Jul 17

Plans for a new opencast mine near South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve may increase pollution and poaching in the area, which would lead to further reductions in the size of the local southern white rhinoceros population. 

Among the most charismatic and recognisable of Africa’s mega-fauna, the white rhinoceros is the largest of the five rhinoceros species and one of the world’s biggest land animals, second only to the African and Asian elephant in size. A subspecies of white rhinoceros, the southern white rhinoceros, is currently the most numerous of all the world’s rhinos, and 93 percent of the total population is thought to occur in South Africa. This subspecies was rescued from near extinction a century ago, and represents a real conservation success story. In 1895, only around 50 individuals remained but careful conservation has increased this number to the 20,000 individuals that exist today. However, threats to the southern white rhinoceros are on the increase, and news of a proposed mining operation in close proximity to one of the most important nature reserve for this, and many other, species may spell disaster for this iconic animal.

The Near Threatened southern white rhinoceros is currently the most populous of the world’s rhinoceros species

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and was established in 1895, largely to protect the remaining population of the southern white rhinoceros. Situated at the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers, this natural reserve is home to Africa’s ‘big five’, as well as innumerable other iconic species and over 340 bird species. There are fears that opencast coal mining in close proximity to the park may pollute the air and rivers, displace local communities, and threaten the southern white rhinoceros. Local communities’ fears are founded in experience, they say that drilling and blasting at the Somkhele coal mine, six miles away, already creates pollution and affects livestock. There are concerns that not only will the toxic dust from the new mine affect the local wildlife, but the influx of people is also likely to increase the accessibility of the park to poachers.

The African leopard is also found in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Poaching is an increasing threat to all rhinoceros species. Just 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007, while recent figures show that over 500 have been killed so far in 2014, indicating the highest level of poaching since records began. The growing demand for rhinoceros horn is thought to be due to economic growth and increased disposable income in Southeast Asia and China, where the horn is used for traditional medicine and as a sign of prestige among the business elite. The price of rhinoceros horn is greater than that of gold, and poachers are becoming increasingly organised, and there have been many reports of helicopters and high-tech gadgetry being used in poaching attempts. It is thought that the mine could help to facilitate poaching, and increase the difficulty of policing the park. The response to the plans from local communities and conservationists worldwide has been one of concern and consternation.

The horn of the white rhinoceros is becoming a more valuable target for poachers due to increasing demand from Asia

Find out more about the white rhinoceros on Arkive.

Discover more South African species on Arkive.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Mining poses new threat to world’s greatest rhino sanctuary.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Sep 28
Photo of western leopard toad in habitat

Western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus)

Species: Western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The western leopard toad’s distinctive markings are unique to each individual.

More information:

Found only in a small part of the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the western leopard toad is a beautifully patterned amphibian with striking reddish-brown blotches on its back. A large, reddish-coloured gland on each side of its head produces toxins that help deter predators. This species lives on the ground and spends most of its time away from water, but between August and October large numbers converge on suitable pools to breed. Males call from vegetation to attract females, giving a distinctive, deep, snore-like call. Each female western leopard toad produces up to an incredible 25,000 eggs, but only a few young toads survive to reach maturity. This species is never found more than ten kilometres inland.

Although the western leopard toad can survive in urban gardens and parks, it is under threat from increasing urbanisation, development and agriculture. Many toads are killed on roads, particularly when migrating to breeding sites, and this species can also die by becoming trapped in artificial, vertical-sided water bodies such as swimming pools. Predatory fish, invasive plants and captive ducks also present threats at its breeding pools. Fortunately, a number of conservation measures are underway to protect this colourful amphibian. The western leopard toad is legally protected in South Africa, and a Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee has been helping to draft a management plan for the species. Volunteers help to rescue toads from roads, and the public have been encouraged to send in photographs of the toads and their unique markings to help monitor their populations. By helping to raise awareness of urban conservation issues, efforts to save the western leopard toad may also benefit a range of other species.

