Tag Archives: Conservation

Green Point Urban Park Cape Town


I have just completed my second walk around Green Point Park, which is situated right next to the new Cape Town Stadium.

One of the many types of simple exercise apparatus available for all to use

Natural grassland at the entrance to the park

This place is well worth a visit. Not only are there 3 well laid out paths to follow but there are also some well thought out themes.

As you enter the west gate near the light house, (entrance is free!) the area on the right is left as natural grass land with the grass at this time starting to go to seed. This area is home to small rodents and birds, who obviously enjoy feeding off the grass seed. On the left of this is an area with many simply exercise  machine suitable for the whole family.

Travel further along the path and you arrive at a building housing really spacious  public conveniences at one side, and a future restaurant or shop at the other.

Two children’s play areas are currently being completed, one for the younger folk and one for the older children, resplendent with very natural looking play equipment. The ground around the swings and climbing apparatus has been paved with a kind of cork silicone mixture in the interests of safety.

Older children's play ground

Soon to be completed children's play centre

In the centre of the park adjoining the golf course is wonderful stretch of water that brings back a bit of Cape Town history.  In the 1800s, there was a large lake covering a wide area which was eventually filled in for health and sanitary reasons. Around the rim of which are areas subdivided into: a biodiversity area, a natural food area, and a natural plant medicine area. Also on show is a area illustrating how nature is being destroyed by farming, housing and fires.

All the plants are very well marked and details of their uses are giving, very educational in a friendly and informative way.

I particularly liked the metal statues depicting various animals to be found naturally.

Metal tortoise

In the lake were Canada Geese and Coots both with very young chicks, they obviously feel safe in these surroundings as there are plenty of reeds for them to nest in.

Canada Goose and family in the very large pond

Walking further towards the City, one crosses the Stepping Stone Bridge. On the left hand side is a big metal water wheel which works when a pump is switched on by an electronic timer.

An auditorium with grass seating is situated at the top end of the park, complete with stage lighting. Presumably concerts will be arranged there, in a similar way to those held at Kirstenbosch.

The whole park has been very well planned and laid out and should become a valuable asset to the residents of Green Point and Cape Town.

An ideal place to come and relax in the sun or to jog around the many paths.

Security appears to be good, the park closes at 7pm and all the gates are locked so no vagrants will make their home there!

I hope the folk in Cape Town treasure their park and avoid any vandalism or littering.

Well done to Cape Town City Council making good use of some of the revenue they received from the Football World Cup.

More images from the park

Colour in the park

Colour In the park

C

Destruction of natural lands by farming

Waterlilies

Well laid out signage

Beaded fish

Information by way of signage  

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Cape Town Observatory


Last week my neighbour, who happens to be the chairman of the Western Province Astronomical  Society invited me to accompany him on a visit to the Cape Town Observatory where he was helping to supervise the repairs to the dome of one of the observatories in preparation of a visit by several astronomers from around the world.

The Mclear Telescope with the shutters removed

I can only remember going there many years ago and the visit came as a pleasant surprise.

The complex now serves as the headquarters for the astronomers working at SALT (Southern Africa Large Telescope) at Sutherland.

However the main aim of the Society was to repair the observatory with a view to bringing school children to visit the observatory hopefully encouraging them to take more of an interest in science and technology.

The first impression you get on entering the complex is the well laid out gardens and the many buildings dotted around the site.

The Maclear Observatory so named after the benefactor Frank Mclear of Rusthall Kent in England (the astronomer at the time being a Mr David Gill) is the main attention of our visit this time. Unfortunately the dome and the shutter to the telescope has been leaking for some time and the building has started to fall  into disrepair.

Plaque on the side of the observatory

The main operation we wanted to watch was the dismantling of the huge steel shutters to take them to the steelworkers for repair and repainting. The two of them are so big that they had to be cut into smaller sections for transportation. The rust will be repaired and the steelwork repainted in cold galvanising.

A the building housing the telescope, which was originally called the Victory telescope and later changed to the the Mclear telescope was built in 1896. It is hardly surprising that the dome is in need of maintenance.

