Fauna of the Fynbos
The fauna of the fynbos areas is not as unique as the flora. Unlike the plant kingdom, the animals of the fynbos area do not form a separate animal kingdom, but are classified together with the largest part of Africa under the Ethiopian Animal Kingdom. Lists of fynbos fauna are incomplete and we know little about the invertebrates. The ecology of fynbos is therefore to a large extent unknown.
Fynbos is much poorer in mammals, especially larger mammals, than the savanna and grassveld regions of our country. This is partly a result of the influence of civilisation. Fynbos has also a low grazing potential, grows densely and there are few trees present that bear berries and fruit.
Many of the larger species have disappeared naturally. Today we know that elephants, hippopotami, black rhino, eland, buffalo, hartebeest and lion did occur here, but were driven away by humans. Species such as the quagga, bluebuck and Cape lion have become extinct. The leopard, brown hyena and mountain zebra are three endangered species which are found in very limited numbers in fynbos.
Typical species that are still found abundantly in fynbos areas are the bontebok, grysbok (totally dependent on the fynbos for survival), klipspringer, baboons, black- backed jackal, caracal and grey rhebuck. Species that occur in limited numbers because they move from adjoining veld types are the bush-pig, kudu, red rhebuck, oribi, duiker, steenbok, bushbuck and blue duiker. As far as small mammals are concerned, there are quite a few endangered and endemic species in fynbos. The following endangered species occur: Visagie's golden mole (Calvinia), Lesueur's wing-gland bat (Franschhoek), Cape hedgehog, Cape fat mouse, and a few more.
An interesting fact that was discovered only recently, is that certain ground proteas like Protea acaulos are sometimes totally dependent on mice and rats for pollination. These proteas grow near the ground and the flowers smell strongly of yeast, which attracts mice. They eat the nectar and pollen and carry pollen on their noses to the next flower: a unique method of cross-pollination!
Other small mammals that occur plentifully in fynbos areas are the musk-shrew, rock-rabbit, mongoose, otter, meercat, porcupine and rabbit.
We know most of the birds and know that only two endangered species are actually dependent on fynbos for their survival. They are the protea canary (Roberts 880) and the Cape sugarbird (R.773). Bird density is closely linked to insect density. In comparison with savanna areas, there are few insects and, as a result, few birds in fynbos areas. Approximately 101 bird species, of which six are endemic to the area, occur regularly. Examples of some endangered species are: the white stork (R.57), the roseate tern (R.330), the Cape vulture (R.122), the African fish eagle (R.148).
Fish, Amphibians and Reptiles
A large percentage of the fish species is endemic. Of the 21 freshwater fish species that occur, 17 are endemic.
South African amphibians are subdivided into Cape and tropical amphibians, which indicate that the Cape amphibians and therefore the fynbos species are considerably unique.
As far as reptiles are concerned, 50-70 species are found in fynbos areas. The following species are listed as endangered: geometric tortoise, Cape mountain lizard, spotted dwarf puff-adder, Cape platanna, Cape dainty frog, and a few more.
Most of the endemic animals are found among the invertebrates. Fynbos has been mentioned as the area that is richest in endemic butterflies and moths. There is also a long list of endemic beetles, snails, slugs, spiders and bees. Of great zoological importance are a group of primitive worm-like animals, a group from the ant- lion/dragon-fly family, flies, cockroaches and locusts. These groups display an affinity with other southern continents and appear to be a legacy from Gondwanaland.
Ants also play a unique role as distributors of seed of certain fynbos species in fynbos areas. Good examples of such species are the mimetes or bottlebrushes and rooibos tea.
Without a doubt, the Cape Fynbos is part of our most important natural heritage, but it is also small and very fragile therefore we must treasure this heritage and protect and nurture it at all costs, by learning as much about it as is possible.