THE beauty and rich natural diversity of the Matopo Hills have been preserved for eternity in a book that documents the hills’ natural history, which was launched late last year.
BY JOEL TSVAKWI
Although writings on the mysteries associated with the Matopo Hills are scattered in several journals and magazines published over the years, the latest publication — The Natural History of the Matopos — works as a one-stop-shop for those fishing for detailed information on the Matopo Hills.
Production of the book, with 15 chapters, was funded by the Matobo Conservation Society.
The book was written by Fenton Woody Cotterill, Moira FitzPatrick and Julia Dupree.
The Matopo Hills, according to the Natural History Museum marketing officer, Phineas Chauke, fills frequent visitors with wonder all the time.
Chauke gives an account of some of the 15 areas which had been traversed by the authors in the book, which he described as an extended treasure trove focusing on some natural science disciplines in an integrated way.
He, however, argues that nature disciplines are not necessarily 15, but the authors zeroed in on the 15 they deemed more significant to the Matopos.
“Birds, mammals, arachnids (scorpions, spiders, mites), plants, geological origins, herpetology (reptiles and amphibians), insects, fungi, ecology and conservation of physical features,” Chauke said.
Matopos is currently listed as World Heritage Site under Unesco and also in the world Monuments Watch list for 2018 and 2019 respectively.
“Of interest is the fact that all the writings leading to the compilation of this famous book are the ones which had justified the listing of the Matopo Hills being as the World Heritage site when the Natural history made an application then in 2003,” Chauke said.
“While there are other books and booklets on the Matopos, they are mostly on the cultural history of the Matopos and some are visitor guides, but The Natural History of the Matopos, takes a different angle and explores the diverse natural history of the Matopos.”
The idea to write the book began way back in 1993 after Cotterill, FitzPatrick and Dupree had each contributed immensely to the field for years through research, curation advocacy and publication.
Cotterill is an ecologist with interests in geomorphology and is based in South Africa. FitzPatrick is currently the regional director for the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, where she leads a dedicated team of researchers on wide ranging natural science disciplines, including archeology and Julia Dupree is an ornithologist and is currently with Birdlife Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, Matobo Hills World Heritage Management committee chairman Gavins Stephen, Matobo Conservation Society and Friends of the Museum believe the Matopos is an epicentre of cultures and nature.
“The Matopo Hills holds special place in the hearts of all who have grown up in or near them. They form a focus and merging of cultures, a rich deposit of national history, a place rich in our shared heritage. But we often overlook the very biodiversity that makes it a recreational playground or a rich magnificent rich laboratory,” he said.
“The first book on the Matopo Hills was written in 1924 and the last major book in 1956.Both gave a broad overview of the biodiversity, but not in the depth covered in this work. There have been numerous papers and booklets on single topics that this book brings all together. And yet more still needs to be done… This shows how rich the biodiversity of the Matobo Hills is.”
According to Stephens, the Matopos is home to various natural life.
“We boast the greatest and most diverse population of raptors anywhere in the world, with nearly a third of the world’s eagle species recorded here, including the special verreaux’s (black) eagle,” Stephens said.
“The hills probably contain one of the world’s biggest populations of leopards-certainly the mostly densely populated area. The rhino have found their final refuge here in the hills, where they were captured in rock art 5,000 years ago.”
He added that, botanically, the hills boast of an incredible diversity of wildlife.