As quick as one can say hippopotamus, the Karoo desert has turned into foreign landscape. Rather than an intense, hot and radiant sun, with temperatures over 100 F, the skies now are overcast, the breeze cold and strong, and rain has fallen. It was fleece and sweatshirt weather this evening as we gazed on the southern hemisphere’s display of stars, following the milky way arc across the sky. There’s nothing like this display in the contiguous United States, and a few hours star gazing makes one realize how insignificant planet Earth is in the scheme of things.
After a week of 6 am mornings, 10-12 hour days in the field, late suppers and early bedtimes, we’re headed for a “administrative” break to compile our field notes, compare ideas, and catch up after a full daily schedule. Then, we’re off to Mountain Zebra (pronounced zeb-ra) National Park near Craddock for an overnight and some wildlife. Not that we’ve been remiss in wildlife. Yesterday, we had zebra cross the road in front of us, wildebeest roaming the grasslands a distance from the cars, and springbok’s leaping on the ridge far from our study site. But, we’ll be able to get in a late evening (5-8) and early morning (5-8; see a pattern here) drive through the lowlands and high plains of the park. In addition to the usual suspects–springbok, bontibok, wildebeest, and zebra–there may be a plentiful supply of Cape Buffalo and Kudu. If we’re especially fortunate, there is always the occasional leopard in the park. I asked if either Tara, Dan or Kody wanted to “stay up during the night outside the accommodation” and let us know when the leopards arrived, but no one has yet volunteered for this “mission.”
Monday starts the final push to collect our field data, acquire our samples for analyses, and photograph the essentials for future reference. If time permits, we may attempt to salvage a Dicynodon skull that Rose Prevec, our colleague from Rhodes University, stumbled upon today. There still are skeletal remains of our ancestors, the synapsid mammal-like reptiles, to be found in the Karoo Basin. Although these animals long are extinct, their demise may shed some light onto our current global conditions and what may portend in the future. Might the Recent African animals be next to experience Extinction?