Fauna and flora at Maropeng
Not only is the Cradle – a 47 000ha World Heritage Site – home to the story of human history, it also supports a unique and diverse collection of fauna and flora.
Several hundred plant species are found in the area, making it one of the most diverse plant communities in the world. Various trees and plants, mainly bulbs, were used by the early hominids for medicinal and everyday purposes – for example, wood for fire.
International recognition of the human heritage of the area has prompted increased environmental awareness of the Cradle’s animals and plants.
The plants in the area form part of the Rocky Highveld Grassland, which has numerous species, some of which are rare and endangered, and some of which began flowering “as early as 118-million years ago”, according to Brett Hilton-Barber and Professor Lee Berger in their book Field Guide to the Cradle of Humankind: Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs World Heritage Site.
Marion Bamford, a palaeobotanist at Wits University, explains that “parts of the [ecosystem] have been damaged” over the years, due to agricultural usage and introduction of non-native vegetation. Some of the endemic flora and fauna are now extinct, and not all of the plants and animals now found there are historically native to the area.
However, the variety of wildlife and vegetation indicates that some of the wildlife in the area are descendants of larger predecessors like the extinct giant buffalo, giant wildebeest, and porcupine. Other species of animals include reptiles, birds, fish and small mammals.
This is why the awareness of the environment is so important and efforts must be made to keep the Cradle “as natural as possible”, says Bamford. This is to ensure that we preserve what is left, in such a way that any changes to the environment are sustainable.
One initiative is the 2013 United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, which begins on March 22 (World Water Day). The objective of the initiative is to “raise awareness on the potential for increased cooperation” in water management, and on the challenges facing water management in response to “an increase in demand for water access, distribution and services” (unwater.org, 2011).
The UN water cooperation initiative will provide the opportunity to generate momentum on the topic of sustainability, and garner support for the development of new projects or initiatives to promote water and environmental conservation around the world.
In the case of the Cradle, this would mean addressing the issue of acid mine water, which runs into water systems and kills plants and animals, says Bamford.