Tag Archives: environment

We Adore Pink Dyke Swarms

The Karoo basin was once the site of an inland sea at a time in the earth’s history when all landmasses were joined in a single supercontinent known as Pangea. The Permian period (200 – 300 million years ago) ended with the most extensive extinction event recorded in paleontology – 90% of marine species and 70% of land organisms became extinct. These organisms would have sunk to the bottom of the sea, been covered in silt and mud, and then decayed anaerobically, eventually forming the fossil fuels we extract today.


It is important to understand that the Karoo basin is far more extensive than the area we refer to now as the Karoo and includes all of Lesotho, almost the whole of Free State, and large parts of the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

The Karoo basin’s sea was deepest (and therefore has the thickest deposits of fossils) between Graaff Reinet and Somerset East, thinning out completely in KwaZulu Natal at the Mvoti River. Over time these deposits formed what is now referred to as the Ecca geological group, comprising shale and sandstone formations. There are three main types of Ecca shale – Vryheid, Volksrust and Pietermaritzburg shale – in the KZN Midlands.

Map large - Dyke Swarms

In the KZN Midlands there is also a lot of dolerite. Dolerite flowed from volcanoes forcing its way through cracks in other types of rock. It appears as sills (horizontal), and dykes (vertical) intrusions. Dykes are present in such numbers in the Berg and around Nottingham Road that they are referred to as Dyke Swarms (shown on geological maps as bright pink or red lines). Dolerite is a known preferential pathway for liquids.


In the KZN Midlands and Berg foothills, technical cooperation permits have been issued to companies interested in extracting the natural gas that may be trapped in the shale, using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or more commonly, fracking. Sand, water and chemicals are pumped into a well under pressure, which creates cracks in the rock, releasing the gas. The presence of Dolerite, however, makes drilling more difficult and less profitable, as well as increasing the risk of groundwater pollution and the movement of water from the fracking area.


In order to verify the amount of shale gas present in the Midlands and its viability as an energy source, further exploration will need to take place in the form of test wells. Test wells are drilled through rock layers containing sub-surface and deep aquifers of groundwater as the companies search for the shale rock that may hold shale gas. Although the wells are encased in sophisticated layers of concrete, there is concern about the concrete failing and the fracking chemicals escaping into groundwater.

FRACK 05 rs

In the Karoo situation, accounts of the South African state owned company Soekor’s drilling efforts in the 1960’s, indicate that drilling fluid travelled for many kilometres from one well – probably along a dolerite fault.


This surely means that in order to protect our ground- and surface- water that the KZN Midlands shale should not be mined or prospected? Remember that groundwater is recharged from the surface water and eventually flows to the surface naturally, ‘daylighting’ into springs and seeps. If our groundwater is contaminated, then not only will it affect those using groundwater from boreholes, but also the rest of us who use water from the streams, rivers and dams into which it ultimately flows. The Midlands Conservancies Forum believes the precautionary principle should be invoked, as the risk is too high.

water factories 04

The shale in KZN is located in a relatively narrow layer, which means that yields will be low and thus not profitable. The presence of these Dolerite dykes should also deter prospectors, but we need to remain alert.

Swarming Dykes

Please make sure you are well informed: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/prpagefracking.php

Sharing Seeds and Inspiration

“Saving your own seed is so important and so is sharing knowledge with others.” said Ntombenhle Mtambo in her address to participants in the first ever SEEDS izimBewu Film Festival held in Howick last weekend. She added, “We need to help old people in their gardens because we can learn so much from them and we can pass this knowledge to the children.” wpid-session-two-2-jpg The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) were one of the sponsors of a long weekend featuring international and local thought-provoking films, talks about seeds, rivers and family farming. All intended to inspire positive changes in society and in our relationship to the natural environment and to each other. Nikki Brighton (4) Groups from Venda, Pondoland and the ‘Berg participated in a seed exchange during the opening session titled Seeds of Freedom, to symbolise the important role seeds play in our lives. Sandy Wright contributed ugati gati – traditional coloured maize which she has grown in the Karkloof with the MCG and other participants. wpid-session-two-6-jpg Penz Malinga “This seed exchange was the best thing and I really enjoyed the showcasing of indigenous knowledge.”  Tutu Zuma, who already saves her own seed, is inspired to start a seed bank of traditional varieties – she is particularly looking for a big white bean which she knows as ‘Bom Bom’. wpid-session-two-3-jpg Singegugu Zukhulu of Pondoland talked about traditional methods of food growing, storage and preparation from that area and related some of the interesting names which the various coloured maize has. A speckled brown and cream variety is known as “dog’s gums” in Xhosa. Nevhutanda Nkhetheni, a Venda Chief, talked about the sacredness of seeds and the importance of saving heirloom seed. Ntombenhle “I was so impressed with the MaVenda Chief, we spent a lot of time talking to that group. He told us that they teach young and old not to lose their tradition. I agree, it is so important that we save seeds so people will have an easier life. If we support, care, respect and listen each other we will bring back sunshine to every village door.” wpid-session-two-10-jpg Tutu thoroughly enjoyed the short film made by Howick residents Keran Ducasse and Bruce Hayes called ‘Grass Eaters’. “It taught me that we must plant food instead of grass. It was great to be part of this experience.” Tutu is keen to start keeping bees after watching Queen of the Sun and listening to Jessica Dreamtime’s presentation on the importance of bees in our world. Nikki Brighton (5) Sandy Wright (who is an active permaculture farmer) was really pleased to meet the enthusiastic and energetic members of the MCG and looks forward to working with them in future.