What was astonishing  was the material for the main dome is a type of hardboard covered in a rubberised waterproof membrane presumably added at a later date.

Once inside the dome the telescope is indeed an impressive site as is the building itself unlike other observatories where  astronomer has to climb a ladder to look through the telescope in this building the floor surrounding the telescope actually rises to enable the astronomer to comfortable work at the telescope, all this in the 1890s!

The inner workings of the observatory

The history of the site goes further, not only was it the first observatory in South Africa, but in a small building next to the Mclear Observatory.After observing a new meteor the first attempts at astronomical photography in the world were undertaken and proved that photography could indeed become an integral part of astronomy.

In the numerous buildings lots of different discoveries were to take place. In the grounds there is even a flowering plant found nowhere else. Also in the grounds set in one of the lawns there is a monument with a a brass plaque set in the side, this is the exact line of GMT ( Greenwich mean time meridian)

If you are in the area it would be a good idea to pay the observatory a visit.

Lifting one half of the telescope shutter

Set in the lawn the GMT plaque

The inner workings of the observatory

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Poisoned Rhino Horns to Stop Poaching?


People who ingest the horn, a common practice among some Asians who believe it to have medicinal properties, could fall ill, as a result of the horn being treated with the toxic ectoparasitacide, used to control parasites. But the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve says the horns will also be treated with an indelible dye to discourage ingestion.

Rhino Horn

The owners of the reserve insist they are not vigilantes and don’t want to make anyone ill. “The treatment of the horn benefits both the animal and efforts to stop poaching,” explains Lorinda Hern, the reserve’s spokeswoman. “Our greatest desire is that no person ever touches a rhino horn again. Failing that, however, we do want to strike fear in their hearts, so they know we mean business.”

Several months ago, Hern’s father, Ed Hern, the reserve’s founder, drew fierce criticism when he announced he was experimenting with cyanide to inject into rhino horns, after poachers struck his reserve. “We wanted to inflict the same kind of suffering our animals had to endure on anyone involved in the vile activity of poaching,” the reserve explained in a statement. “We began researching the possibility of poisoning our rhinos’ horns, so any individual who knowingly handled or consumed the horn would either become seriously ill, or even face the risk of death.”

The idea was motivated by the need to treat the horn, and thus the animal, against parasites such as ticks, instead using conventional pesticides. “Such substances are not intended for human consumption and although not lethal in small quantities, remain extremely toxic,” the reserve states.

Hern says her father’s initial response was driven by emotion. “Once we reconsidered and got the necessary legal advice, we decided we weren’t going to right a wrong by doing another wrong,” she told the Saturday Star. “We have found a way to still get our point across, but without doing anything illegal or maliciously trying to hurt someone.”

In the past two months, all the reserve’s rhino have been treated with the ectoparasitacides and are in “excellent health” and carefully monitored.
Unlike parasite treatment, which typically involves the rhino being dipped, the rhino are darted and a hole is drilled into their horn to inject the pesticide, which also contains the indelible red dye.

“We have reason to believe that, if other rhino owners followed sui, the perception that rhino horn is no longer beneficial to humans, but potentially dangerous instead, could very well be the impetus needed to eradicate poaching entirely,” says the statement. Conventional methods to fight poaching, including dehorning, microchips and tracking devices have failed and a rhino has been slaughtered roughly every 30 hours in South Africa this year.

Faan Coetzee, of the Rhino Security Project of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, questions the ethics motivating the reserve. “It’s still a poison. The problem is these guys (poachers) are going to kill the rhino anyway and hopefully someone gets sick. But is that a way to think? Let’s not dabble in these things,” he said, pointing out that tranquilising carried a risk to the rhino’s health and was expensive.

But the reserve stands firm. “We’re not interested in causing anyone’s death; we merely want the killing of these gentle, majestic creatures to stop. If we have to cause a few individuals some discomfort to accomplish this, we’re willing to take our chances. Although we in no way intend to enforce vigilante justice on innocent people, we want to send the message that poaching has dire consequences.”

