Tag Archives: conservation

Mistbelt Chirping Frog

– Article written by Nick Evans of KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation –

In the KZN Midlands lives a tiny little frog, which few people have seen, and most members of the public have never heard of: the Mistbelt Chirping Frog (Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis).

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Appearance

It really is a tiny frog! Their maximum size is a measly 22mm. It’s a very pretty little frog, being a light golden brown colour, with speckles running down its back in a striped formation. It has a dark band on each side of its head.

A species in danger!

The Mistbelt Chirping Frog is currently listed as ‘Endangered’, by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was previously listed as Critically Endangered, before survey work was carried out by herpetologist and researcher, James Harvey. He had found a few new localities, which came as great news for this species.

It only occurs in mistbelt areas in the KZN Midlands, in high altitude, moist grasslands. So it is not a widespread species at all. Unfortunately for this frog, much of its habitat has been destroyed for exotic tree plantations. Even its habitat type is considered endangered! The last few remaining areas in which this frog occurs in, are rather fragmented by these plantations, isolating populations. These mostly fall under private land, owned by forestry companies. Other threats include invasive alien plants, which take smother these grasslands, over-grazing, and incorrect burning programmes.

The few areas that are still home to this frog desperately need to be conserved, so that the world does not lose yet another species. It may be small, but it still matters. It still plays a role in a functioning environment. Fortunately, it is being monitored by the likes of James and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

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Did you know?

This species was only discovered and described in 1993! That was probably because of its size, and its undistinctive call, a subtle, insect-like, chirping sound.

What’s also interesting about this frog, is that they do not breed in water. Most frogs lay their eggs in water, but the Mistbelt Chirping Frog lays its eggs in leaf-litter!

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Survey and photography mission

I was fortunate enough to join James Harvey recently, on some of his survey work. We went to a site near the Ixopo area where he had heard and found this species before.

We arrived in the afternoon, and conditions were perfect. There was a light drizzle, and it was misty too. The common but rarely seen Plaintive Rain Frogs were out in force, and although we did not see any, we heard dozens! Our hopes were lifted when, amongst the Rain Frog calls, we started hearing a couple of Mistbelt ‘Chirpers’! We walked down the slope where they were calling, hoping to find one. James warned me that they were extremely difficult frogs to find, and I soon learnt that he was not wrong. The long grass was so thick. Finding a frog that’s only two centimetres in length was seemingly impossible. Thankfully though, James knew a spot where it should be easier to find them, where the grass was a little shorter and slightly sparser than these thick patches we were searching in.

As we approached this particular area, we could hear a good few calling. Frogs are always easier to find at night, when they are generally more active and call from more obvious positions. However, we thought we’d have a quick try before heading back to camp for dinner, and resuming the search after dark. We were trying to track them down by their call, but as soon as you got one or two meters away, the little blighters would go silent. However, there was one that didn’t stop calling. Luck was on our side, and we spotted one quite high up in a grass tuft, calling. I scooped it up in my hands in great excitement, and called James to 100% confirm what I was holding- it was indeed a Mistbelt Chirping Frog! I was overjoyed! James was too, as despite his research work, he had only seen a handful of them. But our luck didn’t end there.

We returned to the sight that evening. We tracked down one which was calling in a tuft of grass. We were desperately trying to pinpoint its location, as it would emit a chirp every now and then. I thought it was in one place, and James thought it was in another. Their calls can confuse you like that. Eventually, we discovered we were looking in the wrong place. We thought it was calling at the base of the grass, when in fact, it had climbed around thirty centimetres up the grass clump, and was calling from there! Stunned at our luck of now finding two, we then went onto find another three in quick succession! Five endangered Mistbelt Chirping Frog, wow, just wow! We just couldn’t believe our luck! Our hard work certainly paid off!

This frog is one of the most difficult species to find that I have ever searched for. It’s been a species I have long wanted to see, and I feel privileged that my chance finally came around. We are now one of the few people that have actually seen and photographed this frog. What a special little animal.