The second day of the festival focussed on water as it was World Water Day. The uMngeni River Walk movie, made by Sphiwe Mazibuko was shown for the first time in public. The film tracks the team’s month long journey, featuring some of the joys and horrors they encountered along the way. Penz Malinga was part of that intrepid team who have had such a big impact on river awareness in our province since. “All the films highlighted the environmental crisis we face and emphasised that we should work together towards sustainability for the future of our planet.” said Penz. sphiwe, penny, pandora, penz, mike by Nkululelo Mdladla film fest Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Program Director of the organisation International Rivers attended the premeire. “I really liked the River Walk initiative and in particular the documentary. It makes the issues real and in a simple way explains the impacts of human activity on the rivers. Well done, good work.”

Ayanda Lipheyana concludes: “The festival was wonderful. I meet different people and I learned new things, especially about beekeeping and the underground house (isisele) where food and seeds can be kept. I was amazed at the way the women greet their elders in the Venda tradition.  Most of the information I received was new to me. It was a wonderful experience.” www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/memmpop.php www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/resilience.php www.midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/green-grant-builds-resilience-in-mpophomeni/SEEDS Logo_200 x 80 px

People vs Biodiversity

This article first appeared in the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Rhino Club Newsletter.

Most, if not all, of the environmental progress we’ve made in the past 40 years could be undone in the next 40 by the sheer size and resource demands of our ever-growing, all-consuming population. The threat is very real.

zebra city

This year a national park was de-registered(lost its legal status) in Mexico to provide food and water to a growing local population; the U.S. government announced it will cease reintroducing wolves to new areas because there are too many people; and record numbers of endangered manatees, red wolves, gray wolves and panthers were killed in the U.S. by cars, boats, snow mobiles and guns. The historic recovery of these and many more imperilled species is being reversed by too many people consuming too much and crowding out wildlife habitat.

r scilla cows

Last week the Cabot Institute hosted a debate for BBC Radio 4’s Shared Planet programme, asking whether we can better manage resources to live within our planet’s means, or whether there are simply too many of us to co-exist with wildlife. Fred Pearce, science and environment writer, was one of the panellists. He argued that nature is dynamic and with better management of the resources we already have, we can reduce our consumption and live within the planet’s ability to recover.

Kierán Suckling, Executive Director of the Centre for Biological Diversity in Arizona, had a more pessimistic view. He believes that the human population is going to rise to a level far greater than the planet can sustain, and if we do not control our population level we will not be able to prevent ecological destruction on a global scale.

r kwampumuza

We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. The 2012 Living Planet Report by the WWF estimated that we lost 28% of global biodiversity between 1970 and 2008. Fred took a more holistic view, that while of course we have a huge effect on the natural environment and should try and minimise damage, nature is resilient and will fight back. Foxes invading urban environments, weeds in a garden and rainforests’ ability to regrow in 15 years show that nature isn’t as fragile as we think. Animals and plants that depend on very specific environments are likely to be more at risk than more generalist species however and Kieran argued that we have an “ethical responsibility” to keep all remaining species alive.

