Shop More Submit  Join Login
About Deviant Member Willem van der MerweMale/South Africa Groups :iconliving-earth: Living-Earth
Every day is Earth day!
Recent Activity
Deviant for 1 Year
Needs Premium Membership
Statistics 466 Deviations 6,455 Comments 23,654 Pageviews

Newest Deviations

Favourites

Groups

Activity


Fennec by WillemSvdMerwe
Fennec
I based this painting on this photo of Finn the Fennec: mouselemur.deviantart.com/art/… by :iconmouselemur:... please go look at their amazing gallery! 

Fennecs, Vulpes zerda, are the smallest foxes, indeed the smallest canids, in the world, weighing 0.7-1.6 kg/1.5-3.5 lbs.  They have enormous ears.  They are nocturnal, and their hearing plays a big part in detecting their prey, which can be small mammals, birds, or insects.  They may also eat some plant foods.  Fennecs are found in desert regions, primarily the Sahara of Africa, as well as Arabia.  They're sometimes kept as pets.  Watercolour.
Loading...

A Trip to Portugal, Spain and the Makapan’s Caves

Today the bird club went to Portugal and Spain!  Yes, I’m not kidding, we did.  But not the Portugal and Spain you might be thinking of … no, Portugal and Spain are the names of two farms about forty km to the southwest of Polokwane, in the region where we went.  The goal of the bird club was to get some specialties of the area, birds found there, but not in or around Polokwane.  Polokwane and its surroundings is flat countryside, the natural vegetation being savannah or grassland.  There are only a few small hills around the town.  But Portugal and Spain are situated in a mountainous region, the closest high mountains to Polokwane.  The highest peaks exceed 2000 m/6700’ in altitude.  There is also a surprisingly extensive rolling upland region.  Not many people realize that we have such a fine mountain area so close to Polokwane.  Though quite high, the mountains are not very steep, and we were able to drive all the way up them by car.  We stopped a few times along the way, taking in birds in different habitats.  Cattle were grazing right up to the top of the mountains, and there is some invasion of the grassland by alien black wattle trees, but overall the environment is in good shape.

The vegetation up on top was mountain grassland, dotted with shrubs and trees.  At the highest levels the trees were rather stunted and gnarly-looking.  The mountains receive somewhat more rain than Polokwane does and there was already much greenery and many flowers, in spite of the spring rains only just having arrived.  In terms of birds the trip was very rewarding.  We got almost all of the ‘specials’ we were targeting, and almost all of us got ‘lifers’ – bird species seen for the first time.  So here is a small list only of the highland ‘specials’:

- African Stonechat.  The males have brightly coloured rufous-brown chests, and black-and-white wings.  The females are drab brown in colour.  These highland birds were quite common and perched prominently.  They can be recognized by their ‘chak-chak’ calls sounding like two stones being knocked together.

- Malachite Sunbird.  The males are beautiful irridescent green, with long central tail feathers.  There were many flowering aloes and proteas for them to feed from. 

- African Rock Thrush.  Bright rufous in the body, with a bluish-grey head.  This rock thrush likes mountainous regions with lots of rocks – and there were plenty of those!

- Gurney’s Sugarbird.  One of only two sugarbird species in South Africa (and the world, for that matter).  The male has a long tail, and is brownish with a reddish brown breast.  We saw quite a few perched on proteas.  Like sunbirds, they are nectar drinkers.

- Jackal Buzzard.  A compact bird of prey quite commonly seen in mountainous regions, with a reddish breast and black and white wings (but MUCH bigger than a stonechat!)

- Buff-streaked Chat.  A montane bird endemic to South Africa, buff in the body, the male having a bold black mask over his face and lower neck, as well as bold black wings.  They also like the exposed rocks, where we saw a pair perched.

- Grassbird, a large warbler-like bird.  We heard this one, but none of us got a good look at it.  Next time!

Other interesting sightings included Orange-throated Longclaws, a Sparrowhawk (or goshawk), a Cape Vulture, a Brown-backed Honeybird, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Red-collared Widowbirds, Cape Canaries, and Cape Buntings.  All of these would be quite unusual sights around Polokwane. 

