I was in the beautiful De Hoop Nature Reserve over the weekend. De Hoop is approximately 34 000 ha in size and one of the largest natural areas managed by CapeNature. It is a favorite destination for hikers, cyclists, bird watchers and during the winter and early summer months, whale watchers – and one of my absolute favorite places to see fynbos in all its glory.
Even though it is the end of a long dry summer a number of plant species were in full flower. These Diosma echinulata are endemic to the stretch of coastline between De Hoop and Albertinia to the east.
It has typical buchu leaves which give off a pungent odor when crushed and flowers from December to April each year. It is restricted to limestone soils along the coast and grows in among the carpet-like reed Elegia (previously Chondropetalum) microcarpa (Restionaceae) which blankets the dunes close to the coast.
This species typically spreads by underground rhizomes and forms dense mats that naturally stabilise dune sands along the coast from Melkbosstrand to Port Elizabeth. De Hoop is home to the very special De Hoop limestone fynbos with approximately 1500 plant species found in the region.
Of course the reserve is about more than just its magnificent fynbos flora. Situated less than three hours from Cape Town the Reserve is truly the crown jewel amongst Western Cape nature reserves. The reserve is home to 86 mammal species. Most notable are the rare bontebok and Cape mountain zebra, as well as eland, grey rhebuck, baboon, yellow mongoose, caracal and the occasional leopard.
The large mammal fauna are generally congregated in the grazing grounds around the old De Hoop farmstead, making for easy viewing. Over the weekend during a short drive my son was delighted to see baboon, bontebok, ostrich, eland and zebra with a foal in a matter of half an hour.
Both these species came perilously close to extinction in the past. The Bontebok was treated as a pests and hunted down to just seventeen animals by the 1930′s, while there were only about 140 Cape Mountain zebras by the late 1960′s. Fortunately conservation efforts have seen healthy recovery in populations and nature reserves such as De Hoop now play a crucial role in ensuring the long term survival of these beautiful Cape animals.
We also saw pelicans and a huge variety of other birds in the De Hoop vlei, some dassies (rock hyrax – Procavia capensis) happily sunning themselves on a hot rock, two mongoose shot across our path and five Cape vulture circled over our car – all in a morning!