r vine snake
Every day around 870 million people do not get enough food. How can we hope to feed a predicted 9.6 billion people by 2050 whilst growing food more sustainably? Suckling described how industrial agricultural practices are highly damaging to the environment, for example pesticides which probably have a severe impact on bees. He argued that organic farms are unlikely to provide enough food for the growing population. Globally, 19% of forests are protected, but rising demand for fuel and agricultural land means we are losing 80,000 acres of rainforest each day and probably 50,000 species of animals and plants every year. The good news, Pearce said, is that that we already produce enough food to feed the predicted 9 billion people, although we waste enough for 3 billion. Recent reports showed that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK each year. He argued that we should be encouraged by the notion that “we can reduce our footprint just by being more economical”. The real challenge is how to make people understand that food waste is both socially and environmentally unethical.
Fred mentioned that overall women are having half the number of children that their mothers had. This is in part thanks to medical advances, meaning that most children will survive to adulthood so fewer births are needed to build a family. It is also an education success story. Both the panellists agreed that “when education and freedom levels rise, the population starts to grow more slowly”. Opportunities for women to educate themselves will be critical in changing gender stereotypes and reducing the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. This is good news for human rights as well as managing our growing population’s impact on the environment.

r van reenen women with picks
The debate ventured into the ethical question of whether animals and the environment should have same right to live as humans. Does sustainable living have to be an “us versus them” question? Fred took a humanist view, but argued that we as a species need the services that nature provides. Kieran argued that we must not simply steal the most resources we can get away with, but live sustainably with other species.

Where do you stand on this issue? Are you prepared to structure your life around sustainable living or do you believe that it’s a problem for future generations. Must your children and their descendants inherit a world where the loss of resources threatens humanity’s very existence?

Environmental Young Achiever Award for Penz Malinga

At a glamorous occasion in Pietermaritzburg last night, Penelope Malinga was a winner in the KZN Youth Achievers Awards – organised by uMvithi and aimed at exposing young people to positive career, educational, entrepreneurial and recreational opportunities – in recognition of her ‘selfless efforts in making a difference in KwaZulu Natal’.  Penelope was nominated in the Environmental Category by the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF).

penz and award. cropped. adj. JPG

Judy Bell, Chair of the MCF “We are very proud to be associated with the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, which Penz is a founding member of.  Credit is due to the inspirational people who started this initiative to motivate others to consider environmental issues.  It is right that Penz has been recognised by this Award. We look forward to even more exciting things in the future from this exceptional group. ”

Penelope describes herself as a self-appointed guardian of wild places, tree and bunny hugger.  She recalls the inspiration, “one day a friend introduced me to the uMngeni River gorge below the Howick Falls, it was like nothing I had ever seen, heard, or felt before.  I knew I was home.”

penz at gorge. res. JPG

Last year she was part of the team who walked the length of the uMngeni river, inspiring many to take up the cause of protecting our rivers.  Penelope particularly enjoys working with the youth, passing on her passion for wetlands and a respect and connection to our precious rivers.

Penz malinga helps identify water creatures.RC

Penny Rees, fellow river lover is very excited about her achievement. “Penz – from the days that we walked the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve with kids in tow, to your work in Mpophomeni pulling the community together and healing the streams, from your Zulu dance lessons, to duck diving in muddy pools, from all the grey hairs you gave me climbing down holes and up huge boulders, from the uMngeni River walk, to witnessing your singing debut, we have walked a long road together (sometimes quite literally!)  I cannot tell you how happy I am for you and how proud I am – you SO deserve this award – go forward from this day with your held high.


For those who only know Penz via the uMngeni River Walk blog – she is an impressive young woman who approached me back in 2009 or 2010 for employment for her prac. year as a Nature Conservation student. Since then, her love for Mother Earth, her enthusiasm, ethics and sense of justice, her ability to work with folks of all ages and from all walks of life, and her sense of fun and radiant smile (resulting in our Mayday nickname for her – Chakide) have been an absolute pleasure to witness, and I look forward to many more years working together with Penelope Malinga – Bayete!”Penz looking up

Penelope is a positive role model, unafraid to speak up on issues of animal rights, fairness, racism, feminism and environmental causes. This means she is not always understood in her community. penz  brady and disney 051 res.

Little sister Nonthokozo says “People often refuse to help her with testing the water, but now I think they will see what a difference she is making and help.”  Her mum, Thembeni, adds proudly “She always loved nature, I remember her coming back from school completely wet and saying she had fallen in the river.” Penelope adds “Ja, people think I am a little weird, but it is my ‘weirdness’ which won me this award!”

nonthokozo penz mrs malinga crop

At the Award Ceremony, the Environmental category was announced last, causing Penz’ heart to thump when her name was called out.  “I was getting ready to start clapping for the winner when they said it was me. I have never won anything in my life and yet tonight I am KZN Young Achiever in the environment category. Aweeeemah!”

