A Rocky Road or a Bed of Roses

A Rocky Road or a Bed of Roses

The Southern Gouritz Bio-Diversity Corridor

Private Conservation in Practice

The Southern Corridor of the Gouritz Initiative is one the most threatened and difficult to conserve areas within the Gouritz Initiative. The coastal lowlands have always been prime agricultural land and as such much transformation has taken place in the landscape. Habitat fragmentation, poor water quality, low annual average rainfall, alien vegetation infestation and looming developments are all placing the unique environmental characteristics of the area at risk.

The coastal portion of the corridor is arguably the most threatened habitat type within the Gouritz corridor. The coastal vegetation is under threat from alien invasive plants, and indiscriminate developments on the last remaining patches of pristine coastal vegetation.

Gourits river estuary

The Gourits river estuary which is a permanently open estuary is at the receiving end of all the environmental degradation that takes place in the catchment of more than 43 000 km². Over abstraction of water from the river, siltation of the river from poor agricultural practices and infestation by alien plants in the catchment areas are some of the threats to the estuary.

Estuaries are the breeding grounds for many marine fish species, the fish are dependent on these breeding nurseries to replenish already dwindling fish stocks. The survival of the commercial fishing industry is inextricably linked to these severely threatened estuarine environments.


The degradation of the physical habitat of the estuary and associated marine environment is threatening its survival.

Incorrect placement of coastal developments, the indiscriminate building of houses, the driving of vehicles into the salt marshes, destruction of salt marsh from trampling by people accessing the estuary to fish, the landing of boats on the banks of the salt marshes damages the substrate and destroys the vegetation on the banks.

The grazing of livestock right up to the banks of the estuary is causing severe bank collapse, the wakes of speeding boats on the estuary leave small fish stranded on the estuarine banks and increase bank erosion, the placement of fences and other obstructions into the estuary impacts on flow dynamics and creates sediment traps in the wrong places.

These are but a few of the threats. Almost overwhelming!


It is widely accepted that the river corridor itself is not sufficient to ensure that plants and animals can migrate in response to climatic changes into the future. Plants and animals have many different criteria which must be met before they can/will migrate. Some birds require cover and will not cross open spaces such as ploughed fields, certain small mammals have the same problems. Some animals rely on regular water sources before they can move. Aquatic animals require continuous flowing water before they can migrate etc.

Plants on the other hand require physical space and time to migrate. This requires continuous vegetation corridors down/up which plants can move in response to environmental changes. Without this corridor many plant species will simply cease to exist!!

Extinction may be a natural process, but not at the rate at which humans have caused it to accelerate!


The current social environment throughout our country is faced with many challenges. High unemployment, escalating crime and slow delivery of government relief is placing even more pressure on the natural resources of the country as a whole. The environment bares the brunt of all of this! The unsustainable utilisation of the natural resources of the country is escalating.

Yet Mother Nature has the capacity to provide, but she also requires time to rest and recuperate and ultimately regenerate in order to provide for another day.


The Gouritz Initiative has been developed through the understanding of the critical importance of this part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom and its contribution to the bio-diversity of the country and world at large. Aimed at private landowners, and the rest of civil society, it aims to promote the responsible and sustainable use of the natural environment. The establishment of a natural corridor, focused on the Gourits River, from the Karoo to the sea is an ambitious goal, but an essential one.

The Gouritz Initiative has fostered good working relationships amongst the various local Departments and local government. This will ensure a focused allocation of resources and co-operation between departments, ultimately increasing productivity and effectivity.


Turning planning and strategising into implementation will become a reality through cooperation and teamwork amongst alf the role-players, i.e. society at large.

The future is full of opportunities and hope. The buy-in of private landowners is essential to ensure that we conserve our natural heritage for future generations. The path to success is through implementing clear, achievable objectives. The immediate threats are alien invasive plants, indiscriminate destruction of the remaining natural habitats, over abstraction of water and private developments.

Starting own conservation projects

Several initiatives in the area have gone a long way to conserving and protecting their environments. The Fransmanshoek conservancy, together with Kanon Private Nature Reserve, Kanon Valley Estates and other private landowners along the coastline east of the Gourits river estuary have started a privately funded initiative to employ persons from previously disadvantaged communities to work within the area.

The focus being marine compliance and law enforcement, alien plant control, visitor control and biological monitoring. This, together with their own conservation projects, has greatly increased the conservation status of the area.

Kanon Private Nature Reserve, together with Marine and Coastal Management and the WCNCB has focused on introducing local schools to marine conservation. Several beach cleanups have been organized and through generous donations from Kanon, the kids were able to enjoy an educational day along the coast.

