18 Aug 2016 Wildlife management 101: things you might not know
Camp Jabulani was originally established to provide a home and a sustainable future for a herd of elephants rescued from certain death from a neighbouring country.
Since then, it has become well known in the tourism- and conservation-world as a five-star Relais & Châteaux-accredited lodge.
What you might not know is that a scientific wildlife-management plan underpins the management and operation of both the lodge and the reserve in which it is located.
We subscribe to the definition of wildlife management as a way of “finding the balance between the needs of wildlife and the needs of people by using different scientific methods”, as defined by Ned Haluzan on his Ecological Problems blog1.
According to Haluzan, wildlife management these days is mostly focused on wildlife conservation, which requires “the help of other scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, ecology, climatology and geography to get the best possible results”. Loss of biodiversity is a huge problem – and as Haluzan rightly points out, “the ultimate goal of wildlife management is to stop the extinction of many endangered species – a difficult task due to ecological problems such as climate change and pollution”.
It is obvious that maintaining and improving animal habitat is key to success. Finding balance between the species and ensuring the perfect functioning of the food chain is equally vital.
Since the establishment of the Kapama Private Game Reserve in 1989/90, the Roode family, as the landowners of the reserve, has had an agreement with the Animal Production Institute of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) to perform an annual ecological audit. The audit aims to:
- Ensure the sustainability of the reserve and its wildlife
- Provide in the recreational needs of visitors
- Monitor resources such as vegetation, soils, rainfall and other climatic variables
- Monitor game and management practices.
Droughts are common in South Africa, and Kapama has had its fair share. In the year 2002/03 we experienced a severe drought – the term drought being classified as a period when annual rainfall is less than 75% of the expected average rainfall.
Currently we are experiencing another drought period, while the previous year, 2014/15, was also a very dry year. Although there was relatively good perennial grass cover on the reserve in that period, the prediction was that the perennial composition and cover would probably decline.
Because the 2015/16 ecological audit that will verify this will only be compiled after a game count in October 2016, management has been proactive and started feeding game in March 2016 in order to establish feeding areas and avoid having the condition of the game deteriorate.
Besides monitoring grass coverage and condition, it is also important to do faecal analysis as it gives an indication of the physical condition of the herbivores. The impact of megaherbivores such as elephant and buffalo and smaller and abundant herbivores such as impala must be considered, as declines in the grass layer indicate that while rainfall drives the system, grazing pressure can ultimately compromise the composition and vigour (distance and tuft) of the individual grass plants.
An important indicator in wildlife management is the state of trees, and the impact of the Camp Jabulani elephants on this valuable resource is crucial. To compound matters, there are also herds of wild elephants on the reserve. During the dry seasons the impact on our trees is greater due to the shortage of grass. Because of a warm winter, the trees shed their leaves later this year, providing forage for a longer period. Tree density varies across the different areas, with fluctuations broadly corresponding to ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ periods.
While the impact of the elephants (both wild and the Camp Jabulani herd) is monitored by our ecological study, we also have a dedicated elephant management plan in place, which focuses on only the trained elephants and their impact on the environment.
The scientific surveys conducted on the reserve inform our management style and decisions in all respects, and as such are considered invaluable. The fact that they are costly will not deter us in the least from doing our utmost to preserve our wildlife habitat.
* Images of the feeding spots created
1 – http://ecological-problems.blogspot.co.za/2010/08/wildlife-management-definition-and-its.html