The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is an incredibly diverse, inclusive and massive area covering much of the central north of South Africa.
Named after the mountain range on which we here at Marataba gaze, the Waterberg is a large scale transitional zone. It’s a ‘jack of all trades’ so to speak – a region comprising of a mixed pot of habitats between broad-leaved savannah to the east, arid thorny savannah to the west, mountain ridges and peaks that hold unique biodiversity, and grasslands to the south. Human settlements in the form of towns and farmland are scattered in between.
Industries like tourism and game farming mean that a large portion of the biosphere reserve remains natural and inter-connected. This presents huge value to the biotic elements that make up each individual blended ecosystem within the region.
Marataba lies nestled just beneath the highest peaks of the Waterberg range in a gradual transition zone, creating what is known as an ecotone. We move between a higher lying, sour veld and broad-leaved east, to a lower-lying sweeter-veld combination. Plant species in the west are a mixture of broad-leaved and arid spiny species, which flourish in the rich Kalahari-orange glen rosa soils. As you move through the reserve, the broad-leaved species give way to sharp-toothed Vachelias and Senegalias in the family formerly known as Acacia.
This blended variety offers us an amazing opportunity to experience many of the plants, birds, mammals and other species that occur at each unique extreme. With mammals like brown & spotted hyena, bat-eared fox & black-backed jackal, and birds like southern pied babbler and flappet lark, African crake and Verreaux’s eagle – we are blessed with a diversity which is quite extraordinary.
Over 30 species of mammal and 300 species of bird have been recorded, not to mention the flora and landscapes. With its rocky outcrops and ridges, its savannah woodlands, its open plains and its aquatic domains, Marataba is uniquely positioned to hold the incredible array of life that it does.
In our little slice of this much bigger Waterberg pie, we have a jewel in the crown. The Matlabas River runs from its source deep in the crags and canyons of the Marakele National Park, to the south of us where it leaves us through the boundary of the reserve. This unassuming lazy meander of water is one of the few rivers in this region, within a protected area that is completely free of human interference. Through its course within our reserve, the water remains fresh and clear (despite the odd hippo or two).
It is here, within this wondrous and plentiful landscape, that the quaint but cosy campus of the NJ More Field Guide College lies. Not a bad office or classroom to find oneself in (especially after the long thirty second commute from tent to vehicle 😉).
Words by Mike Meidlinger