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, 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:

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!


The Power of Six

The six shareholders of Karoo Ridge Conservancy met recently to review our original vision for KRC. When we purchased the property in 2014 we knew that transforming a tired sheep farm in the drought-ridden Karoo region of the Eastern Cape, into a model for nature conservation was never going to be easy.

Five years on, we have seen that six sides make strong blocks. We are six individuals from different continents, skills and backgrounds who share a deep passion for this unique place. For every one of us KRC represents something worth fighting for, and we are working incredibly hard to make our conservancy a success. We are managing our natural resources; water, food and eco-systems to encourage healthy biodiversity of insects, plants, birds and mammals. We aspire to be a beacon of best practice nationally and internationally and are proud of our relationships with other conservation organisations. In our complex modern world nature conservation needs a robust business model that will withstand the tough political, economic and environmental challenges we all face. Nature Conservation has to make economic sense.  For this purpose we have created a business that aims to support sustainability for future generations and will strengthen the wider community.

If you want to help us with our ambitious ideas please come to visit us. If you just want to relax, soak up the wilderness, watch birds soaring across huge skies and see wildebeest lining up on the horizon, KRC is the perfect place to get away from it all. If you want to learn first-hand about nature conservation and how to manage scarce resources in a harsh and fragile environment, then KRC is definitely the place for you. We promise to share our knowledge, expertise and passion with you and will give you an unforgettable opportunity to immerse yourself in and discover the secrets of this extraordinary place.

There’s a goose on my stoep – ponderings of a Nature Conservation Intern

An obnoxious honking fills the air multiple times a day. The geese are on the march. Beady eyes follow me with suspicion as I move towards the basin with a 5L water bottle. Little hisses escape as the water pours in, they can barely contain themselves, but remain alert, lest I lurch at them suddenly and grab a skinny neck. As I back off, they rush the basin dipping greedily into the fresh water on offer, tipping heads back in relief, but the eyes never leave me, not once.

I have been here over 250 days.  I am alone and have taken to gathering the waifs and strays that waft about the conservancy. I have gained a gaggle of geese, a fluffy ginger stray cat and the odd chicken. I have lost my colleague to Cape Town and the Nguni calves I hand-reared to their herd.  Have I been overwhelmed? Slightly yes. Did I stress-eat 24 muffins? Maybe.

My calves have been reunited with their own cow-kind. That day was slightly traumatic. Mainly because of separation anxiety, but also because I fell into the sewage – chasing a calf – who did not collapse the thin roof that covers the river of raw goop that flows underneath the house. Does that make me heavier than a calf or just Irish and unlucky? Helen was gracious enough to stop laughing long enough to hose me down while Fudge and Dawn kicked their little hooves together in Dorothy-like glee behind me. Their tune soon changed when they were herded swiftly up the road to join their old (new) family and it took a fair amount of convincing. Their confused expressions will stay with me forever, but just like that, they were gently ushered over the hill, leaving me standing adrift in the middle of the road, dripping in diluted sewage juice.

I have found life in the country inconvenient. I had not realised how reliant I was upon instant gratification. With no online delivery or “Woolies” down the road, shopping is done weekly and you take what you can get – except fresh fish, that, to me, just screams salmonella. Just as much as nature is unforgiving and the life lessons being unburdened upon me are not for sensitive hearts (which unfortunately I possess), small comforts are found in hot tea, Ouma rusks and the fascinating abundance of animal life bursting out of the structures that surround me.

Death is no longer an enigma, but common place and must be processed regularly to prevent sinking feelings and misperception. One of the main reasons I chose to work at Karoo Ridge was to immerse myself in the paradox that is farm culture with conservation and everything that comes with it. If I am to succeed in the conservation industry, I must understand and assent to all sides of the story.

What I have found is that Conservation is controversial. To believe it is all about saving lives is naïve and I admit to entering into this career as green as they come. Conservation is about making hard decisions. It is about the greater good, not the individual, no matter how great its personality. It is about circumstance and resources and can be devastating and astounding, disappointing and exhilarating, usually in combination and begs the question, whose side am I really on?

I contradict that sentiment daily. Recently, I aided and abetted a stray cat. A bedraggled specimen, he was discovered  because “someone” stole mince off my sink and only by chance, a few days later,  a ginger blur was sighted galloping into the surrounding vegetation. I began the process of gaining his trust by leaving food out – a dangerous gamble, because who knows what I could attract. I was rewarded however, by a sight for sore eyes and slowly he blossomed. He sleeps in my bed now, and the feeling of  success is sweet, but I also cant help but feel slightly guilty.

