The Cactus Patch
Volume 4       July 2001      Number 7

Tsodilo - A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

It's hard to top April with the trip to Khutse etc. (And I didn't even mention that the Easter meerkat found us and left chocolate eggs for the kids.) But moving on - May was a month for history. We opened a site museum at the Tsodilo Hills, nominated as Botswana's first World Heritage Site. The museum was left with a skeleton staff while two busloads of us took off for the far Northwest. We were alright to Francistown, but only one bus made it the 567km (352 mi) west to Maun. The second bus was left 120 km (75 mi) short. Eventually the busload was put on a truck & got there a day late. Luckily I was on the bus that made it to Nxamasere (67 km[42 mi]SW and 178 km[111 mi] N from Maun) where we transferred to other vehicles for the last 40 km (25 mi) through sand to the hills.
On the way we made a pit stop where some Acacia melifera (hook thorns) had been bulldozed over. On the roots of one I found a fruit of Hydnora Jeffreyi. This was one of my goals for the trip since it was reported for Botswana but was not in our herbarium. For those who don't know Hydnora, it is a weird root parasite which only pokes above ground to expose the smelly flowers. Some species grow on euphorbias (but unfortunately not the one in Botswana).

At Tsodilo we stayed in huge army tents while preparing exhibits, food and grounds for the opening. During the two days of preparation I managed to zip off to photograph rock art (the main feature), one of which, I'm convinced is a grapple thorn. I also found Kalanchoe brachyloba in flower. I suspect this is what had been reported as Cotyledon orbiculata, a species not known in Botswana. Finally President Mogae et al. flew in on 5 May and the place was officially opened. There were about 200 camped, 500 for the opening and 800 for the free lunch! After the VIPs left we went to the nearby Hambukushu Village (there is also a San [Bushman] Village) and the museum soccer team was thoroughly trounced by the locals. For those who haven't heard of Tsodilo and its rock art, a good place to start is "Lost World of the Kalahari" by Lawrence van der Post; 1958, Hogarth, London. (The most conspicuous panel of rock art is called van der Post's. It is high on a cliff overlooking the new onsite museum.) The book is highly romanticised, but these rock outcrops in the middle of the sand with their thousands of paintings deserve a bit of exaggeration. Based on this, we had debated detouring from Maun back in 1969, but it was sand track all the way then so we didn't go. This was actually my second visit, but Polly still hasn't been there. The rest of May was anticlimactic, but I did go with Queen Turner, head of the Herbarium to the area near Kanye (SW of Gaborone) to look at medicinal plants. We did find a number of succulents including two species of Plectranthus, but nothing new or exciting. I found a crested plant of the very common Senecio longiflorus. June has been equally eventful - including Polly's safe arrival, but more of that next time.

[Just a note to add to the comments on Tsodilo. The Hills became Botswana's first World Heritage Site yesterday (28 June). Now we will work on Gcwihaba (Drotsky's Cave), another National Monument - Bruce]

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