The Grootvadersbosch area is well known for its extraordinary pockets of indigenous forest. The forest is found in sheltered kloofs and ravines in a landscape dominated by fynbos and renosterveld. The contrasting characteristics of the forest environment and its surrounding vegetation prevents certain creatures from moving in and out of the forest habitat. Creatures that rely heavily on forest habitat are thus bound to isolated forest patches.
When populations are separated they can, over exceptionally long time periods, genetically diverge into subspecies and then further into separate species all together. This is a mechanism of evolution and it takes place very slowly, but it is accelerated if the isolated populations face different, natural conditions, such as soil or climate.
As a result, a few species, unique to the Grootvadersbosch area, have already been discovered and it is possible that, with more research, other species may be discovered. We are already aware of several species that are only found in these forests and are relevantly recent discoveries. These species include; the Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon (Tolley, 2006), a species of dwarf mountain toad (Tolley, 2010), the Southern Ghost Frog, the Boosmans long-tailed forest shrew and the Western Forest-King Charaxes butterfly.
The bushbuck (or Tragelaphus sylvaticus) was first described here on the Grootvadersbosch Estate in 1780 by Anders Sparrman. It makes sense that this was the first time it was described as Grootvadersbosch is the westerly most boundary of the bushbucks’ distribution in South Africa. Settlers in the Cape would therefore first have come across the animal here as they moved east along the coast. The next suitable habitat is around 200km away in the Knysna forests. The 200km stretch of unfavorable habitat between Grootvadersbosch and the Knysna forests could have isolated this small population of bushbuck from the populations further east. Areas north of Grootvadersbosch are far too dry for bushbuck to inhabit and thus this population of bushbuck, harbored by this small pocket of forest vegetation, could have been isolated from other populations. J. Moodie (2012) hypothesized that this isolation could be significant enough, over many hundreds of years, to bring about a genetic variation between the bushbuck of the Grootvadersbosch and other populations further east. He performed a small genetic study on the population (via foecal samples) and the results of his study suggest that the population is indeed genetically different from other bushbuck. The extent of this genetic differentiation would have to be uncovered through a more comprehensive analysis of the populations’ genetics but evidence thus far leans towards a conclusion that this population of bushbuck could be a subspecies of bushbuck.
In today’s environment where we are very quickly loosing genetic variation in our wild animals, the conservation of these bushbuck could be an important tool in maintaining a strong genetic stock in long-term conservation. Genetic variation is key to healthy populations because it is through genetic variation that animal populations survive adverse conditions and identifying and managing genetic differentiation is a vital tool in maintaining healthy animal populations- now and in the future. Our population of bushbuck could very well play a role in the species' genetic fitness.
Our incredible forests have many secrets yet to be discovered. The nature of its isolation has given rise to its own unique collection of animal and plant species. If you are someone who is interested in finding new species, yet to be described, then the Grootvadersbosch forests are where you should start looking! Welcome to our small corner of magic.