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WILDLIFE OF THE GCBR: THE ROCK HYRAX OR DASSIE
The dassie in it’s natural habitat (well almost) and a dassie latrine crystallized hard with urine
The common dassie is a rock habitat specialist, with rubbery, padded footsoles that permit grip and quick movement over the steepest and smoothest rocky terrain. The dassie is one of only 5 Procavia species in Africa and are grouped in an Order of their own together with tree hyraxes (Dendrohyrax) and bush hyraxes (Heterohyrax).
Hyraxes have blunt hoofed toes and are thought to be distantly related to elephants and rhino’s due to a distant common ancestor. Our dassie is a vocal herbivore that feeds on a variety of browse and grazing, often creating clearly visible overgrazed patches around or below their rocky refuges. They often feed away from their rocky refuges but never too far for a quick dash to safety. Dassies spend most of their time doing nothing, just resting in the sun on hot rocks when it is cold or in the shade when it is hot. Dassie society consists of territorial males lording over a number of females with their offspring.
All members of the territorial group share a number of latrines, some of which are many dassie generations old, even dating back hundreds of years. These latrines become crystalized with dassie urine in time and cores cut into them reveal the trapped pollen of long past times which help to determine which plants were important in paleo-botanical history.
This crystallized hyrax urine (Hyraceum) is reputed to have powerful medicinal properties.
Dassie populations typically fluctuate dramatically, probably in response to rainfall and veld conditions or disease. Dassies practice “heaping” and “huddling” in their refuges to conserve energy and keep warm. They are known to “heap” up to four deep in captivity with their heads facing outwards.
WILDLIFE OF THE GOURITZ CLUSTER BIOSPHERE RESERVE AREA
SMITH’S RED ROCK RABBIT (Pronolagus rupestris)
These little rabbits occur in the rocky and boulder strewn habitats of the Little Karoo area, often at quite high altitudes. They are not too fussy about vegetation type as long as there is enough grass to eat, they can thus be found in fynbos, renosterveld or succulent karoo habitats.
These animals are true rabbits, not to be confused with the hares which are also common in the area. The main difference is that rabbits are born blind and helpless and need to be carefully nursed and protected by the female while the hares are almost immediately mobile after birth and a little less dependant on the mother.
The nocturnal rock rabbit is a true “doekvoet” that takes silent escape to a new level. Due to a dense cushion of coarse hair under it’s feet, it is able bound away over rocks in an almost ghostly noiseless manner. Weighing between 1 and 2kg they are able to bound up the steepest rock faces to a known escape hideout among the rocks when disturbed.
Rock rabbits are careful about their toilet, using large communal latrines on flat areas inbetween the rocks which are often the only sign of these animals in the veld. The “drollietjies” are round and somewhat flattened and quite light coloured, like dry straw. Smith’s red rock rabbit is fortunately common, it’s rocky habitat not being much in demand for agriculture or development of any kind.
SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR GAME FARMING THAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED IN THE GOURITZ CLUSTER BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Many people enthusiastically believe that a successful game farming enterprise can be simply kick-started by fencing an area and then introducing whatever animals are available, and affordable, into the area.
Game farming is, in fact, rather like a dance with very intricate footwork, if you do not know the steps – you will not be able to dance. If you try to make up the steps as you go along, you will never be a very good dancer.
In truth, a successful game farming operation requires and involves a great deal more than a fence and animals. Long-term success (profitability) lies in the careful ecological and economic initial evaluation of any property with potential for game farming and a hands-on ecological approach.
Although there can be a number of very different approaches to game farming, the principles on which a successful operation must be based generally remain much the same. Briefly summarized, these principles can be grouped as careful ecological evaluation, good planning, informed implementation and regular monitoring. These principles should be developed as the backbone of a management plan that will guide the game farming operation.
Ecological evaluation involves an expert assessment of the geology and soils, topography, vegetation, water and climate of the game farm area. The most important part of this evaluation is to determine what the cumulative effects of land management history are. These usually manifest themselves as soil erosion, the loss of productive grazing and browsing, infestation by invasive alien plants and habitat modification as a result of cultivation, too frequent fires and historical overutilization with livestock.
The determination of habitat condition is thus critical and often presents a very different picture to that of a vegetation map. The relationship between habitat condition, the efforts needed to rehabilitate the habitat and the ultimate potential of the property for game farming are often not clearly understood. The potential for game is often given as a fixed value for an area, rather than a site-specific value based on local conditions. Habitat deterioration of any kind invariably results in a significant reduction in game farming potential.
The results of the ecological evaluation should then be used to guide rehabilitation efforts and game farm planning. The determination of suitable species for game farming requires the careful matching of animal type to habitat type (eg: browsing game will work best in thicket or bushveld habitats) while also taking into consideration the need for habitat rehabilitation. The best guide to suitable species is to introduce species that historically occurred in the area and for which the habitat is still suitable. The introduction of extralimital game, or species alien to the area, can be risky because the animals may not be specifically adapted to local conditions or may be restricted by them, resulting in poor quality nutrition and ultimately poor reproduction.
