RIVERINE RABBIT SPOTTED FAR FROM ‘HOME’
A riverine rabbit research team recently found some of these critically endangered creatures far from their normal habitat. This caused great excitement as these rabbits (Bunolagus monticularis) now seem to have a wider distribution range than scientists interested in their conservation previously believed. Fifteen riverine rabbits were spotted in total during a week-long field survey undertaken by 21 researchers from CapeNature and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine Rabbit Working Group (EWT-RRWG). The rabbits were recorded in the Ceres Karoo, as well as in the Klein Karoo’s 54 000 ha Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and on one of the Graham Beck wine farms in the Cape Winelands. EWT-RRWG chairman, Dr Vicky Ahlmann said: “The sightings were made along tributaries of the Groot, Doring, Touws and Breede rivers. The animals were found in vegetation that differs vastly from the rabbit’s usual habitat on the plateau of the Upper and Central Karoo. Two of the areas in which rabbits were found have a rich diversity of plants, particularly succulents. Some of the species in the area occur nowhere else in the world, so the locale has already been identified as priority conservation area. The results of this survey, and the discovery of a population of riverine rabbits near Touws River in 2004, have led us to the conclusion that the species is obviously more widely spread throughout the Western Cape than we previously thought. We now realise that we don’t fully know the distribution range of this species, however, discovering it will involve us in some exciting research.”
GREAT ENTHUSIASIASM FOR CONSERVATION
Both Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and Graham Beck Wine Farms were delighted when riverine rabbits were spotted on their land. Sanbona, in the Klein Karoo’s Warmwaterberg between Montagu and Barrydale, is the first wildlife reserve of its kind in the Western Cape to have free-roaming mega-herbivores and large predators. This reserve, less than less than three hours’ drive from Cape Town, takes its name from a San word which means “vision of the people.” Sanbona’s main aim is to bring indigenous species back to the area, to manage, develop and rehabilitate the environment and to create a sustainable natural ecosystem through sound conservation principles. Fifteen mammal species that historically occurred in this region have already successfully been re-introduced at Sanbona. These include lion, elephant, black rhino, buffalo, leopard, cheetah, hippopotamus, brown hyena, plain’s zebra, kudu, gemsbuck, eland, springbuck, red hartebeest and bontebok. “We were delighted by the discovery of five of the highly endangered riverine rabbits within our reserve,” said assistant wildlife manager, Jan Coetzee. “Not only has this enabled us to add a critically endangered species to our lists, but we will now also able to actively contribute to its conservation.” The survey team were also astonished to find riverine rabbits on one of Graham Beck’s wine farms, near Robertson in the Cape Winelands. Several were flushed out in dense vegetation along the banks of the Breede River, in a remnant patch of Robertson Karoo Veld, near highly threatened Breede Sand Fynbos vegetation. “We’re not sure how far the rabbit’s distribution extends into the Winelands,” says RRWG chairman Dr Vicky Ahlmann. “The species, however, stands a good chance of long-term protection here because several land owners have conservation plans in place.” Graham Beck Wines recently received a top award from the Biodiversiity and Wine Initiative for conservation and for restoration of a 1 885-ha area of natural Succulent Karoo vegetation and Breede Sand Fynbos. Conservation manager, Mossie Basson said: “We will now try to raise awareness of the endangered status of this species among our neighbours.”
FANCY A GOOD LOOK AT SALT?
Anyone interested in seeing the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland may now do so as part of a specific tour. Special evening tours are now being offered from Monday to Saturday at preset times, however, it is essential to book by calling Cape Town, Tel No 021-447-0025. Day-time visits can also be arranged, but these too must be pre-booked through the Sutherland Tourism Bureau. There is a minimal charge for these tours.
A POPULAR PET?
It seems incredible that large, hairy baboon spiders are fancied as pets. You may not want one, but have you ever wondered how they got their name? Martin Filmer explains this in South African Spiders. “The spider originally referred to as a tarantula was the European Wolf spider that lived in burrows. Later as people moved into new territories, they called any large, hairy spider a tarantula. In Southern Africa such creatures became known as baboon spiders, not only for their hairy appearance, but also because the pads of the spiders’ tarsi resemble the colour and texture of the pads of a monkey’s or baboon’s foot.” Baboon spiders can become very large and live as long as 20 years. Once removed from a burrow, however, they are unable to dig a new one. So, when forced to live in captivity they construct a sheet-like mass of web and attach it to high points, giving it a hammock-like appearance. They then take up a position in the corner of the sheet or below a raised point. These spiders are found throughout Southern Africa. They live underground in open-ended, silk-lined burrows and only emerge at night to hunt. They never move very far from their burrows.”