Penz concludes: “I am proud of living in Mpophomeni and want to do all I can to alert people to the fact that we need to look after the small river, uMthimzima that runs through the township and into Midmar dam. Our actions have a big impact on the water quality of millions of people. I think this award might be a platform to make an even bigger difference.”

Penz in Mpop

“I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Earth I walk on, the water that
replenished my spirit, the Sun for lighting my way during day and the moon and stars by night, also the air that found a home in my body becoming a soul.”

Penz hugs felled gum

Read more about  Penelope and the other exceptional Mpophomeni women of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group at :



join their group on facebook ‘Mpophomeni Hills’  or come along and meet them at the next MCF Road Show which will be held in Mpophomeni on 3 September.

Earth Hour Inspiration

Earth Hour is lots of fun – you invite your neighbours over for a candlelit supper and then watch the world go completely dark around you. However, just turning off the lights for an hour is not really going to make much difference.  Using Solar Lanterns EVERY  night might.  Do participate with millions of people around the globe to Do It In The Dark on Saturday 23 March at 8.30pm, but also use the opportunity to rethink your energy useage for the rest of the year.  Do The Green Thing has commissioned atists to create posters in celebration of Earth Hour to help inspire us to make real changes for greener lives.  A few examples for your delight:

In the run-up to Earth Hour, designer and director Steven Qua wants to encourage people to turn their lights off and let their minds wander. “When I was young, I lived in a town with a lot of dogs and I used to lie in bed at night looking at the moon, listening to the barking. Now I’ve moved away I miss the barking – so every day I turn the lights off, look at the moon and bark myself to sleep.”  WHY? Turn the lights off every time you leave a room and save an average of 397 kg CO2 a year, as well as knocking 20% off your electricity bill


Illustrator Hiromi Suzuki created this beautiful infographic to show the damage producing meat does to the planet. “When we think about the causes of pollution, we tend to think about things like planes and cars and power stations. No one ever thinks about meat, despite it being one of the biggest polluters out there. So we need to cut back, however delicious it is.” WHY? Producing just 1kg of beef, enough for a spag bol for you and 5 friends, creates a whopping 34.6kg of CO2, and uses a staggering 15,000 litres of water.


Convincing people to turn things off properly was Pentagram designer Joe Stephenson’s mission with this poster. The standby light embodies everything that’s wrong with the world: rather than walking two steps to turn the telly off properly, we just leave it on standby, sucking up electricity and driving up our energy bills. So I wanted to demonize those little red lights, by making everyone think of Kim Jong Il whenever they see one. WHY?  A TV set that’s switched on for 3 hours a day and in standby mode for the remaining 21 hours uses about 40% of its energy on standby.


Tom Uglow, Creative Director at Google, wanted to remind people that good things happen when you ditch the car and walk instead. “I love to walk. We are made to walk. Even our minds work better when we walk, it is a pure meditative space, and when you walk you actually get somewhere. So I figure skip yoga, forget the gym, just walk. Oh, and you save the planet too”. WHY: Cars are one of the worst polluters out there, responsible for 4,160,000,000 metric tons of CO2 a year HOW? Reducing the amount of driving you do by just 10 miles a week will save about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year


Illustrator and world famous monsterist Pete Fowler wanted to inspire people to live a life less electrical with his poster: “I was on a train recently and I noticed that every passenger had an electric device plugged in and I thought it was insane. Gadgets are great but oh my god we’re consuming so much power, let’s pull back a little bit. Synthesizers and audio equipment and all the wires that come out of them are great, but it’s also nice to show a world with acoustic sound and natural light. I think everyone should plug out their synth for an hour and strum an acoustic guitar.” WHY? American kids now spend more than 7.5 hours every day using an electronic device – which is bad for the environment and their brains.


Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design at the RSA, recycled plastic waste to create a poster that encourages others to do likewise. “All these pieces were part of the estimated 10% of our plastic waste that ends up in the sea, washed in from landfill sites. Plastic should not be in landfill. Use your consumer power to push for change. If you can recycle it do, and if you can’t take it back to the shop and ask why they are selling you something that has to be put in the rubbish. WHY? The UK produces 31 million tonnes of waste a year, the same weight as three and a half million double-decker buses. And it’s getting worse – every year we produce about 3% more waste than the year before.


Pentagram’s Harry Pearce was struck by how many of us seem to have forgotten how to use our feet. “Walking is the most natural human thing to do. It’s what we’re built for, and what we’re built to do more of. This poster is about subverting a common symbol to a new purpose. Taking a symbol about learning to drive, and recycling it to inspire someone to walk more.”  WHY? Walking significantly improves our health – building stamina, burning excess calories and helping to keep a healthy heart. Most people walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day, but by increasing this to 10,000 you can burn up to 440 calories, reduce emissions and see a lot of lovely things along the way.


