The Dark Ages…

This is a photo of a completely barbaric tool that is still being used today by many South African farmers to take out predators and protect their livestock. I have seen images of leopards, caracal, Black Eagle and even an Egyptian Goose trapped in these horrifying things. In 2006, four leopards were killed in 2006 by gin traps in the Baviaanskloof valley alone. One can only imagine the prolonged pain and unbearable suffering of an animal with a leg trapped in something like this. It is positively medieval. Continue reading

A rare visitor

My son came across this little creature this morning. We have not seen a Cape Dwarf Chameleon in our garden for several years, so this was a rare treat. We watched it for ages as it moved gracefully between the restios, using its tail and limbs like a spider monkey! While we were watching, we spotted a tiny mouse scurrying around at the base of the same plant…and a stick insect flirting above. So much life in one plant!

If provoked, this feisty little chap will inflate and hiss defiantly! Many locals believe that chameleons are deadly poisonous and these precious creatures are generally viewed with suspicion. Their colour changing wizardry, an uncanny ability to swivel both eyes all over the place and a lightning quick tongue (that is longer than its body) could well account for this.

This particular species is Endangered – thanks primarily to habitat loss and widespread pesticide use.

The Cape Dwarf Chameleon gives birth to almost perfect little replicas of herself, with the thinnest of membranes separating them from the outside world. Genius! Maternal devotion is not a strong point. Once she has ‘dropped’ her little brood (sometimes up to 13!), the mum will swagger off and leave them all to it. Sounds like a good plan to me!

I ran a race today, which essentially circumnavigated our very own, unique Table Mountain. It was breathtakingly beautiful out there (and up there), but I did not stop to enjoy the view too much.

As I am a little weary, I have cast about for a species for today and found one of the earliest ones posted by the IUCN in January this year…

Sadly, we all know about this one by now. This is the ‘poster child’ of climate change – yet it is just one of many species that is going to suffer the effects of the Great Inconvenient Truth.

The Polar Bear is classified as Vulnerable.

The polar bear is the largest living land carnivore in the world today and they live throughout the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic. Climate change has already had an impact on some polar bears and their sea-ice habitat, affecting access to their prey and to den areas. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are yet another (more sinister) threat to these beautiful bears. If accumulated at elevated levels, these compounds can cause neurological, reproductive and immunological changes. Hunting of polar bear is now controlled, although in some places over-harvesting is a concern that is being addressed.

A number of countries have signed the ‘International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears’ which identifies the right of local hunters to harvest polar bears sustainably, and to outlaw hunting from aircraft and large ships. The threats caused by climate change are now the main concern – the complexity of these issues will demand international cooperation if this species is to survive.
Source: IUCN

Spring has sprung

Today’s species of the day – a big crusty knobbly grasshopper – (although beautiful inside I have no doubt), resembles one of the baddies in Bug’s Life…so I am not going to give him centre stage today. I wish him well as he faces the perils of (wait for it….) habitat loss in the south of France, poor thing.

Instead I thought I would share some of the glorious colours and textures from my garden.
Spring has indeed sprung! The moment the sun starts tickling the scrunched up buds, papery petals unfurl and there is a burst of colour. Unassuming little plants – tucked away in forgotten corners – have become a riot of colour. Carpets of fat, fleshy succulents turn from green to red in hours.

The birds are all celebrating with a wonderful, wild early morning chorus. The Bokmakierie has been particularly strident and sociable this year, and sometimes comes hopping right up to my study door. The Lesser-double collared sunbirds are here too – feasting on the Wild dagga, with its woolly orange pompoms and tubes full of sweet juice. The Malachite sunbird – with his extraordinary cloak of metallic green cannot resist the pincushion protea! Kids in a candy shop!

What an awesome time of year!

The bleeding island

Today’s species takes the ‘drowned rat’ look to a whole new level! This is yet another Madagascan species directly affected by the ravages of deforestation and soil erosion.

I am including another photo (kindly sent to me by Rhett Butler for use in the Land book I have written for Jacana).

Rhett has captured the horror and scale of the deforestation problem on this vast island. As far as the eye can see, the hills have been stripped bare, and the rivers run red. Visit Rhett’s website: for more of his excellent work.

The Aquatic Tenrec is Vulnerable. A nocturnal, semi-aquatic mammal, it is endemic to the eastern humid forests and central highlands of Madagascar. It feeds on aquatic invertebrates and may be dependent on the availability of permanent, clean and fast-flowing water where its prey thrives. Continue reading

Paradise lost…?

The Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher is Critically Endangered. This elegant bird with its black plumage, is endemic to the Seychelles. In Creole, it is known as ‘Veuve’ – from the French ‘Widow’ – for obvious reasons!

There is only one viable population of this species left in La Digue. Tourism and private housing developments have resulted in habitat loss, which has resulted in the precipitous decline of this species. Thankfully there has been a small increase in numbers in recent years due to management measures – including the designation of a small reserve and a public awareness programme.

I could not resist including this beautiful photo of our very own African Paradise-flycatcher. Thankfully ours is doing very well in comparison! I love this description I found of its nest: ‘It builds a neat shallow cup of bark, roots and grass which it binds with spider web. It is often decorated with pieces of lichen and the bowl of the nest is lined with rootlets’. How beautiful!

Africa’s largest eagle

I have selected my own species today (not from the IUCN’s site for a change).
We spotted this magnificent Martial Eagle in January this year while driving through Hluhluwe-Umfolozi (KZN). He just loved being photographed and we sat for over half an hour while he showed us all his best sides (!)
He was sitting on a massive leguaan. Surprisingly, at one point, he abandoned it and dived down onto the ground to pounce on another large lizard of sorts (we could not ID it because of the tall grass).
On this particular day it was so hot that he had his beak open and appeared to be panting! (I seem to recall seeing 45°C on the car thermometer at midday.)
The Martial Eagle was uplisted to Near Threatened in 2009 and another uplisting is expected. More than one in five of the region’s raptors is considered threatened – as a result of habitat loss or persecution. Continue reading