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Africa Geographic
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Africa Geographic Travel

Original Source: yearinthewild.com

When the summer thunderstorms arrive, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province of South Africa turns into a green mountain paradise.

The pristine grasslands are some of the last remaining in the country, with more than 50 species of grasses. This park is a vital water catchment area, supplying a large portion of the fresh water that flows into the Vaal and Orange Rivers. But for visitors it’s just a beautiful place, at a beautiful time of year the tiny, colourful flowers are great to photograph with a macro lens.

There is also an abundance of buffalo grass. One of the most valuable grazing grasses, and is indicative of healthy grasslands. When overgrazed, it tends to be smothered by less palatable grasses. It’s one of close to 1000 grass species in Southern Africa, and together they are the foundation of many of Africa’s wilderness areas. They are also vitally important for retention of soil, and therefore water. Overgrazing tends to reduce grass cover, which leads to erosion, which leads to soil depletion and eventually the water simply runs off the top of the soil, instead of soaking into it.

I think this species of grass is Panicum Maximum, or Buffalo Grass. It's one of the most valuable grazing grasses, and is indicative of healthy grasslands. When overgrazed, it tends to be smothered by less palatable grasses. It's one of close to 1000 grass species in Southern Africa, and together they are the foundation of many of Africa's wilderness areas. They are also vitally important for retention of soil, and therefore water. Overgrazing tends to reduce grass cover, which leads to erosion, which leads to soil depletion and eventually the water simply runs off the top of the soil, instead of soaking into it
Buffalo Grass.

Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.comGolden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.comGolden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com

The beautiful sandstone cliffs of Golden Gate are made up of ancient desert sand from 200 million years ago, just before the entire region was covered with volcanic outpourings of magma. The sandstone is a mecca for dinosaur fossil hunters, and in 1977, Wits University palaeontologist James Kitching discovered seven fossilised eggs very near to this look out point where I’m standing on my Ford Everest.

Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com

Today, American palaeontologist Jonah Choiniere is studying the fossils of the park and surrounding region, and he put the Golden Gate eggs into context. The small eggs, about 10 centimetres long, come from the herbivore Massospondylus carinatus. From a hatchling, it would have grown into an animal about four metres long, with a horizontal neck, thick tail, short forelimbs and long back legs. “These are the oldest-known dinosaur embryos on Earth, dating back 200 million years,” said Choiniere. Even more profoundly, the hatchlings don’t have teeth. “This suggests the babies required parental care of some kind for some time after emerging from the egg. If this interpretation is correct, it’s the oldest known indication of parental care in the fossil record.” In terms of palaeontology, Choiniere explained, Golden Gate is one of the world’s most valuable protected areas and these eggs are among the most important fossil discoveries.

Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com

Two hook-winged beetles in the process of mating.
Two hook-winged beetles in the process of mating.

Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com Golden Gate NP - copyright Scott Ramsay - www.yearinthewild.com

A type of red hot poker, a blaze of colour in the green fields of grass.
A type of red hot poker, a blaze of colour in the green fields of grass.
The famous sandstone cliff of Brandwag Buttress as seen from the hotel and chalets.
The famous sandstone cliff of Brandwag Buttress as seen from the hotel and chalets.
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Scott Ramsay

Photojournalist Scott Ramsay focuses on exploring the national parks, nature reserves and community conservancies in Southern Africa, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in these protected areas. Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to travel to the continent's wild places, which Scott believes are Africa's greatest long term assets. For more, go to www.LoveWildAfrica.com or www.facebook.com/LoveWildAfrica. Partners include Ford Ranger, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, EeziAwn, Frontrunner, Hetzner and Globecomm.