The Ledumahadi Mafube was twice the size of an African elephant. It stood about 4m high at the hips.
Over the past year, scientific discoveries have helped to propel our understanding of the natural world forward and Africa continues to be the place where scientists are having the most success with new findings in human, dinosaur and sea life.

Marine biologist Dr Alison Kock said the Table Mountain National Park marine protected area was more abundant and had more diverse marine species compared to areas that weren’t restricted.

“The areas that are not harvested are dominated by limpets and mussels, while the harvested areas are dominated by algae.

“We also recently discovered that the increased presence of killer whales (orcas) in Cape Town has had a significant impact on some of our other top predators like white sharks and sevengill sharks,” she said.

“It has only been over the last three years that orcas have been observed hunting large coastal sharks in South Africa and already this behaviour has had a profound impact on the occurrence of sevengill sharks inside the protected area.

“We don’t yet know what further implications this has for the ecosystem, but we are monitoring it.”

Earlier in the year, a discovery was made by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) when the bones of a new species of dinosaur were uncovered. The bones weigh 12 tons and measure more than 4m in length, which equates to twice the size of an elephant, making the dinosaur the largest herbivore on the planet nearly 200 million years ago.

Researchers at UJ believe the fossils to be the ancestors of the sauropods and the diplodocus, popularised in the Jurassic Park films.

In September, UCT researchers together with the universities of Witwatersrand and Oxford, and the South African National Museum made the discovery of the giant dinosaur, Ledumahadi Mafube, in the Free State.

It was given a Sesotho name meaning “a giant thunderclap at dawn”, with the language also indigenous in the Clarens area where the dinosaur was found.

In the journal, Current Biology, UCT palaeoscientist Dr Emese Bordy described the area where the dinosaur was found as having looked more like the Musina region in Limpopo or the central Karoo more than 200 million years ago when the dinosaur roamed South Africa.

Ledumahadi was closely related to other gigantic dinosaurs from Argentina that lived at a similar time.

Scientists believe this gives prominence to the idea of super-continent of Pangaea during the early Jurassic period.

Wits University palaeontologist Johan Choiniere said it showed how easily dinosaurs would have been able to walk from Joburg to Buenos Aires.

Also this year, a collaborative study by Wits University and the National Geographic led to the monumental discovery of an early human ancestor that fits within the genus of Homo, called Homo Naledi.

Naledi stood about 1.52 metres tall and was uniquely slender with powerful, muscular joints.

Its thin human proportions and long legs meant that it didn’t support much body weight and weighed about 45kg.

Weekend Argus