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It really is tiny!

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Finally the Falls!

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On Day 5 of the Catchment to Confluence Karkloof River Walk the team was thrilled to be joined by 2 fresh pairs of legs, Mbuso Khambule (new SAPPI Environmental Officer) and Mondli Goba (SAPPI Communications Officer), just in time to pass through some of the SAPPI Shafton plantation areas on the Karkloof floodplain.

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Team setting off. From Left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger), Mondli Goba (Sappi), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth) and the photographer behind the camera is Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our destination for the day was the Karkloof Falls, starting at the pumphouse on Gartmore farm, which as the crow flies did not seem all that far. But we now knew by experience that following the meanders of a river over rough terrain or tall vegetation where there is no path is not likely to be a walk in the park.

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Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) pushing through the tall vegetation in the wetland

As we pushed through the wetland, we stopped to gaze at the distant Karkloof mountains, home to the river’s source where we had come from 5 days earlier, feeling pleased with the distance we had conquered so far.

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The team felt a sense of pride as we gazed upon the distant mountain

We were excited to see 2 Grey Crowned Cranes fly over us, with their characteristic “mahem” call, en route to one of the bird hides at the Karkloof Conservation Centre. What would Karkloof be without its treasured cranes? We had been treated to sightings of a number of cranes on the previous days as well. In total 11 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and 4 Wattled Cranes. And it was only fitting that most of these cranes were spotted on farms belonging to “Crane Custodians”.

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Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy) excited to see these custodianship signs.

Custodians are landowners who are formally recognised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for their voluntary contribution to the conservation of threatened species on their farms, such as crane, oribi or blue swallows. (Download “Guidelines for Custodianship in SA” here)

By tea time, we had traversed the Shafton wetland and reached the Karkloof River bridge which crosses over the road to Cramond.

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Karkloof River bridge along the Cramond road. From left: Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Mondli Goba (Sappi)

Mbuso reminded us of the extent of SAPPI plantations that had been removed from the Shafton wetland a number of years ago and allowed to rehabilitate back to natural vegetation – some 186 ha were not replanted due to the existence of this important wetland system.

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

The next section of the river was slow moving, noticeably poorer in water quality and showed signs of being at the bottom of the valley’s catchment area, which ultimately receives all the nutrient rich runoff from the various activities along the way. The water colour had changed to a more murky greenish colour, there was a type of sludge on the rocks, in some quieter corners, traces of foam was seen on the surface and the sewage weed could be seen in many places along the river’s edge.

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At the first set of large, impressive rocks above the falls, we did a Mini-SASS test, which showed the water was “critically modified”, confirming our impressions that the river’s quality was now compromised. At this site, a dead bushbuck was found between the large rocks, leaving us wondering what happened here. It looks like it lost its footing while trying to have a drink.

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Doing a miniSASS before heading off on the last section to the Karkloof Falls

The condition of riverine buffer along this last stretch was also compromised due to high levels of alien invasive vegetation (such as the big clump of bamboo shown below, poplar saplings, elderflower and all the other commonly seen invasives we had seen higher up in the catchment). Pastures were unfortunately established very close to the river, and therefore without a wide section of natural vegetation to act as buffer and filter for the runoff, the river is all the more impacted.

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

Having followed every twist and turn of the river now for 5 days, we felt a certain sadness at the deterioration of the river’s health. However, the sight of the picnic site for the Karkloof falls picked up our spirits. Destination at last! Hooray for being able to pull off our boots and take a break in the shade! Here we were spoilt with orange ice-lollies by our videographer, Jayne Symes, who is putting a video clip together of the river walk. What a welcome gift! Thank you Jane!

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Jane Symes (Black & White Studios) was our hero that day. These ice cold treats were welcomed after a day of scorching heat and little shade.

While catching our breath over lunch, we chatted at length about the problem of litter at a public picnic site like this, and how increasingly popular the Karkloof Falls had become. Would new signage saying “litter free zone” and removing the dustbins help to change people’s behaviour so that all rubbish is taken away by visitors?

