Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Struik Travel & Heritage

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

“Underground Astronaut” K Lindsay Hunter Shares Her Homo Naledi Expedition Story

Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindLittle Village reporter Genevieve Heinrich recently caught up with K Lindsay Hunter, one of the “underground astronauts” who formed part of Lee Berger’s all-female expedition team to unearth the now famous Homo naledi remains from the Rising Star Caves in the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site.

Hunter shares more about the expedition, as well as her background, training and thought-processes when she heard the call for a team of scientists to embark on what would be the adventure of a lifetime. When asked what it feels like being “neck-deep in one of the most profound scientific discoveries of our lifetime”, the biological anthropologist says:

“Honestly, my dearest wish at this point is to take either a long nap or a long horseback ride. I am passionate about outreach and communicating the science and excitement to classrooms, but being in the spotlight as an individual has not been something that I was prepared for, or have enjoyed.”

Hunter reveals that she is coordinating a book about the experience and the work of an underground astronaut and will aim it at inspiring school-age children. Originally from Iowa, she has now relocated to Johannesburg where she will be working on her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand, where Field Guide to the Cradle of Human Kind author Berger is also stationed.

Read the article to find out more about this remarkable woman:

Can you tell me a little bit about your decision-making process when you first saw the call for scientists? How long did it take you to know that this gig was something you truly wanted?

I saw the Facebook ad from Lee reposted on the AAPA (American Association of Physical Anthropologists) page in the wee hours of the morning on October 7, 2013, as I was pulling an all-nighter writing medical web content in a coffee house in Austin, TX. I re-shared the ad, tagging Lee, and immediately DM’ed it to my friend, Vance, who is a small and wiry skater that had just completed his PhD in paleoanthropology from Tulane. I had already left the program at UI and no longer thought of myself as being a part of the field.

However, as a historian and avid adventure reader, Lee’s call was immediately evocative of the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition ad, which read: “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” So, when a couple of days later, Lee thanked me for sharing in my comments, I took a chance and replied that I thought I could do it. He said that my reasoning sounded good and to go ahead and send my CV on. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meet the other members of the Rising Star expedition team:

Spelunking in a dark, labyrinthine cave is a tough ask at the best of times. Add fossil excavation through an 18-centimetre wide gap into the mix and you have a job that only a handful of people in the world can do.

Enter the underground astronauts.

This all-women crack team of six ‘trowelblazers’ was assembled thanks to an extensive social media campaign. The combination of job requirements was unique: a master’s degree or higher in palaeontology, archeology or an associated field; caving experience; and the ability to fit through an 18-centimetre ‘squeeze’ in the cave in order to reach the Dinaledi Chamber.

It just so happened that, out of more than 50 applicants, the people most qualified for the job were all young, slender women.

Also read:


Book details

Image courtesy of EWN

» read article

How Old is Homo Naledi? Young Scientist Tebogo Makhubela is the Man Who Will Tell the World

Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindRedi Tlhabi recently spoke to Tebogo Makhubela, the scientist who will hopefully eventually tell the world how old Homo naledi really is.

The Soweto-born scientist is currently working on his PhD in geochronology and landscape evolution at the University of Johannesburg. Makhubela explains that geochronology is the science of determining the ages of rocks, minerals and fossils.

Makhubela, who became a member of Professor Lee Berger’s Rising Star team in 2014 when he was still doing his Master’s degree, says his interest in paleontology and geology was sparked in 2008 when Berger discovered Australopithecus sediba at the Malapa Caves.

So, how will he date these bones?

Makhubela explains that the process starts with looking at the material that is attached to the bones. Second, you look at the soil and rocks covering the fossils which can be dated using different techniques. “We are not dating the age of the fossils themselves but other events which took place in the area,” he explains.

Listen to the podcast for this fascinating conversation:


Earlier this year, Business Day conducted an in-depth interview with Berger on his life-long dedication to palaeontology, the incredible current period of exploration and the exhilarating feeling when his phone rings and the voice on the other side says, “we’ve found something”. He also speaks about the criticism that’s accompanied finding Homo naledi.

Read the article:

THE lens of the world’s palaeontological community is focused on the finds coming out of this corner of SA. Wits, the government and the tourism industry couldn’t be happier. Berger’s luck is now as fabled as Louis Leakey’s. But will his peers draw the line at tourism?

It seems Berger splits the world of palaeontology. Some find his methods, his media savvy and big claims sacrilegious. Others are swept along on the tide of his enthusiasm, buoyed by discoveries, passion and the generous sharing of his grant funding.

