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RFA Press Release on Horse Mackerel (Final)

The Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA), a partnership between environmental NGOs, WWF South Africa and BirdLife South Africa, and five major fishing companies, namely Irvin & Johnson (I&J), Oceana Group, Pioneer Fishing, Sea Harvest and Viking Fishing, is calling on the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to reconsider the recent decision to allocate an additional 8000 tonnes of experimental quota in the horse mackerel fishery.

Although the causes are not well understood, current indications suggest that there is a need for a cautionary approach with regards to the horse mackerel resource. Catch per unit effort (a standardised measure for measuring fisheries) has been unexpectedly low since 2014 with the reasons for this dramatic drop in catches still unclear. Due to this decline in resource availability, of the 58 000 tonnes of allowable catch in 2015, only 12 433 tonnes were caught across all sectors. This resulted in the species being downgraded to Orange on WWF’s Southern African Sustainable Initiative (SASSI) list.

While the RFA is supportive of the Department’s efforts to identify additional socio-economic opportunities in the fisheries sector, this must be done within the constraints of ecologically sustainable and precautionary limits, as prescribed by the Marine Living Resources Act. To date, no research has been done to suggest that additional horse mackerel could be sustainably harvested in this fishery, nor has there been an explanation provided by the Department as to the objective, approach, specifications or restrictions of the proposed experiment. At present the experimental right is also not subject to the effort restrictions that have been placed on the existing rights-holders as a result of concerns around the status of the resource.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the status of this resource, responsible fisheries management requires that we employ a precautionary approach to manage this valuable fishery. The allocation of an additional 8000 tonnes, over and above the current Total Allowable Catch and without any effort limitations, is irrational and threatens not just the ecological status of the fishery but the livelihoods of those who are involved in the fishery at present.

As a signatory to the 2002 Implementation Plan for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, South Africa has made global commitments to implementing an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries
(EAF) across all of its fisheries. Globally, the EAF is considered the main reference framework for responsibly managing fisheries and implementing the principles of sustainable development. As such the approach requires a science-based, participative and transparent approach to decision-making and recognizes the need to take account of uncertainty by applying a precautionary approach to protect the ecosystem in cases where science is unclear.

The RFA was founded with the goal of promoting an EAF in the belief that healthier marine ecosystems will continue to provide more ecological, social and economic benefits to society for longer. The RFA believes the Department’s decision must apply the key principles of the EAF. As such the Alliance members do not support the allocation of this experimental right until it is shown to be ecologically sustainable and scientifically justified and that the awarding of such a right follows a transparent and consultative process.

Birds of a Feather - Avian camouflage

Camouflage exists everywhere in the natural world. Prey uses it to avoid being seen by predators and by predators to (or “intending to”) sneak up on their victims. There are several reasons why birds have evolved camouflage plumage and not the least of these is, of course, the need to avoid detection- a defensive strategy. However, many species use camouflage to enable them to hunt more effectively.

There are two different ways of avoiding detection, and one of these is what is known as Concealing Colouration. This is when the bird’s general body colour closely resembles the colour of the vegetation or other geological features such as soil or rocks in the niche in which the bird roosts or carries out its daily activities.

Most of our birds use a mottled pattern known as cryptic colouration to avoid detection, and this is most effective for birds that operate within a restricted ecological niche such as the edge zone of water bodies, rocks, beaches or bare ground. Ground dwelling birds are especially susceptible to attacks from the air and in particular those that nest on the ground. Most have adapted colouration that closely resembles the substrate that surrounds the nest site especially those that are sedentary in habit because the only operate within a particular niche. Nomadic ground species that move around a great deal are more likely to have a more general body camouflage that takes into account the many different substrates in which it may operate. Some species such as snipe are nomadic but always feed, breed and take refuge in waterside vegetation so their cryptic pattern is effective wherever they are. Those of you who have encountered the beautiful vividly coloured Narina Trogon in our forests will most probably have witnessed them turning their completely green backs towards you on your approach in order to blend in with the forest environment.

