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Fairy Circles: A First for Namibia and the World



Wolwedans, Namibia, recently hosted the first ever International Fairy Circle Symposium in conjunction with the NamibRand Nature Reserve. The event was attended by several academics from around the world, each of whom presented various theories on the causes and nature of "fairy circles" – mysterious perfect rings of tall grass enclosing plates of bare-hollowed out earth that stretch in a band from Angola to the northwestern Cape province of South Africa.
For centuries fairy circles have entranced the local Himba people. One oral tradition suggests the circles are the footprints of the gods; another that a dragon living beneath the earth's crust breathes fiery bubbles which, when they hit the surface, burn the vegetation into near-perfect circles. But, the circles haven't just confounded the Himba. Despite decades of investigation, a definitive scientific explanation remains elusive and one of nature's greatest mysteries.

There are myriad theories relating to the cause of these enigmas. The earliest hypothesis can be traced back to the work the Ken Tinley in 1971 who introduced the notion that fairy circles are the fossilized nests of termites, so called termitaria. Testing of his theory has proved inconclusive and there is no irrefutable evidence to support the hypothesis that termites cause the phenomena. Inexplicably, no plant life can grow within the circle centers. Scientists have postulated that the lack of life may be attributed to the presence of natural gas and microbiological anomalies in the soil. Researchers have also relied on mathematical modeling to try to explain the irregular distribution of the circles. However, again, no conclusive evidence has proven any theory.

Needless to say, studies are numerous and ongoing and the Symposium held at Wolwedans served to inspire continued discussion within the scientific community and beyond. Travelers to Wolwedans in the NamibRand and Sossusvlei (Little Kulala) will have the opportunity to view these mysteries of nature from the air en route to camp and explore them on the ground.

Family and Eco-Travel on the Rise
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