The determination of ecological capacity (commonly known as carrying capacity) must also be carefully moderated by the impact that the different animals have on their habitat and the condition of each of the habitat types. The ecological capacity of the vegetation must also be determined with long-term sustainability in mind. Each of the individual habitat types on a particular property needs to be investigated separately, an aspect that is often neglected when a blanket ecological capacity is used to determine the stocking rates for a farm. The ecological capacity should also be reviewed on an annual basis. This is because vegetation changes may occur in response to rainfall variation from year to year, resulting in changes in palatable grass and shrub availability, affecting the sustainable availability of food for the game.
The impact that herbivorous animals have on their habitat and, indirectly on each other, also requires consideration and careful evaluation. The development of this impact is clearly observable but it should be recorded by means of an objective monitoring system. Active veld monitoring records conditions at regular intervals so that one need not rely on memory when a determination of veld condition is made. Veld change under the impact of herbivory can be subtle and gradual and may go unnoticed if one is not able to objectively compare current conditions to past conditions. One’s memory is simply not a reliable way of keeping tabs on veld condition from year to year. The accurate estimation of veld condition in terms of animal numbers is critical not only for the economic success of the game farm but also for the long term protection of the veld resource.
Providing water for wildlife needs to be planned with the ecology of the animals as well as habitat impact in mind. The spread of water must avoid the formation of damaging piospheres and extensive networks of animal paths to water. The provision of water should be coordinated with veld rehabilitation requirements as well as the water dependence of the animals on the property. It is important to appreciate that an open wildlife system is very different to an intensive stock farm watering system in camps.
The conditions in nature change continuously, which means that the approach to game farming must also be dynamic. Rainfall patterns vary from year to year, vegetation follows suite and so must the response of animals to the condition of their habitat. Game farms are artificially restricted by fences into property units, which are generally much smaller than the original wildlife/habitat systems that were in place 500 years ago. A dynamic approach to all aspects of game farming is thus required, but it should be based on careful observation, good planning, adaptive management and the principle of long-term sustainability. One is thus actually farming the habitat, rather than the wildlife species that use it.
The size of the property is also a critical initial consideration. Smaller areas generally require more intensive management and more clearly defined objectives. Animal numbers on smaller properties are restrictive, often consisting of only a few individuals, which has been shown to eventually lead to social, behavioural and genetic problems in the long term. Overcoming some of these problems is possible, but intense manipulation and semi-domestication comes at a much higher price and the potential for habitat degradation is greater.
Rust en Vrede
The Aunties, 1 Uncle and 1 young man went off to the Rust en Vrede Waterfall on Friday. It was the first official field trip for the year. Our target plant was Geissorhiza nigromontana (Rare) and we were hoping for sheets of pink down the black cliff faces adjacent to the waterfall. It was a sombre day and the sheets of pink eluded us. But at risk to life and limb, Brian managed to get a photograph of the few blooms that were hanging lower down. There was an interesting Asteraceae at the same site. Despite hours spent combing through Cape Plants, we were unable to pinpoint it. We will send the pics to Annelise when she returns from leave. A little Sutera growing out of the moss, will appear on iSpot in the fullness of time. At the start of the walk we found Otholobium swartbergense which is Redlisted as Rare
This is a very beautiful place and is very heavily visited by tourists. It is managed by the Oudtshoorn Municipality and I have some criticisms. There is a fair bit of litter lying around and there is no toilet at the site. As a result a ledge above the parking place is used instead. There are toilets lower down at the picnic place, but these are not vey obvious. They need to be made more visible. Even better, would be a toilet close to the parking place. Also, some of the young trees are being vandalised and broken off. Consideration should be given to having someone patrol the area, who has some knowledge of the plants. This would certainly add value to the experience for visitors.
On Wednesday we walked up to Tierkop with WAGS. The path to the east of Tierkop is heavily overgrown and frankly dangerous. Very little work would improve it dramatically. There is always something on this hike. A stunning display of Harveya stenosiphon and Disa racemosa were the high points. Leucospermum glabrum (Endangered) and Leucadendron conicum (Near Threatened) are regenerating well after the fire. Mimetes pauciflorus (Vulnerable) is also alive and well.
The previous Friday some of us walked the Giant Kingfisher Trail and part of the Bosduif Loop. Our primary objective was to plot Ornithogalum rogersii which is Redlisted as Data Deficient. There were a couple of sites seen. We also saw what might be Crassula perforata subsp. kougaensis, which is Critically Rare. I’ll put that on iSpot to have it confirmed by the wonderful experts for this Family that we have on the website. The rest of the party went off in the direction of the Mossel Bay Airport. Here is Jean’s report
“Three Outramps members and an enthusiastic visitor spent a happy morning fossicking on the road reserves and open ground around the Mossel Bay airport and Botlierskop area. The vegetation is hardly pristine but there are several patches that are probably worth monitoring in terms of harbouring Haworthia parksiana Critically Endangered and other interesting succulents. Protea lanceolata is around and there were fields of Bobartias in flower. (We are still dithering between B. aphylla and B. robusta . The inflorescence heads were quite large and congested.)
So it has been a very busy start to the year. We will have a Planning meeting on the 28th at Strawberry Hill to decide on our overnighters for the year. The Outramps are anticipating a very exciting and successful 2013.