South African hippos save wildebeest from crocodile

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Hippos Come to Rescue Wildebeest from Crocodile

29 August 2017

Timing is everything when visiting Kruger [National Park]… 72-year-old pensioner, Mervyn Van Wyk and his wife Tokkie, understand just how lucky they were to be in the right place at the right time!

Hippos threatened by ivory poachers: here.


Leopard against wild dogs in South Africa

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Leopard Takes on 9 Wild Dogs

19 September 2017

A pack of wild dogs happily digging into their meal did not expect it to be short-lived as this leopard ordered himself an easy drive through meal…

Field Guide (Ranger) Patrick Mziyako was taking his guests for a ride when he captured this footage in Kruger [National Park], at Kwaggaspan Waterhole near Skukuza.

Young leopard steals food from its mother

This video says about itself:

Young Leopard Steals Kill From Mother – Africa – BBC Earth

4 August 2017

Young leopard must learn how to fend for itself in the Kalahari Desert.

The word Kalahari is derived from a word meaning great thirst. In this part of Africa, food is scarce and this young leopard must learn the skills needed to survive. Even if that means stealing a kill from its mother!

South African bird conservation news

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Dullstroom: The Panorama Route, Mpumalanga – Mobile Version

7 June 2013

In Panorama, Mpumalanga, with its breath-taking vistas around every mountain corner, waterfalls plunging down faces of sheer rock, memories of the gold rush following you as you meander down an endless river canyon, and eagles hovering above your head – you can’t help walking with your head in the clouds.

All Video content copyright by Photos of Africa.

From BirdLife:

New Protected Environment Declared in South Africa

By Ernst Retief

A visit to Dullstroom and its surrounding grasslands is on the bucket list of many birders in South Africa and internationally. This beautiful area contains many “specials” such as Wattle Crane, Blue Crane, White-winged Flufftail, Yellow-breasted Pipit and many others. The presence of these iconic species is one of the reasons why BirdLife South Africa recognises this area as the Steenkampsberg Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). Even if you are not after these iconic species, this area is unique and has an aura that makes a birding trip to Dullstroom unforgetable.

This area is also of great conservation value for many other reasons. For example, it is an important water catchment area. Lakenvlei, a wetland in the area, is a peatland which helps with the storing and purification of water. The peatland also holds large amounts of carbon, and therefore minimises some of the impacts of climate change. The tourism and agricultural activities in the area also provide jobs for hundreds of people. The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment falls within the well-known Dullstroom tourism hub that provides a large number of local tourism-related jobs connected to the scenic beauty and outdoor activities in the area.

Celebrations were held on the 7 April 2017, as the Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA), declared the Greater Lakenvlei area a Protected Environment. This momentous achievement was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and their NGO partners, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa.

Legislation in South Africa makes provision for different categories of formal protection. Nature Reserves and National Parks are the top category and activities in these parks are strictly controlled by legislation. The second category is that of Protected Environment. Activities, such as farming practices, can continue in these areas, but other more destructive and unsustainable activities are prohibited. Through the development of Management Plans, each property is divided into zones, for example natural areas and degraded areas. Activities that take place in areas zoned as natural are then strictly controlled. Natural area zones do not all for example over grazing and indiscriminate use of pesticides. A Management Plan has been developed for Greater Lakenvlei and will now be implemented, to the benefit of the bird species which call this area home.

It is hoped that this declaration will encourage more people to visit this beautiful area and enjoy the natural beauty. This should lead to an increase in tourism related jobs and the long term conservation of the area.

Saving South African paintbrush lilies

This video says about itself:

2 July 2010

Blood Lily bulbs, Scadoxus multiflorus, also known as Haemanthus multiflorus. When you see several of the blood lilies in flower, you almost want to eat them, they are so bright, colourful and plum-red in color – until you realize that all lilies are poisonous to eat, but that fact doesn’t diminish their magnetic beauty and charm. The blood lily bulbs are about the size of a small hen’s egg and brown in color, and the blooms appear in late spring.

From Stellenbosch University in South Africa:

Saving the paintbrush lily from extinction

July 5, 2017

Summary: Since the 1990s, the Duthie Reserve in Stellenbosch, South Africa, is home to the only remaining viable population of Haemanthus pumilio in the world. It is described as South Africa’s most endangered bulb species, and probably the world’s rarest Haemanthus. A major project is now underway to conserve the remaining 60 individuals.

Haemanthus pumilio

A major effort is underway to conserve the last remaining 60 individual paintbrush lilies (Haemanthus pumilio) in the Duthie Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch, South Africa, as well as increase the population through micropropagation.

Martin Smit, curator of the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden, says more than a thousand of the paintbrush lilies once grew in the Duthie reserve. But the reserve is now less than a third of its original size, and the lilies have all but disappeared from previously known locations including Wellington and Klapmuts.

