Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wild Horses

For as long as I've been visiting and now living in Betty's Bay I've heard tales about the wild horses of the Botrivier Wetlands. I've never been lucky enough to see them as they appear to be quite elusive as they wade and graze through the shallow waters or (very rarely) canter across the nearby dunes.  Several Sundays ago we decided to visit the Rooisand Nature Reserve where access to the wetlands is fairly easy.

From Clarence Drive just past Kleinmond you turn down into a dust road with the worst corrugations I've ever experienced and arrive at the beautiful wild wetlands, where the only sounds are those of the numerous waterbirds, the gentle lapping of water against the abundant small islands, the sound of the wind as it ruffles the grasses and the dull roar of the breakers on the other side of the dunes. 

We could see a small herd of horses in the distance, too far to photograph unfortunately, but my daughter thought there might be some of the animals near the bird hide which you reach via a boardwalk and a fairly long trudge through sand and vegetation.  And by the way, how wonderful to see boardwalks being constructed in a number of wetlands and rare plant areas.  We need to do everything we can to preserve our precious biosphere.

When we got to the bird hide we saw two horses fairly close by, so we crept quitely into the hide and settled down, binoculars and camera ready, hoping the horses wouldn't take fright and gallop off.  On the contrary they moved closer and closer towards us, peacefully grazing and perfectly relaxed.

From a pamphet suppled by the Kleinmond Tourism Office, written by Dr F J van der Merwe and titled "The Wild Horses - Botrivier Wetlands, Kleinmond" comes this interesting story about the origins of the horses.

"They are unique to this area and are South Africa's only herd of wild horses found in a wetland habitat.  They are legend in the region  with many speculations as to how they got there.
One of the more romantic claims is that during the Anglo-Boer War, domesticated horses were taken from the surrounding farms into the Palmiet Mountains to be hidden from the British troops.  |Some of these horses escaped to form a herd, which grew to about 400, some 60 years ago."

"Another claim states that the British soldiers who had barracks in the area, released some horses which made up a herd, although not as many as the 400 estimated in the previous claim.
Some locals believe that a local smallholder released a few horses from his stock some time ago and these remnants are those now found grazing in the wetlands."

"The horses seem to have a good ecological impact on the Bot River lake area.  They play a similar role to hippos as they create waterways through the vegetation, especially through the thick reed beds."

Information gleaned from the notices on the boardwalk puts the number of horses at 23, consisting of 2 roaming herds of 10 and 13 horses each.  Apparently over decades the groups of horses and their ancestors have adapted themselves remarkably well to their marshy habitat by developing big, saucer-shaped hooves, an adaptation to the soft spongy surface.

After twenty enthralling minutes of watching and snapping pictures, the pair started to wander off, leaving the wild, deserted expanses to the waterbirds.

We felt incredibly privileged to have caught a closeup look of these mystical animals and it's a magical experience I'll always remember. 

On the way back along the dirt road I stopped to take this picture of the after effects of a fire which swept a large part of the area some time ago.  The dead trees are the remains of Rooikrantz, an invasive alien plant which reproduces rapidly, smothering all in its path.   It seeds itself rapidly and only the most strenuous efforts at ongoing clearance bring it under control.  The good thing about the fire is that the larger aliens were destroyed, the bad thing is that the heat of the fire causes more seeds to germinate.

Once back on the tar road, a flash of bright colour caught our eyes and we found this Brunsvigia orientalis, common names include candelabra flower, king candelabra, chandelier lily and sore-eye flower. 

"Large pinkish 'eggs'  suddenly push their way above ground, elongating quickly and becoming topped with the spectacular red spherical flowerheads.  Even more surpirsing is that they pop up out of the bare ground, normally without a leaf in sight."

"Once the seeds begins to develop the  flower stalks elongate and the inflorescence dries out.  The dry flower stalks snap off and the wind sends the spherical heads tumbling along."

Information about the lilies from http://www.plantsafrica.com/


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