Wildlife vet Dr Charles van Niekerk, who is involved in the research, says this is one “arrow in the quiver” in the fight against rhino poaching. Other private rhino owners are on board, he says but won’t divulge more. The research is still in the initial stages. “People have asked how we can treat all the rhino in South Africa. We’re not deterred by number. And people must not be blinded by the cost – all the money in the world won’t bring the rhino back once it is gone.”

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Canned Lion Hunting Blow


This means that 24-month re-wilding period stipulated in the Threatened and Protected Species Regulations to prevent canned hunting cannot be enforced. Nearly all of the lions hunted in South Africa are raised in captivity. The NSPCA is opposed to the breeding of predators for hunting and has repeatedly made its position known in this regard.

Lions

The industry has grown significantly since 1997 when the issue first made international headlines. The lack of adequate legislation in this regard and the issuing of permits to legally allow for the keeping and breeding of lions has contributed the problem which now exists in this country. Lion breeders have claimed that the 24-month period is not financially viable. 

“The NSPCA is concerned about the welfare of more than 4, 000 lions currently kept in captivity,” said Brenda Santon, Manager of the NSPCA Wildlife Unit. “It has become the job of the NSPCA, a non-profit organisation, to police the welfare of these captive animals, as well as the spin offs from this trade which includes lion cub petting and walks with lions.”

In a similar vein, the Department of Environmental Affairs featured leg-hold traps and hunting with dogs in the Norms and Standards for Damage-Causing Animals, which were published for comment on Friday, the 3rd December 2010.

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Google Forest search results in a new chameleon discovery!


A recently published article describes  a new chameleon found in the “Google Forest” in Mozambique.

 

The Austral late autumn is not the best time to hunt for a new species of chameleon, but defying all odds, Prof. Bill Branch did. Prof. Branch undertook the chameleon chase in May 2009. He was motivated by photographs of unusual chameleons taken during earlier surveys by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) in the forests of Mount Mabu in central Mozambique.

 

The forest is known as the “Google Forest” because Dr. Julian Bayliss of the MMCT originally identified it as an area of interest using imagery from Google Earth.

Nadzikambia baylissi (photo Bill Branch)

 

Because chameleons are cryptic by day, night-time is the easiest time to find them because they stand out under a strong spotlight. Prof. Branch explained their expedition saying “four exhausting nights chasing shadows by spotlight in the mid-altitude temperate forest eventually uncovered four individuals which didn’t look like any known species”.

 

The species was confirmed by Krystal Tolley of the South African National Biodiversity Institute through genetic analysis of DNA samples taken by Branch. Dr. Tolley said “The DNA patterns revealed that the Mount Mabu chameleon is distinctive enough to be considered a new species, and is related to the Mount Mulanje chameleon, from southern Malawi.” This new chameleon is unusual because it is only the second species known in the genus Nadzikambia. It is only found on the forested slopes of Mount Mabu suggesting it is extremely isolated, and is confined to one small patch of forest habitat.

The chameleon is named in honour of Dr. Julian Bayliss, the organiser of a number of expeditions to Mount Mabu which have ultimately led to the discovery of this new chameleon. “It’s thrilling to have a new species named after you.” said Bayliss, “You feel honoured for the recognition, but also humbled by the fact that there is so much still unknown about our own planet, that we can still be finding new species.”

 

 

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Lake Nyos The World’s Deadliest Lake


Lake Nyos is a crater lake in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, located about 200 miles (322 km) northwest of Yaoundé.Nyos is a deep lake high on the flank of an inactive volcano in the Oku volcanic plain along the Cameroon line of volcanic activity. A natural dam of volcanic rock hems in the lake waters.

A pocket of magma lies beneath the lake and leaks carbon dioxide (CO2) into the water, changing it into carbonic acid. Nyos is one of only three known lakes to be saturated with carbon dioxide in this way, the others being Lake Monoun, 100 km (62 mi) away SSE, andLake Kivu in Rwanda. On August 21, 1986, possibly triggered by a landslide, Lake Nyos suddenly emitted a large cloud of CO2, which suffocated 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby villages. Though not completely unprecedented, it was the first known large-scale asphyxiation caused by a natural event. To prevent a repetition, a degassing tube that syphons water from the bottom layers of water to the top allowing the carbon dioxide to leak in safe quantities was installed in 2001, though additional tubes are needed to make the lake safe.