Artist and illustrator Andrew Rae wanted to convince people to choose tap water by highlighting the sheer madness that is mineral water.    “It bugs the hell out of me how many mineral water bottles are clogging up the oceans and being transported around the world when water is readily available from any tap. Stupid!” WHY? Bottled water releases over 1,000 times more CO2 per litre than tap water, costs over 1,000 times as much, and tastes EXACTLY THE SAME  More than 25% of bottled water comes from a municipal water supply – the same place tap water comes from.


Illustrator Andy Ward wanted to encourage us to live a life less electrical and more connected. “Disconnecting from habitual technology use, turning the power off and reawakening the senses. Beyond the immediate benefits of turning off the current and using less electricity I wanted to show that in turning off our technology we can also reconnect with the world around us in a more natural way. Reconnect with nature, marvel at its beauty and work long term hand in hand to make changes.” “I’ve illustrated a little urbanite going through his moment of awakening.  A bird acts as messenger and delivers the green message. Do the Green thing – turn off, tune in. Music to his ears.” WHY? The average person uses 5,700 watts of energy per day on electronics.


The shower scene in Psycho is one of the most famous moments in movie history – and it gave Michael Bierut, partner at Pentagram, the perfect way to scare people into cutting their shower short: “Taking a brisk, water-efficient shower is the best way to start a productive day. And the most famous shower ever filmed was one that was notoriously interrupted. Had Janet Leigh been a bit quicker, she may have made it to the end of the movie!” WHY? Cutting 2 minutes off your showering time will save 16,425 litres of water a year – and you’ll still smell just as fresh.


Illustrator Mr. Guil wanted to create a poster that inspired people to use things up to the very end – and so, logically, he did so by using a pencil right to the end. “I have always wondered why people don’t use pencils to the very end. This piece, made with one pencil, is influenced by the visual image of pencils revolving around my creatures combined with abstract forms and structures.”  “I find it interesting to observe how the pencils diminishing size can affect the line and shapes of a drawing. Imposing alterations to the hand movement. Therefore contributing to the creative process of the pencil men eating pencils; men on pencil skies, with pencil nose and pencil tattoos.”  WHY? Over 1.5 billion Bic pens are thrown out by Americans every year – and it’s a fair bet that most of the them still have a lot of writing left in them.


What else will you do?  At least sign up to FOLLOW Do The Green Thing? Funky ideas pop right into your inbox to keep you inspired.  Happy Earth Hour, Happy Earth.

Save our Grasslands, Save our Water Sources

MCF is proud to partner with WWF-SA  in the Midlands and we welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of the value of grasslands, which are the first to go when any development is planned, as they ‘appear’ to have no purpose.

Inhlosane and grassland - Barry Downard res.

This letter from WWF-SA CEO Morne du Plessis asks for your support ahead of World Water Day on Friday.

The proposed Pongola Bush Protected environment is under threat from many unsustainable practices, including coal mining. This area (about 9250 ha) is on the verge of declaration as the first Protected Environment in the Northern KwaZulu-Natal area. This region is home to some of the most important and intact grasslands and strategic water source areas in our country. With your support, we can bolster efforts to declare these conservation areas.

We believe that you can make a difference by having your say about this before 22 March and help protect some of the country’s most important grassland areas and “water factories”.

early summer grassland flowers res.

A recent analysis by WWF indicates that only 8% of South Africa’s land surface generates 50% of our rainfall run-off; much of this overlaps with abundant coal resources. Our Enkangala Grasslands Programme works in the headwaters of the Vaal, Pongola and Tugela to protect these remote areas from threats to water and biodiversity. This strategic water source area, spanning the high altitude grasslands between KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State, provides clean, potable water for Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, including several major power stations.

Stewardship partners and landowners have already shown commitment in securing this area of irreplaceable biodiversity value, picturesque natural landscape and water security. We ask you to now do the same.

The intention to declare these areas has been published in the Government Gazette. Protection Environment status will assure effective management and protection of this threatened area.

Please help us by supporting conservation and livelihoods through your actions! Make your voice heard online and/or write a letter. You may also send your signed letter to us by email or fax (+27 086 628 7518). The deadline for submissions is 22 March 2013.

Grassland facts:

There is global recognition of the cultural and natural importance of the Grasslands through the establishment of three World Heritage Sites, namely the Cradle of Humankind, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, and the Vredefort Dome.

