Fossil Trail in the Karoo
These days Karoo National Park is home to kudu, rhino and lion, but millions of years ago this area was inhabited by very different creatures. Discover the likes of Bradysaurus and Diictodon on the park’s Fossil Trail.
Paleontologists love the Karoo and with good reason: over 26 000 fossils have been found here over the years. It’s thanks to these fossils that we know what sort of creatures walked the Earth some 250 million years ago. The ancestors of today’s animals were mammal-like reptiles known as Therapsids and the Karoo National Park’s Fossil Trail offers a closer look.
The Fossil Trail is situated a stone’s throw from the cottages at the rest camp. At 400m it’s not very long, but the exhibits are so interesting you’ll soon lose track of time. As you make your way along the path there are information boards that sketch the geological history of the area. You may find it hard to believe that the Karoo Basin was once a massive sea but there are illustrations and explanations that show how the Karoo turned into the semi-desert of today.
SANParks collaborated with experts from Wits University to put together this prehistoric showcase and the stars of the show are undoubtedly the fossils. One fact that really struck me is how ancient the creatures are. The animals on display died some 30 million years before the dinosaurs!
In one glass case a Bradysaurus flashes a toothy grin. Despite the terrifying appearance of its gnashers, this early reptile was a herbivore that fed in swamps. Sometimes a slow-moving Bradysaurus would become trapped in soft mud while feeding and there are complete skeletons embedded in Karoo mudrock.
The skull of a Bradysaurus displays an impressive set of teeth.
Another interesting sight is the fully preserved skeleton of a Diictodon, a small burrowing creature the size of a dassie. The one on display was probably overwhelmed in its burrow by a sudden flood and buried alive. It’s wonderful to see these fossils in their original habitat – afterwards you can drive out on the Klipspringer pass for a look at their descendants.
The Fossil Trail is paved and accessible to wheelchairs. There is no charge for viewing the fossils.
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