MUCH MORE THAN JUST ANOTHER TOURISM WEBSITE
It has been a long time in coming, but the South African Government’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s (DEAT) website is up and running. The wait has been worthwhile. The pages contain much more than where to go and what to see. They are packed with details on special plans, projects and promotions. They cover what’s new and hot issues. They also have much in the way of free and downloadable educational information.
PLANS FOR BEST BIRD BOOK EVER
Sasol and Struik are planning a truly exciting and different photographic field guide to the birds of Southern Africa. Scheduled for publication in mid-2008 it promises to be the most comprehensively illustrated guide to birds of the sub-region ever produced. Every bird species from south of the Cunene and Zambezi rivers, plus those on the sub-Antarctic islands will be included. Photographs are being widely sourced. Over 3 000 illustrations will be used, so amateur and professional photographers are being invited to send in clear, in focus and true-to-colour bird photographs for consideration. All illustrations will be supported by clear and concise text highlighting features of each bird.
GERANIUM PROVIDED BURCHILL WITH PAINT
More than 50 wild geranium (Pelargonium) species grow in the Karoo areas. “Some are surrounded by fascinating legends, others have beautiful and unusual names, such as Pelargonium tetragonium. Its name comes from Greek – tetra means four and gonia triangle,” says Erica Swanepoel of CapeNature. “Yet others, like the lovely Pelargonium extipulatum, found only in the De Rust/Ladismith areas, are extremely rare. And, legend has it that William Burchell used the blueish-purple sap of the ivy geranium (Pelargonium Paltatum) as a paint.” Erica said that the Klein Karoo/Swartberg area was the birthplace of the worldwide geranium industry. “It all started in the 1600s when Dutch horticulturist Hendrik Oldenland came to South Africa in search of new plant species. The lovely horse-shoe shaped flowers of the wild geranium Pelargonium zonale intrigued him and he took cuttings home. Before long they crossed the channel to England where Lord Charles Somerset’s grandmother, the Duchess of Beaufort, began cultivating them in her gardens long before her famous grandson was sent to South Africa as Governor. Oddly enough the geranium’s Afrikaans name, ‘malva’ comes from English. Jan van Riebeeck called them ‘mallows.’ This English name refers to wild or cultivated plants with heart-shaped pinkish or purplish flowers, delicate stems and green leaves.” Today’s the industry supplies not only beautiful garden plants, but also essential oils to the perfume and aromatherapy industries.
A GALLANT AND COURAGEOUS DEFENDER OF MEN
Henry Hyman Morris, the Beaufort West-born attorney, who defended Daisy de Melker, is said to have had a powerful personality. His gaiety, wit, and never-failing good humour were unforgettable. But what people chiefly remembered was his courage. “Any advocate engaged in great criminal trials requires immense courage because public feeling is aroused and the defending council must have the strength to resist the pressure of public opinion,” wrote a biograpaher. “As he stands between the accused and his accusers such council is oppressed by a sense of isolation and loneliness. In Morris’s case his courage never failed. I have seen him during an adjournment, resting in his chambers, looking weary and dispirited. Yet on his return to court he appeared gay, debonair, vigorous and unimpaired. He showed none of the burden that rested on his shoulders. The strain was there, but so was the courage to bear it. In a eulogy delivered at his graveside he was called ‘a gallant defender of men.’ Justice Ramsbottom said no finer epitaph could be written.”