I of course was very interested in the plants!  The habitats changed from well-developed woodland at the low levels to wind-blown short grasslands at the top, some of them strewn with rocks.  There were many rocky outcroppings at various different levels.  We saw patches of forest in the ravines but didn’t go there.  I wish I could sometime go just for the plants.  But as it is, I saw a lot, and am very happy to have had the opportunity!  There was way too much to tell you of here so just the photos:

1. Scadoxus puniceus, Blood Lily.  On the way up we saw more of them than I’ve ever seen in any other place!  These beautiful brush-like flower heads (each bearing many small flowers) are large and conspicuous, arising from poisonous bulbs.  We were lucky to find them in flower just now.  We even saw sunbirds perched on them, taking drinks from them!

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

2. Another beautiful Blood Lily, Scadoxus puniceus.  (The large green leaves just to its right belong to a Bushman’s Grape, Rhoicissus tridentata.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

3. Cyphostemma lanigerum (no common name): also a member of the Grape Family.  This one has soft, fluffy leaves, arising each spring from new shoots from the persisent fleshy underground woodstock.  These shoots are still forming.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

4. Cyphostemma lanigerum, here the leaves are fully formed.  They are broad, large and luxuriant.  Cyphostemma bear berries that are juicy-looking but mildly toxic to humans.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

5. Polygala virgata, Purple Broom.  The plant has thin, wand-like stems sparsely branched at the top, but each branch bears these lovely flowers. 

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

6. This is a species of Hypoxis, the same genus in which the ‘African Potato’ is classified, a plant with many wondrous claimed medicinal uses.  These were small plants, but their proportionally large and bright yellow flowers really made them stand out in the short grassland at the highest levels.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

7. This is a species of, most likely, Helichrysum, an Everlasting.  These members of the daisy family include many small, tough plants able to survive in the high mountains, with flowers that last very long after being picked, the more showy members popular in flower arrangements.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

8.  A Protea tree.  These were abundant up to the very tops of the mountains, and in flower, attracting sunbirds and sugarbirds.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

9. Probably a Cycnium adonense.  A semi-parasitic plant, extracting nutrients from the roots of surrounding grasses.  The flowers are delicate and lovely!

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

10. Another Cycnium adonense, this one with more flowers.  The flowers are up to about 7cm/2.8” in diameter.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

11. These lovely flowers belong to an Asclepiad, perhaps Asclepias cucullata, the Hooded Meadow Star.  I saw another lovely relative, with very tiny, delicate, bright yellow flowers, which I’d seen only once around Polokwane but which was quite common here – too small to get a good picture of, sadly.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

12. A white member of the daisy family.  This family is well-represented in the montane flora.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

13. A yellow daisy.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

14. Probably Pentanisia prunellioides, a small and delicate flowering herb in the coffee family, not at all rare in grasslands over here.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

15. Transvaal Cabbage Tree, Cussonia transvaalensis.  These strangely-shaped trees have weirdly divided grey-green leaves, making them very prominent and easy to identify.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

16. Another Transvaal Cabbage Tree.  At higher altitudes they are
more gnarly in appearance.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

17. A colourful, gnarly rock.  The terrain was extremely rocky in places.  The round green and reddish leaves around the middle of the rock belong to a small succulent, Crassula swaziensis.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

18. The lovely flowers of a wild sage, Salvia dolomitica.  These soft shrubs were common at the medium elevations.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

19. A Xerophyta-species, called Baboon’s Tail.  This species is a monocot, unusual for producing fibrous above-ground stems bearing leaves at the tips.  (You can see the reddish-brown stems here.)  They also bear beautiful flowers, especially after fires (against which the stems are resistant).

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

20. The morning sun on the mountains, taken right at the start of the trip.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

21. A view from the top of the mountains, showing the Strydpoort Mountains in the distance.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

22. A view from the top of the mountains, showing a few of the highest peaks, some of the rolling uplands, and some cliffs (the cliffs mainly faced towards the east; we reached the peak by much gentler slopes).

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

23. A view from the top, looking down on some of the steepest east-facing cliffs.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…


There was much, much more but let these photos suffice to give you a taste.

