The Small Grey Mongoose is probably the animal most often seen in the Garden. It is an opportunistic feeder and although its diet consists mainly of insects, it will also eat a variety of small vertebrate and invertebrate animals and is not above scrounging in dustbins!
The Chacma Baboons have similar catholic tastes but also include many plants in their diet. They are regular visitors to the Gardens and can often be heard barking from the mountain slopes and seen sitting on the bridges or in the trees in Disa Kloof. Or you may see them sauntering along the mountain paths or in the Garden, feasting on bulbs or succulent buds and shoots as they go.
Porcupines are not often seen as they are active at night. However they betray their presence by the odd quill lying around, or by the havoc created in the flower beds where they have been feeding on roots and bulbs of various plants. Arum lilies are a particular favourite of theirs. Between the baboons, porcupines and Cape Mole Rats in the Garden, many of the bulbous species, either occuring naturally or planted into the flower beds, get demolished on a regular basis!
The Striped Mouse can sometimes be spied scuttling between cover to avoid detection from raptors overhead. Two other small rodents species which you may catch a glimpse of if you're lucky are the dainty little Pygmy Mouse and the large chubby Vlei Rat. Restios and grasses which look as if they have been attacked by a pencil sharpener have supplied the voracious appetite of the Vlei Rat.
Two antelope species which occur in the Garden but are very seldom seen are the Grysbok and the Klipspringer. Also not often seen are the Rock Dassies, who like the Klipspringer, are to be found on the mountain crags in the higher reaches of the Garden. They are a favourite prey item for the Jackal Buzzard and Black Eagle sometimes seen soaring overhead.
The Garden forms part of the territory for Leopard, Water Mongoose, Caracal and Large Spotted Genet. As they are normally nocturnal it would be a very lucky person indeed who may catch a fleeting peep of one of these creatures. A sharp-eyed visitor may occasionally see a footprint or a scat indicating their presence in the area.
The Cape Clawless Otters make their homes in the banks and thick undergrowth of the streams and hunt for frogs and crabs in the Garden's water features. As they are usually active at dawn and dusk very few people get to see them, but their scats containing crayfish and crab shells are common where ever they move between the river and the sea. A pair of these endearing creatures are featured as bronzes, sculpted and donated by a local artist, in the ponds near the entrance to the Garden.
Snakes are an important part of the ecosystem and are mostly seen in summer. Those in the Garden include the Puffadder, seen mating in our picture, whose beautiful markings blend in effectively with the surroundings.
The Common Brown Water Snake here seen strangling a Cape River Frog, frequents the streams and ponds in the Garden.
The boomslang is a graceful, slender snake with very large eyes and round pupils and is occasionally seen slithering through the shrubs and trees.
This Cape Dwarf Chamaeleon seen on an Aristea flower stalk is busy shedding it's skin. The Carpenter Bee nesting log at the entrance has been carved out to such an extent over the years that it now also provides a convenient home to a number of Red-sided Skinks.
Besides the many birds there are a number of frog species swelling the chorus of sound in this serene setting. Each stream and pond has it's complement of Cape River Frogs in a range of colours. Tucked into an Arum Lily spathe, the fortunate visitor may find the shy little Arum Frog.
There is a also a wealth of spiders in the Garden. The Garden Spider weaves broad zig-zag shapes into it's web. The bundled nest of leaves and silk made by the Rain Spider is common. Insect life is plentiful, from the huge Carpenter Bee seen here approaching it's nesting log, which forms one of the pillars of the entrance building, to the much smaller Cape Honey Bee diligently collecting pollen and nectar from a Gordon's Bay Pincushion, Leucospermum bolusii. or trapped in the pool of liquid at the centre of the alluring water lily. Many of these insects such as these Monkey Beetles on an Ursinia, and this Mountain Cockroach on dying a Protea cynaroides inflorescence, are important pollinators in the Fynbos and will keep the avid naturalist occupied for hours.
Everything mentioned above, and many more besides, have a role to play in the functioning of the Fynbos. There is still much to be learned about how the various creatures and elements connect and relate to one another. Why not come and spend some time at the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden and see if YOU can put some of the puzzle pieces in place?