FOSSILS – THE ROYAL CONNECTION
Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred was certainly no stranger to fossils. “So, when amateur geologist Dr William Atherstone presented him with a dicynodont skull during his visit to South Africa in 1860, (Rose’s Round-up No.36), he may not have found it such a curious gift,” says palaeontologist, Dr John Almond of Natura. The Reason? Sir Richard Owen, the most famous palaeontologist of his day (and inveterate social climber) had been a personal tutor to Queen Victoria’s children. It was Owen who had first recognised and named the dinosaurs as a distinct group of extinct reptiles. Given the high regard for Owen’s work in royal circles (especially by Prince Albert, Alfred’s father), is very likely that the youthful prince had received an inordinately heavy dose of vertebrate palaeontology before he even set foot in South Africa. He was, therefore, possibly well primed to look out for new fossil material on behalf of his famous tutor. So, whatever the Prince’s personal feelings about the gift might have been, he certainly knew exactly what to do with it.” By 1860 the Great Karoo was already a recognised treasure house of important vertebrate fossils. The pioneering work of the amateur geologist and palaeontologist Andrew Geddes Bain ensured this. His extensive collections had been forwarded to Owen from the early 1840s. “In the event, Prince Alfred was able to present Owen with not one but two dicynodont skulls on his return to England,” says John. “Owen gratefully described these in his 1862 paper entitled On the Dicynodont Reptilia, with a Description of some Fossil Remains brought by HRH Prince Alfred from South Africa, November 1860, published in the Philosophical Transations of the Royal Society (Note the explicit mention of their royal provenance!). The two “princely fossils” would have been incorporated in the collections of the new British Museum, together with the abundant Karoo fossil material sent by Andrew Geddes, his son Thomas Bain and others. This was, of course, also part of Owen’s jealously-guarded fiefdom, and became part of Owen’s general 1876 review of the Mammal-like reptiles’ or therapsids of South Africa,” says John.
PRINCE AVOIDED THE TOES OF ‘THE HIGH PRIEST’ AND ‘THE NEW DARLING’
Sir Richard Owen was the first palaeontologist to describe the Karoo therapsids in detail, largely on the basis of their skulls, explained Dr John Almond of Natura Viva. “His descriptions included the commoner two-tusked herbivorous dicynodonts (‘two-dog-teeth’) as well as various rarer carnivorous forms or theriodonts (‘beast teeth’). As an excellent comparative anatomist, Owen quickly recognised the latters’ intermediate position between reptiles and mammals, though he would not have expressed this in straightforward evolutionary terms. Indeed, Owen was an arch opponent of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary views, published in his The Orgin of Species in 1859 – just before Prince Alfred’s visit to South Africa. At that time huge public interest in fossils and evolution was aroused among the reading public by Darwin’s highly controversial book (which, incidentally, has little to say about fossils). One imagines that in conversations with the Cape colonial elite such as the polymathic Dr Atherstone the hapless Prince was obliged to steer a politic course between the radically opposing views of his mentor Owen, high-priest of Victorian palaeontology, and Darwin, evolution’s new darling. It’s a fair bet that Prince Alfred was heartily sick of fossil talk by the time he left these shores! Sadly, for British palaeontologists, their influence at the palace has waned considerably since their late Victorian heyday. Less sadly, it is no longer considered proper to hand out samples of South African fossil heritage willy-nilly to visiting dignitaries, however well connected, least of all to those representing continents which were never part of the ancient Supercontinent Gondwana!” says John.
TRYING TO TRACE THE BEZUIDENHOUTS
Frederick Jacobus Bezuidenhout, born in Beaufort West in 1825, moved to Potchefstroom in 1850, but didn’t settle there. Within short he left for the Witwatersrand and settled on the 10 000-acre farm, Doornfontein. After gold was discovered in 1886 many mines, such as Wolhuter, Meyer, Charlton, New Goch and Henry Nourse, sprang up on his farm and in time suburbs, such as Doornfontein, the City and Suburban area, Marshalltown, Ferreira and others, were established on ground he owned. Bezuidenhout amassed great wealth, but his good fortune did not go to his head, writes Eric Rosenthal in Southern African Dictionary of National Biography. He says Bezuidenhout continued to live in his original little house until he died in 1924. Now Ann Laruffa is trying to piece the Bezuidenhout family together. “I know our family has a link with Beaufort West and I have information on Fredrick Jacobus, but I am not sure if he was related to my grandfather George Wilhlem Bezuidenhout, also born in that district on April 29, 1888. My dad, Thomas Christopher Lewis Barry Bezuidenhout, was born on July 6, 1924. He had three brothers, George, Jasper (Japie) and James and his sisters were Cora, Matilda and Agnes. The family for a time lived in Maitland, in Cape Town. Then in the 1940s my grandparents moved to Robertson, where I believe Japie’s wife, daughter and grandchild still live. I would appreciate help from anyone.” says Ann
MURDER IN A FRAGILE WORLD
“Over 100 years ago a young Hottentot begged desperately for mercy at a far-flung Karoo fountain. He feared for his life and he was right. It was 1889, a marauding band of San had cornered him at this isolated fountain and despite his frantic pleas they murdered him. Locals never forgot the story of Hendrik Stievert. They named the fountain, Soebatsfontein in memory of his pleas (“soebat” is the Afrikaans word for plead or beg.) This fountain in Succulent Karoo has now once again leapt to prominence. A highly vulnerable, yet extremely interesting, quartz field has been found in its vicinity. “These quartz fields or amalgam patches are fascinating fragile, miniature worlds, endemic to Namaqualand’s Succulent Karoo,” explained Henry Steenkamp co-ordinator of project at this patch. “Some patches are so tiny they are easily missed, yet others can be a few hundred metres wide. All have a surface layer of white angular stones from 20 to 600mm in diameter. These originate from the weathering of quartzite bedrock or quartz veins in ancient sedimentary rocks. Quartz fields are invariably associated with water courses where they occur as gravels remaining after the fine sediments have been washed away.” Quartz fields come in two forms. Saline fields, always associated with salt-rich water courses, have shallow, powdery and strongly alkaline soil under a gritty quartz layer. They are among Namaqualand’s harshest environments, yet they support interesting flora. The non-saline fields comprise gravel weathered from bedrock. Their soils are deeper and slightly more acidic. Incredible, almost invisible fragile worlds of fascinating flora, known as quartz field vygieveld, develop around these patches.
