Newsletter #75


We would like to express our heartfelt thanks for all the positive comments received for last month’s newsletter. It seems that our members/readers found the articles on the water crisis and termites most interesting. Fact is: Our population growth is alarmingly high. And these new people don’t substitute those who pass away – they are added! It also doesn’t concern only the birth rate – people live longer and enjoy living longer more than before. This means that not only are there more people consuming food, water and energy – each one is also consuming more than his/her predecessor. Worse – if governments really started caring for our earth, the whole political power balance will be derailed! Another fact: We can live without electricity but not without water. If our natural fresh water resources are depleted our water is finished. We can always make some other plan to generate more electricity, but we cannot make more water!
A warmer than usual winter is forecast for the northern parts of our country and a wetter than usual winter for the Cape. Whatever the case, winter time is time for baked sago pudding. But what is sago? It is a carbohydrate that comes from the inside of the stem of the sago palm. It is then processed into small, round granules that we know as sago. Tapioca (with the bigger granules) can be used as a substitute for sago. Mouth-watering!
Please make a note of the new contact numbers for SAPS Hekpoort: 014 576 9108 or 014 576 9109.


Our heritage

One of our committee members, Annette Raaff, read interesting information about Damhoek in the recent Heritage Portal newsletter and shares it with us.
Castle Gorge and Damhoek Pass saw significant Boer and British activity during various periods of the Anglo-Boer War. The Damhoek Pass was an important route over the Magaliesberg, and for this reason, in August 1901, the British Army fortified the area with no less than seven "Rice Pattern" blockhouses [and] various other smaller fortifications. The remains of these structures can still be seen today. Castle Gorge was the probable site of several hidden Boer industries, including a grain mill powered by the stream, a blacksmith, and a shoemaker. Unfortunately, no physicial evidence of these Boer industries has yet been found. A hike of this area to explore its history and structures, and to admire the beautiful scenery will be taking place on 2 June 2015. This is a strenuous hike of about 10km, and is only suitable for the fit! For more information, visit Won’t it be exciting if the participants find some of the hidden Boer industries? – Ed.
Go to and read the section on Paul Kruger and “boer maak ‘n plan”.

A porcupine in the pool!

inthepoolOur members/readers will remember that we reported on Werner Fiel and Esther Müller’s horse that had somehow landed in their pool and could not get out, towards the end of last year. It took a concerted effort from a number of people to get the horse out of the pool uninjured. The pool was so badly damaged that it had to be remade. Now the newly made pool has had an animal visitor once again – this time a porcupine! Fortunately, the pool was still empty. Thanks to Esther who sent us the photo.



On Secretary birds

A recent press release of BirdLife, SA (16 April 2015) reports on their research project to study the Secretary bird, launched in 2011 – the same year that the threatened status of the Secretary bird was changed to vulnerable. The report describes the vast distances these birds travel after leaving the nest and the numerous threats they face. The movements of one specific Secretary bird, called Taemane (meaning ‘diamond’ in Setswane- and Sotho), were tracked. He was fitted with a tracking device on a farm near Warden in the Free State on 5 April 2013, when he was about 49 days old. Taemane remained in the area of the nest until he was about 114 days old and then visited various parts of the Free State before moving south to the Kwazulu-Natal south coast, then moving inland, and settled on a farm near Ixopo for a few months. From there he moved back to the Free State where he then continued to spend time in the grasslands south of Memel. For more information on this project, please contact Ernst Retief at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 072 223 2160.



Although Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius) can be found across South Africa (therefore also in our area), we cannot remember when last we saw one of these birds, and I thought that I should write an article about them. It will be interesting to know if any of our members/readers have spotted any of the birds in our area. The photo of the Secretary bird was kindly provided by well-known bird photographer, Albert Froneman – Ed.
At a distance, the peculiar shape and long legs render this bird to be confused with a crane. Its unusualness has captured public imagination, and it is incorporated into the South African coat of arms. The body of the Secretary bird is mainly pale grey, belly and upper legs black, tibial feathering, tail bands, rump and crest feathers black. The irises are hazel, bill and cere pale blue-grey, facial skin yellowish orange, legs and feet greyish pink. They are very conspicuous in semi desert, grassland, savannah, open woodland, farmland and on mountain slopes. Usually in pairs or solitary. They breed from August to December. The clutch is normally 2 white or pale bluish-green eggs. Incubation is 45 days and nestling 85 days. Most immature birds move long distances from their nest site and then return to their natal areas after a few months. Their food consists of insects (mainly grasshoppers), rodents, lizards, young birds, eggs, snakes and rabbits.
Sources: Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa, Gordon Lindsay Maclean, sixth edition, 1993 and information provided by Willie Froneman, Xanadu Nature Estate.

