The evolv­ing land­scape of the Cra­dle of Humankind is today asso­ci­at­ed with Rocky High­veld Gassland, which sup­ports a great diver­si­ty of plants and ani­mals, some of which are rare and endangered.

The Rocky High­veld Grass­land is fire cli­max grass­land”. Fire plays an impor­tant role in main­tain­ing the bal­ance of trees and grass.

Rain occurs main­ly in sum­mer, often as thun­der­storms, and aver­ages between 650 and 750 mm (25 and 30 inch­es) per year. Tem­per­a­tures vary between -12° C and 39° C (10° to 102° F), with an aver­age of 16° C (61° F).

Light­ning strikes fre­quent­ly and this may have facil­i­tat­ed the ini­tial har­vest­ing and lat­er con­trolled use of fire by hominids in the area, as far back as 1.3-million years ago.

The caves pro­vide roosts for owls and bats. Owls some­times leave rodent remains in the caves, which are an impor­tant source of infor­ma­tion on envi­ron­men­tal change over time. Rodents are sen­si­tive to chang­ing cli­mate, and their fos­sils help sci­en­tists under­stand ancient envi­ron­men­tal, or palaeoen­vi­ron­men­tal, change.

The Cra­dle of Humankind is rich in flow­er­ing plants, with many geo­phytes (plants with under­ground bulbs or tubers) that require reg­u­lar fires for their prop­a­ga­tion. Most of the woody plants are found in sink­holes and ravines where the destruc­tive effects of fire and frost are minimised.

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(Image: Bernard DUPONT)

The spot­ted eagle owl is res­i­dent in the Cra­dle of Humankind.

The dolomitic sink­holes pro­vide deep soils and moist, cool con­di­tions suit­able for a diver­si­ty of trees, such as white stinkwood, and shrubs. The area is also rich in med­i­c­i­nal plants.

There are many nat­ur­al springs, water­cours­es and streams that feed into the Mag­a­lies and Croc­o­dile Rivers.

A vari­ety of wildlife occurs here, includ­ing ante­lope such as har­te­beest and impala. Trees pro­vide perch­es, nest­ing sites and food for many bird species, such as rameron pigeons, grey loeries and glossy star­lings. Leop­ards, brown hye­nas and jack­als use sink­holes as dens. The caves pro­vide roost­ing sites for 16 dif­fer­ent bat species. The Rood­e­poort Cop­per but­ter­fly is unique to the area.

Land use since the 1890s has led to the degra­da­tion and loss of the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. Today, sus­tain­able land use prac­tices will help to pre­vent fur­ther degra­da­tion of the veld. Waste dump­ing, pol­lu­tion of water by agro-chem­i­cals, and over-graz­ing have all had an impact on the World Her­itage Site.

Did you know?

The spot­ted eagle owl is res­i­dent in the Cra­dle of Humankind.

The rare Rood­e­port Cop­per but­ter­fly is endem­ic to the area.

Fire plays an impor­tant role in main­tain­ing the local environment.