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Space Freedom is proud to share with their readers the l'Ufopsi Award 2004



The ancient phenomenon of 'Fairy circles' of Namibia


by Margherita Campaniolo


Translation in English of Dr. Giuseppina Cusenza


Among the phenomena belonging to the soil and to the circle shape, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating is the 'Fairy circles', particular circumferential areas without plants typical of the Namibia landscape, "unpopular" state of Africa but full of nature, of enchanting and unchangeable landscape,  characterised of great silences and of breathtakingly beautiful skies.  


It is a such ancient phenomenon (the local tribes  “know” it all along) and a such particular one that any African tourist tour crossing the region of Marienfluss, in the Kaokoland of Namibia, would not stop for a sightseeing of these particular circular formations.

Further the spread of a survey results of this phenomenology,  lots of international newspapers1,  last week, wrote of African circles and, in the coming days, when the traditional crop circles “season” will start again at full steam, we would like “to match” the two phenomena that, although so different, suggest sociological considerations that have not to be disregarded.

It would not be correct to think to the Namibian phenomenon as one of the “misteries” that just recently have interested the science. By a careful evaluation of the things we are aware that the science have been interested in 'Fairy circles' for more than 30 years. We have known of studies published since 1974 up to 2000. The most representatives are the following:


Tinley KL (1974) Synopsis of outstanding problems in Etosha-Damarana-Kaokoveld region of S.W.A. unpl. paper, University of Pretoria.


Theron GK (1979) Die verskynsel van kaal kolle in Kaokoland, Suidwes-Afrika. Journal of the South African Biological Society 20: 43–53.


Viljoen PJ (1980) Veldtipes, Verspreiding van die groter Soogediere, en enkele Aspekte van die Ekologie van Kaokoland. Pretoria (unpubl. M.Sc.thesis).


Eicker A, Theron GK, Grobbelaar N (1982) `n Mikrobiologiese studie van “kaal kolle” in die Giribesvlakte van Kaokoland, S.W.A.-Namibia. South African Journal of Botany.1: 69–74.


Moll E (1994) Fairy rings in Kaokoland. In: Seynai JH & Chikuni AC (eds) Proceedings of the 13th Plenary Meeting AETFAT, Zomba, Malawi, pp 1203–1210.


Becker T,  Getzin S (2000) The fairy circles of Kaokoland (North-West Namibia) – origin, distribution, and characteristics. Basic and Applied Ecology 1, 149–159 2


The last one is, in chronological order, the survey of the researcher  Gretel van Rooyen, a botanist of the University of Pretoria. The professor van Rooyen, exclusive for New Scientist3 , declared that the appropriate laboratory tests that she performed suggest that the 'Fairy circles' phenomenon could depend on something toxic allowing the plants to grow inside the circles thus rejecting, as per the new tests, some old ideas. Nothing more, as things stand now, she is able to add, unless that these circles still are an open research field, a challenge for the science that, for example, will have to explain the whys and the wherefores inside a possible toxicity in those places.


If therefore it seems controversial and not possible to define yet what the fairy circles are, we can try to analyse what, of sure, as per the studies and researches above mentioned, it is known of these circles.

In the Kaokoland, the area of fairy circles gathering  is bordered by the regions characterised by deposits of sands and annual rains ranging from 50 and 100 millimeters. 

The analysis of the air photos shows that the fairy circles spread mainly in the West part of Kaokoland.  The total distribution area corresponds to about 3500 km2


One typical characteristic of fairy circles is the line that marks the circles, made of tussocks,a  long  and thick grass.  In general, these tussocks belong to the same kind of grass as the plants around although their appearance is more flourishing. 

The average diameter of the circles is between 5 and 8 meters and, inside, it is without plants.

Tinley (1974) considered the circles as the fossils of termites activity, belonging to the period where the rains were heavier than present time. 

Another explanation for the circles was the allelopatic interaction4  between the euphorbia damarana and the contemporary plants (Theron 1979). 

According to Moll opinion (1994), the termites are likely the agents of fairy circles formation upon the specific performance of the Hodotermes mossambicus. Becker and Getzin (2000) share the termites hypothesis as well.

Besides these, there are further explanations and different believes about the circles of Namibia: variations of electromagnetic waves, minerals in the soil, radiations, meteoric origin causes, ufological phenomena, dancing spirits and, finally, the official explanation (and traditional) of Himba people (the ethnic group living in the circles region) supporting that the circles have been always there as creation of their gods.

Whatever is the truth it is fascinating to note as different people with different cultures (the endemic people and the “people” of tourists) look at the sky to understand the most complex mysteries of the nature; I would like, about this, finish this  “chat” on 'Fairy circles' quoting what is written in a diary by an European woman travelling to Namibia: “During the trip in the morning, our guide Sylvie showed the characteristic place, really particular. The blond grass on the dunes is shaped in circles… it reminded me our crop circles.  This is the phenomenon named Fairy circles and there are lots of explanations: some local tribes say that they originated there by the oryx fights5,  the scientists visiting the circles, speak of underground effects of the termites or of the poisoning caused by a little flower similar to the Eidelweiss.  "And what about the extraterrestrial activity?" I ask again…..

Last night I raised my head up to the stars….

Margherita Campaniolo

Translation in English of Dr. Giuseppina Cusenza




3 -

4 - Allelopaty= Some vegetables release allelopatic substances that afflict the physic-metabolic processes involved in the growth and in the development of the near plants with particular regard to the processes regulating the consumption of the nourishing elements from the soil causing the death of the plants.

5 - Oryx= Sabre Antelope - Antelope of Namibia

A particular and personal  thank to Massimo Giorgio for allowing me to use some of his beautiful pictures of  Namibia. Other photos, real travel reportage, can be viewed on the link  and to Dr. Thorsten Becker for pictures of "Fairy Circles".  Thank you very much.


Data: 2004

Autore: Margherita Campaniolo






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