But that was not all!  After our trip we drove back down, but some of us decided to go see the caves.  See, on the way to these mountains we passed the Makapan’s Caves, a most important historical site!  (It is actually supposed to be a World Heritage site but just about all money invested in its development was squandered, so that now there are only rough access roads, a hastily manufactured monument-sculpture, and a few info boards.  We had a great guide though who took us in and informed us).  The Makapan’s Caves encapsulate an incredible amount of history. 

The first cave we saw was the Lime Works.  For long they were quarried for limestone, then someone realized there were bones in the limestone, and called in some university folks.  They realized that the stone being quarried was chock full of fossils!  These were fossils mostly of mammals including our own Australopithecine forebears, dating from about 3.5 to 1.6 million years ago!  The animals fell into caves through ‘death trap’ sinkholes, and then their bones were cemented together by calcium carbonate dissolved in the water percolating down through the caves.  In addition to our ancestors, the caves contained bones of extinct animals like two kinds of sabertooth cat, giant baboons, giant ox-like creatures, giant porcupines, giant hyenas, giant baboons, giant hyraxes and a great short-necked giraffe.  Unfortunately there are no fossils there, these having been sent on to the universities that conducted the excavations.  I was told there are some fossils in the museum in the town of Mokopane.

There were even older fossils … there were sedimentary stones laid down BILLIONS of years ago containing stromatolites, which were formed by layers of algae in shallow seas.

The next cave, the Cave of Hearths, contained much younger remains, from the stone age.  The oldest remains included stone hand-axes made by Homo erectus, which was more human-like than the australopithecines, and these old folks were already using fires and tools.  But there were also flint tools used by true modern humans, Homo sapiens, including spear- and arrowheads.  These caves appear to have been inhabited from the old stone age into the iron age.

The last caves we were shown had a much younger history.  They were the caves in which chief Makapan (also spelled Mokopane and a few other ways) hid from the Boers.  (I’m repeating now what the guide told us … actually the accepted historical details were rather different!)  His people were Ndebele.  They were living in the region when the trekking Boers arrived in the early nineteenth century.  For a time the Boers traded ivory and hides with other peoples to the north.  They had Mokopane’s permission only to move through the area and to conduct their trade.  Later he also asked them some tribute.  But they wanted to stay and get some land for themselves.  Mokopane and his people were very leery of this.  They were also scared of the Boers with their advanced weapons.  Mokopane hatched a rather nasty plan.  The Boers were invited to a feast, and asked to leave their weapons outside of the feasting kraal as a show of goodwill, then got relaxed and drunk – then Makapan’s people attacked them.  About forty were killed, but some escaped.  They went to Rustenburg, told the Boers there what happened, and the Boers launched an expedition to punish Makapan and his people. 

But Mokopane and his people realized that they had brought trouble down on themselves, so they fled.  They’d already prepared the caves, and all went there, and barricaded themselves in with food supplies and even livestock.  There was little water available in the caves.  They were betrayed by some of the other locals who were frightened of the Boers.  So the Boers went to the caves, but were too afraid to enter the caves themselves, since some of Mokopane’s warriors knew how to use the firearms they took from the murdered Boers.  Those warriors took shots at the Boers from the dark caves – the Boers could not see them but they could see the Boers, so it was very dangerous.  Indeed, the Ndebeles managed to shoot the Boer leader Piet Potgieter, and his corpse lay at the entrance of the caves, the other Boers being too afraid to go and retrieve it.  They feared that the Ndebeles would desecrate his corpse and use his bodyparts for muti, magical ‘medicine’ supposedly giving them the power of the Boers. 

None other than Paul Kruger, then a teenage boy but much later the president of the South African Republic, volunteered to retrieve the body.  In a very early ‘blackface’ incident, he smeared himself black all over and with his fluent use of the Tswana language managed to deceive the folks in the caves for long enough to grab hold of the corpse and make off with it unscathed. 

