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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Drakensberg fauna & flora

The flora of the Berg is a HUGE subject and I know very little about it. This is a subject that one could spend a lifetime studying and still only scratch the surface.

South Africa has perhaps the richest flora of any country in the world. England has about 1500 flower species, South Africa has 16000 flower species. There are about 200 natural plant orders in the world and South Africa has 150 of them, 120 of these are found in the Berg. A survey done in the Cathedral Peak area of the Berg and found no less than 1000 flower species in that area alone! In Pearse's book "Barrier of spears" more than 80 types of wild flowers are mentioned with tongue twisting Latin names, 15 types of trees are mentioned. There are at least five types of protea, one of which is the bottle brush. I have one of these growing in the veldt just outside my yard. Bright red flowers, so loved by the Sun-birds for their nectar. These plants are very hardy and are able to survive the harshest's of climates.

Bird life in the Berg is prolific. Birds mentioned in Pearse's book are, in alphabetical order, the Black Eagle, Cape Robin, Cape Rock Thrush, Chorister Robin, Crowned Eagle, Golden Bishop, Hadedah, Jackal Buzzard, Lammergeyer, Lanner Falcon, Malachite Sun-bird, Martial Eagle, Red-winged Starling, Secretary Bird, Yellow-billed Kite and Yellow Fly-catcher. This list does not cover even a small portion of the birds which occur in the Berg.

The most famous of these birds is the Lammergeyer, also known as the Bearded Vulture and Bone Breaker. This large, ferocious looking bird, with a wingspan of 3 meters, is extremely rare, very few of them remain. The African Lammerger, Gyptaepus barbus meridionalis, occurred over large parts of Africa, from the Atlas Mountains in the North to the Southern tip of Africa. Today most of those that remain are found in very remote places of the Drakensberg.

Lammergeyers had an undeserved bad reputation with farmers who said that they killed live stock and were shot and poisoned where ever they were found. This reputation was unfounded, Lammergeyers are purely carrion eaters and do not hunt, their talons are too weak to kill or carry large animals. As farming became more and more prevalent ,there was less and less carrion for these birds to feed on, especially bones so necessary in their diet. Farmers don't leave dead live-stock lying around. Lammergeyers break the bones by dropping them onto rocks, the marrow is then eaten. Bone splinters provide calcium for strong eggshells  and skeletal development in the chicks. 

Conservation authorities and conservation minded farmers have stepped in and provided vulture restaurants where carcasses of dead animals are left for vultures to feed on. A famous vulture restaurant is situated at Giants Castle nature reserve where visitors can watch vultures feeding from a hide.

Lammergeyers have amazing flying abilities, with gliding speeds of 130km an hour. "Few birds surpass the Lammergeyer in powers of flight, and their great powers as soarers is probably unrivalled. The bird has been observed floating over Mount Everest, the greatest recorded height for any bird". Meinertzhagen quoted in "Barrier of Spears" p195. The bird mentioned here was the European species Gypaetus barbus uareus. 

Next blog I'll say something about the four footed animals, especially the Elland.


Gaelyn said...

I saw some of these amazing Lammergeyers way far away while in the Bergs. They remind me of the California Condor's struggle for survival in NA, also carrion eaters and superb soarers.

Your posts are Very interesting. Wish I'd read Barrier of Spears before my last visit.

Shoreman said...

As Gaelyn said, California Condor's are making a comeback and doing very well. Maybe the Lammergeyers can do the same with help from Conservationists.


Ron said...

Hello Phillip

Thanks for sharing some very interesting information. I am not familiar with the Lammergeyers but I do know a little bit about the California condors. I hope they make a comeback :-)

I would add myself to follow your blog but I'm currently having trouble with my follow gadget. The next time you visit my blog you are more than welcome to become a follower and I'll return the favor as soon as I figure out how to fix it?