25 March 2014 by Colin Ford

​The little secrets of the African bushveld

It’s often the little things that surprise you the most when you’re out on a game drive.

Mpongo Private Game Reserve manager Rodney Gerhardt shows why this particular medicinal moss is called old man’s beard

Granted, spotting a leopard on a game drive is always a massive thrill. And getting up close and personal with an elephant will take your breath away, every time.

But the African bushveld has many fascinating little secrets that exist alongside the Big Five, which can make any game drive interesting, even if you don’t spot a fresh kill.

Rodney Gerhardt, reserve manager at Mpongo Private Game Reserve near East London in the Eastern Cape, explains how the little details can make a trip to the bush extra special.

Spotting big game while on safari is fantastic, but the bush also holds some fascinating little secrets

'We get many visitors who come to the reserve to see big cats, rhinos, rare buck and the like,' he says. 'Some might come to see birds, or even trees. But we have never had a guest enquiring about the medicinal properties of moss or dung. Yet these factoids can lead to some of the most fascinating conversations and add enormous depth to any game drive.'

Take old man’s beard, for example. This is a type of moss that feeds off the lichen that grows on trees in the region. It can be used as an antiseptic in the treatment of wounds.

We have never had a guest enquiring about the medicinal properties of moss or dung.

'Soldiers in the Anglo-Boer wars would use the moss to fight off infection when they were injured,' says Gerhardt. 'It can also be used to seal a wound, allowing it to heal more effectively.'

Dung is another under-appreciated product of the bush. It is said to have medicinal qualities in treating pneumonia and flu. 'Elephant dung is actually very clean as it’s made up entirely of plant matter that’s been through the digestive tract, where harmful bacteria have been eradicated,' says Gerhardt.

If you're lucky, you might come across a surprise tea and coffee station while out on a game drive at Mpongo Private Game Reserve

Another useful plant is the triangular euphorbia, a cactus-like succulent that contains a poisonous milky substance in its leaves. 'The Xhosa tribes in the region would use the sap of this particular plant to immobilise fish by paralysing their gills,' explains Gerhardt. 'Once the fish stopped swimming it would simply be a case of pulling them out of the water and taking them home for dinner.'

Of course, these days there are far easier ways to enjoy a piece of fish at Mpongo. The resort has an excellent team of chefs to cater to any culinary taste – and you won’t have to catch your own food!

Category: Wildlife

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