03 February, 2016

With leaf ears in Gondwana

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

These are the Karoo animals which had to adjust to a new world which contains lions, who see them as Lunch.

Easy to identify. Head turned to gaze at you. The large ears spread so you can see the leaf pattern made by the 'veins'.

Steenbok with 'leaf' ears
Top right is the female

The springbok is the first I learnt to recognise with its stripes in three colours.

‘Until a century ago the Karoo witnessed the largest wildlife migrations known to modern man. In 1849 there was a trek that took three whole days to pass thru Beaufort West. In 1896 one trek covered 220 by 25 km. A few million animals, mostly springbok, but also eland, quagga (now extinct), black wildebeest and red hartebeest. First recorded by naturalists in the late 18th C as occurring about every 10 years. Treks were triggered by springbok population explosions in the Northern Cape interior with its summer rainfall. The animals moved to the West Coast and the Southern Karoo where we have winter rainfall. Sometimes the journey ended with tens of kilometres of drowned springbok on the Atlantic shore. In the late 19th C hunters after biltong and hides killed over 1,000 animals a day. Then the Anglo-Boer War took its toll. And the migrations were no more.’ From the museum in the Karoo National Park.

Springbok

The gemsbok or Cape Oryx has 122cm LONG horns, on which it will skewer lions.

Gemsbok or Cape oryx

Most of the animals we saw were red hartebeest with their heavy horns.

Red hartebeest

The kudu with its gracefully furled horns. Pairs of bulls have been found dead, with their horns interlocked - MainlyMongoose

Kudu
with females below

The strangest animal we saw, with a donkey-like head. These are female reedbuck.

Female reedbuck

Three times we drove around Lammertjiesleegte and each time we saw this little black-backed jackal. At lions kills they will wait for leftovers. Early in the morning, he is watching the new world rising.

Young black-backed jackal at dawn

Forty years ago I came on a geology field trip to the Karoo. These Cape Fold Belt Mountains, stretching from where I was born between Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, to the Groot Winterhoek, and the Karoo, are a reminder of Gondwana. In the mists of time Africa, South America, India and Australia were one vast continent. An ancient volcano with dolerite dykes and sills, eroded away over time. Dolerite sills remain making flat-topped mountains with cliffs.

Karoo rocks and mountains
and our accomodation in the National Park

A stitch in time. The sea gathers mud into ripples. The earth sets those ripples in stone, and so they remain until eroded. The teeth belonged to a mega-herbivore in the Permian Period called Bradysaurus. In a fossilised tree trunk you can see the growth rings.

Ripple marks, fossil herbivore teeth
fossilised wood with growth rings

Most visitors stay in this park just overnight, breaking the journey stretching north all the way from Cape Town to the Zimbabwean border. In the park only this road, up the Klipspringer Pass was tarred in November 2010. The dirt roads are marked for 4x4, or not.

Klipspringer Pass

Klipspringer Pass is named for these small buck.

‘Silhouetted, seemingly on tiptoe, on a high rock against the sky. Our only antelope, capable of bounding over precipitous rockfaces, balancing on incredibly small surfaces. This neat and robust little creature walks on the front edges of its hooves. The [klipspringer] coat is bouncy to provide protection against sharp edges in his mountain habitat.’

Klipspringer (rock jumper)
Bottom left you see her standing on tiptoe

In this hot and dry place, you don't expect Karoo violets! (To be continued)

Info on buck from Paul Rose - The Wildlife of South Africa

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