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Karkloof Falls picnic site along the river could be the perfect setting for a litter free zone

There was just 1 section left to walk down to the actual Karkloof falls viewing point and lower picnic site, our end point for the day. We said “bye for now” to the river, with the very last leg of the river’s journey to be continued the following Thursday, 6th April. A team photo in front of the falls was a fitting way to exclaim “WE MADE IT!”.

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We made it! The Karkloof River Walk team have reached the Karkloof falls

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

Written by Janine Smith, Chairlady of the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Regional Secretary for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.

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Sixteen kids aged between 3.5 years and 11 years old spent two wonderfully exciting days at Bushwillow Caravan Park in the Karkloof, accompanied by parents and grandparent.

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This is thanks to the founders John and Linnet Crow, and Twané Clarke whose dream to give kids in the area the opportunity to learn to love and enjoy the outdoors has become a reality as a result of their hard work and dedication to KRANES club. KRANES is a joint project between the Karkloof Conservancy and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Lions River Honorary Officers, and this partnership has proven to be invaluable over the 2 years that this club has been running.

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This weekend was the first camp out for the club. On Saturday morning, 3 December 2017, excitement filled the air at the caravan park as kids began their weekend of camping and fellowship with other similarly minded children. There were rules that were set. The first was that kids were to assist in setting up the tents.

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It was amazing to see all of them knocking pegs into the ground with mallets and running hither and thither taking camping gear out of vehicles, whilst all the time keeping their eyes on the dam, which promised so much fun, but they had a job to do and got on with it.

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Finally the beckoning dam was “in bounds” for these hard workers. Next rule, children had to wear life jackets and be accompanied by an adult if they were on the edge or in the dam. A rush to find the life jackets and fishing rods to catch that big one followed, with John teaching them a few basics. Bread was the preferred bait and it certainly was the right choice. Fish of all sizes were caught in abundance. The rods, with the fish on the hook, were hurriedly brought up the bank for all the parents to admire, then dash back to the dam to release the fish (only to be caught again later). The kids had great fun and the fish were well fed. Then they all jumped into the water and had an absolute ball until 14h00 when they were called to the clubhouse for orientation and forest rules were explained and discussed.

Twané sat all the kids in a circle and asked each one to choose an animal beginning with the same letter of the alphabet that their names began with and to share what they loved most about nature and the outdoors. Listening to their explanations of why they loved being in nature was an eye opener, replies ranged from enjoying seeing the flowers in the veld, to sightings and identification of birds, insects and mammals. Ethan Gillings, who is 3.5 years old, said he loved Reedbuck because when they pooed in his yard he collected the droppings to put in the garden, but he didn’t like it when Zebra came and used their garden as a toilet because that was not such nice poo.

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Then it was time for the family scavenger hunt, which was lead by Linnet. Each family was given a map of the park and had to find and retrieve various articles from the forest, grasslands and dams. This clever idea was for everyone to become aware of the surrounding area. The kids also learnt to read a map and keep their eyes open whilst walking. When everyone returned to the camp site, the dam called again and a great afternoon of swimming, canoeing and fishing followed.

That evening the kids each helped to make a braai fire safely. This was a highlight as they were even allowed to light the fire themselves.

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They were given dough which they put onto a stick (stokbrood) and cooked over the fire. Patience waiting for the dough to cook was put to the test. Then the best of all, syrup was poured into the hole made by the stick.

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After everyone had eaten, the campsite looked like a Christmas tree with all the torches dashing around as kids went searching for fireflies and frogs followed by some quiet time and stargazing.

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Tired kids and parents had an early night.

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Dawn on Sunday beckoned everyone to the dam and once again this body of water became a hive of activity, after kids were chameleons and trees during the sunrise forest yoga.