Some years ago I was fortunate to spend some time in the Erongo mountains in Namibia, my primary objective being to photograph Hartlaub’s Francolin a ground dwelling bird and inhabitant of the broken rocky terrain in that area. After a somewhat challenging chase through the koppies, I finally manage to get a photo of my quarry crossing over a large boulder on looking at the image I had just taken I was absolutely astounded to see just how well the bird blended in with the rock behind it. Birds such as the ptarmigan and the snowy owls of the Northern Hemisphere are the absolute masters of camouflage moulting with the seasons to become snow white in winter. Ptarmigan even become mottled brown and white to blend in with changing landscape in spring and fall...

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Nature Training

Field Guiding in SA

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” Theodore Roosevelt

South Africa is indeed rich in natural beauty and natural resources, and it is with this in mind that we proudly showcase a number of different training and volunteering institutes based throughout South Africa which give you an opportunity to get actively involved in preserving our heritage for future generations.

It is that time of year again when school leavers are perhaps thinking of taking a gap year before stepping into the adult world of university or the formal employment sector. Maybe you are tired of the formal employment sector and desire a change in your life or perhaps you’re looking for that one thing that will bring purpose to your life and help you make a difference.

In the pages that follow we hope to be able to offer you some insight into the opportunities available to you should you wish to get more involved with the preservation of our beautiful natural heritage and all that she encompasses.

Bhejane Field Guide Training

I am always looking for an excuse to get out into the bush, so I jumped at the opportunity to join Bhejane Nature Training 2nd year students, who were based at their Ebandla camp which is nestled in the hills around Pongola in Northern KZN. By Andrew Cox

The camp sits on the banks of the Mkuze River in Big 5 territory with wide open spaces and acacia woodland as far as the eye can see. It is the bush base for Bhejane Nature Training where assessments are done for certification on FGASA courses.

A 2nd year student, under Dylan Panos’s instruction, took us on an afternoon game drive. Midway through the drive after sightings of elephant and buffalo, we were treated to a 5 star meal in the bush. The stu-dents are given an opportunity to set up a gourmet meal in the bush as a simulation for catering to guests who are paying 5 star rates. Dinning in such close proximity to hippos was a unique experience however when they decided to forage on land we were forced to leave our bush dining table and head back.

After hearing a leopard call during the night, the next day we were led by a student trails guide and his backup, as we decided to try and track him. The anticipation of a great sighting leaves one both anxious and excited at the same time. After following the tracks for a few hours, we lost them in some thick bush however the kudu’s alarm call meant he was nearby. We decided that to track him any further would be considered too dangerous so we returned to camp.

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It's Whale Time

Did you know that every year, the KwaZulu-Natal coastline experiences one of the largest wildlife migrations? - Story by Mark Gerrard, images by Ken Findlay

Humpback whales, on their way from the feeding grounds in the oceans off the Antarctic, move up towards the northern section of the Mozambican channel to mate and for pregnant females to give birth to their calves.

These warmer waters are well suited for breeding, and this attraction brings significant numbers of these magnificent animals close inshore along the KZN coast. This incredible migration brings these whales into KZN waters twice annually – once on their way up (mostly around July and August), and then the second time on their way down with the new born calves (October/November).

With their numbers previously decimated by whaling, protection measures have resulted in a strong recovery of these gentle giants over the past few decades. This improvement and wildlife attraction, however, is not well known, and more research is needed to fully understand the humpback whale’s conservation status, recovery and population dynamics. To drive this process, Wildlands and Grindrod Financial Services, through their coastal conservation fund, the Blue Fund, have teamed up with several partners to develop “Whale Time”.

Whale Time aims to work across several tiers to improve the understanding of humpback (and other) whale populations, drive awareness of whale conservation and develop whale tourism through ethical and sustainable community-based whale guiding operations in the province...