Our grasslands include about 3370 plant species. The term “grassland” creates the impression that the biome consists only of grass species. In fact, only one in six plant species in the biome is a grass.

The area is home to several animal species, including 15 (or 45%) of South Africa’s endemic mammal species, 10 globally threatened bird species, 52 of the country’s 122 Important Bird Areas, and some endemic fish species

winter grassland.res

Mpophomeni kids visit Umgeni Valley

As we (MCF) were able to stretch the sponsorship we had received from N3 Toll Concession for environmental activities to end 2012, members of the Midlands Meander Mpophomeni Enviro-club kids were treated to an adventure at Umgeni Valley during the holidays. Charlene Russell, facilitator of the Club. compiled this report.

Some of the newer members hadn’t been on an excursion before, so there was great excitement as we all loaded into the mini-bus, with our back packs and picnic food! The group listened attentively to the safety talk before we set off, and asked many questions as we slowly made our way down into the valley, stopping to talk about aloes, the umlathlankhozi (buffalo thorn tree), paper-bark trees, grazers and bowsers, and the different types of dung and footprints we saw on the trail.


Once down at Shelter Falls camp, we divided into two groups and competed against each other in the obstacle course, the boys team just beat the girls and celebrated with a war cry to suit the occasion.


We then changed into our swimming costumes and headed for the ‘Bum-slide’ which was flowing very fast because of all the rain.

This was definitely the highlight of the whole day, as the kids took turns to slide down the smooth rock in the river and land with a splash in the pool, or (which was generally the case) have me catch them at the bottom. Eventually, when we were wrinkly and shivering from spending so much time in the water, we said good bye to the Bum-slide, and headed back to camp for lunch.


After we had feasted on boiled eggs, peanut butter sarmies, little cheese pies, plums and healthy crunchies we packed up our stuff and slowly trekked up the valley, taking a different route back and stopping to do a Mini-SASS assessment of the river (we were happy to discover that the score was 6.5 and the water was not polluted).


We finished at the Pines. Here we wrapped up the day, by drawing a picture of our favourite thing we had done using natural materials like sand, mud, sticks and leaves to do it. Our timing was perfect, and the mini-bus arrived to take us home just as we were saying our goodbyes to the valley, and leaving a stone behind with our good thoughts in it.


Thank you to all who made the day happen! Next year the Kids have all asked if we may “please please” stay over for one or two nights and camp-out all together!

Mountain Inspiration

Twenty four eco-conscious Midlands kids knew they were going to the mountain (Entabeni), home of the Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary. However, they had no idea they would be making friends with a crane named Boston who thinks she is a person and behaves like a friendly dog! On arrival, Boston wandered over immediately to say hello.

I never thought I could be so close to this beautiful bird” said Nondumiso, gently stroking the grey feathers and feeling the different textures of her soft leathery cheeks, spiky crown and woolly black cap. She nibbled our shoelaces and fingers and danced with her favourite boys.

Mzwandile dances with Boston

Boston was determined not to be left out when we went out for the afternoon session of orienteering – finding markers on the map and following our noses.

off to explore with Boston.RES

As we wandered through the wetlands we found many interesting plants. Most spectacular were the Red Torch Orchids –  Disa chysostachya or umnduze wotshani ombovu.

disa - red torch in wetland

Much to the delight of the Shea O’Connor School Eco-Club, who had attended the Midlands Bioblitz the week before, SANBI had lent them three cameras and a tablet to conduct a Hlatikulu Bioblitz. Everyone busily taking photos of everything that flowered, crawled or flew, of animal tracks and scats too. Nkululeko Mdladla, a budding filmmaker, took the best shot of the entire excursion:

Samkelisiwe admires Pelargonium luridium by Nkululeko Mdladla RES.

We saw songololos everywhere and stopped to admire their red legs every time. Many were moved to the edge of the road to ensure passing tractors would not harm them.

Sihle photographs a songololo.RES

The vlei was filled with white Knipophia albescens attended by bees, tiny Aponogton juncusRanunculus multifidus and lots of interesting sedges.

Kniphofia albescens and bee.RES CROP. JPG

The excursion was arranged by the Midlands Conservanices Forum (MCF) in collaboration with the Midlands Meander Association Education Project and KZN Crane Foundation who work with the learners at Shea O’Connor Combined School and the Mpophomeni Enviro Club.  It was sponsored by N3 Toll Concession. Arranging fieldtrips is challenging for schools, despite being an important part of the curriculum. MCF has tried to assist schools with this requirement during 2012. Educator, Antonia Mkhabela said “How wonderful it is to observe learners applying the knowledge they have gained in class. Now they have the full meaning of what they have learnt.”

the whole groups at Entabeni Hlatikulu .RES

Despite the walk to the forest being strenuous, once we arrived everyone was thrilled to visit ihlathi lesizulu. Sitting quietly, watching the birds, tasting the water and feeling the soft soil was an experience new to everyone. “In the forest, I think I hear it trying to tell me something I don’t know. I hear a voice making me think about my future and the environment in our community.” wrote Mtabaleng.

