Baboons in fynbos

Baboons play an integral role in the ecology of Fynbos vegetation and their diet is so varied within this plant system that it may be easier to note what they don’t eat rather than the extensive list of what they do!  I’ve been fortunate to sight a couple of the troops recently in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve while out cycling and have been able to observe their foraging.  After good rainfall this winter the vegetation is green and succulent and the animals are in good condition.  The temperature has also been colder than usual so it’s interesting to note their thick ‘winter coats’.

A confident posture and bearing marks this alpha male. He is in peak condition and commands respect from the ranks.
Layers of thick hair serve as protection from winter’s chilly temperature.
Foraging on the fruit of wild olive trees, Olea europaea subsp. africana.  
They tuck in with gusto feasting on the ripe black olives. I too sampled a couple curious to test the flavour. Pleasant enough, the initial bite was grape-like, and then with a bitter after taste.
It was most surprising to see this plant on the menu: Cullumia squarrosa, or snake thistle. It’s a prickly little number! I had in the past seen them eating the flowers, but not the the needle like leaves. Reading a description of the plant, the inner involucral bracts are without prickles and I noted that they were only plucking off the top most growth.
They certainly get a good portion of fiber in their diet.  This plant is endemic to the Cape Peninsula – a coastal bush found only in the extreme south western Cape.

The Perilous Sea around Cape Point _ Part II

The Atlantic Sea is rough and powerful on the western side of the Cape Peninsula coastline and it speaks of failed and doomed fishing exploitation.  Evidence of discarded fishing gear is everywhere, fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic, gut lines, anchor weights, lobster traps.  Plastic detritus is in fabric of the sand, in the dried kelp line, between the rocks.  How did we get to this tipping point, how can we ever reverse the damage?  The despondency of it all is so overwhelming that it makes me want to curl up and weep.

In the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve there is a coastal path along the western side of Cape Point to Olifantsbos.  It is the wild side, a place of sea birds, baboons, seals.  There is no way to get close to this wild Cape fur seal and free it of from that line of rope so deeply embedded into its neck.

Fishing net hazard on beach Fishing nets hazard on beach Nylon rope discarded fishing gear Plastic sack degrading on beach Discarded fishing net on beach Discarded Cape lobster trap Discarded Cape lobster trap half buried in sand Discarded lobster trap washed up by sea Piles of discarded fishing rope washed up on the shore Cape lobster trap washed ashore Discarded fishing net on beach Mound of discarded fishing rope on beach

The perilous seas around Cape Point – False Bay

Some visual images pack a visceral punch.  In June over a period of just one fortnight, three whale entanglements in octopus trap lines occurred here in False Bay.   Two Bryde whales died; a third, a juvenile humpback survived after being cut free.  Photographs showed horrific injuries where ropes cut deeply into flesh and death by drowning, caused bloating.  That’s not the worst of it, other whales prior to this had also died through entanglement.  A tally of 8 apparently in recent years, but no one knows for sure.   Activists sparked outrage over social media and Allison Thomson organised a petition addressed to our Minister of Environmental Affairs, Fisheries and Forestry to stop the octopus fishing.  A temporary suspension was called while further assessment could be undertaken in this an “experimental” fishery.  Without any scientific data to back up the sustainable viability of the octopus population an “exploratory” license was initially issued for a five year period for a catch of up to 50 tonnes per year.  The experiment was to have been monitored by the Department, but apparently has now been running for seventeen years without any scientific oversight.  How can the trophic impact to the food web be accurately assessed when one specie is targeted?  Do the predators which hunt octopus – eg. seals, or otters or sharks prey instead on penguins?  Have the shark species move off somewhere else?  No one knows for sure what the knock on effect is on other marine species.

Through the years we have observed the octopus fishing boats laying out the gear  – multiple traps fixed over long lines set with bouys and anchors.  There are at least twenty-two traps over a kilometer of line attached each end to a bouy.  The traps lie on the ocean bed and the submerged lines are supposed to be heavy enough to sink except for section up to the bouys.    When the catch is retrieved all the traps need to be pulled up on deck to be emptied and then returned to the water and the gear reset along the edge of the kelp forests, and in some areas quite close to marine reserves.

Meanwhile apparently all the gear has been removed after the license was suspended and the officials debate the ethics of killing whale species over the economic validity of the industry.

Humpbacked whale carcass washed onto the rocky coast near Buffels Bay, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

The Namibs’ existence hangs in the balance

Tough drought conditions and hyena predation have taken a drastic toll on the wild horses and their numbers have dropped tragically from 286 to 76 over the last few years.  Sadly, since 2012 and up until late February, none of the foals have survived and the youngest mare is now 8 years old.  Yet could there be the slimmest chance that the wild horses can come back from the brink of extinction? Hope now rests with February’s newborn foal,  a little filly, just a couple of months old ……..

But let me pick up the story where i left off in the previous post!

As the horses drew closer to the water trough it appeared to us there was raucous delight in their greetings, upbeat nickering and neighing.   From a distance we could hear the thrum of galloping and watched in awe as a group of bachelor stallions came roaring in, stirring up dust clouds and arriving in a swirl of energy.

The scene was filled with their dynamic presence.  After slaking their thirst, it was time to sandbathe and attend to additional dietary needs by feeding on nutrient-rich dried manure.  Coprophagy is a natural behaviour and an energy-efficient way of deriving nutrients.  The Wild Horses’ manure contains almost three times more fat than the area’s dry grass (Stipagrostis obtusa) and almost twice as much protein (6.1 instead of 3.1%).*

Coprophagy manure adds nutrients to a sparse diet.

To give a contrasting glimpse at the hardships and the tough conditions which the Wild Namibs endure at the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, here are a couple of shots taken in 2017.   Drought seared the land and the animals were so pitifully emaciated, but for the dedicated work undertaken by the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, it is doubtful whether they would survive.   Through the years the foundation has raised finances to provide supplementary feed for the horses as well as pursuing with dogged determination negotiations with the Namibian MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in saving the herd from extinction.

Further details in my next post will reveal “Zohra, the Little Foal”.  Keep a lookout it’s coming soon!  Below is a link to the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation and the critical work which they undertake.

 

* More information can  be found here.

 

The Wild Horses of the Namib

Dawn crept in across the desert plain catching the gossamer dust clouds in a golden light.  The spellbinding scene cast a sense of elation as the wild horses drew closer.   We were at the Garub viewing terrace following their trail in anxious anticipation as they neared the borehole water site.  We’d heard that they were in reasonable shape after low rainfall had resuscitated the grass and foraging opportunities had improved.  Small family groups kept together, and we could make out the figures of two small foals.   Lone stallions came from different directions keeping a distance from the small herds.

They are recognised as a separate breed, the “Namibs” after 100 or so years of their blood lines merging through natural selection across the generations.   Elegant and long-limbed, they’re handsome creatures.  Living free on the plains of the eastern edge of the Namib-Nauklauft desert, has it’s challenges.  Their story of survival in this unforgiving environment is one that evokes awe, but are the odds stacked against them as their numbers dwindle and predation by the spotted hyaena is a continued threat?

To be continued …..