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Cape Town Prehistory
(Page 2)
Plant & Animal Evolution at the Cape
Fossil pollen evidence has shown that from one billion to 5.3 million years ago the region around modern Cape Town was predominantly lush, subtropical rainforest. The superb West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaan has revealed fossils of great and fascinating creatures that lived in wetlands and forests five million years ago - double tusked elephants, saber-toothed cats, various species of hyena, the African bear, ancestral birds and white rhino.

However, the climate became more typical of the Mediterranean and the landscape more arid with the cold Benguella current flowing from the Antarctic. Plants and trees came under pressure from lack of water and an increasing frequency of fires. Many species of flora and fauna began to decline. The short-necked giraffe became extinct around 1.5 - 2 million years ago; the sabre-toothed tiger 1.8 million years ago.

Some plants, with origins in the mountains of central Africa, were suited to a drier climate and began to dominate and diversify. Over the last five million years they have evolved and multiplied into more and more species that are now recognised as the unique Cape Floral Kingdom.


This complex kingdom of at least eight and a half thousand species includes numerous bulbs, heathers, grasses and proteas. Locally these plants are known as 'fynbos' because they have hardy wooden stems and fine leaves. In general they grow low to the ground and are extremely well adapted to high winds, long droughts, fire and wet, cool winters.

Although fynbos provides little grazing for animals, herds of elephant, antelope and buffalo continued to migrate to the area. These included the now extinct Blue Antelope, the Longhorn Buffalo and various zebra species. Fossils of these species have been found at sites such as Elandsfontein and Duinfontein. Lions and leopards preyed on antelope until modern times.


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In this period of Cape History:

Overview

Table Mountain

Plant and Animal Evolution

Human Evolution

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