23 December 2004
Four young men who have spent the past year honing their skills as mountain guides will soon be introducing visitors to the magic of Mariepskop Mountain near Graskop in Mpumalanga.
“A year ago we knew almost nothing”, says Thabelo Sekome of Mariepskop Mountain Adventure Guides. They had just completed the basic introductory courses to tour guiding and, although they were eager to start their business, were novices in the trade.
Armed with “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park”, Sekome and his partners – Lengoloi Seoke, Hlogelo Soke and Michael Dolebo – would test each other repeatedly in the bush.
The authors, Mervyn Lotter and Warren McLeland, had donated the book to the group after being approached by Sophie Greatwood, Africa programme director for Global Vision International (GVI).
GVI organises conservation expeditions, volunteer work, training courses and national park internships around the world. GVI, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the Integrated Nature-based Tourism and Conservation Management (Intac) project, helped train the group.
Intac forms part of the Tourism, Hospitality and Sports Sectoral Education and Training Authority, and aims to provide 6 500 people with skills to work in transfrontier conservation areas, biospheres, national parks and along tourism routes over the next three years.
Seoke’s passion is palpable as he jumps from one rare, endangered, small or tall species to another.
He tells you there are 900 species of Psychotria in the world, 200 in Africa, and only two in South Africa – both are found on Mariepskop Mountain. They are Psychotria capensis (Black bird-berry) and Psychotria zombamontana (Red bird-berry).
Seoke learnt the classification of plants and the special skill of explaining it to visitors from fellow guide Chris Scens from Graskop. “He showed us so many things, especially about fynbos and client relationships”, adds Sekome.
Unique floral diversity
Seoke reckons Mariepskop has everything the Cape has to offer, except for the sea.
The Mariepskop complex, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is unique in its floral diversity, containing well over 2 000 plant species – greater than the whole of the Kruger Park and far exceeding Table Mountain’s plant diversity.
Mariepskop’s foothills are in the savannah, montane forest species can be found on the slopes and in the kloofs and crags, while the semi-detached grassland hilltops boast grassland and cycad species. The top of Mariepskop is a combination of tropical mist forest and capensis “fynbos” species.
These diverse conditions also give rise to 905 vertebrate species, including 58 faunal endemics and 109 faunal red data book species.
Holistic guiding experience
Determined to provide a holistic guiding experience to their clients, the Mariepskop Mountain Guides asked another expert, Dave Rushworth, for help with bird identification, the ecology and the history of the area.
“We have learned a lot from that old man”, says Sekome.
Sekome, who has been a field officer in feasibility studies for the proposed new Blyde National Park and other projects on the mountain, says the group plans to establish a small library for neighbouring communities.
This will be based at the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry offices on the mountain, from where the guides operate at present.
They believe local people need access to information about their environment, including recent reports about proposed developments that may affect them.