The Boer warriors then besieged the caves, preventing anyone from leaving.  They tried explosives to blow up the barricades or to try and collapse the caves’ roofs, which did not work; a plan on lighting fires to smoke the people out also failed.  But soon enough the water supplies ran out and folks started dying.  Mokopane himself managed to sneak out.  A decoy warrior went out conspicuously and was shot dead, the Boers thinking they’d managed to kill the chief.  But the real chief was tied below the belly of an ox; a large number of people rushed out along with lots of their cattle, and while the Boers concentrated on the people, they let the cattle pass unscathed, and so Mokopane succeeded in escaping the siege of the caves.  But many of his people were not so lucky.  Of about six hundred people who hid in the caves, about three hundred, mainly women and children, died of starvation, thirst, and disease caused by the unsanitary conditions.  Piet Potgieter’s remains were interred in the town of Vredenburg that was renamed Piet Potgietersrus or ‘Piet Potgieter’s Rest’, later shortened to Potgietersrus.  But after 1994 the town was renamed Mokopane, after the chief who had defied the Boers.

All right … so that was the version of history the guide told us!  Actually the real story was rather more complex, and some things he seems to have made up, like the story about the Boers being invited to a party, and the story about Mokopane’s escape tied underneath the cow might be a bit of popular mythology.  But there really was a conflict that led to the siege of the caves, which lasted 29 days.  Official history actually says that 2000 people died in the caves, but from what we saw of them it seems likely that this number is grossly inflated and that the number our guide gave, 300 deaths, is much closer to the truth.  Still, it is a most horrific chapter of our history.


So ... a most eventful and rewarding trip it was!



 I cultivate indigenous plants for several reasons: firstly I enjoy it immensely, because I like plants, little living things I can cherish and watch grow. I cultivate specifically indigenous plants, because in the process I learn more about our floral wealth. It is shocking to me how uninformed most people here are about our country and region’s plants. Southern Africa is a fairly well-defined floristic region. The climate here is largely cooler and drier than in the countries further to the north. It is precisely the adaptations to extreme environmental conditions which make the vegetation of Southern Africa interesting! We have the richest diversity of succulent plants of any region in the world … about 45% of all the succulent species in the whole world occur here. And the diversity is not just in terms of species. Southern Africa also has more plant families that have produced succulent members than any other region. Then there’s the Fynbos of the southwestern Cape, which is a low, shrubby vegetation that grows on very poor soils. The region gets rain mostly in the winter, with long, dry summers that the plants must survive. But in spite of this the Fynbos is the species-richest vegetation growing in any temperate region of the world … only tropical rainforests have a greater diversity of species.

Southern Africa currently has about 25 000 known land plant species. Many kinds certainly still await discovery. Unfortunately many species are also seriously threatened! Indeed, quite a few have already gone extinct. And just because we have so many, doesn’t mean we can afford it lose a bunch of them! Every species is a unique and irreplaceable link in the ecology. Every species is also a link to the past … everyone that has survived until today has an immensely long prehistory. Every one is a unique ‘solution’ to the problems of survival and reproduction in a specific place, a specific context. Everyone is a unique piece of the puzzle of life on Earth … and we still know frighteningly little about the phenomenon of life! Every species that exists, has a unique combination of genes that work … a unique set of internal and external adaptations. Plants, especially , are incredibly complex chemical factories, each species able to produce unique substances. Every species that we lose, reduces our ability to discover how plants work, how ecosystems work, how evolution works, how life itself works. But when we lose species, we don’t only lose knowledge, we also lose our fellow living beings, links that connect us as well into the total living ecology of Planet Earth, still for now the only planet which we know to be abundantly supplied with life.

By cultivating plants, I hope to stimulate awareness and interest in our region’s plants. I really feel that our country’s people should know more about our country’s plants. Most people here can easily name ten or twenty kinds of birds or mammals, but how many can name twenty of the roughly two thousands species of trees of our region? And then there are the smaller things. Many of our land’s flowering plants are exquisitely beautiful, but then we also have an awesome diversity of plants that are not so much conventionally beautiful, but weird and unique. Especially these kinds are the ones I’m interested in and focus on. And actually they are all beautiful in their own way! But it is especially the incredible diversity of forms that fascinate me. Even here in my own region, Limpopo and the other northern provinces, there are a fantastic diversity of strange plants. We may not be as wealthy as the Cape in terms of total species, but I think in the various forms of the plants found in the great diversity of different habitats, we are not so far behind! Furthermore the Cape is fairly well explored, while there are many places here up north where no botanist has yet trodden, and I am convinced there are still many funny things waiting to be discovered.

