Here's the first of many pictures I took of the dead Quiver Trees.
The morning sun stained peach the mountains of black basalt and white quartz: the mountains of crystals. Standing solemnly amongst the grand magnitude of it all were dead Quiver Trees on the hill next to us. I took to the quiet and wandered close to them. It was an omen of what we would see over the next two weeks in South-Eastern Namibia. An omen that confronted me with an abrupt fortitude; a resounding “don’t let it get to you.”
I've been avoiding sharing this. It's been hard to face. As I build my masters project studying these trees it has become clear that I should finally share what we saw while doing fieldwork in Namibia.
The Quiver tree, also known as Aloidendron dichotomum, Kokerboom, or Choje, is a type of tree aloe. It was used to make quivers for arrows by roasting the branches on coals, removing the inner flesh, and attaching the leather from an Eland’s knee to the bottom. The thick, fibrous trunk was used as a refrigerator by hollowing out the pith and wetting it down to create an evaporative cooler.
Their broad trunks are reservoirs for water in its arid home. They have thick, fleshy roots that sprawl near the surface of the soil to absorb any drop of moisture that infrequently falls as rain or condensed fog. Their shallow roots make them comically easy to be pushed over by baboons or kudu scratching themselves, but on most occasions the trees will set down roots again and grow upward.
They are survivors. Their leaves are succulent, able to store water, and have thick skins to protect themselves. They seal off their leaves during the day, only opening pores on their surface in the cooler night to breathe and take up carbon. They are custom built desert icons that have stood in the desert for millennia. On top of this, they are also vital to the system around them. They are the only source of shade that can provide nesting space for sociable weavers, food for snakes, and a home for a plethora of insect and fungal species. In times of drought, animals will eat the trees’ bitter flesh for water. They represent the health of the habitat around them as a keystone species, not the likely candidate you’d expect to be at risk of extinction from climate change. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they have become.
We took down camp and Oom Henry came to greet us on his way to work. He told us of the population of juveniles on the flat plains, and the 9-year drought they were still suffering in this region. Even the ever so resilient camel thorns were dropping their leaves and withering.
Climate change is an issue at the nexus of climate, economics, finance, policy, agriculture and - underpinning it all - biodiversity. The #Climatex Pilot hosted by Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC) has given me the tools to start understanding it in this interdisciplinary way. It helped me realize that I, too, can raise my voice about these issues, and that I have important information that needs to be shared.
Everyone should know what’s going on, and how quickly climate change has negatively impacted all of the systems around us. I think we should all understand these issues because we will all end up having to adapt to the effects of climate change to a large extent of our own initiative. No government, no matter how rich and powerful, will be able to help everyone. We need to understand this. For ourselves, and for our communities.
Author: Kayleigh Murray
Editor: Cary Lee
The author is a GAUC Global Youth Ambassadors and a student at Stellenbosch University.
The article reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily that of GAUC.