Cape Grysbok


It’s almost a year since a devastating fire rushed down this section of the mountain in a destructive path.  The vegetation is recovering well and how wonderful it is to see this shy and timid species of endemic buck, the Grysbok on this rainy, drizzly-wet morning.   All the more remarkable is that it is so close to the suburban edge.  They are solitary animals, except during the mating season when they are found in pairs and here we see that this is a female (the male bears horns).    This is one of the smaller species of antelope – it weighs in between 9 – 12 kgs.  Residents in this area have occasional sightings and these close encounters leave the viewer with a sense of awe for these secretive little creatures.

UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 12 ~ Pollinator Portraits

Jane has chosen a fascinating subject this week:  Pollinators   She writes:  “Beyond the crucial ecosystem services they provide, pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals in their own right. They include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, some bats, some beetles, flies and wasps.”

Jane calls for portraits, so to my delight that suggests up-close macro shots.   I discovered a whole new world after i purchased a set of Vello extension tubes to fit on my 105mm fixed lens and starting delving into the ‘private world’ of flowering plants……

Topical too – as here in South Africa we learn that our R20-billion agriculture industry faces ruin as foulbrood rips through the country’s bee populations.  Bees are a critical part of our food cycle, with one in three mouthfuls of food reliant on insect pollination.   It’s a wake-up call when too little attention has been given to the health of this humble but crucial insect.  40% of the bees in the Western Cape have been killed off and that’s a big worry for the farmers of the area.

But besides the roll of bees the Cape Floristic Region has a fabulous array of pollinators.  The competition between flowering plants to attract pollinators has been one of the driving forces for the evolution of an amazing diversity found in the Fynbos biome.  Bell shaped flowers provide the ideal shape for bees to collect nectar with their two sets of wings, while flies with one set can sneak into smaller spaces. In the Ericas, the tubular flowers of some species have strongly curved flowers that match the specific bill shape of the Orange-Breasted Sunbirds.  Butterflies are also specialist feeders uncurling their long tongues to reach down like straws into long-tubed plants.  To add to Jane’s list – rodents also have a specialised role in pollinating some of the low growing Proteaceae species.

I did a bit of research and found that 430 plant species are pollinated by birds, with the Cape Sugarbird and several of the sunbird species visiting as many as 300 protea flower heads every day during autumn and winter.  Insects play a major role, with beetles coming in with an astonishing diversity.  Currently, over 1 040 described species and 51 genera of monkey beetle are known from South Africa.

It’s International Biodiversity Day!

This is a day to celebrate: that biodiversity is recognised across the globe, right?  The theme this year is linked to Sustainable Development.  The focus is on efforts to integrate biodiversity targets into Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  All the buzz words and acronyms but how does it translate into actions? The goals were part of the outcome document from the Rio+20 Summit and are expected to become part of the United Nations (UN) overarching development agenda beyond 2015. There are currently 17 objectives, and the first is to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’, with other goals focusing on resilient infrastructure, gender empowerment and sustainable use of natural resources.

“Biodiversity and ecosystems should be integrated and into the UN post 2015 sustainable development agenda,” says Susan Brown, Director of Global and Regional Policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy explains further : ” The focus of Goal 15, for example, encompasses sustainable management of ecosystems and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss. There are indicators within the SDG on food security that mention sustainable agriculture,” says Deutz. “Another Goal that deals with water discusses restoring freshwater ecosystems and managing water resources with integrated approaches.”

Deutz says one of the most important notions to come out of the SDG panel was that the environment is not a stand-alone pillar. “Environment and natural resource management need to be integrated across the full spectrum of other goals,” he says. So success looks like achievements that conserve the environment while also ensuring food security. Are these goals really achievable? In March this year during a visit to London I was lucky to get to the Syngenta Photography Exhibition held at Somerset House.  The theme explores global challenges and was titled:  “Scarcity Waste”  and was represented under four themes: “Planet under Pressure”, “Our Footprint”, “Food Waste”, and “Shaping our Future”. A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes, and how relevant it is in this context.   The photographers captured seeringly desolate scenes,  scenes that chill the heart.  On the one hand the plight of the desparately poor and on the other the extravagant waste of the first world populations.  As more than 800 million people got to bed hungry worldwide, others throw away over half of the food they buy.  A third of the world’s food prodution is lost or wasted along the supply chain.  In a world of limited resources, scarcity and waste have become fundamental social, political and environmental issues of our time.  Something needs to change! Text and photographs below are those displayed at the Syngenta Photography Exhibition under the theme:

“Planet under Pressure”

