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NNama Karoo conservation was underrated for years. Yet this dwarf shrubland supports the most productive arid land in the world and is home to plants with highly developed survival instincts. Once vast springbok migrations crossed the land. Sheep replaced them. But now the wild animals are returning.
If you’re traveling between Johannesburg and Cape Town, you will inevitably encounter the Nama Karoo.
This is one of the country's arid regions, a land of knee-high shrubs enlivened by the odd tree, pinwheeling wind pumps and wandering herds of sheep and springbok.
Starting south of Bloemfontein and straddling 40% of South Africa's land mass, Nama Karoo conservation can seem a little superfluous. At first glance it seems that there's nothing much to conserve at all.
But pull over, get out your car and just listen to this vast, quiet land and smell that characteristic herby fragrance that rises from the plants. You'll detect traces of wild rosemary, camphor, lavender and sage. They give Karoo mutton its delicate flavour.
Up until recent times, plant conservation in the Nama Karoo was mostly limited to the Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West and the Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock.
More recently though, livestock and game farmers are protecting greater sections of their land from overgrazing. The Nama Karoo, after all, is one of the most productive and populated deserts in the world.
A 100 years ago, springbok migrations several million strong would pass through every decade or so. They're gone, but you'll see game farms with herds of springbok almost as often as you'll see sheep, the traditional livestock of the Karoo.
Although it does not have the high number of endemics that the neighbouring Succulent Karoo (Namaqualand) does, Nama Karoo plant biodiversity is startlingly high, with species numbers well over 2 000. And after good rainfalls in spring, the veld is alive with sweeps of colour.