REINTRODUCTION OF LITHOPS SCHWANTESII SUBSP. GEBSERI INTO THEIR NATURAL HABITAT ON THE FARM ESTORFFDANK, NAMIBIA
A new subspecies of Lithops schwantesii was first collected on Estorffdank in January 1960 by Walter Gebser of Maltahöhe. The plants were sent to Dr Hindrik de Boer in Holland who recognised them to be a new subspecies and named it gebseri. Due to the interest generated in the newly discovered taxon there was large scale removal of the plants from their natural habitat in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. The plants were sent to plant collections mainly in South Africa and Europe. As a result of their removal of from Estorffdank coupled with the severe drought towards the end of the 1980's, the plants disappeared from their natural habitat and have not been seen on Estorffdank for at least 25 years.
Exhaustive searches for these plants during 2016 in their former known habitat proved unsucessful and a plan was formulated by the Lithops Research & Conservation Foundation to reintroduce the plants onto Estorffdank.
Preparation for the reintroduction of the plants started in the United Kingdom during the 2013 and 2014 flowering seasons when the flowers of individual plants in the collection of the Foundation were isolated and carefully hand pollinated to produce pure seeds. In March 2015 a batch of Lithops schwantesii subsp. gebseri seeds from these cross pollinations were sown at the Foundation's facility at Alte Kalköfen Lodge in the Bethanie District. Some 250 seedlings were obtained from this sowing and the young plants were grown in the Lithoparium for two years until April 2017 when they were replanted into their natural habitat.
A grant from the British Cactus and Succulent Society enabled the Foundation to fund an animal-proof fence around an 50 X50 m area of prime habitat for the plants which was then erected by the farm owners, Herman and Monika Coetzee. On 21 April 2017 a total of 221 young Lithops schwantesii subsp. gebseri plants were reintroduced into their natural habitat. The plants were established in groups of 10 around a central marker and then watered twice weekly for two months. They were then allowed to dry out and go into their natural resting period during the winter and early summer.
More plants will be introduced into the habitat over the next 10 years whilst the monitoring of individual plants and the population as a whole will continue for at least that period of time.