By growing plants, especially plants of our own region, I learn a lot about them. Most important is learning how to propagate them. I feel we humans can do much to propagate rare species. If we grow them in great numbers, we can plant them back into the wild and augment the natural populations. In many cases it is not at all difficult to grow and multiply our rare species, someone only has to do it.

Then one also learns a lot about plants when one sees them grow and go through the cycles of their lives in one’s own garden. One sees which insects come to pollinate the flowers, and which insects come to eat them. One sees which birds are attracted by the flowers or by the insects, or by other factors. The best is to study plants in the wild, but it’s also convenient to have plants close by to watch and study, and in this way one can learn things one would not always see in the wild. Furthermore, if one keeps plants in one’s own garden which also grow in the surrounding veldt, then one’s garden is also fairly well connected with the outlying ecology. And most important is that I feel that one is then also well-connected oneself with the wonderful wild world!

Nimbadon lavarackorum by WillemSvdMerwe
Nimbadon lavarackorum
Nimbadon was a diprotodont, that is to say a relative of the giant wombats like Diprotodon and Zygomaturus I've illustrated here.  Indeed it seems to have been close to Zygomaturus.  But it had a very different way of life!  Instead of plodding along on the ground, this one was clambering about the trees!  The skeleton of Nimbadon shows similarities to those of koala bears.  It had long arms but comparatively short legs; its fingers and toes were long and nimble, with sharp, curved claws and opposable thumbs and big toes.  It had very flexible limb girdles.  All of this suggest that it was a proficient climber.  Not as big as the giant ground-living diprotodonts, at a bodyweight of around 70 kg it was still larger than any surviving arboreal marsupial.  This species is very well known from finds of the bones of about 26 individuals that fell down a cave in Queensland, Australia.  Nimbadon lived about 12-16 million years ago.  Charcoal drawing, colour with Photoshop.
Loading...
Compound Flowers by WillemSvdMerwe
Compound Flowers
Our latest art class project.  The idea was to combine a lot of different kinds of flowers into one painting.  The species here are all indigenous to South Africa: Jasminum multipartitum, Starry Wild Jasmine; Podranea ricasoliana, Port St. Johns Creeper; Dietes grandiflora, Fairy Iris; Burchellia bubalina, Wild Pomegranate ; Rhigozum obovatum, Karoo Gold; Tecomaria capensis, Cape Honeysuckle; Rothmannia capensis, Cape Rothmannia. Watercolour.  The colours are mostly natural, with just the addition of a wash here and there to make the colours 'flow' and fit in with each other.
Loading...

A Trip to Portugal, Spain and the Makapan’s Caves

Today the bird club went to Portugal and Spain!  Yes, I’m not kidding, we did.  But not the Portugal and Spain you might be thinking of … no, Portugal and Spain are the names of two farms about forty km to the southwest of Polokwane, in the region where we went.  The goal of the bird club was to get some specialties of the area, birds found there, but not in or around Polokwane.  Polokwane and its surroundings is flat countryside, the natural vegetation being savannah or grassland.  There are only a few small hills around the town.  But Portugal and Spain are situated in a mountainous region, the closest high mountains to Polokwane.  The highest peaks exceed 2000 m/6700’ in altitude.  There is also a surprisingly extensive rolling upland region.  Not many people realize that we have such a fine mountain area so close to Polokwane.  Though quite high, the mountains are not very steep, and we were able to drive all the way up them by car.  We stopped a few times along the way, taking in birds in different habitats.  Cattle were grazing right up to the top of the mountains, and there is some invasion of the grassland by alien black wattle trees, but overall the environment is in good shape.

The vegetation up on top was mountain grassland, dotted with shrubs and trees.  At the highest levels the trees were rather stunted and gnarly-looking.  The mountains receive somewhat more rain than Polokwane does and there was already much greenery and many flowers, in spite of the spring rains only just having arrived.  In terms of birds the trip was very rewarding.  We got almost all of the ‘specials’ we were targeting, and almost all of us got ‘lifers’ – bird species seen for the first time.  So here is a small list only of the highland ‘specials’:

- African Stonechat.  The males have brightly coloured rufous-brown chests, and black-and-white wings.  The females are drab brown in colour.  These highland birds were quite common and perched prominently.  They can be recognized by their ‘chak-chak’ calls sounding like two stones being knocked together.

