Newsletter January 2012

Dear Shareholder and Friend of Mhlopeni,

You will be amazed to receive this newsletter, so soon after the last.
I have made two New Year resolutions: one is to improve communications and the second is to complete the things that I have started.

Both of these involve better time management, for you can get so caught up with one thing, that others become neglected and then require massive effort to bring back to order again, creating a tread-mill that just goes on and on. It takes stern will power to make quiet the “butterfly” mind, which has frequently got me into trouble with family and friends. It can be done and I will do my best. But, at least one hour per day must be allocated to something that is purely fun, like writing nonsense or doing a Su-doku puzzle…or it will certainly be the nut-house, for me!

A power switch died on the laptop computer, just before Christmas, and defied all attempts by a local Computer shop to repair (although they still charged for their “labour”). Grandson Brad had a go at it, extracted all the data, then suggested we take it out into the bush and shoot it. The files were transferred to Lizbeth’s old laptop (THANKS LIZZY) and that’s what I am using now. It’s a bit like traveling through a foreign land, without a map, as all the programs are different, but doubtless very good for the brain. Another benefit is the improved Modem, which allows both sending and receiving of e-mail messages, so HOORAY for that. No one has stolen the Telkom line recently, so we are ‘back in business’ without having to incur the expense of a satellite service, just yet.

Good rainfall received during the last month has resulted in astonishing plant growth and wondrous insect activity. There are now 118 species of butterfly recorded from Mhlopeni, which tops most of the KZN Ezemvelo (Parks Board) resorts and is an indication of the food-plant diversity here. Some of the smaller butterfly larvae feed exclusively on lichens, others rely on the presence of certain ant species to successfully complete their life cycles; they are highly sensitive to habitat destruction or pollution, such as acid rain. We simply do not sufficient ‘cabinet space’ to keep the nocturnal moths adequately recorded, they vary in size from that of a small bird’s wingspan to miniscule jewels of only a few millimeters, with antennae three times as long.

The stream is another big indicator of environmental health. Andrew has spent much time, trying to capture the image of the Cape clawless otter at the waterfall, using the new Lynx camera trap purchased last year. We see their droppings (“scats”), tracks and feeding debris of crab bits, but they are so shy of any human presence, a camera is the only way to see them, unless you are very lucky. Likewise, the resident leopard, that leaves “nothing but footprints” in the soft mud when he comes down to drink. The camera is triggered by the body heat and movement of the animal, and records all night-time activity within its range, using infra red light, for later viewing on computer screen. This is very clever, modern technology that is weather proof and non-intrusive.
Getting the camera well positioned and hidden from human eyes is the real trick.

Many thanks to Rob Crankshaw who donated a (signed) copy of “Pooley’s TREES OF EASTERN SOUTH AFRICA” by Richard Boon, for the Mhlopeni reference library. (Published by Flora and Fauna Publications Trust 2010). It is much more detailed than the first edition, with excellent identification keys, clear photographs for field identification and for any tree lover is an absolute “must buy.” With all the colour plates, it must have been costly to produce and sorry, I don’t have a retail price. If you visit the website there will be full details.

Please never throw out any reference work you may have about birds, plants or anything biological, however outdated it may seem to you. Rural schools have few library books, are far from any municipal libraries and are in desperate need of these books. If we can influence young minds to become interested in Nature and its conservation, much can be achieved and a whole new world opened for them.

Our own library is short of a good reference work on the classification of soil types and profiles, which is essential reading for any student who undertakes a project at Mhlopeni. At the moment we only have the slim volume “Soil Classification” A Binomial System for South Africa, by Dept. Agricultural Technical Services 1977. This book got piddled on by Julie, a pet baby dassie, years ago, before she was ‘house trained’ and many of the pages are barely legible. Some of our farming friends or shareholders may have a suitable book for us (to donate, or to be scanned/photo copied) for study purposes only.

Shareholders who receive the newsletter by post will find the annual levy account enclosed. Please do your best to settle these as soon as you can. It is going to be an extremely busy year, with construction of the new reception and interpretation centre, (including small archaeological museum) on Lot A, to be started. If we could find a suitable sponsor, the facility could be named after him/her?

But, that is just my butterfly mind getting busy again.

God bless and stay safe

Yours in Conservation

Richard and Joy
+ All at Mhlopeni