Our demands on nature are increasing: we are eating into our natural capital, making it more difficult to sustain the needs of the future. We have become the dominant force that is both shaping and altering the planet as a whole. Our impact is no longer local; it’s global. The effect of a growing human population will multiply the pressure we place on natural resources.  Our challenge is to ensure that there is enough land, food and water for future generations.” Further reading on SBD’s

“The economic and social needs of human populations will
continue to rely on wild species, which implies that these will
have to be used in a sustainable way, avoiding any threats of
extinction. Solutions involve much more than looking at all
living things as an economic resource, they are about changing
legal and institutional frameworks as well as individual habits,
particularly in industrialized nations, if species are to be saved.
The CBD* has not reached this level of action to drive changes
in economic systems that currently allow species to be over-
exploited and placed on the verge of extinction”

* Convention on Biological Diversity

UNLESS…Earth-friendly Chroniclers:Challenge 10 ~ “Biodiversity… I Spy”

Today was one of those days where autumn’s alchemy brews up a mellow mood – and not a breath of wind.  That’s a bonus for those of us living on a peninsula where the maritime winds racks up the knots.  Following Jane’s advice for this challenge to slow down and plan a stress free outing,  I set off with a neighbour and her son to visit one of the nature reserves in the False Bay ecology park: Rondevlei.   It’s forms part of a vital wetlands system, besides it has a trio of star-studded resident hippos.  I was in good company for Humphrey is 11 years old and into “I spy challenges” so we set off in high spirits to test the waters of this biodiversity “Hotspot”.

The impact of urbanisation across the Cape Flats wiped out much of the fragile ecosystem and little of the unique natural environment remains. It also has a dubious reputation as a notorious gangland riddled with drug peddling and high crime, but on the peripherary is this tranquil haven. Orignally set up as a bird sanctuary in 1952, it now plays a crucial role in conserving many of the critically endangered plant species and acts as a repository for endemics.  Presently it supports about 320 different plant species (10% of some 2600 species found on the Cape’s Peninsula).  The indigenous bush consist of two veld types – strandveld and coastal fynbos supports a complex ecosystem from ants to hippos.

Taking a closer look at the vegetation the area is dominated by the reed beds along the shore while the Strandveld occurs on the higher dunes.

On arrival we were welcomed by the Hadedah (Glossy Ibis) argh!! Locally they are known as “The mad women who laugh” because of their raucous cackling.  We so wanted to hear a Fish Eagle instead.  The Hadedah are relative newcomers having found their way over the western Cape mountains in the 1980’s.  They thrive too well in the urban scene.  The reserve records sightings of some 230 bird species.

The glossy ibis, or Hadedah.


We concentrated our observations on looking for diverse clues….  from spoor to scat; both those subjects hold an interest for Humphrey and we quickly picked up the trail of water mongoose, genet, grysbok, and a huge pile of fresh grass scat had our eyes out on stalks.   Generally hippo wallow in water during the day and forage at night; but here there were distinct signs that they were close. The trail went off into the bush and we wisely carried on by.

Genet spoor (large or small?) Cape grysbok spoor

Huge as they may be hippos can be elusive creatures, as was discovered when the younger male went ‘walkabout’ and was lost for weeks, spurring on a manhunt, which the clever creature eluded.  Months on he was finally found in the pools at the Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works.

Humphrey spots a nest –

Cocktail ants scurry on the edge of the nest. Cocktail ant's nest

What an opportunity to look more closely and identify that the species is the Cocktail ant, which build large communal fibre nests from chewing plant material and fixing it with saliva.  They are known to associate by mutualism with sucking insects such as soft scale, mealy bugs, aphids.  The ants offer shelter in exchange for the sticky sweet honeydew which the bugs secrete.

Although we didn’t spot many bird species, we were happy that sightings of a Jackal Buzzard had been recorded for the day as there is much evidence of rampant Cape Dune molerat activity.   Raptors would play a useful role in keeping down the population, as would the local snakes such as the Mole snake (of course!).

Although we were unlucky not to see the star of the show, the hippos – this last creature really made us smile.  An Angulate tortoise hot-footed it across our path at an impressive speed; so the hare could have been following close behind!

The visit today further impressed us with the work The City of Cape Town undertakes to conserve and enhance biodiversity in vulnerable areas.  It’s also a tribute to their endeavours in providing opportunity to the locals in nearby disadvantaged areas.  Part of their role is encouraging the school children, (some 7000 odd each year) who use the reserve for environmental studies in an otherwise urban landscape.

Thanks to Jane at for inspiring another UNLESS topic … Biodiversity “I Spy”;  it was a most enjoyable outing 🙂