Namibia: Drought Traps Hippos in Muddy Pools

JONAS Junias shot to fame in 2014, when he won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games at the tender age of 20. In the process he became only the fourth Namibian boxer to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, but the determined young man is far from satisfied and has now set his sights on winning gold at the Rio Olympic Games.

Jonas was born and raised in Swakopmund and was initially more interested in soccer, playing street football with his friends. He only discovered boxing quite late, at the age of 10, but he immediately fell in love with the sport.

"I met a guy from another school who kept pigeons at home so I also became interested in that. But he was also into boxing and so I used to go along and watch him train at the gym and I just fell in love with the sport," he said.

He was a rare talent and made an immediate impact when he started boxing competitively for the first time, even though he was not prepared for his debut.

"Once I went along with my friend to a tournament in Walvis Bay just to watch, but then the coach said I couldn't just watch, I also had to box, so I was forced to box. I only trained for one day before, but I won that first fight. After that I didn't train for about two weeks, but the coach asked my friend, 'where is that boy that boxed last time'. So he found me and said 'I've seen something in you and I think you should come back to the gym', and that's how it all started."

Jonas started training and competing in local and regional tournaments and went on an unbeaten streak in the junior ranks, but he admits that he wasn't very disciplined at that stage.

"Sometimes I didn't go to training but my coach would always come looking for me and take me to the gym. It was only when I grew older that I realised that boxing was my sport - it just came naturally," he said.

Jonas' boxing career however nearly came to a premature end after he suffered a serious injury at the age of 12 when boiling water accidentally fell on him. Boxing took a back seat for a while as he had to go to hospital several times over the next few years and it was only in 2009, at the age of 15, that he started boxing again.

His natural talent immediately shone through and by 2010 he won his first national junior title. By 2011 he had established himself as the top junior in his category and age group, and by 2012 he was included in a national youth team that went on a training camp to Cuba, in preparation for the Zone 6 Youth Games in Zambia.

Here Jonas fell foul of biased judging for the first time - a recurring theme in years to come - as he won a silver medal after losing the final to a boxer from Botswana.

"I won that fight, but I don't know how I got the silver medal because I was leading on points. I even knocked the guy down, but the referee did something fishy - he was talking to me and trying to slow the fight down and then went back to do the count. That boxer would not have survived but then he recovered and got up again," he said."

"I was very angry and even broke the flowers they gave me at the medal presentation and threw it on the ground," he added.

In 2013 boxing took a back seat as Jonas moved to Omaruru to complete his schooling at SI Gobs, but he returned to boxing in 2014 - a year in which he would make history.

Fighting as a senior for the first time, he won gold at the National Boxing Championships and followed that up with a silver medal at the Zone 4 Championships in South Africa after losing to a fighter from Botswana in the final.

At the All Africa Championships in South Africa a month later, he however suffered another controversial defeat and was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

"It wasn't fair - I faced a boxer from Algeria, I beat him up, but the judges were all Arabic and awarded the fight to him. But it's part of boxing, there's nothing fair in boxing," he said.

But Jonas' true worth shone through when he took the Commonwealth Games by storm.

He comfortably won his opening two fights to reach the quarterfinals where he was pushed all the way before beating Leroy Hindley of New Zealand.

"That was a very difficult fight, I think that was the toughest fight in my life, but I gained a lot of experience."

In the semifinals he put on a boxing masterclass to beat Sean Duffy of Northern Ireland to reach the final where he lost a close fight to Josh Taylor of Scotland.

Jonas was initially not happy with the silver medal, and it was only later that the significance of his achievement sunk in.

"I was not happy with the silver medal because I felt I deserved the gold, but still it was a very big achievement to win silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. I only realised how big it was when I came back home to Namibia and received a big welcome," he said.

Later that year he received further recognition when he won the Namibian Sportsman of the Year as well as the Sport Achiever of the Year awards to rake in N$300 000 in prize money.

In 2015 Jonas won a silver medal at the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville, losing to an Algerian fighter in the final, and earlier this year he finally fulfilled his dream of qualifying fThe severe drought has compelled the government to provide food and water for nearly 600 000 people in urgent need of food aid, but humans are not the only ones struggling.

In the Zambezi Region, home to thousands of endangered wildlife animals, the Chobe River is drying up and it is affecting endangered animals, such as hippos and crocodiles. The lingering drought and the drying up of the river are reportedly driving hippos and crocodiles into new areas.

The historic dry spell is reshaping the habitats of much of the country's wildlife, forcing animals to search much further for water and leaving some vulnerable to death.

If such endangered species are not rescued in time, the events of 2003 - when some of the more than 40 hippos and crocodiles in the area got stuck in the mud in a stream of the Linyati River in the northeastern Zambezi Region - could easily repeat itself. At the time, the animals' health had deteriorated badly, as they had been without food for almost a month.

Contacted for comment yesterday, the director in the directorate of regional services and parks management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Colgar Sikopo, confirmed the effects of the drought on wildlife animals in the country's national parks.

"We have a situation where hippos and crocodiles are now trapped in pools. And when these pools dry up, they become muddy. Hippos are known to be territorial animals. Even if the pools dry up, they just stay there. We now have to rescue them," he noted.

Such worrisome situations, Sikopo said, are already being observed in the Chinchimane and Linyanti areas - particularly in Vamunu Conservancy - where hippos and crocodiles congregate in smaller pools. He said the floodwater did not reach Lake Liyambezi and did not flow into the Linyanti-Kwando River.

"We're going to do a full assessment of the area and come up with best solutions as to what to do with these animals," he indicated. He says such developments are not new to the ministry, as the same problem occurred in 2001, but they managed to move the affected animals in time.

He assured the public that everything is in order for now, saying the animals are in a healthy condition.

New Era has it on good grounds that some waterholes have dried up in most of Namibia's famous national parks which are home to thousands of endangered wildlife animals including the big five in Africa (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo).

A tourist who visited Sun Karros Daan Viljoen Resort last week told New Era that he spotted wild animal carcasses at some of the dried up waterholes.

Another source said similar circumstances have been witnessed in Etosha National Park.

"The drought is all over the country... We've done an assessment in these parks. Our concern at the moment is not boreholes - our boreholes are still having enough water. Our concern is grazing in the some parks," Sikopo noted.

He said some of the affected national parks include the Namib Naukluft along the coast, Daan Viljoen, Von Bach, Naute and Hardap. Further, he explained that the abovementioned parks are mostly affected because they are small and fenced off, while there is a significant number of animals.

"The ministry did not record any wildlife mortality in national parks and other conservancy areas, but we're concerned when it comes to grazing in protected areas," he said, adding that at the moment the situation does not warrant supplementary feeding.

Asked about the status of animals in Etosha National Park, he noted it is not a major problem, with the exception of Karros, which is a breeding place. He said there are a lot of animals, such as antelope fenced off in Karros, hence the ministry is concerned about what will happen if the rain does not come.

He hinted that the ministry might relocate some of these animals to ease the burden on grazing, or else cull them for drought relief purposes.

Reuters last month reported that neighbouring Zimbabwe has put its wild animals up for sale, saying it needed buyers to step in and save the beasts from the devastating drought.

Source: New Era