The responsibility is overwhelming at times and with that comes a niggling uncertainty that I’m making the wrong decisions. To find the balance between holding on and letting go is a journey of emotional peril and I’m beginning to realise bravery comes in the form of allowing the possibility of contradiction into your life, accepting both the strengths and weaknesses and learning from the experience.

I am no longer alone, I have fluffy, ginger shaped company currently purring on my lap and a lot of goose poop on the veranda. Has my world changed so much since allowing them into my life? Not really, but their world is now changed for the better and we are all stronger for it.

The History of Medicinal Herbs : Ashleigh McDonald

Every year, the Botanical Society of South Africa sponsors Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students on a camp. In return, students need to search through the Botanical Society’s quarterly journal, the Veld and Flora, and present an article to a group of like-minded people, in their third year. The botanical society are a non-profit, civil society that curates South Africa’s floral heritage and believe in preservation and education as the main drivers in protecting indigenous vegetation.

By joining the society, you receive benefits like discounts from the book shop, free access to any botanical garden in the country and a quarterly journal jam-packed with articles on South African flora. It was from one of these journals that I chose an article on the written history of herbal medicine which started with Pedanios Dioskurides and his collection of herbal remedies.

Dioskurides was a Doctor in the roman empire and traveled all over Europe at the time of Roman occupation, gathering household recipes for medicinal ailments. His collection, de Materia Medica, was published in 77AD and became the most authoritative reference of medicinal treatment for the next 1500 years. So popular was his work, that it was reprised as gifts for royalty and wealthy patrons with elaborate drawings and descriptions that became simpler with every copy, until just the name of the plant remained.

South African flora is diverse, with many medicinal remedies used by the Khoi and San before colonisation. There is little published research regarding medicinal plant usage in the Great Karoo, which echoes the established abandonment of the indigenous expertise carried by descendants of the San and Khoi people who lived in this area for thousands of years. The following examples can be found today in most farmlands in the Eastern Cape:

Mentha longifolia (Longleaf mint, Balderja) ward off mosquitoes or to help heal wounds,fevers, headaches, indigestion, menstrual pains and colic.

Ballota africana (Cat herb, Kattekruie) treats fevers and measles, coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis, sore throats, insomnia, bladder and kidney infections.

Melianthus comosus (Kruidjie-roer-my-niet) leaves are toxic and only external use is advised. Leaf poultices are applied to alleviate aching backs, wounds, bruises and rheumatism.

Chrysocoma ciliata (Bitterbos, Bitterkaroo) used to wash sores, wounds and syphilis. It is also said that this decoction helps to alleviate rheumatism, constipation and gastric fever.

Artemisia afra (Wild Wormwood; Wilde-als) used as a treatment for fevers, colds and chest problems. Nasal congestion and headaches is said to be alleviated successfully by placing rolled-up leaves into the nostrils or by inhaling the dried powdered form of the leaves.

 Pentzia incana (Anchor Karoo Bush, Ankerkaroo) alleviate constipation and stomach aches. The young stems are chewed to ease toothache.

Eriocephalus ericoides (Kapokbos, Wilde Roosmaryn) Kapokbos used as a repellent for fleas and lice, used to stuff pillows and duvets. It is also a known treatment for kidney and bladder disorders

Boophone disticha (Tumbleweed, Candelabra flower, Bushman Poison Bulb, Gifbol) bulbs contain neurotoxins and many deaths have been recorded from its use. The Khoisan applied it to arrows for hunting. The bulb has sedative properties and people of the Karoo often placed the scales of the bulb in their pillows to treat insomnia. Doses of the bulb cause hallucinations and was used in initiation rites and for divination in certain African tribes. The dry scales of the bulb are applied externally to wounds, burns and various skin conditions to aid healing and to ease The pain. A weak decoction of the bulb is used as a pain killer to alleviate headaches, abdominal pains and chest pains.

Aloe ferox (Cape Aloe, Bitter-aalwyn) Colonists were taught by the Khoi that the sap of the leaves can be used as a wound dressing. The leaf juice is used to treat burns and to rid dogs and cattle of internal and external parasites. The juice of the leaves is a strong laxative for both humans and animals.

Portulacaria afra (Spekboom) This is a versatile plant and is used in a variety of ways ranging from cooking to medicinal remedies. The leaves add a delightful taste to salads and stews. These leaves are also sucked to treat over-exhaustion. It is also believed that chewing the leaves promotes the flow of breast milk. Leaf poultices are applied to blisters, corns, acne, insect bites, sunburn and aching feet. High blood sugar levels are apparently effectively treated by chewing the leaves several times a day.

To find out more, visit your nearest book store and pick up a copy of Antoinette Pienaar’s, Griquas Apprentice/ Kruidjie-roer-my or the Briza publication: Medicinal herbs of South Africa.