Brown Locusts swarm the Karoo

The Karoo is a place of extremes with one year never being the same as the next! It certainly makes life exciting! Every 11 years or so the conditions are right for the Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) to swarm. This happens when the early spring rains synchronise the hatching of eggs which have remained in the soil over the long winter.

Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) on Karoo Ridge

For years they have been considered a damaging pest and the government trains farmers to eradicate them at night using an insecticide to spray them. They can cause damage in large numbers particularly for crop farmers but they are actually predominantly grass feeders. While this may be hard for stock farmers to stomach, they are probably feeding on a lot of moribund/dead grasses at this time of the year which can be very helpful and at the same time are putting a lot back into the soil.

There are of course other little creatures in the whole ecosystem which should be considered when spraying insecticides, there is more than meets the eye, there are things going on in the background….

Meet the female sphecid wasp (Prionyx sp.). While these locusts are swarming, she is flying around preying on adult locusts.

Sphecid wasp (Pyrionyx sp.)

Picture from The Field Guide to Insects of South Africa

 

Meet the female Woolly bee Fly (Systoechus sp.). She is busy parasitizing any locust eggs being laid and her larvae are feeding on them.

Woolly bee fly (Systeochus sp.)

Picture taken form the Filed Guide to insects of South Africa

And then there is Stomorhina lunata and Wohlfarhtia euvittata both fly species which parasitize and live inside the hoppers/nymphs and are said to be capable of destroying a third of the locust population.

I have gone through areas where swarms have moved through Karoo Ridge and it is not noticeable. But we have noticed an increase in Cattle egret and Black stork sightings!

There is a time and place for everything and while broken swarms of locusts move through the landscape, I feel privileged to witness this phenomenon and see it as one more wonder of this vast, unique place we call home. For now, let the birds feast and the little woolly bee fly thrive!

Remote sensing in the eastern Karoo

We recently attended a presentation given by Dr Justin du Toit on Remote sensing in the eastern Karoo. This was based on research which is being done by Ecosystem Management Support for Climate change in Southern Africa (EMSAfrica) in collaboration with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Their main aim has been to understand the impacts of land use and climate change on the structure and function of South African Terrestrial ecosystems. They have numerous research sites, two of which are at Grootfontein Agricultural College, on the outskirts of Middelburg. Not only are they looking at remote sensing but are doing ecophysiological and land-atmosphere carbon exchange experiments.
This project has been running for 2 years and this was the opportunity to introduce their work to land owners and land users and obtain feedback with the whole idea being that they can then produce information/products relevant to ecosystem management in this area and form long-term collaboration with the land users in and around Middelburg.

Remote sensing is all about obtaining information without making actual physical contact with your object/subject.
One of the things we already do at Karoo Ridge is ground-based/fixed point photography. This is remote sensing. This gives us incredibly valuable information as it gives us a view into the past. Among other things it allows us to see the visual effect of drought on vegetation, seasonal and annual changes in vegetation biomass and general ground cover over time.

  2017                                                                                                        2020

Other remote sensing methods which can be used for monitoring include satellite imagery and drones which can be valuable sources of information for land management, giving us a completely different perspective. They can be used for monitoring moisture, soil erosion, vegetation cover, alien plants and more.

Drone footage showing a section of the Groot Brak River with vegetation recovery on the left hand side from old cultivated lands.

We look forward to learning more and having access to more data to assist us in land management in the future.

EARTH DAY 2020 – Climate Action – Darae Bjerre

Earth Day: Does the Condition of the Earth’s Climate Affect Me?

22 April 2020 is the 50th year Earth day has been celebrated since its origin in 1970, focusing on a new topic each year. It is rather rare that we as a whole global population experience the same natural disaster and seeing that this year we are now all being affected by a global pandemic, it is important that we step back and view the earth as a whole by tearing down the borders that separate 195 countries and see how we as people affect the lives of all living things on earth.

This year we are looking at the “weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period” which we know as “climate”. Earth’s location, as it orbits the sun in our solar system, is situated in what scientists call the “Goldilocks zone”, where similar to the children’s fairy-tale story, the earth is just right for living conditions. The earth is not too far from the sun, which would make it too cold and not too close to the sun, which would make it too hot. Along with this the earth does not have too much nor too little water.