“The main reasons for its decline are the destruction of its original habitat (rhenosterveld) and invasives like Port Jackson (Acacia saligna). But the species is also dependent on fire to induce flowering and requires very specific conditions for the seedlings to survive. For various reasons the Duthie Reserve was last burned in 2004. For this type of vegetation, it is long overdue for another controlled burn,” he says. “Apart from being fire-dependent, Haemanthus pumilio also prefer ground that is dry in summer but waterlogged and marshy in winter. That is why the Duthie Reserve still remains the most suitable habitat to ensure the survival of this rare and critically endangered plant,” he adds.

While Smit has developed a management plan for the Duthie Reserve, two biologists from Stellenbosch University have obtained funding to employ tissue culture as a means of exponentially increasing the population.

Plant biotechnologist Dr Paul Hills and botanist Dr Gary Stafford have already collected leaf samples and seed from the existing paintbrush lily population in the Duthie Reserve, as well as from seven individuals from a now extinct population from Newton Commanage, Wellington, currently under the care of the Botanical Garden.

“Firstly, we are following a non-destructive strategy to mass propagate individuals from a variety of genotypes to allow for potential repopulation of dwindling populations in the Duthie Reserve and elsewhere,” Dr Hills explains.

At the same time, BSc Honours student Dominique West will use phylogenetic analysis to determine the genetic diversity within and between populations. This will allow for informed decisions to be made with regard to the use of genetic lines derived from micropropagation when it comes to repopulating and conserving the plants.

While the tissue culture samples and several seeds have already started growing in the tissue culture lab, the first seedlings will only be viable by the end of 2018.

“Because it so rare, Haemanthus pumileo is highly sought after by plant collectors locally and internationally. If we can get a viable population going, these will be spread to other botanical gardens and then some plants might be sold,” Smit adds.

African penguin news on World Oceans Day

This video from South Africa says about itself:

African Penguins colony at Boulders Beach, Table Mountain National Park filmed by Paul and Linsey Brown in September 2012.

Recorded on Panasonic HX-WA10 Palmcorder; Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 Compact Camera and GoPro HD2. Edited using Final Cut Pro X.

From BirdLife:

Hello Friend,

Today, on World Oceans Day, we wanted to share some exciting news about the release of five rehabilitated ‘Endangered’ African Penguins from a safe area in Plettenburg Bay this Saturday, 10th June.

BirdLife, with BirdLife South Africa and other organisations, is leading on an ambitious plan to start a new mainland penguin breeding colony in Plettenberg Bay. It was decided that rehabilitated penguins should be released from Plettenberg Bay as a part of this process.

Please will you help us protect penguins by making a donation?

Adult and juvenile penguins are often seen in the waters around Plettenberg Bay, but are occasionally found injured, sick or moulting where they are vulnerable to predators. Over the last four months, the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has rescued five penguins: two with injuries, one with avian malaria and two who were moulting. The penguins have recovered well and are ready to be returned to the ocean.

They will be released at Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay this Saturday to celebrate World Oceans Day. This area has been chosen for its plentiful stocks of sardines and anchovies, which is perfect for these birds.

We are still working hard to protect all penguin species – and would be so grateful if you would support us by protecting a penguin now. With your help we can continue creating positive stories like this for penguins across the Southern Hemisphere.

This work is only possible with the support of people like you. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Maggie Balaskas
Penguins Campaign Coordinator, BirdLife International

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine have determined the most effective drug dose to help penguins in managed care fight off disease: here.

South African hominin younger than thought

Where Homo naledi was found

From Science News:

A narrow, sometimes treacherous path took Rising Star cave explorers from the surface to the Lesedi Chamber in South Africa. Homo naledi fossils excavated there come from at least three individuals, including an adult male that the investigators named Neo. An adjacent, belowground passageway connects to the Dinaledi Chamber, where H. naledi fossils were first unearthed.

Homo naledi may have lived at around same time as early humans

New dating puts famed hominid in South Africa as recently as 236,000 years ago

By Bruce Bower

4:00am, May 9, 2017

Fossils of a humanlike species with some puzzlingly ancient skeletal quirks are surprisingly young, its discoverers say. It now appears that this hominid, dubbed Homo naledi, inhabited southern Africa close to 300,000 years ago, around the dawn of Homo sapiens.

H. naledi achieved worldwide acclaim in 2015 as a possibly pivotal player in the evolution of the human genus, Homo. Retrieved from an underground chamber in South Africa, fossils of this species were thought to be anywhere from 900,000 to at least 1.8 million years old (SN: 8/6/16, p. 12). A younger age for H. naledi resolves one mystery about these cave fossils. It doesn’t, however, answer questions about how long ago the species first appeared and when it died out.

What is now known is that H. naledi bodies somehow ended up in Dinaledi Chamber, part of South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, an international team reports in one of three papers published May 9 in eLife. Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg headed the team. Geoscientist Paul Dirks of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, directed the dating effort.

In the first paper, two methods of measuring the concentration of natural uranium and other radioactive elements, and damage caused by those elements over time, provided key age estimates for three H. naledi teeth. A thin sheet of rock deposited by flowing water just above the fossils was also dated.

