As many of you know, the Lowveld is currently experiencing heavy rainfall over much of the region due to Tropical Cyclone Eloise, but how many of us know what the effects such a deluge has on the environment? To get a clear impression we need to travel back in time to the days preceding the storm’s arrival.
Without the correct knowledge at hand, the days prior to the storm would seem like any other. Hot, humid days and sometimes unbearable nights are a norm in the Lowveld. But when one looks a little more closely, the signs of change were all around us.
Creatures were inconspicuously moving towards higher ground before Tropical Cyclone Eloise were to hit.
Matabele ants, for example, were seen marching across the savanna, but not carrying their usual bounty of termites, but rather, their eggs. To and from their nests they marched, ensuring no larvae or eggs were left behind.
This is but one example. Another was the sudden emergence of snakes from drainage lines as they moved through the camp to higher ground. From baby puff adders to various fossorial species like the blind and worm snakes. Anything and everything that felt the sudden drop in barometric pressure were evacuating their places of residence in preparation of the floods to come.
Looking a little more closely, we noticed that swallows were gathering en-masse, gliding and hunting with voracious tenacity ahead of the storm, only to perch in their hundreds on available support structures, be they natural (dead trees) or man-made (power-lines). Tortoises were suddenly abundant on roads as they too moved to higher ground.
Once upon a time, man was finely tuned to nature, as we were a part of nature, as opposed to apart from nature. One must always remember that we too belong in the natural ecosystem and that our current state is unnatural, man-made.
When the storm finally hit, animals both large and small had simply disappeared. All but the most avid of water-lovers. As the first trickles of water started flowing into drainage systems, frogs came out in abundance. A new chorus resounded through the savanna. Birdsong and trumpeting, roaring and cackling, were replaced by the cacophony of frogs. As the water gained momentum so too did the urgency of our slimy friends as they began competing for space and females.
Bullfrogs broke through their drought-resistant cocoons and dug their way to the surface and began their migrations to breeding pans, where their deep, resounding booms called to one another to gather and ultimately, fulfil their life purpose… reproduction and the passing on of their genetics.
Such a sudden abundance of amphibians however need sustenance. Mating and competing are, after all, a tiring business requiring vast amounts of energy. Nature too had planned for this, in the form of emergences. An emergence is the timeous appearance of winged alates, or better known as flying ants. The latter a misnomer, for the alates are not ants, but winged termites. The princes and princesses of their colonies, they are released into the skies on their nuptial flights. It is a time for pairs to form and then to land together and drop their incumbent wings, no longer needed in this lifetime, and to start their own colonies.
This synchronized event serves two purposes:
The first is the insurance of the survival of a species, while the second, is to provide an abundance of protein, allowing a myriad of species the energy required to compete and reproduce. From entire amphibian populations to large raptors like Steppe eagles and Lesser-spotted eagles and swallows. Many depend on this late-season abundance to fuel and store energy for long, inter-continental migrations.
The last remaining aftermath of cyclones like Eloise is the fact that floodwaters drain into dams and pans, filling them for the upcoming dry seasons and ensuring enough water for the survival of all forms of life in the African savannas.
So while often devastating, these seasonal floods are crucial to our ecosystems and as with all things, have both place and purpose without which life as we know it, could not exist.
So enjoy the moment and dance in the rain, celebrate life and open your eyes to the wonders unfolding around you.
Instructor Ross Hawons sent through a picture after some much-needed rain up in the Makuleke. “Scenery on the way down to the Luvuvhu and a fast-flowing Luvuvhu at that.”