Shenton Safaris

The legend of the fairy circles

In a thin stretch that traverses the vast Namib desert lies hundreds upon hundreds of fairy circles. Small rings of overgrown grass tufts circulating red Namibian sand; in which nothing grows.

walking-namib

Since humans have inhabited this area the mystery and tale of how the fairy circles came to be have intrigued many any inquisitive mind. There is theory upon theory from Euphorbia plants that poisoned the ground, to termites that live deep in the sand, some locals believe that they are the footprints of the Gods, and then of course there are the stories of aliens coming to earth and the fairies that linked hands and round they danced and danced and danced….

oryx-in-namibia

The most convincing theory is probably the one of the termites, who instead of having an above ground mound as one would imagine, they lie deep beneath the sand and have constructed a careful waterway system within the sand. This particular area has minimal rain and a slight sea fog that results in a unique set of environmental circumstances and a termite adaption that only occurs in one place in the world – the Namib.

Simply put, the theory is that the termites use the plants roots as food and create burrows in the barren sand to act as water highways – thus forming the fairy circles as we know them. New circles are continually being created – their interior scrub disappearing sporadically until there is nothing left. The circles can last for about 50 years and then they are gone again, replaced by the grassy plains of the Namib – almost as if they never existed in the first place.

A fairy circle in formation...

A fairy circle in formation…

Ask the Namibian people about the legend of the fairy circles and they will each give you their own opinion but one thing resonates from person to person – the mystery is part of the fun. Perhaps we will never know the true legend behind the fairy circles of Namibia…

oryx-in-namib fairy-circles
An ancient sundial?

An ancient sundial?



Janine Avery

I am the first to confess that I have been bitten by the travel bug… badly. I am a lover of all things travel from basic tenting with creepy crawlies to lazing in luxury lodges; I will give it all a go. I am passionate about wildlife and conservation and come from a long line of biologists, researchers and botanists.

Africa Geographic