The Richtersveld falls within two biomes and two rainfall seasons; this together with its rich geology and microclimates creates a botanical wonder like seen nowhere else on earth.
It is not known exactly how many taxa is found within the area especially since so many new discoveries have been made lately, and the harsh environment is difficult for scientists to move around in. An updated species list for the broader Richtersveld is being compiled, and should be published before end of 2015. The list currently stands on almost 1 900 species of which about 29% are endemic.
The new discoveries came to the attention of a specialist in endangered species from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), especially after the rediscovery of species like Lachenalia nordenstamii last seen in 1964 and Cyanella marlothii only seen once when the type specimen was collected in 1925.
As a result, a number of specialists visited the Richtersveld in August 2014 to find endemics and assess their populations, in order for the plants’ conservation status to be updated. Experts included botanists from SANBI Pretoria, Buffelskloof Nature Reserve, Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch, the Millennium Seed Bank and Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town. They joined Richtersveld staff to explore the park and selected outlying areas.
The findings were both rewarding and shocking. For days the team searched the Helskloof area, where the most endemics in the park have been recorded for years. However, 50 years of grazing has taken its toll, and some commonly found endemics were nowhere to be found. On Vandersterrberg, Heliophila cornellsbergia last collected in 1972 was rediscovered, and Pteronia anisata, last seen in the 1960’s was rediscovered at Wondergat at Cornellskop.
Yet, this trip was just the beginning. The search will take very long to complete. Following the trip, SANBI Red List Specialists Lize Von Staden and Domitilla Claudia Raimondo wasted no time to update the Richtersveld Red List. Altogether, 317 taxa endemic to the Gariep Desert area of the Richtersveld were identified.
It is no secret anymore that the Richtersveld is changing due to human influence. In 1901 a Dutch farmer at Sendelingsdrift gave half his livestock to a small group of Nama people. Starving, they struggled to make a living in the Richtersveld after fleeing from Germans in Namibia. This was the start of the area’s transformation. A 100 years later 6 700 livestock roamed the national park area. After SANParks intervened the number was halved. The broader area, including Steinkopf, Alexander bay and Port Nolloth, hosts almost 40 000 livestock. Copper mining scarred the areas, and the recent diamond mining forever altered the pristine habitat. These factors, combined with collectors, off- road driving and urban development are causing massive metamorphoses of the vegetation. The amount of plants with red data status doubled from the previously known list, revealing the critical state of some habitats within the Richtersveld.
As they are the owners of the property, it is up to the Richtersveld community to decide if conservation should be a priority or not.
Hopefully, SANParks can put an agreement in place in future to protect Helskloof, Venstervalle, Bababaddens and Vandersterrberg, where the highest amount of endemics occurs. Until then, park staff will continue to document endemics and assign red data status where necessary. Several hundred sub taxa also need revision.
- Anacampseros herreana – previously listed as rare but not threatened, now upgraded to VU D2 as vulnerable due to overgrazing.
- Astridia speciosa – previously listed as rare but not threatened, now upgraded to CR B1ab(iii,v) as critical rare due to loss of habitat because of mining, restricted to about 62km².
- Babiana lobata – previously listed as rare but not threatened, now upgraded to EN B1ab(iii,v) as endangered due to loss of habitat because of overgrazing, it is only know from 5 populations.
- Tylecodon ellaphieae – listed as rare, known only from a 6km².
- Amaryllis paradisicola, VU D1+2 – listed as vulnerable, less than 2 000 individuals endemic to two small cliffs.
- Aloe meyeri – rare species found only in a global habitat of 23km².
Written by Pieter van Wyk – /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park nursery and herbarium administrator.
Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za