MORE MONKEYING AROUND

These Vervet Monkeys were photographed in the Kruger National Park some time ago. The pictures provide an interesting view of them simply getting on with life. Here a mother and child work their way through fallen leaves and seeds to find something edible. Note the expression on the youngster’s face as it learns from its mother’s actions:

The youngster is putting the lesson into practice:

Success?

One can always try to reach the source of the delicacies!

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CULLINAN DIAMOND MINE

This is not really an oil painting most would choose to live with, yet for as long as I can remember it graced the walls of my parents’ lounge.

No-one really wanted it when our family home was no more – except me. It has always held a special place in my heart for the simple reason that my Dad was working at the Cullinan Diamond Mine (then still known as Premier Diamond Mine) when I was born. In the background are the heaps of blue ground – non-oxidised kimberlite,  igneous rocks associated with diamond mining. Yes, this is where the famous 3 106 carat Cullinan Diamond was discovered in 1905. In the foreground are helmeted mine workers walking to or from their shifts underground. You can see the timber structure of a mine shaft on the right and, of course, the large excavation from open-pit mining in the centre. This scene was painted by Noel Scholtz in 1949.

HERITAGE SITES IN GRAHAMSTOWN: BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown are situated on land granted to the Albany Botanical Gardens by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Cathcart, with the transfer of Erf 3282 being passed on 19th October 1853. More land was allocated to the project a year later and the gardens have expanded since then.

An avenue of oak trees runs through the centre of the gardens – clearly these are replacements of the original trees. This was the oldest plantation of oaks in or near Grahamstown at the time. This avenue historically formed an important carriageway from Lucas Avenue to Mountain Drive.

The gardens, affectionately known as ‘Bots’, but now officially called Makana Botanical Gardens, are adjacent to the beautiful campus of Rhodes University. Owing to the neglect of the gardens over a number of years, a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme was initiated by SANBI between 2004 and 2006. The Makana District (formerly Albany) granted Rhodes University a 99 year lease on the understanding that the gardens would be maintained by that institution during that time.

For some time afterwards the gardens were a joy to walk through with a variety of indigenous flowers blooming at different times of the year and an interesting array of paved paths winding up towards the top of Gunfire Hill. The paths are still there but an air of genteel neglect is pervasive.

Given the prolonged drought, it is perhaps understandable that the lily ponds have been drained. One of these lily ponds was created to commemorate Captain Fordyce (who died in the Amatolas in 1851 in the War of Mlanjeni). Only the hardiest of flowers are blooming in the overgrown and neglected garden beds. One being Felicia aethiopica.

The other is a Sour Fig.

A number of mature trees have survived both drought and neglect – there is a lovely grove of Erythrina caffra.

The very tall Bunya Pine Tree (Araucaria bidwillii) near the entrance has a sign warning visitors to be careful of falling pine cones. Read the sign and you will understand why!

This and other exotic trees hark back to an era when the gardens showcased plants from all over the world.

A military cemetery, dating from 1819 to 1822, lies within the grounds of the botanical gardens – overgrown with grass and weeds. A seedling white ironwood is growing right next to one of the head stones.

Apart from one, the remaining headstones can no longer be read because of weathering and the growth of lichen on them. The earliest grave is that of Captain R. Gethin, who died in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.

These botanical gardens, once part of the Drostdy Estate, are the second oldest in South Africa and bear the status of a Provincial Heritage Site. They were officially proclaimed a National Monument in July 1984.

Interesting background reading about the history of this area can be found at:

https://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/default/files/remoteserver/sahrisdepot/scannedfiles/Part%202%20Vol3%20%209-2-003-2.pdf

 

A BUSHBUCK SURPRISE

There is always an air of anticipation as we approach the entrance to the Addo Elephant National Park that gives rise to gentle rivalry as to which will be the first animal to be spotted. “Warthog” is not an unreasonable assumption as they are ubiquitous; “Kudu” is quite possible for they too can appear around almost any corner sometimes – on other occasions one would be fortunate to see one! “Zebra” is another favourite choice for they are easy to spot and are generally widespread, whichever entrance one opts for. On this visit we were all wrong, for the first animal to appear next to the road was a … Bushbuck ewe!

Looking back at my various lists of sightings, I can confirm that Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) have not appeared on any of them, so this sighting was a particularly welcoming one. This is probably because these are not herd animals and, as their name implies, prefer being in the bush rather than out in the open. While Bushbuck are browsers, they also eat herbs, twigs and flowers of a large number of plant types. A short drive further on we were privileged to see a pair of Bushbuck rams enjoying the feast of flowers.

Notice its sharp horns and the distinctive pattern of white spots on the flanks and the white markings on its legs. Their bushy tails are white below. The markings are more clearly seen in the image below:

The ewes are smaller and lighter in colour, with more pronounced white spots and stripes. The difference between the male and female are clear in this picture, taken at Royal Natal National Park some time ago:

A HIGHLAND GATHERING

Imagine a blue sky sporting only wisps of cloud, the warm sun bringing out the freshness of newly-mown grass, the sound of bagpipes tuning up from every corner, and a colourful collection of kilts and highland dancing outfits all coming together on the campus of St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Here the Fiddlewoods are highlighted against the Clock Tower.

The street march competition begins.

Under the watchful eye of the judges.

And a drone!

The field was filled with colourful sights and melodious music and the sound of laughter and chatting as people gathered to share their enjoyment of the day.

There was dancing too.

A wonderful day was rounded off with a massed band before all the stall holders packed up their wares, the dancers changed out of their dancing shoes and the pipers went off to celebrate their victories.

 

 

BLACK-BACKED JACKAL

The Black-backed Jackal (Canus mesomelus) counts among my favourite animals to see in the wild. I have spent hours watching their social behaviour in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and enjoy spotting them in the Addo Elephant and other National Parks. These omnivores have a special character about them: they look bright, alert and trot in the veld with a rather jaunty air, like this one in the Kgalagadi.

One of my favourite things when camping in the wild is to listen to the high wailing calls and yelps of the Black-backed Jackals from early in the evening through to the dawn. Sometimes you can make out the calls of one being answered by another and then another until there is a chorus of them. This, along with the call of the African Fish Eagle, is one of the iconic sounds of the South African bush. The one below was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Black-backed Jackals are often regarded as cunning, intelligent scavengers which are quick to arrive at the scene of a lion kill, for example. One can see them darting in and out to get whatever they can of the feast – all the while keeping a wary eye on the lions and hyenas! The kill featured below – in the Kruger National Park – was already a day old and the main feeders had already left it. Only an old and sickly lion was there to ineffectually defend it, with vultures, spotted hyenas and Black-backed Jackals ready to pick the carcass clean.