break. Photo: Ghaub

  • Burnt pasture on the high plateau of Ghaub

    Burnt pasture on the high plateau of Ghaub. Photo: Ghaub

Bush fires are part of the natural cycle. Triggered by thunderstorms at the end of the dry season, they burn bushes and grass to ashes, thus fertilising the soil. Shortly after the following rain new plants sprout everywhere. The game migrates in the meantime to other areas. However, since man erected fences, this is no longer possible.

Rhino baby with swollen leg
  • Round wound slightly below the knee

    Round wound slightly below the knee. Photo: Ghaub

In mid-August, the "Rhino Patrol" of the Ghaub Nature Reserve raised the alarm. The female calf, born at the beginning of March, limped slightly to spare his right foreleg. Soon the rangers established the reason: A round wound slightly below the knee. Possibly the calf had rammed its leg into a pointed broken branch. Within a few days the leg swelled; obviously the wound had become infected. In the wild this would have been a clear death sentence.

The veterinarian Dr. Mark Jago, known for his vast experience with rhinoceroses, came to Ghaub beginning of September. He and the team of Ghaub had a risky mission. The calf had to be anaesthetised and then the cow had to be kept away from it – but not for too long, because otherwise she would consider it dead and turn away. Darting the rhino cow as well was out of the question, because in the process of awaking the animals instinctively start to run. In both cases it would be almost impossible to reunite cow and calf.

On top of that Dr. Jago had to be very careful with the dosage. Now and again the anaesthetic turns out to be too strong, causing the animal to die. Even for himself the mission was dangerous: A few drops of the anaesthetic on the skin can kill a man. Therefore, a helper was ready to inject the antidote immediately.

  • The swelling indicates a serious infection

    The swelling indicates a serious infection. Photo: Ghaub

After Dr. Jago darted the rhino baby with the tranquilliser gun and it laid down, a helper drove the car between cow and calf. Again and again she had to move the car forward and backward to block the way for the cow; more than once the rhino charged furiously toward the car, but fortunately it stopped just before the impact.

Other aides covered the head of the calf with a cloth and cooled the small body with water while Dr. Jago lanced the wound and cleaned it. In order to increase the chances of recovery, he delivered three different antibiotics, because it is hard to tell in advance which of the drugs will work.

Fortunately, everything went smoothly. After half an hour the calf awoke. However, it took one or two weeks before there was an indication of recovery: The swelling on the knee gradually diminished. Meanwhile, the calf is running well beside its mother; only now and then can you see that it still spares the leg a little.

The cave of adventure
  • Guide Urbanus Hoëseb with guest presenter Naledi Twahepa in the Ghaub cave

    Guide Urbanus Hoëseb with guest presenter Naledi Twahepa in the Ghaub cave. Photo: NBC

  • Cave adventure for students from Tsumeb

    Cave adventure for students from Tsumeb. Photo: Ghaub

"The crocodile!" – "The deep water hole!" – "The clay figures!" No doubt, there were conflicting opinions about the highlight of the tour. However, the young presenter of an NBC youth programme as well as the students from Tsumeb were in agreement about one point: Ghaub Cave is a cave of adventure...

Recently, Ghaub received unusual guests: A crew of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), who wanted to film a short episode for their popular youth programme "Sunshine Club", with a student from Grootfontein as a guest presenter. The shooting focused on the Ghaub Cave, which is a National Monument and is the third largest cave in Namibia (2.5 km long).

However, it was not about the facts, but about the adventure to descend into the depth and explore the passages, equipped with helmet and headlamp and hosted by our guide Urbanus Hoëseb. The twelve-year-old Naledi Twahepa was particularly enthusiastic about the "clay house", a cave room with damp clay. Visitors kneaded small figures, which over the years accumulated to a small gallery. NBC broadcast the nearly twelve minute film as a highlight of its "Sunshine Club" edition beginning of August and after that kindly made it available to Ghaub (here).

Shortly before, Ghaub welcomed 140 grade 8 students from Tsumeb. Two guides explored the cave with them in small groups. Most of the students voted for the “crocodile” (a jagged tongue of rock) and the deep hole with glassy water as highlights of the tour.

Guided tours for students are part of Ghaub‘s contribution to enthuse young Namibians with the nature of their country.

Good harvest at Ghaub
  • Maize harvest on Ghaub

    Maize harvest on Ghaub. Photo: Ghaub

Maize farmers in Namibia can look forward to a good yield this year. On Ghaub, too, the harvest was above average. The investment in seeds and machinery, the hard work and the immediate measures against caterpillars in February have paid off...

"On the first 100 hectares we harvested an average of 5.8 tons per hectare in June," explains maize farmer Hartmut Freyer, who is responsible for the fields on Ghaub. "The remaining 40 hectares, on which we planted later and will harvest by the end of July, are expected to raise the total cut to about 6 tonnes per hectare." This is due to sufficient and well-distributed rainfalls and the immediate counter-action to a caterpillar attack in February.

With a harvest of 840 tons and a price of 4,500 Namibia Dollar per ton, the income amounts to almost 3.8 million Namibia Dollar. "Unfortunately, this won’t make us rich," emphasizes Freyer, "because you need to subtract the expenditure on seeds, fertilizers, machinery, fuel and pesticides. Not to forget the reserves for coming years of bad harvest, when the revenue does not cover the costs."

In addition to the 140 hectares of maize on Ghaub, there are 40 hectares of sorghum and 120 hectares of hay for fodder production. For next year Hartmut Freyer plans to increase the area for maize to 200 hectares. He also intends to invest in new machines.

This year, Freyer estimates that the total maize production of Namibia is about 60,000 tonnes. However, the demand in the country is double as much. So as soon as the mills processed the harvest, they have to import additional maize from South Africa.