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Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge

Elephants, Giraffe and a Trapdoor

Recently Andrew and I had the privilege of visiting Isibindi Africa Lodges’ Rhino Ridge for the second time, and the one thing it highlighted was how much we both yearn to be able to spend more time in the bush. Rhino Ridge, situated in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in northern KZN remains one of our favourite lodges to spend time at. - Images and storyline by Liz Cox

We entered the reserve through the Nyalazi gate. After a pleasant one hour drive through the reserve, with some superb sightings along the way, a familiar, warm and friendly greeting awaited us as we arrived at Isibindi Africa Lodges’ Rhino Ridge in the late afternoon. We decided we wanted to spend as much time enjoying the lodge as possible and were eager to slow the busy-ness of our lives down and become fully immersed in our surrounds and just enjoy the sheer beauty of it. We decided to forego the afternoon game drive, opting instead to relax on the expansive deck which stretches the length of the main reception areas and sip cocktails as we watched the fading winter sunlight slowly disappear and be replaced by the bright twinkling of the night sky.

Sublime exclusivity

From its elevated position on top of a “koppie” Rhino Ridge boasts magnificent views of the reserve. With only an “elephant fence” between you and the smaller game, if you can call lions and hyenas small, it is imperative that as after daylight hours you are accompanied by a guide to your accommodation.

Honeymoon Villas, Luxury Bush Villas and family-friendly Safari Rooms are dotted along walkways offer-ing guests privacy and expansive views of the reserve from their individual wooden decks. Double sided fireplaces in the villas entice guests to light a fire, and either enjoy its warmth from the comfort of a couch or while soaking in a relaxing bubble bath.

The cuisine, as ever is superb and even the strongest will to only eat healthily and pass on desert will be tested to the hilt.

The morning air was crisp as we set out on our early morning game drive. We snuggled under warm blankets; the cool air stinging our faces as it whipped around the open air game viewing vehicle. Guests were eagerly on the lookout for leopard and hyena which would be on their way “home” after a night hunting. Just after the sun made a spectacular appear-ance, instantly adding some warmth to a rather chilly morning, we spotted a hyena skulking around in the bush. We didn’t get to enjoy his company for too long as he was clearly on a mission and quickly disappeared deeper into the bush.

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Nomadic Adventures

Base Camp on a Bike

“Did you say a bicycle ride to Everest Base Camp? Isn’t it an 8 day hike up high passes and across rocky terrain?” You would be right to think this is one of the craziest ideas you have ever heard of, but gear up, because it is very much a reality.

The start of one of the worlds’ longest cycling trails to Nepal begins high on the vast Tibetan landscape in Lhasa at a staggering altitude of 3680m above sea level. Cycling along the old famed ‘Silk Road,’ the route detours to visit the shadows of the highest mountain on earth, Mt Everest. Where else can you claim to have visited Everest Base Camp on your bicycle!

Spanning an area twice the size of Texas or France and an average of 4500m in altitude, the Tibetan plateau is vast. High mountain peaks straddle borders with Nepal, azure blue glacial lakes spread through endless valleys, and crops of barley bask under the high altitude sun. Early morning, monasteries erupt into a flurry of red capes as monks gather in prayer, as the sound of yak bells ring out on the streets below. Fields come alive with song as men and women head out to till the soil. Along temple walls, prayer wheels inscribed with mantras turn under weather beat hands sending silent prayers into the universe, while brightly coloured prayer flags gently flutter in the breeze.

Before long the road from Lhasa beck-ons you and your two wheeled companion and gives way to the ‘Friendship Highway,’ a route that will become both your friend and enemy over the next 16 days. Between you and your final destination lies 1200km of endless tar and gravel surfaces. Beautiful tree lined roads stretch out to welcome you onto the vast plateau, but before long, reality bites. Your first of many mountain passes lies ahead, the ‘Kamba La’. Fighting one switchback after the next you slip into low gear as the valley disappears below. Land Rovers billow past you packed with beaming tourists shouting words of encouragement as their cameras click away in astonishment. Legs aching, your chest pounding and lungs burning, you finally reach the top of the pass. Festooned in colourful prayer flags, the Tibetan tapestry opens to reveal the expansive Lake Namdrok below, its turquoise blue water in stark contrast to the grey mountains above. This is the stuff of mountain biking!