“‘Leakey’s luck’ is an insult,” Berger says.

“It denies the decades of hard graft that came before. Who doesn’t want to be lucky? We say, ‘gosh, I’m lucky’ all the time. As long as the people who are making the discoveries are swashbuckling adventurers, they don’t threaten the scientific establishment.”

It is the heartstopping moment, the lightning strikes, that get him out of bed in the morning.

In October this year, Berger took to Facebook to set the record straight on a number of statements in the media and on social media about the conditions around finding Homo naledi. Berger weighs in on issues such as not putting preservatives on the bones during the process of excavation and the accusation that the six excavators were chosen because they are women.

Read the post on Berger’s Facebook page:

Finally, the idea that the six primary excavators, who just happen to be women, were chosen for their sex as some sort of publicity stunt is insulting. It’s insulting to our large team of scientists, it’s insulting to these extraordinary scientists who literally risked their lives daily to recover these fossils, and it’s insulting to female scientists in general. I led the selection panel its true. There were approximately 60 qualified applicants that responded to the Ad I and others circulated on various social media platforms. A significant majority of these applicants were women and that may reflect nothing more than the changing demographics of who is choosing to do a degree in this field, I don’t know – they are who applied. We shortlisted that group to about ten candidates who we felt were the best qualified based on their skills and their skills alone, as long as they met the physical requirements the dangerous task demanded. We quite literally ranked them in order. It is a little known fact that from the shortlist, the first selection of six excavators included a male, but he, it turned out, did not actually meet the physical requirements to get into the chamber and so by that one chance the six scientists we chose were all women and all the best qualified to do the job meeting all the requirements we set out at the time. I hope that clears that issue up once and for all.

What does Homo naledi look like? Thomas Hartleb writes for News24 that Homo naledi is a mixture of ape and human and, according to Berger, “practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage”.

For a detailed description of Homo naledi’s physical attributes, read two journal articles on Nature Communications entitled: “The hand of Homo naledi” and “The foot of Homo naledi”.

Read the article:

Homo naledi’s hands and feet had features of both apes and modern humans, according to new research.

Its wrist, thumb, and palm were similar to Neanderthals and modern humans.

The fingers however were “long and remarkably curved” like those of existing apes, according to a paper titled The hand of Homo naledi, published in the journal Nature Communications on Monday.

Towards the end of September, Berger gave his first public lecture since the discovery of Homo naledi at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas in the United States.

Read the report on the lecture, written by Anna Kuchment, for The Dallas Morning News:

However old the fossils prove to be, the discovery will upend our understanding of how humans evolved, Berger said.

“When we look into this face, we’re seeing something truly startling and new that tells us we should be extremely cautious about proclaiming every fossil fragment we find the newest and best ancestor,” he said. “Homo naledi tells us there is more to be found.”

Traditionally, evolution has been seen as a linear progression from chimpish animals that walked upright, to animals with larger brains, to modern humans. But Berger thinks human history is messier.

“Homo naledi questions the uniqueness of our humanity,” he said.

Visitors of the Natural History Museum in London can also experience the wonders of Homo naledi. Three-dimensional prints of the fossils were unveiled in September and put on display in the Human Evolution gallery:

Casts of H. naledi skull, hand and jawbone fossils will be unveiled to the public at the Natural History Museum’s Science Uncovered night on Friday 25 September 2015, and will then go on display in our new Human Evolution gallery, opening later this year.

Adding to the mystery
One reason scientists are excited about H. naledi is that the fossils were found 80 metres deep within the cave system – an area that would have been in constant darkness.

Prof Stringer, who has written a comment piece in eLife accompanying the research, says ‘the deep cave location suggests that the bones may have been deposited there by other humans’.

Related links:


Book details

Image courtesy of the Sunday Times

» read article

Visit Any National Park for Free During the 2015 South African National Parks Week

National Parks and Nature Reserves: A South African Field GuideSouth African National Parks Week will take place from 14 to 18 September this year and for the whole week South African National Parks (SANParks) will be opening their doors to the public – for free!

The annual event forms part of the ongoing “Know Your National Parks” campaign and any person with a valid South African ID book will be allowed to enter our wonderful national parks free of charge.

SANParks acting head of communications, Reynold Thakhuli, says the aim of the week is to instill a sense of pride in South Africans of our natural heritage and resources: “When people start to take pride in the national parks, then we believe that they will start to understand the importance of conservation.”