GREAT PLANS TO INCREASE AWARENESS
Members of the local community started working on the preservation of the recently discovered 800 ha quartz field near Soebatsfontein, 80km northwest of Springbok and 48km southwest of Kammieskroon, on October l. According to Henry Steenkamp this is a high priority, one-year project aimed at raising awareness of the biodiversity of the area at community level and among tourists. “The Soebatsfontein patch, a highly vulnerable ‘quartz field,’ includes many endemic and ‘habitat-specialised’ succulent plant species,” said Henry. “We are erecting fences to stop grazing and we plan to increase eco-tourism by establishing a campsite near the quartz patch. We will also lay out a five-kilometre hike in a plant-rich area where over 400 bird species have already been identified. An information trail, Boesman’s Uitkyk is being laid out and fully-trained guides will be available for special one-day hikes. A 30 km 4×4-route is also being planned across some communal farm land. Starting at the Boesman’s Uitkyk Trail, it will follow an old track across a picturesque rural landscape down towards Hondeklipbaai, on the coast. It will swing back through breathtaking scenery. Two rustic braai-sites will be built at prime spots. We hope our close proximity to the Namaqua National Park will be a draw card.” Partners in this project include Namaqua Tourism, Soebatsfontein Tourism Forum, Kammiesberg Community Tourism, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the Namaqua National Park, Namaqualand Wilderness Initiative and Biota. “The spring where Stievert pleaded so long and hard for his life is still here. It is now protected by a concrete casing,” says Henry. “Fortunately, today none of the violence nor sadness clings to Soebatsfontein, it is actually a cosy, friendly little place.”
INVALIDS SHOULD OPT FOR THE FARMS
In 1896 Beaufort West was advertised as a wonderful place to stay. According to the Guide for Tourists, Sportsmen, Invalids and Settlers it was “much resorted to by invalids.” This guide advised them to avoid the town in summer and stay on one of the “lovely mountain farms.” The best hotel, The Lemoenfontein at 10/- a day, was just on the outskirts of the village, it said. In town the Royal and the Masonic hotels offered accommodation at 8/6d per person and boarding houses cost of 5/-. “Beaufort West has fine Dutch Reformed and English churches, a Wesleyan church and Roman Catholic services are held once every three months. Springs supply a large 500-million-gallon dam, built at the cost of £1 200, from where the town gets its water. There is a large Government plantation of trees near village which has avenues of pear and mulberry trees, luxuriant gardens and quince hedges. Coal has been discovered nearby. Karoo land south of the town is valued at 5/- a morgen and north of it at 12/6d – irrigated land, however, fetches 20/- a morgen. Erven within this vibrant town sell at high prices. A morgen, in town could cost from £200 to £2 000. When the train leaves Beaufort West it passes between the Nuweveld and Koude Bergen Mountains and ascends to Nelspoort, which may at some time in future become a junction for a railway line to George and Oudtshoorn. Invalids wishing to stay at Nelspoort should book into the White House Hotel.”
“The best way to suppose what may come, is to remember what is past.”
George Savile, 1st Marquis of Halifax, born on November 11, 1633, was an important figure in 17th century English politics. He was known for his moderate and conciliatory positions during an era of enflamed passions. This stance was underlined in 1690, when he published “Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections.”