Dedicated Gourits river conservation Trust

West of the river, the Gourits river Conservation Trust, which is run by a group of dedicated individuals from

Gouritsmond is at the forefront of ensuring the conservation and protection of the Gourits river Estuary. They were instrumental in having regulations promulgated for the use of the Estuary by members of the public.

Supported, by both the Langeberg and Mossel bay Municipalities, the Trust has successfully implemented important conservation projects in the area. The clearing of alien vegetation from within the municipal commonage has been ongoing and has provided employment to residents of Bietouville. The control and maintenance of the slipway and parking area as well as the control of recreational fishing on the estuary has been an ongoing project.

The Trust has also been instrumental in initiating the development of an Environmental Management Plan for Gouritsmond and the estuary, which is in the process of being developed.

Unique fresh water springs

Further west, private landowners are striving for conservation goals. The farm Borrelfontein has unique coastal vegetation associated with the fresh water springs that emanate there. At present the farm is a potential site for being included into the WCNCB Stewardship programme.

Reins cares

Reins Private Nature Reserve, continues to focus on the sustainable use of its resources. This unique nature reserve is a fine example of the responsible management of private land for the benefit of the environment.

Its eco-tourism facilities are amongst some of the best along this coastline and the visitor is treated to the magnificence of what this area has to offer.

Get involved

There are many more private initiatives in the area, and many concerned individuals who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to protect and conserve the last remaining vestiges of natural habitats in this unique area.

To all these individuals we say thank you and to everyone else we ask that you support and get involved with the projects in your area.

Bats – Natural Insect Controllers

Bats – Natural Insect Controllers


Bats are an asset on any farm. These fleeting figures of the night are extremely effective and cost-free insect killers, and are of inestimable value to crop farmers.Effective and cost-free insect killers

The bat colonies in the De Hoop Nature Reserve provide such a service to the farmers in the Bredasdorp area. Approximately 300 000 of these strange little mammals consume about 500 kg of insects per night, and eventually about 100 tonnes of insects per year.

Insectivorous bats make use of ultrasound for both communication and hunting. They can navigate in pitch dark by emitting clicking sounds – about 250 per second – which are reflected by any object in the way. The returning echo enables the position of the object to be determined. The calls of bats are mostly of too high a pitch to be detected by the human ear. Bats can vary the length of their calls, and may emit cycles of less than a thousandth of a second when approaching their prey.

The approximately 75 species of bats which occur south of the Kunene and Zambezi rivers represent an incredible quarter of all species of terrestrial mammals in this area.

One of the chief predators of bats is the bat hawk. Human disturbance and the injudicious use of poisons present the greatest threats to the survival of bats, however, and could mean the extermination of these useful natural insect killers. Bats should therefore be regarded as the farmer’s friend and given the protection they deserve.


  • Avoid disturbing bats unnecessarily, especially during the breeding season.
  • If bats are a problem in roofs, try to block all holes with chicken wire. 
  • Use poisons judiciously.


Source: Cape Nature Conservation

Cape Vultures

Cape Vultures


Cape vulture numbers have decreased drastically over the past years, and the total population is estimated at only 18 000 birds. Only about 100 birds, including 32 breeding pairs, occur in the Western Cape. Various factors are responsible for this decline, especially poisoning, electrocution, disturbance at breeding colonies, habitat loss and food shortage.

Vultures provide an invaluable service to farmers

  • They clean the veld of rotting carcasses, thereby preventing diseases such as anthrax and plagues of blowfly.
  • Vultures circling in the air provide farmers with a good indication of the locality of a dead animal. A post-mortem examination may then be carried out to prevent the spread of undesirable diseases.
  • The presence of vultures on a farm is an indicator that the environment is safe for wildlife and man.
  • Vultures have an important ecotourism value.

How you can help vultures

  • Vultures need good publicity for the free service they perform to farmers by cleaning carcasses and keepng the veld free from diseases. We can all help spread this message.
  • Farmers have a special responsibility with regard to the careful use of organophosphates and other poisons. Carcasses that have i)een recently treated with any chemical substance, either internally or externally, should be removed from the reach of vultures.
  • In areas where vultures still occur, uncontaminated carcasses may be left In the veld. Note that the Potberg vultures seem to prefer the small, white carcasses of sheep or goats to donkeys, cows and horses. The equation is simple: more food = more vultures.
  • Please report sightings of live, ringed or dead birds to the contact numbers below.