Lake Nyos as it appeared less than two weeks
after the eruption; August 29, 1986. Areas once
covered with water are especially visible around
the shore of the lake.
The 1986 disaster

Today, the lake also poses a threat due to its weakening natural wall. A geological tremor could cause this natural dike to give way, allowing water to rush into downstream villages all the way into Nigeria and allowing much carbon dioxide to escape.

A cow suffocated by gasses from Nyos

Setting

Lake Nyos lies within the Oku Volcanic Field, located near the northern boundary of the Cameroon Volcanic Line, a zone of volcanoes and other tectonic activity that extends southwest to the Mt. Cameroon stratovolcano. The field consists of volcanic maars and basaltic scoria cones.

Lake Nyos is located south of the dirt road from Wum, about 30 km (19 mi) to the west, to Nkambe in the east. Villages along the road in the vicinity of the lake include Cha, Nyos, Munji, Djingbe, and Subum. The lake is 50 km (31 mi) from the Nigerian border to the north, and lies on the northern slopes of the Massif du Mbam, drained by streams running north, then northwest, to the Katsina-Ala River in Nigeria which is part of the Benue River basin.

Lake Nyos fills a roughly circular maar in the Oku Volcanic Field, an explosion crater caused when a lava flow interacted violently with groundwater. The maar is believed to have formed in an eruption about 400 years ago, and is 1,800 m (5,900 ft) across and 208 m (682 ft) deep.[6] The area has been volcanically active for millions of years—after South America and Africa were split apart by plate tectonics about 110 million years ago, West Africa also experienced rifting, although to a lesser degree. The rift is known as the Mbéré Rift Valley, and crustal extension has allowed magma to reach the surface along a line extending through Cameroon. Mount Cameroon also lies on this fault line. Lake Nyos is surrounded by old lava flows and pyroclastic deposits.

Although Nyos is situated within an extinct volcano, magma still exists beneath it. Approximately 50 miles (80 km) directly below the lake resides a pool of magma, which lets off carbon dioxide and other gases; the gasses then travel upward through the earth. The fumes are then ensnared by the natural springs encircling the lake, ultimately rising to the surface of the water and leading into the lake. This was the cause for the presence of carbon dioxide and other gases contained within the lake.

The lake waters are held in place by a natural dam composed of volcanic rock. At its narrowest point, the wall measures 40 metres (130 ft) high and 45 metres (148 ft) wide.

Lake Nyos is one of only three lakes in the world known to be saturated with carbon dioxide—the others are Lake Monoun, also in Cameroon, and Lake Kivu in Rwanda. A magma chamber beneath the region is an abundant source of carbon dioxide, which seeps up through the lake bed, charging the waters of Lake Nyos with an estimated 90 million tonnes of CO2.

Lake Nyos is thermally stratified, with layers of warm, less dense water near the surface floating on the colder, denser water layers near the lake’s bottom. Over long periods, carbon dioxide gas seeping into the cold water at the lake’s bottom is dissolved in great amounts.

Most of the time, the lake is stable and the CO2 remains in solution in the lower layers. However, over time the water becomes supersaturated, and if an event such as an earthquake or landslide occurs, large amounts of CO2 may suddenly come out of solution

Although a sudden outgassing of CO2 had occurred at Lake Monoun in 1984, killing 37 local residents, a similar threat from Lake Nyos was not anticipated. However, on August 21, 1986, a limnic eruption occurred at Lake Nyos which triggered the sudden release of about 1.6 million tonnes of CO2; this cloud rose at nearly 100 kilometres (62 mi) per hour. The gas spilled over the northern lip of the lake into a valley running roughly east-west from Cha to Subum, and then rushed down two valleys branching off it to the north, displacing all the air and suffocating some 1,700 people within 25 kilometres (16 mi) of the lake, mostly rural villagers, as well as 3,500 livestock. The worst affected villages were Cha, Nyos, and Subum.[8] Scientists concluded from evidence that a 300-foot (91 m) fountain of water and foam formed at the surface of the lake. The huge amount of water rising suddenly caused much turbulence in the water, spawning a wave of at least 80 feet (24 m) that would scour the shore of one side.