The earth’s climate is just perfect and we see that it is what all living organisms, whether people, animals or plants, have become accustomed too. The ecosystem is a biological community of organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. We see how as the climate slightly differs around the world the ecosystem has changed and adapted, which has given us the variety of biomes in which we live. Within each ecosystem there is a unique variety of plant and animal life. Each ecosystem is made up of different habitats where we see a system of food webs which have adapted according to the biodiversity in a specific habitat.

The climate of the earth has created a whole system that works together and has a natural order which nature has adapted to as well as humanity. Changes within the climate is inevitable. The earth has always been able to quickly adapt to these changes because of it being small and local, but we are now seeing a time where great changes in our climate are appearing.

In the same way, natural disasters have always been regional. Areas in the world experience different types of disasters but sooner or later as the damage grows, we will be seeing more global disasters occurring, as we see with the corona-virus, so will everyone be affected by global food shortages, floods, fires, etc.

Studies have shown according to Austin (2008), where the drought in South Africa has been monitored from 1990 to 2005, that the main cause of drought in South Africa was the variability in rainfall and that approximately 30% of rainfall variability was caused due to events happening in the South Pacific Ocean. When the South Pacific Ocean becomes warmer, this alters the temperature, pressure and wind fields over Southern Africa which in the end leads to drought.

Having a healthy ecosystem contributes to the services that us as people get from nature such as clean water, purified air, good quality soil and recycling of nutrients and food. When the climate changes then every service gets impacted in someway because of the change in the natural cycle. As shown in the study above, our local area is affected by change in the climate and it is not always dependent on the damage we cause but rather can be influenced by the damage caused in other areas around the world.

It is important for us to work towards sustainable utilization which means to use resources in a controlled and limited way for the earth to be able to renew those resources as we use them. Today we are unfortunately doing the opposite and using resources too fast for the earth to replace what we have taken. Some ways of achieving sustainable utilization is for humanity to limit their over-use of land, decrease the growth in population and to reduce the amount of pollution.

 

Humanity is separated as 195 countries but we share only one earth and every impact that we have influences us and our surrounding communities and everyone who calls earth their home. Let us not wait for a common enemy to arise only then to stand together but let’s start teaming up now to preserve this earth so that we may all live without worry that the ground beneath us will collapse.

 

Austin, W.D. 2008. Drought in South Africa: Lessons Lost and/or Learnt from 1990 to 2005. Dissertation for degree of Master of Science. University of the Witwatersrand: Johannesburg.

There’s a Sun spider in my Frigidaire – Ashleigh McDonald

Chaucer once said, “There is an end to everything, even the good things”. I, however, prefer to think of it as a full circle, because an end is just another beginning. My year at Karoo Ridge is coming to a close, but my conservation career is just beginning.

My end begins with writing an email to the next student due here mid-January next year, detailing the invertebrate communities that have set up shop between the four humble walls I have called home for the past three hundred and thirty nine days.

“The harvester termites tend to burrow through the floor, just sweep up the sand and remove the termites outside. The sand can be used for the Spekboom project”, I say – like its normal for insects to burrow up from underneath your foundations.

“The Mud dauber wasp is NOT AGGRESSIVE, and it will keep your spider population in check, so leave her be” – because I watched her form that mud hut with her own mandibles and feel she has a bright future in architecture and like only the best mothers, she provided her babies with a thoughtful spider snack before they emerge into this big bad world.

“The spiders in the bathroom keep the mosquitos and flies under control, so don’t kill anything ok??” In fact, I’m wary of the spiders in the bathroom, especially the sac spider that could decide to drop in on me while performing an ablution, thus I can seriously say, toilet time is a little less relaxing, especially in the early hours, directing my flashlight at the roof while I urinate at Olympic speed.