The Overberg Vulture Group

The Overberg Vulture Group is a working group of Cape Nature Conservation and aims to promote the conservation of vultures in the Overberg region through the active involvement of the community. The group is affiliated to the Vulture Study Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Please contact Cape Nature Conservation at the numbers below if you would like to become involved.

Overberg District Office, tel. (028) 314-0062
De Hoop Nature Reserve, tel. (028) 542-1253/4
Potberg Centre, tel. (028) 542-1114/5

Meerkat Farmers

Meerkat Farmers



Meerkats primarily eat invertebrates like insects and scorpions, spiders and also small vertebrates like lizards and skinks and occasionally small snakes. The main reason for this being their primary diet is because they do not have carnasial teeth (teeth designed for cutting meat). On the rare occasion meerkats may eat small rodents and even a small bird, but they encounter difficulties in eating this form of prey, and so often avoid it in their diet.

Sadly meerkat tracks may be found around dead animals- since meerkats are curious and investigate everything they encounter in their territory. But they are not the cause of the animal dying. Meerkats are even blamed for eating ostrich eggs! They cannot possibly break the eggs – and only if the egg is already broken by a larger mongoose or jackal, will the meerkat sometimes drink the yolk from the broken egg. They are not the cause for the losses of chicks or eggs however. Many other mongooses’ tracks are also often confused with the meerkats tracks.

Meerkats are often wrongly accused of eating ostrich chicks or other farm animals- when actually they are innocent. Many other larger mongooses tend to eat larger prey items like these birds, and have cutting teeth, but these mongooses also control rodent plagues that destroy vegetation and crops and are really beneficial to have on properties.

The name meerkat is often given as a label for many small mongooses and other mongoose-like animals. This confusion and lack of correct information is often why meerkats are misunderstood, or are blamed for stock losses caused by other creatures who specialise in larger prey items.

Accusing an animal for causing stock losses without proof is like accusing all humans of murder because some humans murder! To judge all animals as guilty without proof, and then kill them, is the same as accusing all humans of murder and killing them, without any evidence!

Nature conservationists are the animals and natures only spokespeople, unless there is a better understanding and respect of nature and how we are all so dependant on nature and its resources we will end up destroying it by mistake. Meerkatmagic wants to share the beauty of nature with everybody because once a better understanding of nature is gained, it will be preserved for all future generations to enjoy!

All animals do play an integral role in nature. To persecute and kill an animal without even knowing if it is the cause of a stock loss is unfair and has far reaching consequences that affect the environment and ultimately the landowner.

Please also remember that meerkats raised in captivity, do not have a natural diet and can learn to eat anything introduced to them by humans – wild meerkats have a natural diet. Tame meerkats are not comparable to wild meerkats in behavior and diet.


Meerkats are nature’s farmers for the environment:

Meerkats move around from one foraging site to another preventing overuse of natural resources in an area of land. This continual movement by the meerkats in nature is the equivalent of camp systems or rotational farming used by farmers. It is sustainable resource utilisation.

Meerkats help control insect plagues:

Meerkats control insect plague breakouts by eating large quantities of insects each day, ultimately protecting the land from excessive damage caused by locusts and other insects like termites and ants.

Meerkats help prevent soil erosion:

Meerkats break up hard compacted soil by their constant digging using their sharp claws. This digging helps to prevent soil erosion, by allowing rainfall to infiltrate the soil easily. This prevents what is known as the run-off effect, where water cannot sink into the soil and washes most of the topsoil away, which is so critical for plant growth.

This wash away effect quickly leads to a more severe form of erosion like rill and donga erosion. But due to the meerkats digging habits, this soil erosion process is greatly reduced!

Meerkat burrows channel large volumes of water deeply into the ground, and are like natures storm gutters. This again helps prevent erosion by sudden heavy rains, by absorbing the water into the ground quickly.

Meerkats help seeds have a better chance of germinating:

This rapid water absorption into the soil protects nature and promotes the growth of new plants by trapping seeds in the dug out areas and burrows. This process of seeds accumulating in holes dug by meerkats, and then trapping water in the dug out areas, greatly improves the chances of seed germination.

Humans use a similar farming technique to trap water and seedlings called crater plowing, which breaks up hard soil and allows water to gather around a seedling and give it a better chance to grow.

Bare soil which has previously been eroded can recover more quickly when meerkats occur in the area, these diggings from the meerkats will promote pioneer plants to rapidly grow and stabilise the soil from further erosion.