About birding

Blue crane massacre

The Blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is SA’s national bird as well as the 2015 bird of the year, classified as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List categories. Tests have confirmed that poison (Diazinon, widely used as blowfly remedy for wool-producing sheep in the Karoo) was responsible for the recent deaths of between 200 and 1 000 Blue cranes near Richmond in the Karoo, an incident described as “the worst of its kind to date” (‘Blue crane massacre’ by Norma Wildenboer. Source: IOL News and Diamond Fields Advertiser, Kimberley).

Proposed wind farm on the Sneeuberg in the Karoo: A 93 000ha wind energy facility (WEF) has been planned for the Sneeuberg mountain range near Victoria West in the Karoo. According to Marina Beal of the Nama Karoo Foundation (NKF), this development will imperil the iconic endangered Blue crane, many bird species and the entire local ecosystem: “The project makes no provision for the long-term sustainability of the environment, nor has any lasting benefit for those living in the vicinity. The environmental harm of the proposed WEF is not restricted to birds flying into blades, or the ugliness of turbines in a wilderness setting” (Farmer’s Weekly, 19 September 2014).


Biodiversity Stewardship Fiscal Benefits Project

South Africa is home to a wealth of bird species and other unique biodiversity. The rapid spread of urbanisation, mining, pollution, agriculture and a host of other human-induced factors have caused the current precarious state of many of our birds and their habitats. Sadly, we could permanently lose a large portion of our natural heritage if we do not change the situation. The Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme seeks to protect habitats and sites identified as critical to the survival of the species found there. These IBAs are also of the utmost importance in securing our water and food production. The overall health of these ecosystems impacts our households directly. The majority of these habitats, and the birds and other biodiversity they house, are found outside of state-owned protected areas. It is therefore essential that private landowners are engaged to steward their land in such a way that our environmental health and the beauty of our country are preserved for the future.
(For more information on the Biodiversity Stewardship Fiscal Benefits Project, contact the Project Manager, Candice Stevens: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).


Note from a bird lover: “I do love the fact that the more you watch the birds in your garden going about their daily business, the more questions you can ponder and discuss with like-minded friends. I’m not a fan of cold weather, but the winter flowering aloes make it all worthwhile. I am slowly collecting different aloes and hope to soon have flowers throughout the year. Our water-short country makes succulents the obvious choice for a bird garden, and the nectar-lovers of the bird world would really appreciate this” (Sally Johnson).


Did you know? When migrating, birds fly thousands of kilometres, sometimes days on end, while crossing oceans. Scientists have found that birds survive these marathon flights by taking forty winks for new energy. These power naps usually last only about 9 seconds. Birds close one of their eyes, while keeping the other one open so that they can still keep their brain active and spot danger (Huisgenoot Nuus, 11 December 2014).


Make a note in your diary: Sasol Bird Fair, 5 & 6 September 2015, at the Walter Sizulu Botanical Garden, Ruimsig. For more info, contact Nikki McCartney, Events & Marketing Manager: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

World heritage sites

Our members/readers will be aware that a previous attempt to have the Magaliesberg Biosphere registered as a world heritage site, was unsuccessful some years ago (we reported about this process in our newsletters). Currently, new attempts are being made to have this historical and biodiversity-rich area registered as a world heritage site. Like Table Mountain, the Magaliesberg (and its surrounding zones) is one of oldest mountain ranges in the world.
South Africa has eight world heritage sites

  • Robben Island: Jail for political apartheid inmates and home to 32 bird species and 23 mammal species.
  • The Cradle of Humankind: Close to Krugersdorp, world renowned for about 500 fossil discoveries.
  • Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo: Home of Africa’s most advanced tribes, since the time of the Iron Age (900 AD).
  • Ais-Ais-Richtersveld Cross-border Park: In the Northern Cape, on the South African/Namibian border, home to the famous Elephant’s trunk (Afr. “halfmens”) trees, San paintings (dating back up to 10 000 years) and black dolomite.
  • The Free State Vredefort Dome: Site where a giant meteorite hit the earth about 2 023 years ago and formed a crater of 300km in diameter.
  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwazulu-Natal: The park covers 332 000 hectares, has many lakes and ecosystems and is home to South Africa’s largest river estuary, 526 bird species and 25 000 year old coastal dunes.
  • Cape floral region: Stretches from Table Mountain to the Swartberge and Baviaanskloof, and is home to 20% of Africa’s flora. Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world at 360 million years.
  • uKhahlamba- Drakensberg Park: The park covers 243 000 hectares and is home to many caves and rock paintings, some dating back about 4 000 years (Rapport Beleef, 10 May 2015).