One survivor, Joseph Nkwain from Subum, described himself when he awoke after the gases had struck:

“I could not speak. I became unconscious. I could not open my mouth because then I smelled something terrible . . . I heard my daughter snoring in a terrible way, very abnormal . . . When crossing to my daughter’s bed . . . I collapsed and fell. I was there till nine o’clock in the (Friday) morning . . . until a friend of mine came and knocked at my door . . . I was surprised to see that my trousers were red, had some stains like honey. I saw some . . . starchy mess on my body. My arms had some wounds . . . I didn’t really know how I got these wounds . . .I opened the door . . . I wanted to speak, my breath would not come out . . . My daughter was already dead . . . I went into my daughter’s bed, thinking that she was still sleeping. I slept till it was 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon . . . on Friday. (Then) I managed to go over to my neighbors’ houses. They were all dead . . . I decided to leave . . . . (because) most of my family was in Wum . . . I got my motorcycle . . . A friend whose father had died left with me (for) Wum . . . As I rode . . . through Nyos I didn’t see any sign of any living thing . . . (When I got to Wum), I was unable to walk, even to talk . . . my body was completely weak.”

Carbon dioxide, being about 1.5 times as dense as air, caused the cloud to “hug” the ground and descend down the valleys where various villages were located. The mass was about 50 metres (164 ft) thick and it traveled downward at a rate of 20–50 kilometres (12–31 mi) per hour. For roughly 23 kilometres (14 mi) the cloud remained condensed and dangerous, suffocating many of the people sleeping in Nyos, Kam, Cha, and Subum. About 4,000 inhabitants fled the area, and many of these developed respiratory problems, lesions, and paralysis as a result of the gases.

It is not known what triggered the catastrophic outgassing. Most geologists suspect a landslide, but some believe that a small volcanic eruption may have occurred on the bed of the lake. A third possibility is that cool rainwater falling on one side of the lake triggered the overturn. Whatever the cause, the event resulted in the rapid mixing of the supersaturated deep water with the upper layers of the lake, where the reduced pressure allowed the stored CO2 to effervesce out of solution.

It is believed that about 1.2 cubic kilometres (0.29 cu mi) of gas was released. The normally blue waters of the lake turned a deep red after the outgassing, due to iron-rich water from the deep rising to the surface and being oxidised by the air. The level of the lake dropped by about a metre and trees near the lake were knocked down.

Following the eruption, many survivors were treated at the main hospital in Yaoundé, the country’s capital. It was believed that many of the victims had been poisoned by a mixture of gases including hydrogen and sulfur gases. Poisoning by these gases would lead to burning pains in the eyes and nose, coughing and signs of asphyxiation similar to being strangled, as like “being gassed by a kitchen stove”.

Following the disaster, the lake was dubbed the “Deadliest lake” by Guinness World Records in 2008.

Degassing

French scientists working on degassing Nyos

The scale of the disaster led to much study on how a recurrence could be prevented. Estimates of the rate of carbon dioxide entering the lake suggested that outgassings could occur every 10–30 years, though a recent study shows that release of water from the lake, caused by erosion of the natural barrier that keeps in the lake’s water, could in turn reduce pressure on the lake’s carbon dioxide and cause a gas escape much sooner.

Several researchers independently proposed the installation of degassing columns from rafts in the lake. The principle is simple: a pump lifts water from the bottom of the lake, heavily saturated with CO2, until the loss of pressure begins releasing the gas from the diphasic fluid and thus makes the process self-powered.[14] In 1992 at Monoun, and in 1995 at Nyos, a French team demonstrated the feasibility of this approach. In 2001, the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance funded a permanent installation at Nyos.

More pipes are expected to be needed to make the lake safe: the original French estimates called for a total of five, and the current OFDA project calls for an additional two pipes, each with ten times the capacity of the single current pipe.