In a second new paper, Berger’s group — led by paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison — describes 131 newly discovered H. naledi fossils from a second underground cave, dubbed Lesedi Chamber, within the Rising Star cave system. The finds come from at least three individuals and include an adult male’s partial skeleton comparable in completeness to Lucy’s famous, 3.2-million-year-old remains from East Africa. Both of these specimens consist of about 40 percent of the skeleton. The researchers named the Lesedi partial skeleton “Neo,” which means gift in Sesotho, a language spoken in South Africa.

Berger and his colleagues say the Lesedi discoveries support their controversial suggestion that H. naledi deliberately put bodies of the dead in Rising Star’s underground chambers (SN: 5/14/16, p. 12). The team says there are no signs that either predatory animals or streams carried H. naledi corpses into the caves.

Individuals from both underground chambers display the same distinctive pattern of skeletal features, signs that they all belong to H. naledi, not to Homo erectus or any other previously identified Homo species, the investigators contend. These features include relatively small, orange-sized brains and curved fingers like those of Homo species that lived around 2 million years ago, as well as wrists, hands, legs, feet and body sizes comparable to those of Neandertals and humans.

Although the Dinaledi finds are unexpectedly young, H. naledi’s ancient-looking characteristics suggest that the hominid originated near the root of the Homo genus, 2 million years ago or more, Berger and colleagues propose in the third new paper. That would make the South African species a possible ancestor or close relative of H. erectus, which dates to around that time. The oldest Homo fossils date to 2.8 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 4/4/15, p. 8).

Another possibility, Berger’s group says, is that H. naledi originated a few hundred thousand years ago and is most closely related to early H. sapiens or other Homo species that may have inhabited southern Africa at that time. A relatively late origin for H. naledi would suggest it evolved from larger-brained ancestors, the researchers say. That would be unusual: Scientists have long held that the brain only became larger as Homo species evolved.

But that proposed scenario has some parallels to Indonesia’s Homo floresiensis, better known as the hobbit. These hominids, whose remains date to between about 100,000 and 60,000 years ago (SN: 4/30/16, p. 7), had chimp-sized brains, short statures and, like H. naledi, some skull features resembling early Homo species. Hobbits either evolved smaller brains or retained small brains after splitting from a much older Homo species in Africa.

Unlike H. naledi, hobbits lived on an island where a lack of competition with other Homo species may have assisted their survival. It’s unclear how H. naledi survived in Africa alongside larger-brained Homo species, perhaps even H. sapiens. Occasional interbreeding in southern Africa — similar to what occurred later among H. sapiens, Neandertals and Denisovans in Eurasia (SN: 10/15/16, p. 22) — may have benefited H. naledi, Berger’s team suspects.

H. naledi DNA would help clarify the species’ evolutionary status. But attempts to extract DNA from Dinaledi fossils have so far failed. Researchers have yet to test Lesedi fossils for DNA or to try to generate age estimates for the new finds.

“My intuition is that Homo naledi points to a diversity of African Homo species that once lived south of the equator” in Africa, Hawks says. It’s unlikely Homo evolution proceeded in a straight line, from one species to the next, in a specific part of subequatorial Africa, he proposes.

Paleoanthropologists familiar with the new reports interpret the findings differently.

An “astonishingly young” age for a Homo species with several ancient-looking features suggests H. naledi was the sole survivor of an array of much older, closely related species, proposes Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. H. naledi probably made some of the many stone tools found at southern African sites dating to around 300,000 years ago that have not yielded hominid fossils, he adds. But despite Berger’s claims, Stringer doubts a creature with a brain size close to that of a gorilla disposed of its dead deep within a pitch-black, hard-to-navigate cave system, especially since the controlled use of fire for torches was probably also needed.

Berger’s team plans to excavate near openings to the Rising Star cave system where stone tools and signs of fire use may turn up.

However complex H. naledi’s behavior may have been, ancient aspects of its anatomy rule it out as an ancestor of H. sapiens, says Donald Johanson of Arizona State University in Tempe. Johanson, codiscoverer of Lucy, argues that H. sapiens originated in East Africa. Researchers generally place that evolutionary turning point, wherever it occurred, at between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago. “The Rising Star Cave hominids, much like the hobbits, evolved in isolation and have no relevance to the origins of humankind,” Johanson says.

Still, even a largely isolated H. naledi population may have occasionally interbred with other Homo species in southern Africa, says Fred Smith of Illinois State University in Normal. Later Homo evolution “is far more complex than has generally been thought,” he says.

Berger and his colleagues second that point.

Newly obtained dating of the fossil hominin species Homo naledi, which was first discovered in 2015, significantly alters its position in the overall pattern of human evolution. Furthermore, it raises significant questions regarding the pattern of human evolution more generally: here.

Fossil tooth pushes back record of mysterious Neandertal relative, Denisovans lived in Asia at least 100,000 years ago, DNA analysis suggests. ByBruce Bower, 2:00pm, July 7, 2017.