African Mountain Research Times - March 2018

201803 afromain

AfroMont is a communication and networking organisation interested in researching the science-policy and science-diplomacy issues relating to African mountains and sustainable mountain development and communicating findings. Afromont also aims to showcase experiences from research, field projects and best practice in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation in African countries.

AfroMont now has a Facebook page, see

 Editorial - Taxidermy: it's a bigger activity than you think

In South Africa, the game industry, along with trophy hunting, is worth hundreds of millions of rands, and is a valuable sector of tourism. It is also considered as part of ‘green industries’ and is generally regarded as ‘sustainable’. There have been ethical issues, of course, like the canned lion hunting, but otherwise is strictly controlled. Along with hunting, comes the taxidermy of trophy animals.

Nico van Rooyen’s taxidermy outfit

I visited Nico van Rooyen’s taxidermy outfit north of Pretoria recently with my daughter who is doing a master’s study on taxidermy and museum dioramas. Nico van Rooyen’s is one of about eight professional taxidermy outfits in South Africa. I went along with some apprehension, expecting a slaughterhouse type of atmosphere and a ghastly smell in the air. I spent a decade in nature conservation and came to ‘accept’ hunting as part of the conservation spectrum, but I still think taxidermy is all about dead animals. So, Nico van Rooyen’s was something of a surprise. The whole operation is very professional, clean and calm. No gore!

The staff are from the surrounding villages and have been working for Nico van Rooyen’s for decades. They are highly skilled in their various tasks, for example, repairing the wet skins prior to placing them on the mounting forms, painting in the creases in the ears of the Wildebeest specimens, putting the glass eyes in place, and so on.

So, to get to the actual processing. The animals or their skins are brought to Nico van Rooyens as soon as possible after the hunt. Selected bones (like the skulls) are boiled to remove meat and fat. Any ‘material’ that is removed during this process is landfilled. The skins are kept dried in salt in a rather makeshift storeroom until they are to be processed for actual taxidermy. This processing involves tanning the skins and this is all done on site. The chemicals used in tanning has improved over the years, so not so toxic and smelly as they used to be.

So popular is taxidermy for the processing of hunting trophies that Nico van Rooyens’ waiting list is over a year! This means that the storeroom is packed tight with folded skins of all kinds, rows of gleaming white skulls, folded up crocodiles, almost as if waiting to be turned back into almost-alive, almost-breathing animals. It is all completely bizarre if it was not for the totally clean and sanitized atmosphere.

Also kept in the storeroom as the resin mounds used to create the inner forms onto which the wet skins are shaped and stitched. Staff at the taxidermists have experimented over the years with various modern foam and resin materials to create lightweight inner forms (this making for easier transportation and handling). What was clear from our visit is that the whole manufacturing of a taxidermied animal specimen requires a huge amount of work.

Nico van Rooyens’ exports finished trophies to all over the world, and the cost can be around USD 10 000 per specimen, plus the cost of freight to their destinations. This is on top of the cost of the safari and hunt, and the cost of a hunting rifle. To attest to Nico van Rooyen’s being a vibrant operation, in the shed were four large packing cases destined for Berlin, Buenos Aires, Houston and Calgary. The packing cases also mean that the hunter will have been home for over a year, and is waiting for his beautiful taxidermied animal.

Nico van Rooyen’s also handles the export papers and any certificates needed for export. Copies of all valid export documentation, i.e. Veterinary certificates, Nature Conservation permits for plains game and CITES permits for endangered species, all need to be provided by the hunting operation, but are also needed by Nico van Rooyen’s operation as soon as possible after a hunt has been completed. Paperwork has to be impeccable otherwise the specimen may be confiscated, either by the South Africa or upon import into the destination country. This is a complicated business.

Let the photos speak for themselves!

Photo 1: Nico van Rooyen's entrance hall with some of their projects
Photo 2: Dried, salted and folded skins stored until they can be processed into the final trophy.
Photo 3: The outside area where the forms are prepared. The skins are draped over these forms to create the final mount. in this case, a baboon.
Photo 4: A taxidermied elephant trophy waiting for export.
Photo 5: Crates containing completed projects waiting for export

201803 vanr1201803 vanr2

201803 vanr3

201803 vanr4201803 vanr5


South Africa’s water crisis worse than imagined

201803 afromont1“The future of South Africa’s water sector is uncertain. Nobody can be sure how much rain will fall over the coming decade. But what is clear is that the country is living beyond its water resources. Each day that passes, with each leaky tap and broken pipe, the problem is becoming more difficult, and more expensive, to fix”.

