A Short History of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve
The early inhabitants of Buffelskloof
The first evidence we have on Buffelskloof of early man’s presence here, is a crude Early Stone Age stone axe (above left) dating back from between 1.5 million and 200 000 years ago. These tools were part of what is known as the Acheulean industry and were fashioned by Homo erectus or very early Homo sapiens.
The first true humans to visit Buffelskloof were San hunter-gatherers (‘Bushmen’) who left little trace of their passing apart from a single rock painting of an eland (below left) made on a rock face in an overhang next to the stream below the Cottage. Many other paintings perhaps once existed, now obscured by rain-induced chemical deposits running down the rock faces.
Sometime between 1400 and 1700 AD, a group of Late Iron Age Nguni people, known as the Bokoni, settled in the Kloof. They constructed an extensive network of stone terraces on the slopes below the cliffs in the gorge, interspersed with numerous small settlements. The Nguni appear to have eventually been integrated with the Pedi tribes of the North Sotho and, by somewhere between 1820 and 1860, they had left the Kloof. Since all the terraces and their crops were of necessity in full sun, it can be assumed that all forest now occurring on the terraces dates from about 1840 AD.
An iron-smelting site was discovered on the Kloof’s western shoulder. Pieces of slag, as well as fragments of clay piping (above left) used to direct air, with the use of animal-skin bellows, into the furnace, have been recovered. The source of the iron appears to be heavily iron-impregnated quartzites. Five iron bangles (below left) recovered in the ruins within the Kloof are perhaps products of this furnace.
Anglo-Boer War influences
Although the bulk of the final actions of the Anglo-Boer conflict (1899–1902) took place to the west of Buffelskloof in the Kwena (Badfontein) basin, and to the north in the Long Tom Pass area, an exploded shell from the Boer Long Tom cannon (left) was found near the old sawmill near the north-west boundary of the Reserve. Boer womenfolk and children are also purported to have taken refuge in or on the margins of the Kloof during this latter episode of the War.
The establishment of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve
The history of the development of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve begins with the arrival of John Rae, an English metallurgist and businessman from Birmingham then living in Johannesburg, and his involvement in 1954 in the fledgeling forestry company Farm Plantations (Pty) Ltd (later to become Uitkyk Plantations). He and his family built a wooden cottage on the eastern edge of the Kloof, completed in December 1956, and which became the existing Rae Cottage that stands there today.
From the very beginning, John Rae had fallen in love with the deep, forested Kloof and he gradually made it his life ambition to purchase the entire Kloof and ensure that it was preserved for all time.
When he arrived on the scene, title to the Kloof was vested in eleven separate farms (ten subdivisions of Kalmoesfontein) and one portion of Uitkyk. From 1959 John Rae began to steadily acquire all these portions, as and when they came on to the market.
By 2002, he had purchased 16 portions which then encompassed the whole of the Kloof. All of these portions were consolidated and the new property was proclaimed a Protected Area (Nature Reserve) by Government Gazette on 15 May 2012.
It was entirely through John Rae’s vision, financial skills, and dogged perseverance that Buffelskloof Nature Reserve is today legally protected, reasonably financially secure, and well managed.
The Buffelskloof Research Centre
In March 1988 John Burrows was appointed as Reserve Manager of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve, at the time a proclaimed Natural Heritage site.
During numerous discussions between John Rae and John Burrows, it was mutually agreed that the reserve, with its extremely rich plant and animal diversity, and wide variety of habitats, should be shared with the country. Although opening it up to the public presented numerous logistical and financial problems, it was agreed that the development of a small biological research centre was more appropriate for a small reserve with such a rich biodiversity.
To this end a small herbarium was built (1999) and the first accommodation (Clivia Cottage) was completed in 2001. In May 2008, an additional cottage, and a small conference room was completed (Aloe Cottage) and in October 2011 a much larger herbarium was opened, with Barbara Turpin employed as Herbarium Manager. John Rae officiated at the openings of both the first herbarium and Clivia Cottage but sadly passed away in 2005 before he could witness the Research Centre grow, under the auspices of the Buffelskloof Nature Reserve Trust and, latterly, the funding assistance of the John Rae Trust, to the successful and internationally known resource that it is today.