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Beauty and the Beasts

Although at one stage in history the Agulhas Plains were teeming with large mammals like rhino, hippo and elephant, today most of the large mammals you’ll find close to Grootbos are in the ocean.  

The fauna, much like the flora, is of a more petite nature, except perhaps for the Cape Leopard that still roams like a mythical figure through our mountains. The quiet, patient (or lucky) visitor will occasionally spot small mammals like the Cape Grysbok and the Bushbuck but the real show is happening on an even smaller stage.

Life on the Micro Scale

The majority of wildlife at Grootbos is of the flittering, chirping, buzzing, crawling and croaking kind. The thousands of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles joyfully going about their daily business are what bring the landscape to glorious life. These diminutive creatures play an enormous role in the ecology of the fynbos kingdom. Their animated presence creates a wonderful, uplifting atmosphere of sound and colour but it’s when you start to learn about their fascinating adaptations, interactions and dependencies that they take on a much deeper significance and beauty. The many guided activities at Grootbos offer an opportunity to dive straight into this fascinating realm including dedicated bird watching tours for serious birders and enthusiasts alike.

Mind Your Mammals

Although birds and insects claim the lion’s share of the living landscape; a few mammals deserve a special mention. There are six different types of antelope at Grootbos namely the Cape Grysbok (totally dependent on the fynbos for survival), Steenbok, Klipspringer, Grey Rhebok, Duiker and the Bushbuck.

Nocturnal roamers include the Honey Badger, Cape Porcupine, Caracal, Striped Polecat and the Small-spotted Genet. There is also a healthy troop of Chacma Baboons that wander the range. If you’re afraid of baboons, fear not – our free roaming primates are untainted by civilisation and keep to themselves.

The even smaller mammals that occur plentifully in the fynbos include various species of shrew, mole, mouse, hare, rock hyrax and mongoose.

For the Birds

You cannot miss the male Cape Sugarbird, with its incredibly long tail (almost 70% of its total length), feeding on the sweet nectar of the Protea flower. This impressive tail is solely a decorative testimony to manhood - the longer, the better! The Cape sugarbird is endemic to the fynbos and lives in a highly interdependent relationship with the Protea species.

The beaks of the conspicuous endemic Orange-breasted Sunbird and the Southern Double-collared Sunbird are tailor-made for sipping the sweet nectar from the floral tubes of the various Erica species. Once again, the Sunbird and the Ericas are highly interdependent and adapted to each other.

A few of the other highly sought after bird species at Grootbos include the Paradise Flycatcher, Southern Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker, Black Harrier, Southern Boubou, Burchell’s Coucal, Cape Batis and the Bar-throated Apalis. Besides these ‘specials’ there are over 125 bird species that make up the full list of birds that can be spotted on the reserve.

Lone Survivor

There is one species worth singling out when it comes to the larger mammals. The elusive and highly threatened Cape Leopard is the last remaining top predator in the Western Cape region. They therefore play an essential role in the ecosystem. Leopards are solitary hunters, covering a sexually exclusive range of up to 250km2 of fynbos habitat. Urban expansion and indiscriminate predator eradication threatens their already perilous survival.

The Landmark Foundation, with assistance from Grootbos, is conducting extensive research of this beautiful cat. Using ‘camera traps’ the foundation is able to use photographic data to identify individual leopards. This data is then used to ascertain their range of movement, population status and vulnerability.

Although the chance of seeing one these elusive cats is almost as slim as winning the lottery, it’s good to know that they’re still out there. “For what is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, happens to man. All things are connected.” - Chief Seattle