The next two days take you along the toughest stretch, through deep valleys with looming craggy ice peaks toward the first of two uphill slogs, the ‘Karo La’. Between the incredible scenery and the rapidly thinning air leaving you breath-less, you pump all of your energy into tight calves as you tediously climb the 5010m pass. The trade-off? Glaciers that tumble down to the roadside, old forts that cling to cliffs and a road that snakes its’ way through the valley, before disappearing into the thin air...

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Dune Star Camp

A Namib Desert Secret

En route to Sossusvlei, Ron Swilling discovers one of the most spectacular desert landscapes - accentuated at the golden hours of the day - and the perfect place to appreciate it.

Ripples of soft burnished sand lead the hungry eye over gentle dunes, down to a relief of landscape bathed in gold: an expanse of sand brightened by a fresh band of emerald-green and the soft pastels of the mauve-blue mountains in the distance.

Not surprisingly, this sublime desert scenery was recognised as the superlative setting for the intimate Dune Star Camp. The desert adventure begins in the late afternoon at the mother lodge, Namib Dune Lodge, where guests climb aboard the overland vehicle for the short drive to the camp. It follows the dramatic ridge of petrified dunes, peppered with gnarled camelthorn trees and robust gemsbok posing picture-perfect against the backdrop of red, before stopping on the crest of a steep sand dune. Guests alight and drawn by the spectacular view, move in a communal wave to the wooden deck. The vista is solely theirs for the best times of the day – the golden hours – or so say artists, photographers and dreamers. And, they can’t all be wrong.

Dune Star Camp and Namib Desert Lodge, part of the Gondwana Collection Namibia, are 60km north of Sesriem, the gateway to Sossusvlei, and their dramatic setting threatens to steal the thunder of the famed destination. Or, rather it complements it and is an inspiring addition to a stay in the Namib Desert.

An ancient desert & the slow pace of eternity.

‘Our desert is one of the oldest in the world,” guide JP told us on our afternoon nature walk, after showing us a horned adder coiled peacefully under one of the bungalow’s decks while its occupants looked at him wide-eyed. He continued unperturbed: “The petri-fied dunes were formed over a period of twenty million years. And it’s still happening here, on a smaller scale”. He trickled water onto the sand dem-onstrating how it stores moisture and compacts in layers, beginning the slow process of fossilisation at the leisurely pace of eternity. Digging around the water spillage, he retrieved the wet sand, which had surprisingly transformed into a heavy, layered sphere. He passed it around before focusing on the large dune ants that scuttled around, testing their patience – and temper - until they released a pungent vinegar-like repel-lent. We wrinkled noses at the astrin-gent smell, effectively used as a defence mechanism. Cleaners of the desert, the ants play their role, like every other organism in the desert ecosystem, making sure that nothing goes to waste.

Life seems to make perfect sense out here in the desert. Suitably impressed, we made our way to the deck for drinks, snacks and the ultimate show - the ruby sun sinking sensuously into the landscape. As it put on its finest display, glowing a fiery red in the desert dust, we raised glasses in celebration. “Cheers!”..

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48 Hour Escapes from Gauteng

“Go away so that you can come back” - author unknown

So often the reasons why we can’t take a break seem to outnumber the reasons why we should. Reasons like; no money; no leave; too much work; a fear of venturing into the unknown or just the general busyness of life.

Interestingly one of the definitions of the word “busyness” is “a lively but meaningless act.”Life is far too short to get caught up in the busyness of it. don’t you think it’s time to take a break?

If you’re still not convinced here are five benefits of taking a 48-hour escape from day to day life followed by some suggestions for a quick two day getaway from Johannesburg. Durban and Cape Town readers, don’t despair, we will be covering 48-hour escapes from your region in future issues.

1. WHY ONLY WORK HARD WHEN YOU CAN PLAY HARD TOO.
There is no point earning oodles of cash and not being able to enjoy it. Remember, tomorrow isn’t promised so make the most of today and go out and make lasting memories with your loved ones.