- Malachite Sunbird.  The males are beautiful irridescent green, with long central tail feathers.  There were many flowering aloes and proteas for them to feed from. 

- African Rock Thrush.  Bright rufous in the body, with a bluish-grey head.  This rock thrush likes mountainous regions with lots of rocks – and there were plenty of those!

- Gurney’s Sugarbird.  One of only two sugarbird species in South Africa (and the world, for that matter).  The male has a long tail, and is brownish with a reddish brown breast.  We saw quite a few perched on proteas.  Like sunbirds, they are nectar drinkers.

- Jackal Buzzard.  A compact bird of prey quite commonly seen in mountainous regions, with a reddish breast and black and white wings (but MUCH bigger than a stonechat!)

- Buff-streaked Chat.  A montane bird endemic to South Africa, buff in the body, the male having a bold black mask over his face and lower neck, as well as bold black wings.  They also like the exposed rocks, where we saw a pair perched.

- Grassbird, a large warbler-like bird.  We heard this one, but none of us got a good look at it.  Next time!

Other interesting sightings included Orange-throated Longclaws, a Sparrowhawk (or goshawk), a Cape Vulture, a Brown-backed Honeybird, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Red-collared Widowbirds, Cape Canaries, and Cape Buntings.  All of these would be quite unusual sights around Polokwane. 

I of course was very interested in the plants!  The habitats changed from well-developed woodland at the low levels to wind-blown short grasslands at the top, some of them strewn with rocks.  There were many rocky outcroppings at various different levels.  We saw patches of forest in the ravines but didn’t go there.  I wish I could sometime go just for the plants.  But as it is, I saw a lot, and am very happy to have had the opportunity!  There was way too much to tell you of here so just the photos:

1. Scadoxus puniceus, Blood Lily.  On the way up we saw more of them than I’ve ever seen in any other place!  These beautiful brush-like flower heads (each bearing many small flowers) are large and conspicuous, arising from poisonous bulbs.  We were lucky to find them in flower just now.  We even saw sunbirds perched on them, taking drinks from them!

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

2. Another beautiful Blood Lily, Scadoxus puniceus.  (The large green leaves just to its right belong to a Bushman’s Grape, Rhoicissus tridentata.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

3. Cyphostemma lanigerum (no common name): also a member of the Grape Family.  This one has soft, fluffy leaves, arising each spring from new shoots from the persisent fleshy underground woodstock.  These shoots are still forming.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

4. Cyphostemma lanigerum, here the leaves are fully formed.  They are broad, large and luxuriant.  Cyphostemma bear berries that are juicy-looking but mildly toxic to humans.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

5. Polygala virgata, Purple Broom.  The plant has thin, wand-like stems sparsely branched at the top, but each branch bears these lovely flowers. 

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

6. This is a species of Hypoxis, the same genus in which the ‘African Potato’ is classified, a plant with many wondrous claimed medicinal uses.  These were small plants, but their proportionally large and bright yellow flowers really made them stand out in the short grassland at the highest levels.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

7. This is a species of, most likely, Helichrysum, an Everlasting.  These members of the daisy family include many small, tough plants able to survive in the high mountains, with flowers that last very long after being picked, the more showy members popular in flower arrangements.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

8.  A Protea tree.  These were abundant up to the very tops of the mountains, and in flower, attracting sunbirds and sugarbirds.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

9. Probably a Cycnium adonense.  A semi-parasitic plant, extracting nutrients from the roots of surrounding grasses.  The flowers are delicate and lovely!

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

10. Another Cycnium adonense, this one with more flowers.  The flowers are up to about 7cm/2.8” in diameter.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

11. These lovely flowers belong to an Asclepiad, perhaps Asclepias cucullata, the Hooded Meadow Star.  I saw another lovely relative, with very tiny, delicate, bright yellow flowers, which I’d seen only once around Polokwane but which was quite common here – too small to get a good picture of, sadly.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

12. A white member of the daisy family.  This family is well-represented in the montane flora.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

13. A yellow daisy.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

14. Probably Pentanisia prunellioides, a small and delicate flowering herb in the coffee family, not at all rare in grasslands over here.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

15. Transvaal Cabbage Tree, Cussonia transvaalensis.  These strangely-shaped trees have weirdly divided grey-green leaves, making them very prominent and easy to identify.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