Meerkats digging around plant roots helps to aerate the roots and create new microhabitats for creatures and promotes plant growth by loosening the soil around the roots. Meerkats also eat many of the creatures that eat plant roots! The removal of these root eating creatures results in the plants growing even better.

Meerkats can prevent the need to use artificial pesticides to protect crops, these pesticides often damage the environment and are not selective in what they kill. Meerkats eat many of the pests on crops like lucern often used for ostrich food, without damaging the plants since meerkats do not eat plants!

In synopsis meerkats on your property are a true gift – they are the guardians of your precious land and keep it healthy and pest free!

Source: Grant McIlrath

Knysna Elephants

Knysna Elephants



In the southern Cape of South Africa are the southern most elephants in the world. They must also rank as some of the most elusive elephants in the world. They are also the only elephants in the whole of South Africa that do not live behind man’s fences. But, though free in certain senses, these animals very An African Elephantexistence is held today by a slender thread.

In the late 1990s, the Knysna elephants had even been described as a “functionally extinct population,” as it was thought that only one elephant was still surviving, an elderly cow. This was, it was thought, the very end for the elephants of the southern Cape. It was a dismal and very sad situation.

 But, as I was to learn as I covered hundreds of kilometres on foot for over the past year and a half, through forest, fynbos mountainsides, and through plantations, I discovered that the elderly cow elephant was not the last Knysna elephant. There were others out there, other elephant survivors that nobody knew anything about. And it is my feeling there could even be other elephants that no one knows about. The elephants of Knysna are elephants of inspiration.


The San people, the original human inhabitants of the southern Cape, were the very first chroniclers of the existence of these elephants. The San frequently depicted elephant in their rock art. In fact, elephants were depicted more often in the San rock art of the Western Cape than anywhere else in Southern Africa. Elephants were important animals in San mythology and religion. Today we do not know fully what was the spiritual and religious relationship between the San and the elephant.

But, it is very likely that the elephant was seen as a “power animal” from whom, when in trance state, San shamans could draw power.Elephant footprints

Prior to the arrival of the European settlers, and then the advancing ivory hunters and sportsmen, it has been suggested that over 100,000 could have existed in what is today, South Africa. The growth in the ivory trade between 1790 and 1890 was to result in the elimination of the elephants that once, seemingly timelessly, roamed this southern part of Africa.

By about 1910 the Knysna elephants, those of the Addo district, and a relic population in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal represented practically the only surviving elephants in the entire country. At that time, in what is today the Kruger National Park, perhaps a dozen elephants existed.


Elephant dung It was thought in 1870 that perhaps 400-600 elephants were existing in the narrow 200 kilometer long coastal belt between the Outeniqua/Tsitsikamma Mountains and the shores of the Indian Ocean. At the centre of this belt of land are the main forests of Knysna.

Though accuracy of the elephants numbers was, and still is, very difficult, the following records estimate the Knysna elephant numbers over the past century.

1902 – about 30 to 50 in the main forest
1904 – about 20 in the main forest
1908 – about 20 in the main forest
1910 – 15 large elephants and 2 young ones
1914 – 13 elephants
1920 – 7 elephants

In 1944 it was thought that nine elephants were existing. In a year long study between 1969 and 1970, former game warden, Nick Carter, revealed the existence of eleven elephants.

In 1980 the Department of Forestry announced that only two elephants, a cow and a calf could be located in the Knysna forests. In 1989 it was announced that a calf had been born. But who was the father?


In a bold experiment three young elephants were introduced into the forest. Sadly one died, while the other two, very interestingly,chose not the forests to make their home, but spent the majority of the next five years in fynbos country on the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. This is interesting as my research has revealed that the present-day Knysna elephants are not, as previously thought restricted to forest habitat, but also commonly utilize the fynbos areas, as the Kruger youngsters had done. My work shows that the Knysna elephants are elephants of forest and fynbos. In fact, of all the droppings found by myself in almost a year and a half, two thirds were found outside the forests. This has important implications when considering the future conservation of the Knysna elephants.

Leopard footprints Some months after the arrival of the Kruger youngsters, an intensive search was undertaken to determine the status of the original Knysna elephants. Only one elephant was found, the cow estimated to be approximately 45 years old. This elephant became known as the Matriarch.

Because the two Kruger youngsters did not team up with the (thought to be) lone cow, the Matriarch, or stayed within the forest they were recaptured and moved to the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. Today they live amongst a family herd of other elephants.

… This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

Email: lionmanofafrica@comcast.net
Website: www.garethpatterson.com

Source: Gareth Patterson