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The Unique Habitats of the Cultural Heartlands

 
12 January 2016 by Katy La Grange

The Cultural Heartlands might be better known for its power stations and coal mines, however it is also home to an important grassland ecosystem that supports a myriad of plant and animal species. 

The rolling Highveld grasslands of the Cultural Heartland are occasionally broken by rivers, dams and pans. These further diversify this special region and provide niche habitats for a multitude of endangered species.

The temporary, or seasonal pans, of the Cultural Heartlands are one of this regions hidden gems. Only appearing after heavy seasonal rain they transform an area, turning dry grasslands into an oasis of life. They vary in size from a few metres to a number of kilometres wide and usually occur between November and June. 

The Elandspruit Pan is located 12km out of Middelburg and after heavy rainfall can cover an impressive 124 hectares. Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including seven species of ground orchid. The delicate miniature flowers are hard to spot but beautiful to find and are certainly worth scouring the pan for.

It is also the only known breeding site for the Giant Bullfrog in Mpumalanga. A magnificent beast that only comes out of its burrow to forage at night for about four weeks of the year and to breed. The rest of the time it will be found buried 10-20cm underground in its hole aestivating, the frog form of hibernating.  What makes these frogs interesting is that the males protect the tadpoles, digging big water channels with their back legs to ensure the tadpoles’waterholesdo not dry out and protecting them fiercely from predators.

Another delightful sight around temporary pans is the delicate oribi antelope, which is drawn by the young shoots found around these water features. One of the most graceful of all South African antelope species, they will often initially freeze when approached opting for camouflage over flight. This often allows really close encounters and great photographic opportunities.

So whether it is temporary pans,  or the magnificient dams and numerous river systems that weave through the Cultural Heartlands, there are many wonderful water features simply waiting to be explored in this region of hidden gems.