Here are some more Great-Karoo-related stories from the RTO newsletter, Rambler


After literally crash landing in a Beaufort West garden during the night, Vernon the VIP Vulture, as he affectionally become known was rescued and then lovingly nursed back to health at the Karoo National Park. He then spent weeks travelling the countryside by car. When first found he was carefully watched as it was thought that he would be off at first light. However, as the sun rose, it became clear that the bird could not fly. The park was called, and so began Vernon’s VIP treatment and car trips. At the park it was discovered that he was parasite infested, so he was dusted and fed on venison. Then as the he improved, dassie became his daily fare. At first Vernon was identified as a Cape Griffon vulture, so when sufficiently recovered he was taken by car to Hermanus for release at Platberg Reserve near Still Bay. But there it was established that he was in fact an African White Back vulture. So, his life of ease stretched on with his languishing about eating a chicken as day until he could be collected once again., Nature Conservation then took him by road to Kimberley where more VIP treatment followed in the Rehabilitation Centre at De beers Dronfield farm. This reserve is home to about 40 African White Back vultures. Vernon was where he belonged, so he was ringed and released. Everybody involved in this strange odyssey was happy. But there remained a mystery – how did Vernon land up in Beaufort West. White Backs breed north of the Orange River are not seen further south than Kimberley. – Rambler No 6 June, 1995


The mercy mission for birds continues at the Karoo National Park The latest patient is a black eagle. This young bird was caught in a trap and injured. “He is an aggressive patient,” says the park information officer Henriette Englebrecht. We have had to cover the cage with saplings to stop him from battering his wings against the netting in his efforts to be free.” The eagle will be transferred to Marelele National Park near Thabazimbi where there are superb facilities for treating injured raptors. Henriette is also nursing another special patient. A rock kestrel whose wing feathers have been cut. “This bird in one of the Karoo’s rather special indigenous species. His wing feathers will be fully grown out by spring and he will then be released. – Rambler No 7 July,1995


Tense military men and a laughing moon made for serious combination way back during the Anglo-Boer War. Researcher Tarry Shearing recalled reading of the terrible fright suffered by a party of Boer under the leadership of Jaap van Deventer, (who went on to become General van Deventer during WWI) in the Nelspoort area in late October 1901. . He had just led several of General Jan Smuts’s men across the railway line and on to the plains when the group slid to a halt. Right there ahead of them in the moonlight were British tents The men froze, clutching horse muzzles to stop any whinnying, they were afraid to move, but there appeared to be no guards, no movement. Moving carefully and silently forward, closer inspection revealed a farmer’s wagons stacked with wool bales and parked for the night Moonlight and night shadows from a nearby koppie and trees had combined to make the bales seem to be tents. The entire group breathed a sigh of relief. The next day Van Deventer and his men crossed the Karoo to Fraserburg and just outside the town they encountered and captured district mounted troops on their way to a party. The Boers tied the men up securely, gave them food and drink and spent the evening dancing with the girls,” said Taffy. – Rambler No 9 September,1995


The first baby rhino was born in the Karoo in 200 years arrived on the banks of the Gamka River. It was named Gamka, but as that means “Lion”, the park is searching for a new name. Arnold Hutchinson has suggested Nawas because it is a traditional indigenous name for rhine and there is a rhino shaped rock between Augrabies and Kakamas called Nawaptana – Rambler No 9 September,1995


The eerily crystalline notes of a Bushman gong on the hills above the petroglyphs and bushman art at Nelspoort recently fascinated a group of Anglican and Methodist church viasitors. The sound is as clear as a church bell and as emotive, but no one knows why they were placed on the hills, nor what they were used for. They are found at historic sites across the Karoo – Rambler No 10 October, 1996


There is a rare golden creature that flutters about only in the Nuweveld Mountains above Beaufort West in the Great Karoo.   This seldom seen butterfly is the Poecilmitis midas, a handsome creature with brilliant metallic golden-orange coloured wings.   It was seen during summer flying flies under high precipices at altitudes of over 1 500 m above sea level and once reported it drew lepidopterists to the area.  The first specimen was caught in October, 1954, by D Dickson and because of its rich colour this beautiful rarity was named after the mythical King Midas who turned everything he touched to gold.  The butterfly was seen again in 1967 and after that it seems to have disappeared.  In the 1970s after a severe drought lepidopterists scoured the mountains in search of the rare butterfly without any luck.  Now and then farmers spied some, but there are no official reports of the Midas of the Mountains ever having been seen again.   There is a specimen in the British museum, a few specimens are in private collections.  Well-known lepidopterist and author of Butterflies of Africa, K M Pennington, also has a specimen.  Continuous droughts in the Karoo have been blamed for the non-appearance of this beautiful creature. – Rambler No 11 – November, 1995


It is not the only “midas” of its kind to be found in the Karoo. The Midas Opal Chrysoritis midas, a member of the Lycaenidae family is found in various spots along the Roggeveld escarpment to Nuweveld Mountains from September to November, each year.    This creature is more common. Males have a wingspan of 24-28 mm and females are slightly bigger with a wingspan of 25-30 mm. Only one generation occurs each year.   The larvae feed on Disopyros austro-africana a beautiful indigenous shrub that bears little cream, pink and even red lantern-like flowers, commonly known as “tolbos”.  It is a water-wise plant that can tolerate frosts.  Its name comes from the Greek – “dios” meaning “divine” and “pyro” meaning whet or grain.  It was given this name because its various parts provide food for so many animals. The butterfly larvae are attended to by Crematogaster liengmei ants.-


A Cape town researcher, Stuart Serwator, has embarked on a quest for information on Jewish people of the hinterland and the Karoo in particular. Several of the tiny towns have responded giving him names of all of those in their Jewish cemeteries. Always ready to help Arnold Hutchinson, a Beaufort West researcher has provided details of some interesting, yet mystifying graves on a farm, and near to the gravel road to Leeu Gamka. One has a stone in memory of Benjamin Israel Nowitz, from Crotinge, who died in 1925, aged 72. The other stone commemorates Benjamin Israel Nowitch, (no doubt a relation, even though the surname is spelled slightly differently) who died in 1917, aged 19. “These graves are interesting because they are on the farm and not in a Jewish cemetery,” said Mr Serwator. “I’d appreciate it if anyone can shed more light on them.” It seems Anna Susanna van As must have a link with the Nowitz family because the stone on her nearby grave states “Oopgericht door Schoon Zoon and Dogter, B and P Nowitz. Anna Susanna died in 1914 aged 87. The only other gravestone in this little farm cemetery was erected in memory of Walter Scott Campbell, who died on October 15, 1910, aged 26. “Leeu Gamka had some ‘boere-jode’” says Arnold, “so perhaps this family is in some way related to them.” – Rambler 11 November, 1995


Note: No further issues of Rambler were published as RTO was incorporated in the Western Cape Tourism Board and from then on the Cape was marketed as one region