Drinking fresh water at Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

In the evening, we reminisced – watching photos gathered from the last 6 years of activities the children had participated in. These ranged from visits to the Karkloof Conservation Centre, Biodiversity Days at Umgeni Valley, solar cooking competitions, marching for Climate Justice at COP17, litter clean-ups and recycling, creating a food garden for 10:10:10, giving speeches, receiving awards, learning about birds, imifino, medicinal plants, carbon footprints, wetlands and planting trees. What a thrill to see oneself on the screen, to see ‘cool’ new friends when they were much younger, and to remember interesting times spent learning about environmental issues with the MMAEP.

Nonthando ntabeni Hlatikulu RES

The next morning we walked over to the Crane Centre to learn more about the three Crane species. Sandi explained how wonderful the new iso-rearing facility which the KZN Crane Foundation is in the process of building in Nottingham Road will be.  They will be able to  rear the ‘second eggs’ collected when the first chick hatches and increase the population (only 250 Wattled Cranes left in the wild). One of the boys dressed up in the ‘crane mama’ suit to demonstrate the lengths they go to to avoid the birds imprinting on humans (as Boston has).

Nkulu is a Crane Mama at Entabeni Hlatikulu.RES

A couple of girls were thrilled by the idea of becoming ‘crane mamas’ and delighted when Geoff collected discarded Wattled Crane feathers for them to keep.

Nomfundo and her wattled crane feather. RES

We followed the frog calls to the dam. Hlatikulu Vlei is an Important Birding Area (IBA) and in 1996 the sanctuary was declared a national “Site of Conservation Significance”. We listened to the completely different sounds in the wetland compared to the quiet time spent in the forest.

Hlatikulu Vlei .RES. JPG

Boston was curious about what we were having for lunch and poked her head into the dining hall. Croft Farm in Dargle had provided free range chickens which were pronounced “Delicious, so soft and natural, better than the shops” by Nondumiso. Vusi said “At least the chicken had a happy life.” Sanele added “I’m going to speak to my mum, we don’t need to eat so much meat.”

Philani and Boston RES

Everyone took great care of Samkelisiwe, the littlest participant. Holding her hand when she was nervous, answering her questions and making sure she was wrapped up warmly after getting wet. Despite her size, she had a huge appetite and was always the first one for second helpings at meals and keen for the tuck shop to open. She bowled everyone over when she decided to donate half of her tuck shop allowance towards bringing more children to Hlatikulu.

Samkelisiwe in forest RES.

Back at camp everyone poured over the field guides, trying to identify the species they had seen during the day. The Snake Guide, Mushroom and Wildflower guides were the most popular choices.


The evening entertainment was environmental poems, drama, songs, dances and rap which the children created during a thunderstorm which had us all running for cover. Vusi received a standing ovation for his contribution:

We came here sheep, seeking to learn more about nature

We came almost empty, longing to be filled

We came here captives, trapped by societies opinion

Enchained by the ignorance of others

Too weak to break our constraints, but longing, longing to be free

We found ourselves at a place unfamiliar to us, but reminded of our distant past

We came thinking we were cups full of knowledge by soon realised that we were empty vessels

We arrived empty, now we leave full

We came here haughty, now we are humble

We came here sheep, now we leave as lions

Mother Nature’s wellbeing we shall keep

We came here captives, now we will be free.

Thembela’s rap (with a cellphone providing the backing beat) really got everyone going and Wendy’s passionate plea for the environment ended with “Viva Nature Viva, Phansi Pollution Phansi”!

shea oc dance.RES

On our final morning we feasted on free-range eggs donated by Highveld Eggs before climbing Mount Lebanon. Stopping along the way to learn about rock formations and finding examples of the different types of rocks. As we hiked, we discovered more flowers, animal tracks, protea bushes and a stinkhorn mushroom. Lungisani said “Every species is living in harmony here, each has it’s own habitat and there is balance. This is a place in it’s natural state. I have learnt so much.”

talking about rocks Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

In the distance we could see a waterfall and hear the river running swiftly nearby. Just as we crested a hill a stream lay ahead – a perfect spot for splashing, swimming and relaxing.

paddling in the stream.res

The boys headed under the waterfall, while the rest of us paddled, drank the cool mountain water and admired the view.

