Tag Archives: Keetmanshoop

A visit to a Namibian Mesosaurus fossil site

We normally camp in central or northern Namibia, mainly because the birdlife is more prolific and there’s more to see, but this Easter we decided to focus on the south, with a visit to Brukkaros and then the farm Spitzkoppe, about 39 kms from Keetmanshoop, where our main draw card was the mesosaurus fossil site.

The drive to the fossil site is very pretty as one passes the Quiver Tree Forest (declared a National Monument in 1955) and Giants Playground, two unique and interesting features of this area.  The terrain around Keetmanshoop is particularly rocky, a condition that suits quiver trees and gives rise to unusual dolorite rock formations.

Beautiful rocks & quiver trees

We were taken on a short tour by Giel Steenkamp, the owner of the farm – a funny and colourful character who struck it lucky when his young son, Hendrik, noticed an upturned rock containing a fossil during a road making operation on the farm.  This life-changing discovery of the mesosaurus fossil was the first of a number of fossils found on the farm and the family have opened this interesting site up to the public ever since.

Mirror image of the fossil

About 280 million years ago a huge inland lake, known as Lake Gai-As, lay in the middle of the great continent of Gondwana and it was on the shores of this lake that mesosaurus lived.  When fossils of this crocodile-like reptile were found deep inland in both southern Africa and South America, it supported the theory that the two continents were once joined together.

Crocodile-like jaw

In southern Africa mesosaurus is known as Mesosaurus tenuidens, whilst in Brazil the same fossil is known as Mesosaurus brasiliensis.

Coprolite - fossilized dung in the bowel

These water-going reptiles lived in a time called the Permian age and are thought to be the first reptiles to have returned to the water to live.  They ranged in size from 40 cm to 1.5 meters.

Mesosaurus tenuidens

Oom Giel jokingly referred to himself as a young fossil and it is evident that he thoroughly enjoys showing visitors the sights on his farm.  Apart from the numerous fossils on display, one can also see a quiver tree forest of about 5000 trees, a dolorite park similar to Giants Playgrond and the war grave of a young German soldier killed in the native uprising at the beginning of the 20th century.  As if that’s not enough, you will also get treated to a “rock concert” when Giel plays a basic rendition of the South African national anthem (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika) using a small rock to pound a stacked rock formation.

Oom Giel gives a rock concert

After the tour he leaves visitors alone to wander around and take photographs.  It’s a special place, well worth a visit.  Accommodation in the form of chalets or campsites is available for guests who’d like to spend the night on the farm.

 

 

Quiver me timbers!

Okay! I know that I’ve got the expression wrong and that it should be the famous phrase “Shiver me timbers” as exclaimed by Long John Silver, the pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, but I thought it was quite a fitting heading for my blog about quiver trees in Namibia.

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Quiver trees are so unusual that they do cause one to call out in an exclamation of surprise and pleasure, so do forgive me for my moment of poetic license.

Actually, apart from my incorrect exclamation, there is another error in the paragraph above in that quiver trees are not really trees at all, but are members of the aloe family.  Their scientific name is Aloe dichotoma Masson – dichotoma referring to their forked branches.  This close up photo of the leaves dispels any doubt that they are aloe plants.

Aloe-like leaves

However, for the sake of this blog I will call them trees as that’s exactly what they look like.  In Afrikaans they are known as “kokerbome” (koker meaning quiver and bome meaning trees).   And they are known as quiver trees because the San Bushmen used to carve their arrow quivers from the soft, pulpy branches.

Quiver tree in a rocky environment

These remarkable trees are found in the dry and arid areas of Namibia and the Northern Cape of South Africa as they prefer rocky or hard terrain for their shallow root systems.  They store water in their stems, leaves or roots to enable them to survive for months without rain.  You can see from the various photos in this blog which of the trees has received the most water.  Those that receive little or none are very ‘lean’, whilst the others are positively bloated!

Barely surviving without water

The stems of quiver trees are decorated with golden brown flaky scales and beautiful vertical patterns which make them very photogenic.

The stem has flaky scales

Quiver trees can grow up to nine meters tall.  They bear spiky yellow flowers during the winter months of June/July, but not before they are at least twenty years old.  The trees produce a fine white powder that acts as a sunscreen by reflecting the harsh desert sunlight.

Remnants of the yellow flower

Seen standing alone in a vast barren landscape, they have an almost eerie appearance, but to me they represent the desert that I love so much.   They are usually seen individually, dotted here and there on open plains or hillsides, but there are a couple of quiver tree forests that are well worth visiting.  The famous quiver tree forest in Namibia is near Keetmanshoop down in the south of the country, and there is another beautiful one on the short-cut between the Onseepkans border post and Kakamas in the Northern Cape.

Quiver tree forest

I’m not the only one who loves these trees – they are often home to sociable weavers that build enormous nests in their secure branches.   So watch out for these fascinating trees on your next visit to Namibia – they definitely deserve a place on your list of things to see.