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Hard Labour for the HRs at Tankwa Karoo National Park

28 March 2008

The Boland Honorary Rangers (HRs) adopted the little-known Tankwa-Karoo National Park early in 2007. The park is found in one of the most starkly beautiful areas in South Africa. To get there you take the road which winds from Ceres in a north-westerly direction to Calvinia.

The park came into being in the 1980’s and is at its best during the spring, when the normally arid sparcely-covered ground comes alive with plants and flowers of all imaginable hues. This area is also home to the Hoodia gordonii plant, better known for its slimming properties (and therefore heavily poached for the lucrative slimmer’s market).

After meetings with the park manager, Conrad Strauss and People and Conservation Officer, Letsie Coetzee, the HRs got to work on various projects to assist the park with certain projects. These include monitoring Hoodia gordonii plants by mapping and measuring individual plants (total to date : 1452), upgrading the existing farmhouse for use by HR teams and other SAN Parks and research personnel, and the removal of unsightly out-of-use telephone lines and poles through the park.

Various work teams visited the park throughout 2007 to get these projects underway, and much progress has been made. Tankwa-Karoo experiences great extremes in temperatures through the year, and even on a daily basis, so there is no way to predict what to expect when the team leaves the Cape Town area!

For the Hoodia project in March the group was broken into teams of 2-3 HR’s and family members. The groups covered areas marked out by the park managers and noted every single Hoodia plant found. The teams had to note the exact locality (GPS coordiante) of each plant, measure its length and diameter, and then check the plant for features such as flowers (old and new), presence of insects/animals and damage etc.

"It must be noted that the majority of the HRs in Boland region are not originally from the Karoo – and therefore did not understand the importance of early starts in such areas" explains Jacqui Badenhorst of the Boland region; "we sweated until well past noon, and then took a well-earned lunch break under the few “oumansoutbos” found some kilometres hence!" The afternoon stint was hot and laboursome – a north-facing ridge with no vegetation besides the Hoodia. Says Jacqui " Most HRs braved the heat and wind though and the result of the day was a magnificent 1036 plants mapped and measured".

Three separate groups of HRs made their way back to the Tankwa again later in the year. In May the Hoodia project was resumed, but only 416 plants were monitored due to wet weather. The team that arrived in August were faced with roaring torrents in an otherwise small trickle from a river coming off the plateau, and plans to remove cable and poles were put on hold until the “dry” season. In November further work was done on the telephone line as well as upgrading of the farmhouse.

Work in this park is ongoing, and we encourage other HRs to make use of the facilities that are in place. This really is a very special area of our country – far and forgotten by many, but close to the hearts of those in the know.