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After a relaxed breakfast, the kids were lead on a forest walk by Linnet and Twané. Twané had explained to the children the difference between a forest and a plantation, so off they went into the indigenous mistbelt forest to look and learn. At about midday the trekkers returned looking fulfilled and tired. Another quick swim in the dam before it was time to pack up camp. Each family left armed with a booklet “My Forest Experience” that the team had put together which included different types of forests, a forest code (leave nothing but footprints), why our forests need to be protected, critters that can be found in forests, signs of the forest (spoor to look out for) and so much more.

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Well done to the KRANES team. It was amazing to see kids playing and learning together in nature. No one missed TV or cell phones and the children were taught responsibility and self-discipline. Keep up the good work and thanks for the many hours that you put into these children’s lives. You are helping to foster a generation of conservationists.

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The kids found a Yellow-striped Reed Frog amongst the reeds in the dam.

For more information about KRANES and to sign your children up to the mailing list, please visit the Karkloof Conservancy website or email us: karkloofconservation.org.za / info@karkloofconservation.org.za

Making Sense of Roadkill

Roadkill is a widespread issue. Wendy Collinson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust shares some interesting information discovered by the EWT’s roadkill research team in the Pilanesberg National Park. Well done to all involved.


 

STRONG DATA FROM LATEST ROADKILL SURVEY

Surveys of wild animals killed by passing traffic (roadkill) have produced strong data and several recommendations. This is according to Bridgestone, which sponsored the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) recent investigations into the issue of roadkill in the Pilanesberg National Park.

The surveys, conducted by the EWT between 21 October and 23 November 2014, consisted of on-site investigation of roadkill as well as questionnaires completed by 302 visitors to the park. Of the 120 roadkill observed by the roadkill research team, 62 were amphibians, 27 were reptiles, 20 were birds, ten were mammals and one was not identifiable.

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Vehicle numbers were monitored by the use of traffic counting devices. However, the roadkill research team soon discovered that elephants had taken a liking to the devices and damaged them. Drawing on previous research which has shown that elephants dislike the smell of chilli pepper, the team then applied a daily coating of chilli pepper and oil onto the counters. The traffic counting devices were then protected from further damage.

One of the most interesting aspects of the project was the role of speed in contributing to roadkill. “More than 95% of respondents to the questionnaire survey believe that speed is the sole cause of roadkill. Our aim was to investigate this issue in more detail,” said the EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project Executant, Wendy Collinson.

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Compliance with park speed limits was found to be reasonably high, with 72% of the 6,981 vehicles monitored driving at or below the speed limits. “We postulated that roadkills were likely to occur because drivers were either unaware of their surroundings or travelling too fast to be able to avoid collisions. To investigate these factors we monitored a sample of 201 vehicles and nearly 70% of the drivers were observed to not be looking at the road, but rather scanning the bush for wildlife”, said Collinson. “This suggests that many roadkills in national parks happen because of the expectation that animals are to be found in the habitat alongside the road, rather than on the road itself”, she added.

The same sample of vehicles was used to investigate the role of speed in determining rates of roadkill. The research team placed three fake animals on the road, and recorded how many times each roadkill was hit (for a total possible hit count of 603 roadkill). We also recorded how fast each vehicle was driving, assigning them to three speed categories of <20km/hr, 21-40km/hr and >40km/hr. We found no significant difference between hit rates of drivers in each of the speed categories, with approximately 50% of drivers hitting the fake roadkill across the board.

“From our survey, it seems that observation levels of the driver, rather than the speed of the vehicle, is the key factor in preventing roadkills,” Collinson commented. “One of our recommendations from the latest roadkill survey is that a driver awareness campaign be launched in parks to make drivers more aware of animals on the roads themselves,” Collinson commented.

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Collinson also said she was concerned about the low awareness levels of roadkills among park visitors. “Of the 284 respondents who had visited a park previously, only 2.8% had noticed roadkill, with 6.3% noticing a roadkill on their current visit,” she explained.

Steven Dell, Pilanesberg National Park’s Field Ecologist remarked, “despite the use of road signs both at the park gates and within the park as well as efforts to raise public awareness of roadkill, roadkill still occurs. This project was extremely beneficial to the park as it has assisted in identifying the cause for roadkill and will enable us to focus our future public awareness efforts.”

