Into the sunset…

This is the IUCN’s 365th species for 2010. I love this picture…wish I could be there alongside them, trotting into that dusty sunset. What a beautiful animal to share New Year’s eve with. Tomorrow I will look back a little at some of the incredible creatures (and plants) that really hit a nerve for me…and then I will set my sights on 2011.

The African Wild Dog is Endangered. This species is limited to only a portion of its historical distribution, with populations eradicated from West Africa and greatly reduced in central and north-east Africa. They are rarely seen due to their low population densities.
Wild Dogs experience high mortality in comparison with other large carnivore species.While competition from other predators, primarily lions, is the principal cause of natural mortality in adults, more than half of all deaths are due to human activity. Wild Dogs ranging outside of protected areas encounter high-speed vehicles, guns, snares, and poisons, as well as domestic dogs, which represent reservoirs of potentially lethal diseases (rabies and canine distemper).
The establishment of protected areas, as well as conservancies on private and communal land, has decreased contact between Wild Dogs, people, and domestic dogs. There are also efforts to work with local people to reduce deliberate killing of the dogs in and around these protected areas. Establishing effective techniques for protecting small populations from serious infections is also a priority.
Source: IUCN

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Giant Anteater


This is the second to last species in the IUCN’s 2010 Species of the Day ‘collection’. Quite incredible to think there have been 365 species profiled here. I will be doing a little tribute, with some of the highlights for tomorrow’s post…

The Giant Anteater is Vulnerable. This utterly magnificent creature occupies a range extending from Honduras, south to Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, and feeds on ants and termites with the aid of its long, sticky tongue.

The dietary specificity, low reproductive rates and large body size of this species, along with habitat degradation, particularly in Central America, have proved to be significant factors in the Giant Anteater’s decline. Individuals are also sometimes killed on roads, and where the species occurs in grassland habitats, it is at risk from both natural and human-caused fires. The Giant Anteater is also hunted for food, and in some areas it is hunted as a pest or to be kept as a pet.
This distinctive animal is protected across most of its range, and occurs in many protected areas. It is also listed on Appendix II of CITES, meaning that international trade in the species should be carefully regulated. Other recommended conservation measures for the Giant Anteater include improving fire management practices, particularly within the grassland areas it inhabits.
Source: IUCN

Green Turtle

The Green Turtle is Endangered . This long-lived and highly migratory species is found in tropical and, to a lesser extent, sub-tropical waters throughout the globe. The Green Turtle has the most numerous and widely dispersed nesting sites of the seven turtle species.

Although international trade in Green Turtles is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Green Turtles and their eggs are still widely consumed, both legally and illegally – they were once highly sought after for their body fat, a key ingredient in the popular delicacy ‘Green Turtle soup.’ They are also regularly caught as bycatch in fisheries, especially by trawls, gillnets and longlines, and are threatened by coastal habitat destruction (particularly of nesting areas) and marine debris.

Green Turtles have been the focus of numerous international and regional treaties and protection measures for several decades, such as their inclusion on Appendix I of CITES. The use of Turtle Excluder Devices in many trawl fisheries has also resulted in a decrease in incidental catch of this species, but bycatch continues to remain a significant threat globally.
Source: IUCN

Burning bright

A suitably charismatic species to take us into Christmas Eve…

The Tiger is Endangered. The largest of all cats, the Tiger once occurred throughout central, eastern and southern Asia, but currently survives only in scattered populations.

The Caspian, Javan, and Bali Tigers are already extinct, and of the remaining six subspecies, the South China Tiger has not been observed for many years. With approximately 1,400 individuals, India still has the largest national population; however, globally, no more than about 3,200 Tigers roam free in their natural habitat. Poaching and illegal killing are the major threats to the survival of the remaining populations, but habitat loss and overhunting of Tigers and their natural prey species have caused a reduction in distribution, which is now only seven percent of the historic range.

The key to this species’ survival is the immediate protection of the remaining populations, and, in the long-term, the maintenance or recovery of large tracts of habitat and corridors, together with the sustainable management of prey populations. This will only be possible through mitigation of the conflicts between local people and Tiger conservation.

Source:IUCN

And then some…

The third and final Papkuilsfontein instalment (dear subscriber…hold your breath for our imminent Kgalagadi trip!)

We were lucky enough to spot two Black Harrier adults in two separate locations. Later when I chatted to Rob Simmons of the Fitz Institute (Mr Black Harrier himself) he mentioned that he and a student had not managed to see a single Harrier in a trip up there 3 weeks before. Lucky, lucky us!