Cape Town is the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running completely out of drinking water. There is literally no water in the five main mountain catchment-based dams that supply Cape Town and after the mid-April, there will be no water in the taps. This looming waterless situation has been known for several years, and the critical water shortages facing the City of Cape Town have been predicted for decades. One of the important things about water management is to protect mountain catchments. It is entirely another thing when there is no rain in the catchments for several years. This lack of rainfall has also occurred in the mountain catchments around Calvinia and Beaufort West, inland from Cape Town, and those dams are completely dry too. Theewaterskloof Dam (below), one of five dams that supply Cape Town. Almost no water can be recovered from this dam, although some kind of ‘water mining’ of the sediments is being considered, to recover the last 10 % of water that normally cannot be recovered.

Consequences of ‘Day Zero’ when Cape Town’s taps run dry

‘Day Zero’, the day the taps of Cape Town run dry, will mean that toilets will not be able to flush throughout the city. Children preparing to go to school in the morning will not be able to wash. Restaurants and even the most humble eatery will not be able to operate as they will not be able to wash the food or the dishes (this will hammer the vital tourism sector) and hairdressing salons will become an obsolete industry unless clients bring their own water. Some trendy young people in the city have even used social media to proclaim how they cut their hair short to save water in solidarity for Day Zero.

There are fears of health related problems like cholera as people resort to using unsecured water sources, although this is already a constant risk for the poor on the Cape Flats slums. Presumably, hospitals in Cape Town will get some emergency supply of water – but the drought is so widespread, that it will be very expensive to bring water tankers in from elsewhere. From where? Desalination is an option, with plans for these are being brought forward for emergency implementation. They should have been in place decades ago.

A data-mining study by journalist JASON NORWOOD-YOUNG, writing for the Daily Maverick, showed that citizens are responding to calls to save water.

201803 afromont2

The above image of the City of Cape Town shows the areas that are using more than 10kw per day (red) and not meeting City of Cape Town household water targets, and those that are meeting targets (blue) in April 2017 (JASON NORWOOD-YOUNG).

201803 afromont3

This above map of the City of Cape Town shows the situation by December 2017, eight months later, with greatly increased areas of blue (blue = saving water according to household targets issues by the City of Cape Town) (Daily Maverick, 13 Feb 2018) (JASON NORWOOD-YOUNG.)

Global water shortages and warnings

World experts have long been warning about water scarcity. The United Nations World Water Development Report warned that the global demand for fresh water would exceed supply by 40% in 2030. A 2014 study of the world’s 500 largest cities has also estimated that one in four are experiencing a strain on water supplies. Despite warnings from climatologists and water scientists, in South Africa there was not enough preparedness for the three-year El Nino-related drought (2014 – 2017), even though the El Nino event was predicted. South Africa is one of the arid countries of the world, although not in the top 30 driest countries – but we act as though there is no tomorrow. This dire situation of Cape Town could be a climate change practice run for all water-stressed cities that must deal with new realities. This is not a random crisis and all cities and nations will begin to face their own versions of climate change. Other world cities facing extreme water supply issues include São Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul and Mexico City. Start preparing now!

If you are worried about a dryer southern Africa, attend the Arid Zone Ecological Forum’s (AZEF) Annual Congress this year

201803 afromont4
Read this too!
Dos Santos, Adams, Neville, Wada, de Sherbinin, Bernhardt and Adamo (20170. Urban growth and water access in sub-Saharan Africa: Progress, challenges, and emerging research directions. Science of the Total Environment 607–608 (2017) 497–508

We are all interested in information and environmental indicator systems
There are many existing and established indices of environmental performance (and health) if you begin to look, but how quickly we are drawn into new, bigger sets of indices, notably the UN SDG, as well as the associated search for indicators of Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD). Of course, and overarching factor is that the UN SDG is international and will become the responsibility of participating countries, while indicator systems like the YEPI is a nice-to-have. Check it out.
Yale Environmental Performance Index (YEPI)

Environmental change hotspots in Africa

The UNEP Environmental Change hotspots atlas and website are very informative. To quote their website, the Atlas of Our Changing Environment uses a combination of ground photographs, current and historical satellite images, and narrative based on extensive scientific evidence to illustrate how humans have altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the global environment. These publications underscore the importance of developing, harnessing and sharing technologies that help provide deeper understanding of the dynamics of environmental change. The words and pictures within the publications also serve as a vivid reminder that this planet is our only current home, and that sound policy decisions and positive actions by societies and individuals are needed to sustain the Earth and the well-being of its inhabitants.

The UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS)

GEAS is an online mechanism for identifying, selecting and communicating early warning information on emerging issues to decision makers on a regular basis across UNEP's focus areas. The Global Environmental Alert Service continuously scans the scientific literature, analyses results of earth observations and other data sources to produce widely distributed alerts, focusing on policy relevant environmental hotspots, environmental science, and near real-time environmental hazards in an easily understandable format. It takes the pulse of the planet and enhances UNEP's ability to provide regular, science based updates to its member states and the international community on the status and trends of the global environment.