Bridgestone PR Manager, Desirée van Niekerk, said the results of the latest roadkill survey had proved as fascinating as ever. “Bridgestone has been involved with the roadkill project for three years now, and we applaud Wendy and her team’s contribution to both road safety and wildlife protection,” she said. “We hope these latest findings will soon be used to improve the quality of the experience of park visitors and safeguard the animals in these protected areas,” she concluded.

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The next stage of the project will shortly commence in Addo Elephant National Park.

The EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project in Pilanesberg was supported by Bridgestone SA, Arrow Bulk Logistics, Pilanesberg National Park, Copenhagen Zoo, Mikros Traffic Monitoring and Africa:Live.

For further information please contact Wendy Collinson on wendyc@ewt.org.za

River Walk wins WESSA Award

Penny Rees and the Mayday for Rivers team have been awarded WESSA KZN Conservationists of the Year 2012. During May 2012, the team of five and a small camera crew walked 311 kms from the source of the Mngeni River at uMngeni vlei all the way to Blue Lagoon where it empties into the ocean.

Judy Bell, on behalf of Winterskloof Conservancy and Midlands Conservancies Forum, nominated the team for this award saying: “Most of us fear to dream so big, let alone work to realise the dreams to do more for the environment, but Penny did so courageously.  Her dream was to raise awareness of the plight of our “working rivers” in KZN, focusing on KZN’s Mngeni River, from source to sea.  Penny inspired many by doing this walk – some walked with her, others did their own walks in their own areas and many more learnt about the plight of our rivers from their blog – the photos helped armchair enthusiasts share in the trials and tribulations of the walking team.  Many learnt about DUCT and the incredibly worthwhile work they do for the first time. The awareness they have raised has been invaluable to all those doing their bit to improve our planet’s ecosystems.  She has done us all proud.”

These awards enable the KZN Region of WESSA to recognise the individuals or organisations that have made a significant contribution to Conservation and Environmental Education. The team including Pandora Long, Penelope Malinga, Preven Chetty and Mike Farley was honoured at the WESSA Annual Meeting on Saturday 24 November. “It really was a magnificent team effort” said Penny accepting the Award from Pieter Burger – Chairman WESSA KZN, “It would never have happened with out the rest of the walking team, each with different skills and knowledge. The back up team behind the scenes was just amazing too, and  played a huge part in the success of the walk.”

There can be no doubt that Penny’s commitment to our water resources is passionate and, impressively, much of her effort to protect them is voluntary.  Since finishing the walk, she has spent many hours downloading data and writing a comprehensive report which includes 26 mini-sass scores, all the negative impacts observed along the way (from invasive vegetation to erosion, poor farming practices and pollution) and also makes suggestions about possible tourist trails along the river banks.  Penny says “After walking for 28 days and hundreds of kilometres, putting together a report on all our observations was a far more daunting than the walk itself!”  adding “It has become clear to me that the majority of the negative impacts seen along the river are in contravention of  South African laws. If these laws were enforced, most of the impacts would not occur and our rivers would be in a far better condition.”

The Mayday for Rivers team has a dream of clean, clear running rivers. Of a world where everyone understands how essential rivers are for all life on our planet. Since the walk, they have all been working in different fields to ensure that their dream does not die.  Follow their inspiring stories at www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com

Andrew Anderson, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum comments “I salute this team of  uMngeni Champions.  Thank you for showing us that this river is not only about the ‘science’ of a healthy river system but equally importantly it is about the people and communities that live along its course from source to sea.  Thank you for the encouragement your bold project is having in urging me to take up the challenge to protect it AND through the efforts of organizations such as DUCT,  Dargle Conservancy, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and the KZN Conservancies Association to find ways of engaging with government, on behalf of the millions of people who are indirectly dependent on the uMgeni, to support landowners in conserving and managing its integrity.”