Plants in Succulent Karoo.
© CI/Photo by Tessa Mildenhall
Much of the region’s fauna is yet to be discovered, and collecting expeditions regularly uncover a range of bizarre new species. In 2002, scientific explorers reported on a whole new order of insects called “heel walkers” in the region, bringing the total number of insect orders in the world to 30. This was the first new description of an insect order since the discovery of ‘ice crawlers’ in 1914, almost a century ago.
Stretching from Namibia down the west coast of South Africa, the Succulent Karoo is a vast, semi-arid desert, with sweeping vistas, mountain ranges, ancient rock formations, wild coastlines and clouds of stars arching overhead at night.
Home to more than 6,300 plant species, almost half of which occur nowhere else in the world, it is a secret land of weird and wonderful succulent plants (the richest on the planet), among which run an eclectic mix of insects, reptiles, scorpions and arachnids, all adapted to the arid conditions of the region, where moisture is largely gained from dense sea fogs.
The Succulent Karoo is an extraordinary exception to the general species paucity of most arid regions, and is one of only two arid regions in the world to earn hotspot status.
Sadly, this arid paradise is threatened by mining activities, overgrazing and the illegal collection and trade of its succulent plants, leaving less than 30% of the hotspot pristine. Mining has left massive scars on the landscape and overgrazing has led to sheet erosion, species loss and vegetation changes—decreasing the land’s carrying capacity. Predicted future threats include climate change, prospecting and mining by small mining companies and the expansion of the ostrich farming industry.