Conservation and Environment in South Africa: Monthly Updates
Southern Africa Conservation Monthly Update January–February 2014
We want to wish you all a Happy New Year! Your job, as a volunteer, is really important to us and the Projects Abroad team from Botswana would like to thank you for all your contributions, the hard work and wish you all the best for 2014.
January and February got off to a roaring start with our first volunteers arriving on the 6th January and getting straight to work. Staff returned after a much-needed break, refreshed for the New Year ahead. We welcomed Ms Elsa Stamm to the project as Camp Manageress and Social Manageress and she has taken up the challenge with great spirit.
This is always a delightful time of the year when all the baby animals are born and we have been delighted to see many, many impala (Aepycerosmelampus) youngsters this year, as well as blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), plain zebra (Equus quagga), greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) babies.
The rain has been good so far, the bush is lush and green and if it continues to rain we will have a very good winter with enough food for the animals.
The vegetation census on the reserve, which started in October 2012, has been completed and the results have been analysed by David Hancock. Over the course of the study 6300 samples of woody vegetation and 12400 substrate samples were collected across the 2 vegetation types that were sampled in the same Mopane manner.
48 species of tree were recorded across the property. 35 species of tree were recorded during the survey of Mopane woodland and riverine of which only 6 species accounted for more than 1%, and those 6 species accounted for a total of 98.27% of all species recorded on the property.
By far the most abundant was Mopane (Clophospermum mopane) with 60.60% of the sample. The proportions of the remaining 1.3% of species were recorded fewer than 10 times. In the substrate survey soil was the most abundant substrate type accounting for 58.22%, followed by organic matter at 17.84% and non-woody vegetation at 14.10% (Figure 3).
The composition of tree species which was discovered is important for understanding why certain species are present and others are not. For example the very low population of Giraffe in the area is most likely linked to the almost total lack of suitable browse trees for them in the form of Acacia species. As the land is dominated by Mopane, only species which are able to feed on Mopane with its high tannin levels are able to survive. This relates to all levels of the animal kingdom from invertebrates to mammals and birds. Only certain species of insect can tolerate Mopanes tannin levels and therefore the species which feed on insects are limited to those which feed on those unique species which can survive feeding almost entirely on Mopane.
One surprising discovery of this study has been the high diversity of smaller flowering plants. Despite the landscape appearing to consist of only 3 major components, within these areas there is a large variation of micro-climates allowing this large diversity to have developed and survived. Much further study is required in this area as no demographic data was collected and several recorded species are protected in South Africa due to their scarcity there, e.g. Kwebe Hills Stapelia (Stapelia kwebensis). This study also highlighted the number of alien species which exist in the area, a total of 10 alien species were recorded and efforts must be made to study the impacts they are having on the environment and if necessary removal of these species should take place.
No abundance or distribution data was collected with regards to small flowering plants. However, a basic inventory of species was created and a total of 125 non-tree flowering species were recorded.
Alien Plant Removal
We continued to remove alien plants from the Reserve and concentrated our efforts on two areas – the Top Hide and the Top Drainage Line, both of which we targeted last year as well. It is a laborious task to remove alien species but each year we see less and less as we remove more of these plants until hopefully they will be eradicated from the Reserve. Now with the vegetation census complete and the number of alien plants identified, we will concentrate our efforts on understanding the impact they are having and eradicating them from the Reserve.
Road Clearing / Repair
Always on on-going task, particularly in the rainy season, volunteers have been hard at work repairing roads damaged by the rainy season. Botswana experiences intense bouts of rain in a short space of time and tends to cause ‘wash-aways’ on the roads on the Reserve. In order to continue to traverse the Reserve it becomes essential that we deploy everyone we can to repair what may have been damaged by the most recent storm. In summer vegetation is very thick and the less-used roads become overgrown quite quickly so we have also had to spend time clearing these roads in order to travel to the various parts of the Reserve. This time saw us re-opening the road to Adventure Pan.
Anti-Poaching / Snare Removal
As always we need to be vigilant regarding poaching incidents on the reserve so we schedule anti-snare patrols. We have removed 8 snares in the last 2 months.
The heavy rains in January and February further eroded an area of the reserve on the Limpopo River and required that everyone get involved in repairing the huge donga that had formed. This was a task which required the use of wire gabions which needed to be positioned and filled with rocks which volunteers collected on the reserve. Once in place, the donga was back-filled with sand in an effort to arrest the erosion.
This time of the year lends itself to going out and looking at the myriad flowers that suddenly appear after the rains. Carpets of colour appear seemingly out of nowhere and the more one looks the more you see. We have started a photographic database of the flowers seen on the reserve and as it grows we will publish it on the Projects Abroad website.
Last year we reported finding two leopard cubs together in an area near Motswiri Camp, specifically photographed on what we call Mushroom Rock. To our great excitement both cubs have been seen in the last 2 months, having grown substantially and starting to move further from their mother.
Judi Gounaris and Sophie Juge,