All the parks will also be hosting activities focusing on education. Read the article:

All of the parks will be hosting activities during the week which will be aimed at education. “We are focused on involving young people and communities, to cultivate knowledge of the importance of conservation and an appreciation for the country’s natural heritage”, said Thakhuli.

The Garden Route National Park (GRNP) will launch the week in Knysna on 14 September which will focus on conservation initiatives, activities in the forestry and estuarine areas and business opportunities in the Park. Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West in the Western Cape will host two groups from the local community to a special programme every day. This will kick off with an entertaining presentation about the search and recapture of Sylvester, the lion which went on a walkabout from the park for 24 days. The Kruger National Park will host two seminars for traditional leaders from the surrounding communities bordering the park and also strategic media executives for the purpose of exposing them to the tourism products that exist in the Park.

In the run-up to National Parks Week SANParks have been tweeting images of famous landmarks and urging nature lovers to guess which park it is:

Join the conversation on Twitter by following @SANParks or by using the hashtags #SANationalParksWeek and #KnowYourNationalParks.

So now the only question remains, which park(s) will you be visiting next week?

To help you make the decision, read National Parks and Nature Reserves: A South African Field Guide by Chris and Mathilde Stuart, and tell us about the experience on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 14 September 2015
  • Place: South African National Parks
  • Cost: Absolutely free!
  • RSVP: Not required, but remember your South African ID


Book Details

» read article

South African Tourism’s Digital Marketing Campaign Will Inspire You to #MeetSouthAfrica (Video)

South AfricaDiscover South AfricaNational Parks and Nature Reserves

South African Tourism recently engaged in a wonderful digital marketing campaign.

News24 featured an article on the campaign, reporting that it encompassed hosting a number of high-profile bloggers from around the world and showing them some of the countries lesser known gems. The hashtag #MeetSouthAfrica is now a treasure trove of ideas for both local and international tourists.

Watch this impactful video promoting South Africa. The twist at the end really will make you reconsider what you thought you knew:

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

Feeling inspired to meet South Africa anew? Here are some beautiful landscapes to visit, as recommended by BuzzFeed:

Hout Bay is first on the list of “14 South African Landscapes That’ll Take Your Breath Away”.

Hout Bay


Book details

» read article

A Crocodile doing the Tango with a Sunhat on its Head: Anecdotes from a Long-distance Hiking Trip

Hiking Trails of South AfricaWalking Cape TownMike Lundy\'s Best Walks in the Cape PeninsulaPaths to Pubs

Liesl Ravenscroft recently wrote an article for Wild Card Blog about a journey from the Cederberg to the Outeniqua Mountains, a 650 km trip that takes place from September to November each year.

Ravenscroft writes about the experience of long-distance hiking and shares special anecdotes from the places she saw and the people she met. She explains the allure of embarking on such a long, challenging voyage, shares photographs and imparts wisdom for first-time hikers.

For more information on walking and hiking activities, have a look at the following titles:

Hiking Trails of South Africa by Willie Olivier; Walking Cape Town: Urban walks and drives in the Cape Peninsula by John Muir; Mike Lundy’s Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula by Mike Lundy and Paths to Pubs: A Guide to Hikes and Pints in the Cape Peninsula by Tony Burton.

Read the article:

John, with his vivid imagination and razor sharp wit can finally look up from his feet and start naming rock sculptures. “There, there next to the rock that looks like a kangaroo. Can’t you see it?” This said with amazement. “It’s a crocodile doing the tango with a sunhat on its head.” And Andrew looks around with a soft smile and says, “Beautiful, beautiful,” so that you don’t know if he means the dancing crocodile or the dramatic landscape.

Book details

» read article

3 Top Stops on the Road from the Cape to Namibia

This is NamibiaSecret NamibiaSkeleton Coast
Picturesque NamibiaPicturesque Swakopmund

After perusing some beautiful books about the country, like This is Namibia by Peter Joyce and Picturesque Namibia by Sheldon Kotzé and Sandie Fitchat, you might find yourself planning a journey along the N7 from Cape Town to Namibia.

Because the journey should also be part of the adventure of travel, Ron Swilling has compiled a list of three top stops along the road to Namibia for Country Life.

