Hive project, fossil find boost Eastern Cape parks

BEE BRIGADE: Eastern Cape Motors CEO Stephen Theodosiou, left, and Addo honorary ranger Clive Gibson with one of the new information signs erected in the Addo Elephant National Park as part of the bee hive initiative
BEE BRIGADE: Eastern Cape Motors CEO Stephen Theodosiou, left, and Addo honorary ranger Clive Gibson with one of the new information signs erected in the Addo Elephant National Park as part of the bee hive initiative
Image: SUPPLIED

Two rather different good news stories are creating a buzz in the Eastern Cape game reserve sector.

In the Addo Elephant National Park, the resident chapter of the Honorary Ranger corps in partnership with SANParks has launched a bee hive initiative

And in the Oviston Nature Reserve, on the banks of the Gariep Dam, a team of researchers and rangers has recovered evidence of an ancient past that could grab the attention of the world and bolster the future development of the little protected area.

The hive initiative was launched in the Addo park as a joint venture between SANParks and the resident Honorary Rangers  to counter the issue of problem bees creating hives around staff and tourist accommodation, Addo Honorary Rangers project co-ordinator Clive Gibson said.

“We decided to start a conservation project based on relocating the problem bees into hives that were safe and badger proof.

“This is why we decided to construct the hives out of concrete. Badgers make mincemeat of wooden hives.

“The concrete ones weigh 160kg and are difficult to open, so they’re badger- and baboon-proof.

“They also don’t have to be treated with preservatives, which will allow for the production of organic honey — which will fund the expansion of the project.”

The project was being heavily backed by Eastern Cape Motors which had provided the moulds for the hives as well as signboards and tourist information handouts for the park, he said.

The Bunka Hives were being custom-made out of a special concrete mixture by Glendore Sand at their premises on the road to Sardinia Bay.

The bee performs complex calculations based on distance travelled and foraging efficiency and then does a “waggle dance” to communicate this information to the swarm.

It plays a huge role in pollinating wild plants and food crops alike — yet it is threatened by a number of problems directly or indirectly caused by humans including pesticide, loss of habitat, parasites and viruses.

Gibson said hives were used in Malawi and Kenya to keep elephants away from villages and crops, and his team was using the same approach in Addo.

“We have installed four hives around a magnificent boerboon tree that is thought to be 900 years old.

The elephants were inflicting a lot of damage to it and we know that in a showdown the bees will win.

So, we set up four hives around the tree and it worked.

“The ellies are afraid of the bees, which sting them on the soft parts of their bodies like the ends of their trunks.”

The project had seen five hives installed so far at Addo and the aim was to put in up to 70 and then to expand to other parks.

Even once this was achieved, the hives were simply accommodation for the bees and a swarm had to locate them and approve of them enough to move in, he said.

To lure their scouts the hive project team used a mixture of olive oil, beeswax and propolis, a waxy substance produced by bees to seal their hives.

THRILLING FIND: Oviston Nature Reserve fossil hunters including Wits University Evolutionary Studies Institute students and staff, and rangers, on an outcrop showing exposed lystosaurus bones
THRILLING FIND: Oviston Nature Reserve fossil hunters including Wits University Evolutionary Studies Institute students and staff, and rangers, on an outcrop showing exposed lystosaurus bones
Image: SUPPLIED

At Oviston, a lecturer and students from the Wits University Evolutionary Studies Institute, with resident rangers and in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency and heritage resources authority, have unearthed a treasure trove of 250-million-year-old bones.

The bones were from the pig-like, root-eating lystosaurus which was one of the few creatures that survived “The Great Dying”, the cataclysmic event dividing the Permian and Triassic periods which killed 90% of all living things, palaeontology lecturer Dr Julien Benoit explained.

“The current theory is this mass extinction event, the most catastrophic yet on Earth, started with a huge volcanic  eruption in what is Russia today.

“The eruption released a vast amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and this triggered a chain reaction that eventually completely changed climates globally so fast that most species could not adapt.”

One of the things that probably helped the lystosaurus to survive was that it was a burrower, he said.

“It could hibernate during long periods of drought when little food was available and the temperatures were too hot.”

The lystosaurus
ovistonlystosaurus The lystosaurus
Image: Wikipedia

Their discovery included three complete skeletons and these were covered with a protective glue to ensure that they did not erode.

The idea was that they would now form the centrepiece of a unique tourist attraction, he said.

“Fossil records like this of the Permian-Triassic extinctions are very rare and this new find may shed some fresh light on this catastrophic event.

“We are now closely collaborating with the Eastern Cape authorities to develop palaeotourism in the area by creating a new fossil park which will showcase these ancient, miraculously preserved bones.”

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