Quite recently, I opened my fridge to collect some obscure item, when a slight movement in the rubber lining of the door caught my eye. Sun spiders, or Solifuges are neither spider nor scorpion, but somewhere in-between the stuff of scientific monsters. I find them quite fascinating, and Roger, as he came to be known had decided that the lining of the fridge was an excellent choice to inhabit. I had my doubts, but decided to observe him in the coming days, all squished up between a rubber lining and a hard place. He was relocated eventually, for his own safety.

The Violin spider (another bathroom dweller) was relocated for my safety, when I found her rubbing her legs together next to my bed one night. The rain spider, lived behind the litter box and performed daily patrols (sometimes over my foot). I named him Winston, so when I found him bottom up on the bathroom floor, I did feel remorse – he performed his duties with precision, but died of mysterious circumstances (yes, I googled spider lifespans). Apparently they can live for years – and months without food or water, so what happened to Winston?

“The sugar ants appear at night – they are searching for water mostly” – Sugar ants cannot sting – they can bite if they feel threatened or spray acid out of their abdomen. In fact a lot of the insects here spray formic acid as a defence- including the Two -spotted ground beetle you are trying to catch in the garage with a glass jar (lesson learnt).

“the Woolly chafers are like giant Christmas beetles, just grab them and chuck them out the window” – in fact the woolly chafers are meant to be hanging around springbuck as they gorge themselves on springbuck poop delights – but somehow, they get confused and visit my house that contains no springbuck delicacies or prolonged presence of any poop- kind (shame)

“don’t be overwhelmed with the moths, once you get over their lack of manners, they really are quite beautiful” – the variety of moths found on one curtain still astounds me. I had to overcome my fear very quickly to survive here. Karoo moths  have no  sense of personal space and are not very pretty, especially all up in my face at night, but their presence does usually indicate rain, so they can stay. My favourite are the Emperor moths. I was lucky enough to come across a few during my stay here, beautiful and really quite docile (unlike their hyped up cousins) they elegantly go about there day feeding on the Diospyros and Searsia bushes found in abundance on the property. We even   learnt how to sex them, with males boasting furry feelers, the females opt for sleek and simple – so sexy!

“there is a cricket in the shower – he will keep you up at night so feel free to feed him to the birds” – crickets are cannibals and have no other function than to keep me up to all hours with their territorial chirping. When they do happen to battle, the winner-winner eats his cricket dinner and selfishly chirps all about it for hours

If there is one insect I do despise, it is the parasitic Louse fly. Insect guides insist that they may “alight on humans, but rarely bite”. Tell that to the louse flies of the Karoo, with their crab-like legs and burrowing heads, they are relentless if they happen to “alight” on you. While doing reconnaissance on a neighbouring farm, a Louse fly decided to bury itself in my hair(nest). After much screaming and shouting and letting all outing (thanks Will.I.am), I managed to detach him from my scalp but he would not die. As I later found out, the only way to kill a louse fly is to remove his head, so the smacking and squishing with hiking boot did not my case help. All this while gripping to the back of a Land rover traversing the somewhat inhospitable Karoo terrain.

“there may be mice occasionally…” Mungo, my cat, was a particular small mammal enthusiast, leaving mousey “gifts” for me to admire. Some were more lucky than others and were subtly secreted back to the riverbed from whence they came, the others, to my absolute horror, were deposited amongst the blanket folds in the dead of night, only to be discovered the next morning during the bed making process. I could not react, lest I offend him and his scientific contributions, so their little corpses were discreetly deposited out back, a tasty treat for an owl I hoped.

 

All these invertebrate interactions made me very conscious of a microcosm beneath my feet. As that consciousness began to grow, it gave me the courage to care about the very creepy crawlies that I was initially afraid of. That humility grew into humanity and that humanity nurtured a sense of community and Hey Presto! I was a rehabilitated urbanite.

