Today the world will celebrate the first ever World Wildlife Day. The 3rd of March was chosen by the United Nations General Assembly because it is the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty that aims to ensure global trade does not threaten the survival of listed species. In the KZN Midlands, we have a wide range of special fauna and flora to celebrate and care for. These include many species listed on the IUCN Red Data List as Threatened, Endangered and Critical. There is the Cream Spotted Mountain Snake, the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon and the Long Toed Tree Frog. This bright green frog avoids trees and lives in grasslands and marshy areas. It earned its name from its abnormally long fingers and toes with reduced webbing.
The Karkloof Blue butterfly is one of the more famous 50 invertebrates in danger. This tiny butterfly is endemic to the region and particularly rare as its grassland habitat has largely been destroyed. Dr Adrian Armstrong of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife: “Many lycaenid butterflies such as the Karkloof Blue (Orachrysops ariadne) have mutualistic relationships with ants and each butterfly may only lay its eggs on one particular species of plant, the larval food plant (in this case Indigofera woodii). The absence of the ant or the food plant means the absence of the breeding butterfly. These sites may be distant from one another, linked only by dispersal of adults who move between colonies to ensure their continued survival. Obviously, small colonies are prone to extinction though habitat change caused by drought, fires at the wrong time of year, or prevention of fire in vegetation that requires fire for regeneration.”
Fourteen bird species are in danger, including, in the Vulnerable category: the African Grass Owl, African Finfoot and Crowned and Blue Cranes and Southern Ground Hornbill. The Cape Parrot and Spotted Ground Thrush are Endangered , Yellow-breasted Pipit, Blue Swallow and Wattled Crane are Critically Endangered.
Six Red Data List mammals are found in the Midlands – including the Oribi, Serval, Striped Weasel, Samango Monkey. The Samango is endemic to the evergreen Afro-Montane forests of Southern Africa – moist forests. These forests cover less than 1% of this sub-region and are severely fragmented. They live in troops of up to 30 members and are active during the day, resting in the tree tops at night. They feed on a wide range of wild fruits, flowers and leaves as well as caterpillars and other insects.
Many plant species, including – Senecio dregeanus (below) – which has been found in Impendle and on Beacon Hill; Asclepias woodii which occurs on Beacon Hill; Alipidea amatymbica and Anemone fanniniae found at Mbona and in Impendle.
Only a small proportion of this diversity, however, and only 53% of priority species, receive protection within the existing protected area network.
Judy Bell, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum: “Conservation of these species and their habitats is vital to ensure the ecosystems in which they live can continue to provide us with essential goods and services. Human wellbeing depends on healthy ecosystems which provide many things we take for granted – clean water, fresh air, pollination, carbon storage, flood attenuation, modulation of extreme temperatures, and so much more. The KZN Midlands is situated within a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. It is rich in wetlands, springs, streams and the grasslands, forests and other ecosystems which form the fabric of our life-support systems or biodiversity that underpin the economy of the province.” Currently, at least 80% of the important biodiversity lies outside formally protected areas, on privately or communally owned land, making strategic partnerships with landowners crucial if our natural heritage is to be conserved. The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme is a good tool for improving the conservation management of sites of biodiversity significance while maintaining the productivity of the landscape for landowners. Proactive partnerships and cooperative management are the key ingredients of natural resource management and custodianship. A further aim of the programme is the creation of a network of protected areas, linked as corridors across the landscape, in order to improve the ability of species to adapt to climate change. Stewardship processes identify land of critical importance for biodiversity conservation and/or the provision of ecosystem services, and encourage landowners to engage in biodiversity conservation and other sustainable land use practices.