Sunday, January 29, 2012

The mystery of Matlabas

Ancient mountains, red with iron, guarding
 their secrets
In the north-west of South Africa, in a remote, mountainous region lie the Thabazimbi range: Mountain of Iron. Since time out of mind iron has been mined here, and today several opencast mines operate. But that is soon forgotten once one goes deeper into the mountains, and even more so in the Marekele reserve.
Researchers in the Matlabas wetland

This reserve hosts a mystery: high in the mountains lie a marshland, source of the Matlabas river, which eventually flows into the Limpopo.

Tribal lore tells of a magical snake that could be seen in the pools of the Matlabas, an enchanted crowned snake that could make your dreams come true, or take you with into the depths of the water.

We have not yet seen this snake. But there is another mystery.

Junior researcher checking out the proteas
Of course wetlands have their fair share of mystery, but this one is eroding. Now, by their very nature wetlands tend to heal themselves, through rapid growth of plants that form a mat of vegetation to hold back the water, and thus provide a sponge that releases the rain water over a long period. And nature counts on this steady supply of water even during the dry seasons.

So, what is happening here? There is no human activity such as ploughing to cause the erosion. There has been no extraordinary rainfall, flooding or drought.

We went with Antoinette Bootsma, a Masters student researching this mystery, to support her but also to look after her baby while she walks through the bush.

In February we will have to go again, for a week, to help with a plant survey, and to support her research team. In the meantime, enjoy!

We will be back!


Returning after a hard day's work

The waters host many birds

Her first realization that there are wild animals!

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