16. Another Transvaal Cabbage Tree.  At higher altitudes they are
more gnarly in appearance.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

17. A colourful, gnarly rock.  The terrain was extremely rocky in places.  The round green and reddish leaves around the middle of the rock belong to a small succulent, Crassula swaziensis.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

18. The lovely flowers of a wild sage, Salvia dolomitica.  These soft shrubs were common at the medium elevations.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

19. A Xerophyta-species, called Baboon’s Tail.  This species is a monocot, unusual for producing fibrous above-ground stems bearing leaves at the tips.  (You can see the reddish-brown stems here.)  They also bear beautiful flowers, especially after fires (against which the stems are resistant).

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

20. The morning sun on the mountains, taken right at the start of the trip.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

21. A view from the top of the mountains, showing the Strydpoort Mountains in the distance.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

22. A view from the top of the mountains, showing a few of the highest peaks, some of the rolling uplands, and some cliffs (the cliffs mainly faced towards the east; we reached the peak by much gentler slopes).

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…

23. A view from the top, looking down on some of the steepest east-facing cliffs.

i360.photobucket.com/albums/oo…


There was much, much more but let these photos suffice to give you a taste.

But that was not all!  After our trip we drove back down, but some of us decided to go see the caves.  See, on the way to these mountains we passed the Makapan’s Caves, a most important historical site!  (It is actually supposed to be a World Heritage site but just about all money invested in its development was squandered, so that now there are only rough access roads, a hastily manufactured monument-sculpture, and a few info boards.  We had a great guide though who took us in and informed us).  The Makapan’s Caves encapsulate an incredible amount of history. 

The first cave we saw was the Lime Works.  For long they were quarried for limestone, then someone realized there were bones in the limestone, and called in some university folks.  They realized that the stone being quarried was chock full of fossils!  These were fossils mostly of mammals including our own Australopithecine forebears, dating from about 3.5 to 1.6 million years ago!  The animals fell into caves through ‘death trap’ sinkholes, and then their bones were cemented together by calcium carbonate dissolved in the water percolating down through the caves.  In addition to our ancestors, the caves contained bones of extinct animals like two kinds of sabertooth cat, giant baboons, giant ox-like creatures, giant porcupines, giant hyenas, giant baboons, giant hyraxes and a great short-necked giraffe.  Unfortunately there are no fossils there, these having been sent on to the universities that conducted the excavations.  I was told there are some fossils in the museum in the town of Mokopane.

There were even older fossils … there were sedimentary stones laid down BILLIONS of years ago containing stromatolites, which were formed by layers of algae in shallow seas.

The next cave, the Cave of Hearths, contained much younger remains, from the stone age.  The oldest remains included stone hand-axes made by Homo erectus, which was more human-like than the australopithecines, and these old folks were already using fires and tools.  But there were also flint tools used by true modern humans, Homo sapiens, including spear- and arrowheads.  These caves appear to have been inhabited from the old stone age into the iron age.

The last caves we were shown had a much younger history.  They were the caves in which chief Makapan (also spelled Mokopane and a few other ways) hid from the Boers.  (I’m repeating now what the guide told us … actually the accepted historical details were rather different!)  His people were Ndebele.  They were living in the region when the trekking Boers arrived in the early nineteenth century.  For a time the Boers traded ivory and hides with other peoples to the north.  They had Mokopane’s permission only to move through the area and to conduct their trade.  Later he also asked them some tribute.  But they wanted to stay and get some land for themselves.  Mokopane and his people were very leery of this.  They were also scared of the Boers with their advanced weapons.  Mokopane hatched a rather nasty plan.  The Boers were invited to a feast, and asked to leave their weapons outside of the feasting kraal as a show of goodwill, then got relaxed and drunk – then Makapan’s people attacked them.  About forty were killed, but some escaped.  They went to Rustenburg, told the Boers there what happened, and the Boers launched an expedition to punish Makapan and his people. 

