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Nibbling Between the Thorns

Nibbling Between the Thorns

 Nibbling Between the Thorns


COME with me on a visit to an area of South Africa called the Noorsveld. This semiarid region gets its name from the thorny types of succulent vegetation called noors plants, or euphorbias, which are plentiful there. As seen in the accompanying picture, farmers in the area raise livestock, such as these Angora goats, which are valued for their white fleece, called mohair. This is manufactured into a fine, yet tough, fabric used for a variety of items, from fashionable clothing to carpets. But how do such animals survive in this drought-prone region?

The clumps of noors stems where you see the goats walking are a key to their survival. This particular noors, Euphorbia coerulescens, provides over 40 percent of the goats’ winter diet. However, the goats have to be careful not to injure themselves as they nibble between the vicious thorns. Feeding becomes easier as they learn to knock the thorns off with their horns.

After good rains, the goats eat the vegetation that grows around the clumps of noors. But this too is dangerous. In his book on the Noorsveld, farmer Jurgen Currie writes: “Should an Angora goat with its cute strands of curly hair venture to nibble at the soft plants that grow under and inside the Noors, it might just become entangled in the thorns.” This can result in death. “If the summer sun is at its fiercest such a goat will last no longer than two hours,” explains the Noorsveld farmer.

Periodically, the Noorsveld suffers from severe drought. At such times noors vegetation is lifesaving. With mobile cutting machines, farmers drive through fields of noors, chopping them into small pieces. Such portions are easier and safer for the goats to eat. Wild animals join in the feeding frenzy. “During droughts,” explains Currie, “the kudu [large antelopes] gratefully avail themselves of this lifeline. You see them often next to the road  on the white patches where the Noors has been chopped, their fear of humans negated by their need for nourishment.”

Though smaller, another type of noors, Euphorbia ferox, is covered with so many vicious thorns that most animals cannot reach the edible stems. Because of their resistance to drought, these noors are also lifesaving. When rains fail to come, farmers and their laborers move from noors clump to noors clump burning off the thorns with blowtorches and other means. It is backbreaking work. “Once the thorns are burned off,” explains the book Veld Plants of Southern Africa, “stock eagerly graze the stems. . . . Springbok [another type of antelope] soon learn to eat the ‘burned noors’ and become very tame often grazing . . . in close proximity to the person doing the burning.”

As we watch the scene of the goats grazing among the noors, we cannot help but marvel at the variety of Jehovah’s creation. Although the noors plants look inhospitable and deadly, they are life sustaining for many animals in this drought-prone region.

[Picture on page 24]

This particular noors provides over 40 percent of the goats’ winter diet

[Pictures on page 25]

Flowering noors and a close-up of the dangerous thorns