South Africa has had many claims to fame recently. We have the world cup winning rugby team, we have Zozibini Tunzi, we have no electricity most of the time and we have an indigenous wonder plant called Spekboom.
Directly translating to bacon bush, Spekboom entered the limelight for its ability to sequester carbon. This species has the ability to capture four to ten tonnes of carbon per hectare – that’s ten times the amount sequestered by the Amazon rain forest, making Spekboom a major anti-global warming contestant. How you ask? Adaptation. Spekboom can alter its photosynthetic mechanisms to adapt to its surroundings. This means it can switch to transpiring at night – saving precious water resources during hot days or transpiring regularly during the day, depends on how it feels.
Spekboom can live up to 200 years! It responds well to pruning and can grow up to five metres tall in thick hedges, making it an awesome firebreak candidate, as it does not burn easily either. It has been used historically by the Khoisan to treat exhaustion and dehydration, regulate blood sugar and treat skin ailments and more recently, in boujee restaurants adding local trendy flavours to salads.


Spekboom has darling little pink flowers, grows like a weed and the ability to save the planet – WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Purchase one today from your local plant nursery OR If you happen to be visiting Karoo Ridge Conservancy – we have begun our own Spekboom project, selling them in the curio shop to raise funds for our other conservation projects. Either way, they make fantastic, ecologically conscious Christmas gifts!

Karoo Art

It is not often I am blown away by a painting but on first glance of this beautiful landscape of rain in the Karoo it took my breath away. It completely captured this rare occurrence so well that I just couldn’t stop looking at it and the detail was just incredible. This painting now hangs in our home and is a constant reminder of hope. Rain will come!

The artist is Darryl Legg. He is well known for his aviation art, a passion of his which developed at a young age. He lives right here, on our doorstep, in Middelburg!

We recently asked him to do another landscape for us for our new guest accommodation. This is a typical Karoo scene from Karoo Ridge and what makes it so special is that the Nguni cattle featured are real individuals. Really special.

Outliers Coffee

It was their passion for all flora and fauna that caught our eye, so we delved a little further into Outliers Coffee Roasters.

A family owned and run business, Outliers coffee distributes locally as well as internationally. From bean to brew, much passion and love goes into each step of the process. Providing both single origin coffee and blends, The Outliers team roasts and packages beans imported from all over the world.  Each packet sold results in a R10 donation to Vulpro, a vulture protection initiative and Non-profit organisation.

Vulture species are on the decline in South Africa, resulting in serious anthropogenic intervention. Habitat fragmentation, poisoning and power lines play a huge role in the species decline, resulting in the Vulpro rehabilitation centre being set up in Hartbeespoort. Here they can provide educational presentations and tours to raise awareness. Safety zone initiatives are being promoted as a productive recovery plan. One of the zones happens to fall within the Eastern Cape region that Karoo Ridge Conservancy falls into.

In order to create real progress, establishments with a conservational conscience need to band together to influence change. For this reason, Karoo Ridge Conservancy will now stock and promote the delicious Sentinel blend from Outliers coffee. Grab yours now while stocks last!

      

Spa Cosmetic Workshop

Community involvement and upliftment is paramount to conservation success. Today Karoo Ridge Conservancy held a spa cosmetic workshop with the women of the community. Natural herbs were harvested from the environment to add to the products and each was made with love by the four ladies below. We thank Catwalk Cosmetics for their donation of oils and petals!

 

 

Andre Wenham Nature Conservation Bursary 2019

The 2019 Andre Wenham Nature Conservation Bursary was awarded to Jacobus van der Linden.

Jacobus has volunteered at the Cape Leopard Trust, Bracken Nature Reserve, BirdlifeSA, SA Plastics and the Garden Route National Park over the past couple of years.

He has been interested in Nature Conservation from a young age and has a particular interest in desert ecology. He will be completing his third year in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in 2020.

After matric he took on a solo walk from Alexander Bay to Cape Point to create conservation awareness.

He was also a finalist for the Eco-logic awards in 2018 for his positive conservation efforts.

to read more about this passionate young mans solo walk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrn8FAOT6A

https://footstepstogoodhope.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/footsteps2goodhope/

Supporting small Businesses

This is Ivan. He lives on the edge of the rubbish dump just outside Middelburg. He spends his days using rubbish to fuel his fires and scraping clay to make bricks. We asked him if he would like to be our brick supplier for our new lodge project. He accepted. Yesterday he had 8 000 bricks ready to be loaded and taken to site. What a great achievement. Well done Ivan!