Book Review

201803 afromont5Researching Sustainability: a guide to Social Science Methods, Practice and Engagement (2011). Alex Franklin and Paul Blyton (eds). Earthscan.

Researching sustainability is now a regular activity, and the topic is more diverse than one would at first think, crossing the social science-natural sciences divide. The book Researching Sustainability: a guide to Social Science Methods, Practice and Engagement is a good place to start to widen one’s knowledge, whatever type of research you are doing. Ultimately, sustainability is all about people, hence this books focus on social science methods, although the actual discussions in the book chapters range across diverse and interlinked topics.

One of the authors reflects how there is now significant research evidence regarding the challenges that society faces from climate change, ecosystem degradation, resource scarcity, global poverty and urbanization. These problems are significant, urgent and intensifying, but that often our growing research knowledge on these issues is not filtering out into mainstream thinking, and is rather ‘ghettoized’ within niche journals or conference sessions. Environmental issues and the need for sustainable development are still not widely understood by society. There is much work still to be done to create sustainable human societies. The book, designed as a university teaching resource, has many important things to say about research approaching, including chapters on case study methods and sustainability science, researching ethnographic practices, rapidly emerging disciplines, Fairtrade, climate change and sustainable futures. There is also a chapter on engaging with policy-makers and influencing sustainability policy through academic research.

Editor’s Choice

201803 afromont6Jasper Knight, Stefan W. Grab and Clinton Carbutt (2018): Influence of mountain geomorphology on alpine ecosystems in the Drakensberg Alpine Centre, Southern Africa. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, DOI: 10.1080/04353676.2017.1418628

Abstract: In the Drakensberg Range of eastern Lesotho, periglacial sorted circles, stonebanked and turf-banked lobes, blockfields, block streams and wetland thúfur (earth hummocks) are present. These features are of varying ages (likely from Last Glacial Maximum to contemporary) and have been disturbed by soil formation and vegetation growth. This study uses a mixed methodology to investigate relationships between periglacial landforms, slope aspect and their associated ecosystems, and the relative age relationships of these components at Mafadi Peak on the Lesotho–South Africa border. A distinctive alpine flora, belonging to the Drakensberg Alpine Centre of the wider Afromontane phytochorion, is found in association with different periglacial landforms. Vegetation quadrat analysis shows that slope and aspect have no significant effect on vegetation cover, plant species abundance and bare ground cover. The most likely microscale relationships are with surface geomorphic features. The relative surface hardness and thus age of clasts within and outside of the stone/turfbanked lobes show that even within single landforms, variations in weathering exist, likely related to episodic and seasonal alpine cryoturbation. Major soil physical properties (grain size, organic and C/N content) and soil depth were measured. Weathering and soil development, influenced by climate, provide a substrate for a nutrient deficient, sparse alpine flora and vegetation assemblage. The relationships between periglacial geomorphology and alpine ecosystems are not well understood from southern African high mountain regions, but are important with respect to ecosystem responses to ongoing climate change.

201803 afromont7

Wood D (2017). Corporate Chemistry: A Biopolitics of Environment in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Richard Powers’s Gain. American Literary History, Volume 29, Issue 1, 1 February 2017, Pages 72–99,



Andrea J. Reid, Jill L. Brooks, Lana Dolgov, Bruce Laurich, Brittany G. Sullivan, Petra Szekeres, Sylvia L.R. Wood, Joseph R. Bennett, Steven J. Cooke, (2017). Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals still neglecting their environmental roots in the Anthropocene (2017). Environmental Science and Policy 77 (2017) 179–184

Abstract: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; promulgated in 2015), officially known as ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, are an intergovernmental set of 17 goals and 169 constituent targets that succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs; 2000–2015). Despite a clear mandate to integrate social, economic and environmental objectives in the SDGs, ecosystem health remains underrepresented in this latest iteration of the United Nation’s global development agenda. We submit that maintaining ecosystem health (Goal 14: life below water and Goal 15: life on land) is a necessary precondition to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here, we present a reconceptualised SDG framework akin to a tree that places Healthy Ecosystems as the roots for five branches of development (Clean Energy, Water Security, Food Security, Lives and Livelihoods, Governing for Sustainability). As universal examples, we put forward the vital role of life below fresh water for ending poverty by 2030 (Goal 1: no poverty) and describe how children’s environmental health is the foundation for the major health priorities of reproductive, maternal and child health (Goal 3: good health and well-being). This framework provides insight and evidence for policymakers and the public to be cognizant that prioritizing ecosystem health goals can serve human development objectives, which we deem as key to realizing the unified plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.