Hello, I’m Zanele, marketing & communications officer for Gondwana Alive (GA), a non-profit company dedicated to promoting biodiversity and stemming the ‘Sixth Extinction”. For those who don’t know what that is … check out https://www.gondwanaalive.org/extinction/
Trails, mentorship and training are key development and conservation tools used by GA.
One of our many services is trail mapping and impact assessment, which our team carried out about two weeks ago at!Khwa ttu San Culture & Education Centre, 70 km north-west of Cape Town. Fear of being left out phobia is something I have always suffered from so I grabbed Dr Tracey Phillips, CEO of Gondwana Alive to find out just what the team would be doing [without me] all day. “Maps are essential to guide people along a trail and to give them a sense of what to expect. They are also essential for monitoring the condition of the trail and surrounding area – to show trail stewards where attention is need”, explained Dr Phillips who has 20 years’ experience in the Biodiversity field. She went on to say that by caring for their trails, !Khwa ttu gets full marks for practicing responsible tourism.
The relationship between Gondwana and !Khwa ttu
I have a background in communication not biodiversity, so I struggled to understand the link between the two organizations – why would an environmental organization support a cultural organization? So I asked Dr Phillips what the link was and here is what she said …
‘’We help look after biodiversity and bio means life so GA supports projects like !Khwa ttu that look after both natural & cultural diversity. !Khwa ttu does an amazing job in empowering San throughout Southern Africa. The San are a highly marginalized, indigenous, First People culture with the oldest genetic structure in the World. They have a cultural heritage and simple sophistication I believe can help heal our Earth – if we are willing to listen. The !Khwa ttu centre trains young San, helps them to share their culture through responsible tourism. It helps restore their heritage through the emerging San Museum & Digital Archive. The Centre is located on an old wheat farm on the West Coast of South Africa. They support biodiversity conservation by restoring the land to its natural state and reducing their carbon footprint through green practice and infrastructure.
!Khwa ttu is a partnership between the Swiss Ubuntu Foundation and San. Ubuntu has contracted GA to support the growth and development of the !Khwa ttu – which is in line with our mission to preserve natural and cultural diversity. As a value added service and training ground for our young environmentalists, GA is helping !Khwa ttu develop a trail management plan for the Centre’s fantastic new trail.
More tech challenges on a Mountain bike trail
I found out that this particular trail at !Khwa ttu was a mountain bike trail, and was curious to know the difference [if any] between a mountain bike trail and a walking trail.
“All trails can be walked but not all can be cycled. Broadly speaking, a good mountain biking trail would focus less on scenery and biodiversity and more on technical cycling challenges like switchbacks (sharp zig zags). Walking trails would focus on less on technical difficulties and more on scenery, view points and interesting features along the route. The !Khwa ttu Mountain Bike Trail for instance is fine for walkers but works better for walkers if they do the trail in the opposite direction to which cyclists would do it” explained Dr Phillips.
The conservation perspective
I also learned from Dr Phillips that trails can be important tools for biodiversity conservation.
“We are still in the process of analysing the results of our assessment and developing the Trail Management Plan. Our initial take is that it looks like the trail path condition does not need attention and has not changed much in a year. So it can handle the current number of cyclists. The scenery and wildlife is fine from a cyclists and walkers point of view. However, from a conservation perspective the assessment flagged that some kind of intervention may be necessary to facilitate restoration of the natural vegetation. Over the last 15 years !Khwa ttu have stopped sheep and wheat farming, allowed the land to recover and introduced big game indigenous to the area (e.g. Eland). Research indicates the natural vegetation should have recovered far more than it actually has in 15 years. So intervention is needed to facilitate restoration, improve grazing and possibly number of animals the land can support. We will be more certain of the above once our analysis is complete, and will make some recommendations in the Trail Management Plan’’ said Dr Phillips.
Annual Mountain Biking Event
!Khwa ttu opened their mountain bike trail earlier this year and launch the new Darling ttu annual mountain biking event on the 26th September 2015. Be sure not to miss it and for more information check out our next Blog, due to be released on Wednesday 23 September.
Please follow us on facebook, and feel free to contact us if you would like to support projects like !Khwa ttu or get Full Marks for your trail.