We also spotted a gazillion Rock kestrels. They are such wonderfully agile little raptors. This one (and his partner) was very agitated with us as we sat and had a snack on the edge of the canyon. There must have been a nest close by. They eyed us out constantly, leaving the rocky ledge frequently to hover and swear at us on the wing.

There were one or two other really big sighting highlights for us on this trip….an African Wild Cat leaping across the road (striped tail and all), a Freckled nightjar doing its bat-like flitting and calling outside our cottage just after dusk, a glorious little Bat-eared fox family (two babies) with Mum and Dad right on the side of the road and then a Cape Fox….very skittish and leaping away from us, across a field.

I left the Groot Karoo with the image of that little Bat-eared fox family in my mind, and I had to wonder how much of a struggle it is for these and all the other creatures to survive in this environment.

The odds are stacked against them, what with the traffic (we came across this very sad road kill casualty from the previous night – a large hare), fences at every turn, and, tragically…farmers with guns and traps.

(Being rather squeamish, I asked Warren to move this poor guy right off to the far side of the verge and off the road. This way it is less likely to cause more damage when another scavenger (four legged or winged) comes along to gobble it up and in doing so – gets hit. Possibly a good idea when/if you come across similar carnage on your travels.)

BUT, we saw so much and this means that creatures are incredibly resilient and (I live in hope on this one) that farmers are starting to come around to friendlier, more sustainable ways. Seeing so many raptors is always a very good indicator indeed.

A rarity in the rain…

As promised, some more on our little journey north to Papkuilsfontein…and the rare rain that followed us there!

As we drove into Clanwilliam it started spitting politely. By the time we hit Vanrhynsdorp, it was sheeting down… and large lakes (with waves) were forming in the main road. We looked at one another wide-eyed. We had thought we were coming to the parched Great Karoo, where it NEVER rains! The thought of being cooped up in a cottage for 4 days with a hyper 7 ½ year old was NOT good, so we screeched to a halt outside a modest little shop (one of about 2 in the town) that caters mainly for farmers and asked if they had any rain gear (we had packed nothing for wet weather).
We walked out happy, with three bright yellow rain suits (made for farm-workers) – ready for action.
(The guys in the shop were all looking quite delirious – the rain, although ridiculously unseasonal, is a Godsend to the farming fraternity in these parts…)

All kitted out in yellow the next day, on our first very soggy hike, we came across the most brilliant little creature. One which we feel completely blessed to have seen…and were able to watch for a good 10 minutes! By all accounts they are rarely encountered and certainly do not usually just hang about to be admired as this one did.

The Armadillo Lizard is quite an extraordinary reptile. When threatened, it curls up into a ball much like its namesake – the Armadillo!
Warren kicked himself for not having his camera on him (it was bucketing when we had set out)…but we have the memory of this little chap firmly planted in our minds. This is a photo I have borrowed from the ‘net just to show you how special he is.

This was just one of many other superb wildlife sightings on this farm…more of those tomorrow.

For a laugh, this is a pic of us getting completely stuck on Day 3….on our way to the start of one of the hikes. My poor little car just couldn’t quite pull off the 4×4 thing for this particularly soggy stretch. The farmer, Jaco, very kindly came down a couple of hours later to haul us out with his Toyota Landcruiser. He too got very impressively wedged in the mud for a good half an hour before he was able to get to us!!

Da Bo in die Groot Karoo…

On Wednesday we turned our backs on the belching traffic, the demented south-easter that matched the frenetic-dizzy-dizzgusting-glutt of Christmas shoppers and headed up the N7. We drove for 5 and a bit hours to a farm roughly 20 km out of Nieuwoudtville – the quaintest, sleepiest little dorp that lurks on the southernmost boundary of the Northern Cape. It is a fascinating part of the world, where the Knersvlakte meets the Bokkeveld Plateau, Fynbos proteas and restios hob-nob with succulents and other desert-loving species, and the rivers, oceans and tectonics together have carved out a feast for the eye over millions of years…

We stayed at Papkuilsfontein – a glorious farm steeped in history with wonderful crumbling ruins of dwellings dating back to 1780s scattered about. There are three beautifully restored self-catering stone cottages, tucked away in a remote corner – a healthy 3 kays away from the main farmhouse. We stayed in the best of the bunch (we reckon) – set on the edge of a koppie with sweeping views from all the windows.

I could wax lyrical about this incredible place, with its mish-mash of fynbos, semi-desert, big skies, jagged rocks and bushveld all rolled into one. But I won’t – I will let the photos speak for themselves…

More to follow (about some of our wildlife experiences) in the next two posts…