Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: AFRICA: Page 7

     In South Africa, herds of Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) have also been nearly exterminated by ranchers and farmers.  Fewer than 10,000 survive in government and private preserves (Nowak 1999).
 
     South Africa's heath and grasslands harbor hundreds of species of rare plants, and European settlement pushed many of these close to extinction.  Vast areas have been plowed for agriculture, and entire families of endemic plants have been threatened.   Proteas are among the most endangered of these endemic plants.  These plants have beautiful flowers, and one highly endangered species, Protea odorata, has a white, lily-like bloom contrasting with red-rimmed, narrow leaves.  This plant declined from a population of more than 1,000 plants in five populations in the early 1980s, to a few plants by the mid-1990s (Hilton-Taylor and Paterson-Jones 1996).  Protea odorata had a limited range of only 30 square kilometers on the Western Cape lowlands, growing in water-logged, gravelly, clay soil (Hilton-Taylor and Paterson-Jones 1996). 
 
     The Cape's heathland is highly threatened by farming, and even the untilled portions are being grazed by sheep and cattle.  This plant regenerates from seed after fires that must be at intervals of from 7 to 12 years to allow the plants to grow, flower and produce seed (Hilton-Taylor and Paterson-Jones 1996).  The site of the last three wild plants of Protea odorata was a privately owned piece of land near Joostenberg; the owner of the land, in full knowledge of the illegality of his action, cleared the site and planted oats (Hilton-Taylor and Paterson-Jones 1996).  He has been charged, but South African law allows only a minor fine to be levied.  Fortunately, this plant has been cultivated at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and seedlings will be reintroduced in Riverlands Nature Reserve where it once occurred (Hilton-Taylor and Paterson-Jones 1996).
 
     European settlement has pushed many of these plants and the native wildlife close to extinction.  The statuesque Bontebok antelope (Damaliscus dorcas dorcas) was once abundant in the region, but settlers nearly caused their xtinction.  Today, a national park and some private land protect a population total of about 2,000 animals (Cowling and Pierce 1999).*


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