Environmental snippets

Springbuck migrations

Up to the late 1890s, herds of thousands of springbucks migrated through the Karoo, Namaqualand and the Kalahari in a quest to find grazing. In a Farmer’s Weekly of 1915 it was reported that a huge springbuck migration had taken place from Namaqualand, over the mountains, to the western coast. Thousands of buck drowned in the sea, and carcasses could be found along 48km of the coast line!
According to the author, Lawrence Green, a typical hunter’s breakfast consisted of fried springbuck liver and kidneys, followed by leg of springbuck, cold bustard, hot coffee with goat milk, coarse meal cookies, springbuck biltong, wild honey, tomatoes and lettuce leaves – a whole buck mouthful!
Game is usually flavoured with coriander, mace, pimento, cloves, nutmeg, pepper corns, salt, sugar and vinegar. The meat is versatile, healthy, tasty, and one can change any cut into a juicy, tender and tasty dish. It is a good alternative to red meat, contains little fat, cholesterol and kilojoules and loads of good proteins (Anél Potgieter, Rapport Beleef, 3 May 2015).



The International Day for Biological Diversity was celebrated on 22 May 2015. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), globally about one third of all known species are threatened with extinction. That includes 29% of all amphibians, 21% of all mammals and 12% of all birds. If we do not address the threats to biodiversity, we could be facing another mass extinction with dire consequences to the environment, economy, human health and our livelihoods.
Despite the declining rate of our biodiversity, South Africa remains one of the countries with high levels of biodiversity. South Africa occupies only 2% of the world’s land surface area and yet is home to 10% of the world’s plant species and 7% of its reptile-, bird and mammal species. Our oceans are home to 10 000 life forms, representing 16% of the world’s marine wildlife. Our country ranks as one of the top birding destinations in the world and is a sanctuary to more than 9 000 plant species, and home to the magnificent Big Five (email, 22 May 2015).


Bokoni Region

Recent archaeological and historical research on the terraced settlements of the Bokoni region on the Mpumalanga escarpment has for the first time shed light on the area’s unique pre-colonial agricultural system. A summary of research on Bokoni is available in Peter Delius, Tim Maggs and Alex Schoeman’s book Forgotten World: The stone-walled settlements of the Mpumalanga escarpment (Wits University Press, 2014).
Visit the website for more information.

Did you know?

Fuel cell vehicles: According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), fuel cell vehicles have many more advantages than electrical or conventional petrol or diesel vehicles. Fuel cells generate direct power from natural gas, different to batteries that must be charged from an external source. With fuel cell vehicles you won’t have a fear of distance like with battery-powered electrical vehicles, as it will produce 650km on a tank, and a hydrogen tank can be filled in three minutes (Francois Williams, Sake-Rapport, 8 March 2015).

Sweden is so good at recycling, it has run out of garbage and must now import garbage from Norway to fuel its energy programmes (email received during May 2015).

About 17 000 trees are processed into toilet paper daily (Huisgenoot Nuus, 11 December 2014).

International Whiskey day was celebrated on 16 May 2015. The first recipe for making whiskey dates back to 1497. How do you know you’re drinking real Scotch? If the bottle’s label says Whisky, it is the real thing. All other producers must spell whiskey with an ‘e’, i.e. Whiskey (RSG, 15 May 2015).

The human brain can store about 100 terra bytes, or 93 000 giga bytes. This is equal to 100 000 movies.

New test for cocaine abuse: A new drug test will be able to detect cocaine abuse by means of finger prints, according to a report in The Independent. Cocaine excretes chemicals, somewhat like sweat, and this test is more effective than blood tests or body fluids, as those can be exchanged with fake samples. And, of course, your finger print will also disclose your identity (Rapport Nuus, 17 May 2015).

Payment for having a sweet tooth: According to a 2013 research report published by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “Sugar: Consumption at a Cross-roads”, South Africans are 15th on the list of the most obese nations worldwide. The average South African consumes about 25 teaspoons of sugar daily, compared to the worldwide average sugar consumption of 17 teaspoons daily. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one should not consume more than the equivalent of ten teaspoons of sugar (40g) per day (4g of sugar is about one teaspoon). Sugar has all the criteria of potentially addictive substances (Rapport Beleef, 17 May 2015).

Interesting words

Have you ever come across these words/expressions?
Trouvaille (n.) – something lovely discovered by chance; a windfall.
Dérive (n.) lit. – “drift”; a spontaneous journey where the traveller leaves their life behind for a time to let the spirit of the landscape and architecture attract and move them.
Scintilla (n.) – a tiny, brilliant flash or spark; a small thing, a barely visible trace.
“Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though”
(David Burge@iowahawkblog).

Food for thought...

“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move” (Richard Luv – Last Child in the Woods).

“Don’t fear the enemy that attacks you, but the fake friend that hugs you” (Payong Kalbigan fb).

“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones” (Julius Ceasar).

“Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here, we should dance” (Anonymous).

“We have one of the largest and costliest governments in the world. Sadly, it is grossly ineffectual. In fact, it is a very expensive bunch of amateur firefighters trying to douse a multitude of flames” (Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota).

And finally...
“Don’t worry about what I’m doing, worry about why you’re worried about what I’m doing” (Anonymous).

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