2. A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
While on the treadmill of our daily lives it’s so easy to fall into a rut not only with our daily routines but with our way of thinking. Getting away from your usual environment will open your eyes and refresh your soul and give you a new perspective on things.

3. NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR HUMAN INTERACTION
With the advent of technology and social media, we spend much of our lives interacting with people via email or mobile devices as opposed to interacting with them on a one on one basis. Escaping for few days and meeting new people is not only healthy but it also widens your “social network” of friends and improves personal relationships...

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Elephant Ignite Expedition

30 000 elephants are killed annually. That means one every 15 minutes. Most South Africans are passionate about nature conservation. However, what can we all do about it?

For the first time in the world, an intrepid group of women explorers, have decided to bring the global spotlight on the plight of these gentle creatures and the people who protect them by embarking on an epic expedition across Africa.

The Elephant Ignite Expedition departs on Women’s Day on the 9th August this year and plans to trav-erse 10,000 km through 10 African countries, starting in KwaZulu-Natal (from the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Centre) and ending in Kenya.

Founder and expedition leader from Blue Sky Society Trust, Carla Geyser says that after spending months dedicated to research and planning, so many conservation leaders and like-minded sponsors have come on board to support the initiative. “We all believe that it will not only ignite a global interest in the expedition and conservation but will also translate into real, practical actions for saving elephants,” she says.

“This epic journey will be under-pinned by community upliftment, youth education, public awareness of the plight of African’s declining popu-lation, and a fundraising drive to sup-port the dedicated non-profit organi-sations that are doing such amazing work to protect the elephants,” she adds.

Along the journey, the Elephant Ignite Expedition will engage with the various research organisations, cur-rent conservation, political and tribal leaders and foster knowledge-sharing between generations and nationali-ties. “The projects and organisations the expedition will be visiting all provide conservation as well as com-munity upliftment and educational programmes especially amongst the youth,” says Geyser. “The expedition will weave an invisible web, linking together these conservation projects to expand their support base and ongoing funding through public awareness.”

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Creature Feature - Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey

When you’re far from home, highly-strung and growing up in a strange land, the temptation
to hit the bottle is an ever-present danger. This probably explains why immigrant vervet monkeys scattered in small populations across the balmy islands of the Caribbean have a teenage drinking problem. By David Muirhead


Their sober forebears arrived from Africa on slave ships, carried along for the amusement of the crew. On arrival, they escaped into a tropical countryside rapidly being transformed into one humungous sugar cane planta-tion. Fermenting sugar produces ethanol, a substance familiar to brewers and manufacturers of fine wines, whiskeys and cheap plonk the world over. It is mainly young vervets that can’t resist a tipple; as they get older a sense of social responsibility seems to take over, and adult monkeys largely go on the wagon.

Given this penchant for substance abuse, it’s probably little wonder that vervets have long been studied by folk trying to figure out why humans behave as they do. They’re very like us in other ways, susceptible to the same and simi-lar diseases and inclined to suffer from hypertension. If it were not for a long-ago roll of the evolutionary dice, one of them might be writing this article and I could be sitting on a branch in a fruiting Marula tree, worrying about life and wait-ing for Nature to open the bar.

Being relatively easy to handle and breed in captivity, they’ve played a major role in biomedical research, notably into HIV/AIDS and have reluctantly, though laudably contributed to the production of smallpox and polio vaccines.

Vervets are members of the genus Chlorocebus, and various subspecies, some six in all, live all over Africa with the exception of the heavily forested Congo basin, which is dark, dangerous and not the kind of place you want to spend the night in.  With the exception of the colour of their coats, which varies between subtle shades of brown and grey, they all look pretty much alike.

Their preferred habitat is lightly wooded savannah, riverine woodlands and coastal scrub but they’re highly adaptable. They make a modest living in cultivated lands and sometimes, where modern realities dictate it, in suburbia. Their relationship with us is not always cordial, especially when open windows and well-stocked kitchens are involved.

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