Have a look at the list and be inspired:

De Tol, Piekenierskloof Pass
About 150km north of Cape Town, the Piekenierskloof Pass snakes up the mountain, leading motorists into ‘Citrus Central’. Several padstalle are dotted around Citrusdal and sell the juicy fruits during the citrus season. One of my favourites in this area, right on the top of the pass, is De Tol, housed in the 166-year-old (yes, built in 1849) toll house. It always gets my vote for its down-to-earth character, its charm and for stocking everything my ideal padstal would sell – citrus, freshly baked farm bread, dried fruit, jars of jam and blatjang, Hertzoggies, koeksisters, rusks, soetkoekies (biscuits), you name it. They even have a potjie simmering on the coals on Sundays.

Book details

» read article

Win One of Three Wonderful Winter Warmer Getaways

Country Life is giving away three wonderful “winter warmer” get-aways. You could win a two- or three-night stay for up to four people at the Nottingham Road Hotel in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, Reedsdell Country Guest Farm in Wartrail in the Eastern Cape or the Sanddrif Holiday Resort in the Cederberg.

To stand a chance of winning all you have to do is pick which resort you would most like to visit (this is definitely the most difficult part of the competition) and answer an easy question about it.

For great things to do around these destinations and for more getaway ideas, check out these books from Struik Travel and Heritage:

Picturesque DrakensbergHiking Trails of South AfricaBeen There, Done ThatDiscover South AfricaPicturesque Winelands


Book details

» read article

Good-bye Loadshedding, Hello Winter Bush Getaway!

Are you yearning to leave the cold, loadshedded city behind for a place where traffic doesn’t matter and darkness is merely a means of being closer to nature?

Look no further than Getaway’s list of splendid destinations for affordable winter breaks in the bush. The selection includes everything from camping spots and camps with tents to mid-range and luxury lodges:

11. Langkloof campsite, Karoo National Park

A roofless ruin of red mud bricks stands in front of a rhythmically squeaking windmill, a tower of water tanks and a newly built concrete kitchen and ablution block. Together, these form a small outpost in the upper regions of the Tankwa Karoo’s Langkloof Valley. The bed of the Rhenoster River, less than 50 metres away from camp, gives life to a belt of lush acacias brimming with the chirps and whines of LBJs.

The camp’s two sites are positioned on either side of the simple amenities building, which contains two basic kitchens with sinks (you’ll need to take all utensils and cooking equipment), two hot showers and two flushing loos. This means campers at the respective sites don’t have to share facilities, but we advise booking out the whole camp; it would be a shame to end up with neighbours after travelling to somewhere so remote.

Whether you live in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, Limpopo or the Karoo, or you wish to visit these places, there is something for everyone. Listen to your inner adventurer, pack your books, flashlights and hip flasks, and head into the wilderness this winter!

To help you prepare for the trip, here are a few Struik Travel titles for the avid researcher. Enjoy!

Picturesque Cape Town Picturesque Durban and SurroundsPicturesque Drakensberg
National Parks and Nature ReservesTimeless KarooKwaZulu-NatalBest Walks of the Drakensberg

Book details

» read article

Watch Kingsley Holgate, Kearsney College and Maritzburg College Unite for the #RhinoShoutOutChallenge

Africa: In the Footsteps of the Great ExplorersKearsney College and Maritzburg College, notorious rival schools in KwaZulu-Natal, have joined forces to take hands with Kingsley Holgate, adventurer extraordinaire and author of Africa: In the Footsteps of the Great Explorers, in the fight against rhino poaching.

Holgate and the schoolboys created a video to add to the #RhinoShoutOutChallenge – a gathering of heartfelt video messages recorded as a call to action against rhino poaching and all forms of wildlife crime.

Traveller24 shared the video along with an update on the situation facing rhinos in southern Africa. They write: “The Kruger National Park (KNP) continued to be the hardest hit area, with 290 rhinos poached from the beginning of the year until April this year, compared to 212 during the same time period last year. A total of 62 arrests in connection with rhino poaching were made here.”

In the video Holgate congratulates the boys on joining the fight and stresses that “it’s the youth that can make a difference”.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

The Kruger National Park (KNP) continued to be the hardest hit area, with 290 rhinos poached from the beginning of the year until April this year, compared to 212 during the same time period last year. A total of 62 arrests in connection with rhino poaching were made here.

Book details

» read article

Video: Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park Will be Included on the World Heritage List

National Parks and Nature ReservesPicturesque Garden RouteSouth Africa

The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, it has been announced, will soon be included on the World Heritage list. It is being included in a heritage area that currently includes Table Mountain National Park as well as areas around Algulhas and Langeberg.

Janine Lee did a story on the Park’s change of status for SABC News. She spoke to people who visited the park, as well as people who work there to find out what this means for the park and for South Africa.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

Book details

» read article