And Now There Are Bones

The early travellers reported vast herds in the Karoo. They wrote of steenbuck, bushbuck, reedbuck, oribi, hartebeest, kudu, buffalo, lion, wildebeest, springbuck, ostrich, hippo and rhino, said Schwarz in The Kalahari or Thirstland Redemption. He dated the drying of the Karoo to the disappearance of the Kalahari lakes in 1820. He said the configuration of the Karoo around Beaufort West was the same as around Cradock, but only much drier. He drew attention to the fact that the Bushmen named the Gamka River for the number of lions on its banks. Zeekoeigat, north-east of Prince Albert, was so named because a deep hollow always held sufficient pools for hippos. There were other similarly named places across the Karoo. “When we dig along the banks of these dry rivers in the Gouph, Beaufort West and Prince Albert areas we find almost everywhere the bones of large game, including hippo. This indicates that tropical animals requiring vast amounts of food existed along the rivers where now only small stock can live, says Schwarz. At Beer Vlei, north of Willowmore, Barrow in 1797 described “a plain of several miles long at the foot of the Black Mountain.” He said it seemed to be “the reservoir of a number of periodical rivers whose sources are in the Nuweveld, Winterberg and Camdeboo Mountains.” One river was running at the time of Barrow’s visit. It had “a considerable current,” but was “as salt as brine”. Other rivers, some of them fresh, had less current. These streams “fell into a valley skirted with tall mimosas which spread into a forest. This was a delightful spot in the middle of a barren desert and it afforded shelter, food and water to a vast variety of game.”


© Rose’s Roundup, January 2011 (No 204)

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