We have lived in the village of Loxton for 20 years, although interspersed with long absences, and during that time have noted the increase in grass cover on many of the farms. No doubt this can be ascribed to a combination of factors, including changes in rainfall regime, climate change, farming practices and better controls over stock numbers. There are probably other factors at play that we are not aware of. Our observations are of a subjective nature as we have not had the time to delve more deeply but……
Two mammals have spread their range during
our tenure here, the Southern African Springhare
and the Southern African Ground Squirrel.
When we arrived in the area both of these medium-sized rodents were known to occur in the vicinity of Victoria West but in 20 years they have moved westwards bit by bit. The Springhare is now known as far west as 20 km beyond Loxton towards Carnarvon and the Ground Squirrel is at least as far west as Aarfontein, just to the north of Loxton. For the Springhare this a range extension of almost 100 km and for the Ground Squirrel roughly 80 km.
Why this spread? Firstly, we admit that it is possible that pockets of both of these species may have been overlooked within the “new” range areas but we know these farms well and their fauna and it is unlikely we would not have seen them or their signs over the years. In the case of the Springhare grass is an essential in their diet, without grass you do not have Springhares. The increase in grass cover facilitated the westwards expansion of this bipedal rodent and wherever there is suitable sandy substrate, which they require for burrowing, the range spread is likely to continue. In the case of the Ground Squirrel grass is not so critical in their diet but it does make up an important component of their food requirements. Although they prefer harder substrates for burrowing they are more flexible than the sand-loving Springhares, so this is not a limitation.
Local sheep farmers do not like the increase in grass cover but prefer the karoo shrubs as these are generally better and a more reliable food resource for their small stock. The spread of grass cover has allowed farmers to bring in cattle that offer an additional source of income. Twenty years ago cattle were a rare sight here in this part of the Karoo, apart from the obligatory milk cow or two for the house, but now it is not unusual to see herds of beef cattle, especially those of the Nguni breed.
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