 

Find out more about the western leopard toad and its conservation at the Western Leopard Toad website.

You can also find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive’s Amphibian Conservation page.

See more images of the western leopard toad on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Dec 19

South Africa is a nation rife with natural beauty. Found on the southern-most tip of the African continent it is bordered by five other countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland.

Famous for its captivating and exquisite wildlife, South Africa is a popular travel destination for travellers wanting to experience spectacular flora and fauna. To help you save on the air fare, we thought we would showcase just some of the amazing species found in South Africa as part of this months installement of ARKive Geographic.

Sandy Serpent

Photo of Namaqua dwarf adder camouflaged in the sand

Sometimes the best things come in small packages, or perhaps the most powerful! The Namaqua dwarf adder is one such example, being the smallest venomous snake in the world. Reaching a maximum of 28 centimetres, this true viper has an attractive broad and triangular head, a heavy body covered in protruding scales, and retractable hollow fangs used to inject venom into its prey. This dune-dwelling reptile is classified Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to mining activities and collection for the pet trade.

Rooted in Riches

Silver tree leaves

The silver tree is a shining beauty, growing on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. What makes this tree unique is its silver sheen and velvety leaves, which are covered in tiny hairs to protect it from desiccation and being eaten. The fruit of the silver tree will ripen over several months and is sometimes not released from its woody sheath for several years. This hearty plant can live for up to 80 years, yet is considered Vulnerable due to excessive leaf collection and other invasive plant species.

Shy Guy

Brown shyshark on seabottom

Lacking the fierce predatory nature of its larger relative, the great white shark, this brown shyshark is much less dominating in appearance and behaviour. In fact, its name comes from its tendency to coil its tail around its eyes as a defense against predators when it is caught or picked up. It prefers to feed on lobsters and smaller fish, and is endemic to waters around South Africa in the western Indian Ocean.

Stately Stepper

Male secretary bird displaying

The secretary bird is a large bird of prey from the African grasslands, whose name stems from the peculiar long feathers on the back of its neck which are said to resemble the quill pens that secretaries used over a century ago. This unique bird is also known as the ‘marching eagle’ as it prefers to move around on foot. It can easily cover 20-30 kilometers a day hunting opportunistically for food, taking mongooses, hares, snakes, lizards, squirrels and even freshwater crabs! The secretary bird has an intricate courtship routine that involves pendulum displays in flight.

A Rare Hare

Riverine rabbit

The critically endangered riverine rabbit is one of the rarest terrestrial mammals endemic to South Africa. What makes this lagomorph unique is that it typically produces only one kitten (baby rabbit) a year. The riverine rabbit is nocturnal and feeds on flowers and grasses at night. Over the past century, two-thirds of its habitat has been lost and it is estimated that only 250 individuals remain in the wild.

A horse of a different colour

Cape mountain zebras

What would a zebra be without its stripes? While zebras may all blend together in a herd, different zebra species have distinguishing characteristics, and each individual has a unique stripe pattern. The mountain zebra is discernible from other zebra species by the thin and relatively closely spaced vertical black lines on its neck and torso, and the ‘grid iron’ pattern of narrow stripes across the rump. The Mountain zebras also has a square flap of skin, or dewlap, on its throat. Hunting and habitat loss are primary threats to this black and white beauty.

Savannah Sovereign

African lioness covered in blood from a kill

While the range of the lion is not restricted to South Africa, it is difficult to overlook this ‘king of beasts’. An iconic species, lions inspire us with their courage, strength and spirit. This magnificent big cat is built to prey on animals many times its size, including African buffalo, hippos, and even elephants while hunting cooperatively! Male lions are larger than females and possess a mane of hair around their heads, a unique feature unique amongst the cat family. Some of the biggest threats that lions face are habitat loss, human conflict and over-hunting.

While these species are truly magnificent, they are only a small sample of what you can see in South Africa. Haved you visted before, or is it on your travel wishlist? Let us know, and please share your favourite South African species with us on our Facebook or Twitter page!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant

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