Following the Lake Nyos tragedy, scientists investigated other African lakes to see if a similar phenomenon could happen elsewhere. Lake Kivu in Rwanda, 2,000 times larger than Lake Nyos, was also found to be supersaturated, and geologists found evidence for outgassing events around the lake about every thousand years. The eruption of nearby Mount Nyiragongo in 2002 sent lava flowing into the lake, raising fears that a gas eruption could be triggered, but fortunately it was not, as the flow of lava stopped well before it got near the bottom layers of the lake where the gas is.

On August 18, 2005, Dr. Isaac Njilah, a geologist at the University of Yaoundé, suggested that the natural dam of volcanic rock that keeps in the lake’s waters could collapse in the near future. Erosion has worn the dam away, causing holes and pockets to develop in the dam’s upper layer, and water already passes through the lower section. Meanwhile, landslides have reduced dam strength on the outside. Seismic activity caused by the lake’s volcanic foundation could thus cause the lake wall to give way, resulting in up to 50 million cubic metres (1.8 billion cu ft) of water flooding downhill into areas of the Northwest Province and the Nigerian states of Taraba and Benue. Dr. Njilah estimates that the area is home to more than 10,000 people.

The Cameroonian government, speaking through Dr. Gregory Tanyi-Leke of the Institute of Mining and Geological Research, acknowledges the weakening wall but denies that it presents any immediate threat. A United Nations team led by Olaf Van Duin and Nisa Nurmohamed of the Netherlands Ministry of Transport and Public Works inspected the dam over three days in September 2005 and confirmed that the natural lip had weakened. Van Duin believed that the dam would breach within the next 10 or 20 years.

One possible means of averting such a catastrophe would be to strengthen the lake wall, though this would take much time and money. Engineers could also introduce a channel to allow excess water to drain; if the water level were lowered by about 20 metres (66 ft), the pressure on the wall would be reduced significantly.

Despite the risks from carbon dioxide and collapse of the lake’s retaining wall, the area is being resettled. There is impatience with the apparent slowness of international organisations – Cameroon, UNDP, European Union – to implement improvements in infrastructure and safety projects at the lake. Settlers cite the wish to return to ancestral lands (although some are newcomers) and the great fertility of the land as reasons for their return.

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Excitement as rare Cape leopard gives birth!


Quinton Martins, the founder and project manager of the Cape Leopard Trust, that promotes and protects the Cape Leopard population. It took seven long hard years but Quinton’s persistence paid off when he found he could photograph a pair of newborn  cubs – believed to be the first for the

Cape Cheetah

The discovery he explained was hugely significant, he explained because it has allowed him and fellow researchers to document the maternal behavior of the threatened leopards in the Cederberg Mountains. The ecology and habits of these morphologically distinct leopards, who on average weigh less than half of their counterparts , in the bushveld and Botswana. This discovery would, hopefully, lead to a more detailed understanding of these beautiful leopards.

Quinton explained that the movements of a female Cederberg leopard, formally known as F10 but affectionately called Spot had been monitored for 19 months via her high-tech GPS radio collar. By studying data from the collar; he and his team had been able to determine her feeding habits, home range, movement and activity.

The data had shown that she had mated with a male leopard M6 or Max in September. Quinton assumed she may be pregnant and his team searched day and night but there was simply no sign of her. Having a gut feeling that she had given birth he was desperate to find her. Eventually on the 12th of January he got a feint signal from her collar.

Analysis of the data suggested that Spot had established a den site and that two cubs had been born five days earlier on the 7th January. But it was important not to disturb the mother. He used the GPS collar to guide us in knowing that Spot had moved from the den to forage far from the area. While Spot was away Quinton took the opportunity to climb down to see if I could locate the site. After an intensive 20-minute search on hands and knees he eventually found the den in Cape Reeds behind some boulders.

He found two cubs lying cuddled together in a grassy ‘nest’. Their eyes were still closed and they seemed so small and helpless. Quinton took a few quick photos before making a hasty retreat.

The team have been monitoring the family and last month found signs that at least one cub was alive and managed to photograph it with Spot.

The Cape Leopard Trust works with statuary conservation authority CaopNature and has reasearch projects in the Cederberg, Gouritz Corridor, Namaquland and Boland Mountains.

For more information go to nature

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