Monday, August 16, 2010

South Africa - uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park

Flowering cosmos and traditional African kraals make up the foreground while the heat of the morning sun causes cloud to form against the face of the 'berg.

Sent by Susi, a German postcrosser who is writing thesis in South Africa.

Ukhahlamba Park has outstanding aesthetic value. Soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts all contribute to a spectacular environment. It contains significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, and has outstanding species richness of plants. It is recognized as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, and occurs within its own floristic region: the Drakensberg Alpine Region of South Africa. The rock art is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara and is outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.

The park is the largest protected area on the Great Escarpment of the southern African subcontinent. It is located in an inland mountain along the eastern border of Lesotho. It comprises a northern and a significantly larger southern section. The mountainous area between these two sections, known as the Mnweni area, is tribal land. The park can be divided into two distinct physiographic regions: the foothills of 'Little Berg' are steep-sided spurs, escarpments and valleys occurring below 2,000 m in elevation, whereas the high main escarpment rises to over 3,400 m. There is considerable variation in topography, including vast basalt and sandstone cliffs, deep valleys, intervening spurs and extensive plateau areas. This topographical variation contributes to the outstanding scenic value. The Drakensberg is one of the best watered, least drought-prone areas of southern Africa, and has particular significance for catchments protection and the provision of high-quality water supplies for surrounding communities; a number of rivers originate from the park.
The geology of the Drakensberg is characterized by a thick sedimentary succession, capped by an accumulation of basalt, comprising the upper part of the Karoo Supergroup succession which has a composite thickness of up to 7,000 m in this area. The most distinctive physiographic feature of the Drakensberg foothills is the high cliffs formed of fine-grained sandstone comprising the Clarens Formation.
The vegetation in the park is influenced by topography and the effects of climate, soil, geology, slope, drainage and fire; it is attitudinally zoned, forming three belts coinciding with the main topographical features: the river valley system, the spurs and the summit plateau. These are the low-altitude belt with Podocarpus forest, the mid-altitude belt with fynbos (fine bush) vegetation and the high-altitude belt with alpine tundra and heath. Among a total of 2,153 species of plant are included a large number of internationally and nationally threatened species. A significant feature is the high level of plant species endemism. The park also includes significant grassland communities. The fauna includes a total of 48 mammal species, 296 bird species, 48 reptiles, 26 amphibians and 8 fish species. The invertebrate fauna is poorly known but includes many species endemic to the region. A number of globally threatened faunal species occur in this area, including the long-toed tree frog, the yellow-breasted pipit and the Natal Midlands dwarf chameleon.
The Drakensberg region is one of the most important archaeological areas in southern Africa. Archaeological sites from the early, middle and late Stone Ages and the late Iron Age indicate that human occupation in this mountain region may extend over the last million years. It was, however, the Neolithic settlers who arrived around 8000 BP that were the ancestors of the San. They were hunter-gatherers, often living in caves or rock-shelters. Paintings are to be found in diverse sites, ranging from large rock-shelters containing over 1,000 individual images to small rock overhangs with only a few paintings and the vertical sides of boulders strewn along the steep valley slopes. Many of them displayed painted scenes of hunting, dancing, fighting, food gathering, and ritual or trance scenes of hunting or rainmaking. Most of the human subjects were depicted naked, but the sex was indeterminate for most of them. Dressed figures were clad in a variety of garments, in some cases of European type. (Source)

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