But Mokopane and his people realized that they had brought trouble down on themselves, so they fled.  They’d already prepared the caves, and all went there, and barricaded themselves in with food supplies and even livestock.  There was little water available in the caves.  They were betrayed by some of the other locals who were frightened of the Boers.  So the Boers went to the caves, but were too afraid to enter the caves themselves, since some of Mokopane’s warriors knew how to use the firearms they took from the murdered Boers.  Those warriors took shots at the Boers from the dark caves – the Boers could not see them but they could see the Boers, so it was very dangerous.  Indeed, the Ndebeles managed to shoot the Boer leader Piet Potgieter, and his corpse lay at the entrance of the caves, the other Boers being too afraid to go and retrieve it.  They feared that the Ndebeles would desecrate his corpse and use his bodyparts for muti, magical ‘medicine’ supposedly giving them the power of the Boers. 

None other than Paul Kruger, then a teenage boy but much later the president of the South African Republic, volunteered to retrieve the body.  In a very early ‘blackface’ incident, he smeared himself black all over and with his fluent use of the Tswana language managed to deceive the folks in the caves for long enough to grab hold of the corpse and make off with it unscathed. 

The Boer warriors then besieged the caves, preventing anyone from leaving.  They tried explosives to blow up the barricades or to try and collapse the caves’ roofs, which did not work; a plan on lighting fires to smoke the people out also failed.  But soon enough the water supplies ran out and folks started dying.  Mokopane himself managed to sneak out.  A decoy warrior went out conspicuously and was shot dead, the Boers thinking they’d managed to kill the chief.  But the real chief was tied below the belly of an ox; a large number of people rushed out along with lots of their cattle, and while the Boers concentrated on the people, they let the cattle pass unscathed, and so Mokopane succeeded in escaping the siege of the caves.  But many of his people were not so lucky.  Of about six hundred people who hid in the caves, about three hundred, mainly women and children, died of starvation, thirst, and disease caused by the unsanitary conditions.  Piet Potgieter’s remains were interred in the town of Vredenburg that was renamed Piet Potgietersrus or ‘Piet Potgieter’s Rest’, later shortened to Potgietersrus.  But after 1994 the town was renamed Mokopane, after the chief who had defied the Boers.

All right … so that was the version of history the guide told us!  Actually the real story was rather more complex, and some things he seems to have made up, like the story about the Boers being invited to a party, and the story about Mokopane’s escape tied underneath the cow might be a bit of popular mythology.  But there really was a conflict that led to the siege of the caves, which lasted 29 days.  Official history actually says that 2000 people died in the caves, but from what we saw of them it seems likely that this number is grossly inflated and that the number our guide gave, 300 deaths, is much closer to the truth.  Still, it is a most horrific chapter of our history.


So ... a most eventful and rewarding trip it was!



deviantID

WillemSvdMerwe's Profile Picture
WillemSvdMerwe
Willem van der Merwe
South Africa
I was born in 1972, Pretoria, South Africa. I started painting and drawing at the age of 5. I stopped doing that for a while to study some other fields, but recently I've been getting back into it. I love wildlife and nature but I also paint or draw people. I also paint and draw fantasy creatures or scenes, as well as extinct animals.
Interests

AdCast - Ads from the Community

×

Comments


Add a Comment:
 
:iconrajaced:
rajaced Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Hey ! Your death's head hawk moth is great, have you seen mine ?
Reply
:iconwillemsvdmerwe:
WillemSvdMerwe Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2014
Thanks! Yes, I have, now!  Great photos.  I haven't seen the adults over here yet.
Reply
:iconrajaced:
rajaced Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks ! This moth is from south of France. I like all the details you give about it.
Reply
:iconpinerain:
PineRain Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the +Watch! I'm flattered. ^_^
Reply
:iconwillemsvdmerwe:
WillemSvdMerwe Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2014
No probs, should have done it long ago! 
Reply
:icondkbarto:
dkbarto Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014

Thanks for the :+fav: on Red Knobbed Hornbill


Reply
:iconsara-satellite:
sara-satellite Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you for faving my Wattled Crane photo! :)
Reply
:icongen-12:
GEN-12 Featured By Owner Aug 11, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Mooi kunswerke, man!
Reply
:iconwillemsvdmerwe:
WillemSvdMerwe Featured By Owner Aug 11, 2014
Baie dankie!
Reply
:icongastonnerie:
gastonnerie Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2014
many thanks for the ID of birds.
Reply
Add a Comment: