Just as a forest can be defined as the place where trees are the main type of vegetation, grassland can be defined as a region where grasses form the dominant type of plant life. Grasslands make up almost a quarter of the total land surface. The types of plants that grow here greatly depend on what the climate and soil are like. As climate plays an important role in the formation of grasslands, it is generally used as a basis to divide the world’s grasslands into two broad categories: those that occur in the temperate region and those that occur in the tropical regions. THE PRAIRIES The temperate grasslands of North America are known as the Prairies (Fig. 9.1). It is a region of flat, gently sloping or hilly land. For the most part, prairies are treeless but, near the low lying plains, flanking river valleys, woodlands can be found. Tall grass, upto two metres high, dominates, the landscape. It is actually a “sea of grass.” The prairies are bound by the Rocky Mountains in the West and the Great Lakes in the East. Look at the map of North America (Fig. 9.2). You can see that the prairies cover parts of United States of America and parts of Canada. In the USA, the area is drained by the tributaries of Mississippi and the Canadian prairies are drained by the tributaries of Saskatchewan Rivers. The word Prairie originated from Latin word priata which means meadow. CLIMATE Being located in the heart of a continent, the climate is of continental type with extreme temperatures. The summers are warm with temperatures of around 20°C, while in winter -20°C has been recorded in Winnipeg, Canada. In winters a thick blanket of snow covers this region. The annual rainfall is moderate and is ideal for the growth of grass. Due to the absence of the north-south barrier, a local wind “Chinook” blows here. 66 OUR ENVIRONMENT FLORA AND FAUNA Prairies are practically tree-less. Where water is available, trees such as willows, alders and poplars grow. Places that receive rainfall of over 50 cm, are suitable for farming as the soil is fertile. Though the major crop of this area is maize, other crops including potatoes, soybean, cotton and alfa-alfa is also grown. Areas where rainfall is very little or unreliable, grasses are short and sparse. These areas are suitable for cattle rearing. Large cattle farms called ranches are looked after by sturdy men called cowboys (Fig. 9.3). Bison or the American buffalo is the most important animal of this region (Fig. 9.4). It nearly got extinct due to its indiscriminate hunting and is now a protected species. The other animals found in this region are rabbits, coyotes, gophers and Prairie dog. PEOPLE The people of this region are very hardworking. They have successfully harnessed technology to utilise their rich natural resources. Two of the most developed countries in the world - the USA and Canada are located in this region. Scientific methods of cultivation and use of tractors, harvesters and combines has made North America a surplus food producer. The Prairies are also known as the “Granaries of the world,” due to the huge surplus of wheat production. Dairy farming is another major industry. The dairy belt extends from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast in the east. Dairy farming and extensive agriculture both promote setting up of food processing industries. Large mineral deposits particularly coal and iron and a good network of roads, railways and canals in this region have made it the most industrialised region in the world. THE VELDS The temperate grasslands of South Africa are called the velds (Fig. 9.5). Velds are rolling plateaus with varying heights ranging from 600 m to 1100 m. It is bound by the Drakensburg Mountains on the east. To its west lies the Kalahari desert. On the northeastern part, “high velds” are located that attain a height of more than 1600 m, in some places. Look at the map of Africa. Name the countries that are covered by the Velds. The tributaries of rivers Orange and Limpopo drain the region. CLIMATE The velds have a mild climate due to the influence of the Indian Ocean. Winters are cold and dry. Temperatures vary between 5°C and 10°C and July is the coldest month. Summers are short and warm. Johannesburg records about 20°C temperature in the summer. 68 OUR ENVIRONMENT The velds receive rainfall mainly in the summer months from November to February. This is mainly because of the warm ocean currents that wash the shores of the velds. If the rainfall is scanty in the winter months from June till August, drought may occur. FLORA AND FAUNA The vegetation cover is sparse. Grasses dominate the landscape. Red grass grows in bush velds. In the high velds acacia and maroola are seen to be growing. The animals of the velds are primarily lions, leopards, cheetah and kudu (Fig. 9.6). PEOPLE Velds are known for cattle rearing and mining. The soils are not very fertile in the velds due to the presence of discontinuous grasses exposing barren surface. However where the land is fertile crops are grown. The main crops are maize, wheat, barley, oats and potato. Cash crops like tobacco, sugarcane and cotton are also grown. Sheep rearing is the most important occupation of the people. Sheep is bred mainly for wool and has given rise to the wool industry in the velds. Merino sheep is a popular species and their wool is very warm. Dairy farming is the next important occupation. Cattle are reared in the warmer and wetter regions and the dairy products like butter, cheese are produced for both domestic supply and also for export. The velds have rich reserve of minerals. Iron and steel industry has developed where coal and iron are present. Gold and diamond mining are major occupations of people of this region. Johannesburg is known for being the gold capital of the world. Kimberley is famous for its diamond mines (Fig. 9.7). Mining of diamond and gold in South Africa led to the establishment of trade ties with Britain and gradually South Africa became a British Colony. This mineral rich area has a well-developed network of transport. Fig. 9.7: Diamond Mine, Kimberley LIFE IN THE TEMPERATE GRASSLANDS 69 1. Answer the following questions. (i) What are the Temperate Grasslands of North America called? (ii) What are the cattle farms in the North American Grasslands known as? (iii) Name the rivers that drain the Velds. (iv) When is the rainy season in the Velds? (v) What is the major occupation of the people of the South African grasslands? 2. Tick the correct answer. (i) River Mississippi drains (a) Canada (b) Africa (c) USA (ii) Drakensberg Mountains are to the west of (a) Prairies (b) Velds (c) Pampas (iii) Merino is a species of (a) fish (b) elephant (c) sheep (iv) Kimberley is famous for (a) diamonds (b) silver (c) platinum 3. Match the following. (i) Cowboys (a) Iron and Steel (ii) Gold (b) Prairies (iii) Kudu (c) Hot wind (iv) Chinook (d) Velds (v) Coal (e) Johannesberg (f) Animal 4. Give reasons. (i) The Prairies are known as the ‘Granaries of the World’. (ii) Rise of wool industry in the Velds. 5. Map skills. On an outline map of North America, mark the Rocky mountains, the Great Lakes, river Mississippi, river Saskatchewan, the cities– Chicago and Winnipeg. 6. For fun. Make a grass whistle You will require a blade of grass about 5 cm in length. Be sure to choose the grass blade longer than your thumb. The blade of grass should be fairly thick. Choose the grass that is broad and wide. Narrow blade is difficult to hold. Put your thumbs together as your nails are facing you. Stretch the blade of grass lengthwise between the thumbs and the base of the hand. Your hands should be cupped to create a hollow or a narrow opening between your palms. You should just be able to see the edge of the grass only through the narrow opening. Place your lips over the opening and blow gently into the palm. You may even feel the grass blade vibrating as you blow. As you gradually blow you will hear sound of whistle created by grass. 70 OUR ENVIRONMENT
In Chapter 5, you have seen that water means life to plants, animals and people. It is difficult for anyone to live in places where there is no water to drink, where there is no grass for their cattle to feed on and where there is no water to help the crops to grow.
Desert: It is an arid region characteriesed by extremely high or low temperatures and has scarce vegetation.
We will now learn about the places in the world where people have learned to cope with extreme harsh temperatures; in some places as hot as fire and some as cold as ice. These are the desert areas of the world. These are characterised by low rainfall, scanty vegetation and extreme temperatures. Depending on the temperatures there can be hot deserts or cold deserts. The people inhabit these lands wherever little water is available to practise agriculture.
The Hot Desert – Sahara
Look at the map of the world and the continent of Africa. Locate the Sahara desert covering a large part of North Africa. It is the world’s largest desert. It has an area of around 8.54 million sq. km. Do you recall that India has an area of 3.2 million sq. km? The Sahara desert touches eleven countries. These are Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara.
When you think of a desert the picture that immediately comes to your mind is that of sand. But besides the vast stretches of sands, that Sahara desert is covered with, there are also gravel plains and elevated plateaus with bare rocky surface. These rocky surfaces may be more than 2500m high at some places
You will be surprised to know that present day Sahara once used to be a lush green plain. Cave paintings in Sahara desert show that there used to be rivers with crocodiles. Elephants, lions, giraffes, ostriches, sheep, cattle and goats were common animals. But the change in climate has changed it to a very hot and dry region.
The climate of the Sahara desert is scorching hot and parch dry. It has a short rainy season. The sky is cloudless and clear. Here, the moisture evaporates faster than it accumulates. Days are unbelievably hot. The temperatures during the day may soar as high as 50°C, heating up the sand and the bare rocks, which in turn radiates heat making everything around hot. The nights may be freezing cold with temperatures nearing zero degrees.
Al Azizia in the Sahara desert, south of Tripoli, Libya recorded the highest temperature of 57.7°C in 1922.
Flora and Fauna
Vegetation in the Sahara desert includes cactus, date palms and acacia. In some places there are oasis – green islands with date palms surrounding them. Camels, hyenas, jackals, foxes, scorpions, many varieties of snakes and lizards are the prominent animal species living there.
Fig. 9.3: Oasis in the Sahara Desert
Scientists have actually found skeletons of fish in this desert. What could have happened?
The Sahara desert despite its harsh climate has been inhabited by various groups of people, who pursue different activities. Among them are the Bedouins and Tuaregs. These groups are nomadic tribes rearing livestock such as goats, sheep, camels and horses. These animals provide them with milk, hides from which they make leather for belts, slippers, water bottles; hair is used for mats, carpets, clothes and blankets. They wear heavy robes as protection against dust storms and hot winds
Depressions are formed when the wind blows away the sands. In the depressions where underground water reaches the surface, an oasis is formed. These areas are fertile. People may settle around these water bodies and grow date palms and other crops. Sometimes the oasis may be abnormally large. Tafilalet Oasis in Morocco is a large oasis with an area of about 13,000 sq.km.
The oasis in the Sahara and the Nile Valley in Egypt supports settled population. Since water is available, the people grow date palms. Crops such as rice, wheat, barley and beans are also grown. Egyptian cotton, famous worldwide is grown in Egypt.
The discovery of oil – a product in great demand throughout the world, in Algeria, Libya and Egypt is constantly transforming the Sahara desert. Other minerals of importance that are found in the area include iron, phosphorus, manganese and uranium.
The cultural landscape of the Sahara is undergoing change. Gleaming glass cased office buildings tower over mosques and superhighways crisscross the ancient camel paths. Trucks are replacing camels in the salt trade. Tuaregs are seen acting as guides to foreign tourists. More and more nomadic herdsmen are taking to city life finding jobs in oil and gas operations.
The Cold Desert - Ladakh
Ladakh is a cold desert lying in the Great Himalayas, on the eastern side of Jammu and Kashmir (Fig. 10.4).
The Karakoram Range in the north and the Zanskar mountains in the south enclose it. Several rivers flow through Ladakh, Indus being the most important among them. The rivers form deep valleys and gorges. Several glaciers are found in Ladakh, for example the Gangri glacier.
Ladakh is made up of two words – “La” meaning ‘mountain pass’ and “Dak” meaning ‘country’ Drass, one of the coldest inhabited places on earth is located in Ladakh.
The altitude in Ladakh varies from about 3000m in Kargil to more than 8,000m in the Karakoram. Due to its high altitude, the climate is extremely cold and dry. The air at this altitude is so thin that the heat of the sun can be felt intensely. The day temperatures in summer are just above zero degree and the night temperatures well below –30°C. It is freezing cold in the winters when the temperatures may remain below –40°C for most of the time. As it lies in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, there is little rainfall, as low as 10 cm every year.
The area experiences freezing winds and burning hot sunlight. You will be surprised to know that if you sit in the sun with your feet in the shade, you may suffer from both sunstroke and frost bite at the same time.
Ladakh is also known as Khapa-chan which means snow land.
Flora and Fauna
Due to high aridity, the vegetation is sparse. There are scanty patches of grasses and shrubs for animals to graze. Groves of willows and poplars are seen in the valleys. During the summers, fruit trees such as apples, apricots and walnuts bloom. Several species of birds are sighted in Ladakh. Robins, redstarts, Tibetan snowcock, raven and hoopoe are common. Some of these are migratory birds. The animals of Ladakh are wild goats, wild sheep, yak and special kinds of dogs. The animals are reared to provide for the milk, meat and hides. Yak’s milk is used to make cheese and butter. The hair of the sheep and goat is used to make woollens.
The Chiru or the Tibetan antelope is an endangered species. It is hunted for its wool known as shahtoosh, which is light in weight and extremely warm.
Do you find any resemblance between the people of Ladakh and the inhabitants of Tibet and Central Asia? The people here are either Muslims or Buddhists. In fact several Buddhists monasteries dot the Ladakhi landscape with their traditional ‘gompas’. Some famous monasteries are Hemis, Thiksey, Shey and Lamayuru (Fig. 10.5).
The finest cricket bats are made from the wood of the willow trees.
In the summer season the people are busy cultivating barley, potatoes, peas, beans and turnip. The climate in winter months is so harsh that people keep themselves engaged in festivities and ceremonies. The women are very hard working. They work not only in the house and fields, but also manage small business and shops. Leh, the capital of Ladakh is well connected both by road and air. The National Highway 1A connects Leh to Kashmir Valley through the Zoji la Pass. Can you name some more passes in the Himalayas?
Fig. 9.5: Thiksey Monastery
Tourism is a major activity with several tourists streaming in from within India and abroad. Visits to the gompas, treks to see the meadows and glaciers, witnessing ceremonies and festivities are important activities.
Fig. 9.6: Ladakhi Women in Traditional Dress
Manali - Leh highway crosses four passes, Rohtang la, Baralacha la Lungalacha la and Tanglang la. The highway opens only between July and September when snow
is cleared from the road.
Life of people is undergoing change due to modernisation. But the people of Ladakh have over the centuries learned to live in balance and harmony with nature. Due to scarcity of resources like water and fuel, they are used with reverence and care. Nothing is discarded or wasted.
1. Answer the following questions.
(a) What are the two types of deserts found in the world?
(b) In which continent is the Sahara desert located?
(c) What are the climatic conditions of the Ladakh desert?
(d) What mainly attracts tourists to Ladakh?
(e) What type of clothes the people of the Sahara desert wear?
(f) Name the trees that grow in Ladakh.
2. Tick the correct answer.
(i) Sahara is located in which part of Africa
(a) eastern (b) northern (c) western
(ii) Sahara is what type of desert
(a) cold (b) hot (c) mild
(iii) The Ladakh desert is mainly inhabited by
(a) Christians and Muslims
(b) Buddhists and Muslims
(c) Christians and Buddhists
(iv) Deserts are characterised by
(a) scanty vegetation
(b) heavy precipitation
(c) low evaporation
(v) Hemis in the Ladakh is a famous
(a) temple (b) church (c) monastery
(vi) Egypt is famous for growing
(a) wheat (b) maize (c) cotton
3. Match the following.
(i) Oasis (a) Libya
(ii) Bedouins (b) monastery
(iii) Oil (c) glacier
(iv) Gangri (d) depressions with water
(v) Lamayuru (e) cold desert
4. Give reasons.
(i) There is scanty vegetation in the deserts.
(ii) People of the Sahara desert wear heavy robes.
5. Map skills.
(i) On the outline map of Africa, mark the Sahara desert and any four countries around it.
(ii) On the outline map of India, mark the Karakoram Range, Zanskar Range, Ladakh and Zoji La pass.
6. For fun.
This is a class room activity involving all the students. The teacher will create a list of desert creatures. The number of the creatures should be same as the number of students in the class. The creatures can be picked up from the categories of mammals, birds and reptiles. Mammals can include – camel, yak, fox, sheep, goat, antelope…
Birds – raven, eagle, vulture, turkey…
Reptiles – snakes …
Assign one desert creature to each student. Ask the student to write three characteristics of the creature on plain sheet of paper. (students can use index cards of size 10 cm × 15 cm). Questions such as - in what type of deserts it is found? Major adaptation? Use to man?
These characteristics will be used as clues in the guessing game. On the board make three columns – mammals, birs and reptiles. Paste a sheet of paper in the column under the particular category. The class can be divided in three to four groups. They will compete against each other in the ‘desert game’. Each group now takes turn in guessing the correct answer. Explain to the class that they have to guess what animal matches the characteristics listed on the paper.
• Animal of hot desert
• Has double set of eyelashes to keep away the sand
• The hide is used for making water bottles
The correct answer is ‘camel’. Within the group there will be a student who has prepared the card. That student should not answer. Ten points are awarded for the correct answer.
This game will enable students to understand the desert. You can play the same game by taking different types of fruits, flora and the clothes the people wear.