Nkulu waterfall Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

Before the African Insight bus arrived to take everyone home, we spent time reflecting on what we have experienced. Each person sat alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes. “I have never done that in my life” said Thembela “I always am with my friends unless I am asleep. It was wonderful and I will do this quiet time more often.”

Mtabaleng Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

We fell in love with Boston and bid her a tender farewell. Everyone left determined to do their very best to take care of the environment.

Nkulu loves Boston RES.

Bulelani concluded “We have to stay passionate about the environment. We are the future leaders. Now we have more information and more contacts to do this.” Antonia Mkhabela added. “These kids are the drivers of change. Now they are motivated to actually act and make a change in their families, which will spread to the community.”

We love it at Entabeni Hlatikulu .RES

Everyone took home copies of environmental movies donated by GroundWork, pencils made of recycled materials and colourful notebooks filled with their thoughts about a very special trip. Special thanks to Lindiwe Mkhize and Penny Rees for their assistance in making this trip a success.

MCF kids and Boston at Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

KZN Crane Foundation AGM

Spring has certainly sprung in the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve (BBCOR), home of the KZN Crane Foundation (KZNCF).  Sunday 14th was a beautiful morning to join fellow crane lovers and environmental enthusiasts for the 24th Annual General Meeting.

Acting Chair, Andrew Ferendinos, welcomed everyone, in particular the new committee members, commenting on the wealth of talent which these volunteers contribute to the organisation. He presented certificates of apreciation to people who had given great help to the organisation this past year – including: uMngeni Mayor Mbali Myeni, Steve Simpson of the uMngeni Municipality, Bill Howells, James Berning, Paddy Moon and also Andy Visser and Con Roux of N3 Toll Concession who are funders of various aspects of KZNCF work.

Ann Burke, Conservation and Reserve Manager gave a presentation on the history of the International Crane Foundation  (ICF) and plans for the KZNCF.  The ICF was established in 1973 in Ann’s home town of Baribou, Wisconsin.  Ann worked there for many years, focussed particularly on their reproductive habits, discovering that if you remove the egg a female has just hatched, she will lay another. This was the beginning of their hand rearing programme. Baby cranes imprint on the colours and sounds their parents make, so since the early 1980s crane puppets have been used to raise the chicks.

The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (which removes the second egg after the first has hatched) was established in 2000 and there are now 47 birds in the captive breeding project. The BBCOR is an ideal site for rearing and releasing chicks and a facility to do this has been planned.  The KZNCF feel strongly that as a conservation organisation it was important to set an example and build a green building. Architect Marita Nell has designed a wonderful facility featuring a green roof, solar power and many energy saving devices.  This project will also create jobs for “crane moms” and offer interns the opportunity to get hands on experience.Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) spoke about the 2012 Crane Breeding season and the success of their Annual Aerial Survey to locate the 70 known breeeding pairs of Wattled Cranes in KZN and count all the other crane species too.  Half of all the Wattled Cranes in South Africa (about 240 individuals) are found west of the N3 in the Midlands.  Ezemvelo have supported the project for the past 20 years making this one of the longest running surveys of its kind in the world.

She was pleased to report that there has been a steady increase in the Grey Crowned Crane population over the years. This is due to changes in agricultural practices, the use of fewer poisons, collaboration with Eskom on powerlines and also the fact that they are able to adapt to human created habitats.  3400 were seen this year.  934 Blue Cranes were spotted this year, mostly in the area around Kokstad.

Penny Rees from DUCT gave an overview of her walk along the length of the Mngeni river in May this year.  From the pristine beginnings at uMngeni Vlei above Dargle and Fort Nottingham, through polluted urban areas, others impacted by poor farming practices and infested with invasive vegetation all the way to the sea. Penny illustrated the importance of conserving our water sources for the protection of cranes as well as all other living creatures. Everyone was fascinated to hear that the river was able to clean itself despite all the abuse if given a chance and will certainly think twice when buying uMngeni river sand at the hardware store in future.After lunch on the lawns beside the dam, an Oribi count was conducted in the Reserve. Twelve were spotted.  The grasslands were filled with flowers – Dierama, Kniphofia, Delospermum, Gerbera, Helicrysum, Graderia and more. Care was taken not to disturb the Wattled Crane pair who have just hatched a chick.

Learn more about the work of the Crane Foundation at www.kzncrane.co.za