Conservation and Environment in South Africa: Monthly Updates
Kwa Tuli Conservation Project - November 2011
The croc survey is a census of the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) along the Limpopo River. Using a line transect methodology the census allows for a scientific study that provides an accurate assessment of the number of crocodiles within the study area. The count takes place on a 2.5km stretch of pristine crocodile habitat. Our volunteers take the same trek once weekly to count the crocs and add their data to our existing database.
Results to date
With seven studies already taken place we are starting to get some solid information on our crocodiles. The results are beginning to repeat themselves and show that we have a healthy population with textbook dynamics in age and sex. The biggest recorded to date is George (named by our volunteers) who is a big male measuring approximately 3.5 meters in length. The results show that we have possibly 3 crocs bigger than 3 meters, 3 to 4 between 2 - 3 meters and again 3 to 4 between 1 meter and 2. Due to the time of year the river has dried up in parts and even reduced to pools amongst dry beds in areas. With this fragmented habitat the number of crocodiles we have means the area is probably at its carrying capacity, great news for conservation.
With the female crocodiles busy at this time of year burying their eggs and defending the nest sites, it is great to be out with our volunteers monitoring the population. In approx 90 days when the young hatch we hope to have a new generation to begin monitoring.
The Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is an extremely beautiful, huge and ancient tree that truly defines the Tuli as a piece of African wilderness. With some of the trees older than the birth of Jesus the management have made it a priority to preserve and enhance their numbers and habitat within Kwa Tuli and the Tuli Block. A survey of these trees has never been conducted in this area so Projects Abroad are immensely proud to be leading the first scientific study. Our survey consists of a series of measurements at each tree, inspecting them for disease, condition and animal activity. Our volunteers also record the GPS co-ordinates of each tree and photograph each one. This provides an extensive database of each and every tree and allows for a record to be studied and referred to for years to come for any interested party.
Results to date
With 62 trees already surveyed we are experiencing a greater a number of the trees than originally expected. An analysis of spatial distributions will be made at the end of the study. The results are indicating that the trees are in a healthy condition and most are producing their leaves (they only have leaves for three months per year!), which again is a great sign for their overall health. Although some of the trees are showing signs of elephant damage, it is something that the project has brought to our attention and has meant we have now have a tool to further monitor them.
Soil erosion causing desertification is a huge environmental problem in Africa, with the Tuli Block being no exception. With sandy soils being left bare due to previous land use, the rains and winds strip the topsoil of all nutrients. With the area only experiencing between 200mm - 400mm of rainfall per year, and usually in very sporadic bursts the land is not equipped and large pieces of land collapse and are washed away. Our project aims to protect these vulnerable areas through planting vegetation along with repairing areas that have already been damaged to preserve and enhance the overall eco-system and each and every microhabitat.
Our soil rehabilitation program also includes our volunteers building dams to hold water that overspills from water holes during the rains. This ensures that the water is not lost to surface run off and contributing to soil erosion, and can be reserved in one area to be utilized in the forthcoming months.
Results to date
Our volunteers have been working extremely hard in the heat of the summer sun repairing dongas (a gully formed by soil erosion) right next to Koro Camp in the riverine habitat. The have been filling extremely deep dongas with all sorts of natural materials with the surface being made up of shade cloth and elephant dung with the objective of bringing vegetation back to create a healthy soil structure. There is no doubt that without this project, pristine tress along the Limpopo riverine environment would be lost and the overall health of this unique eco-system placed in jeopardy.
Our dam building is another project involving extremely hard work but producing fantastic results. The volunteers have dug a huge area that once we receive some rainfall will fill with water and provide many species with water at times of drought.
Kwa Tuli Reserve is home to three excellent hides each looking down at either natural or manmade water holes. To monitor our wildlife populations it is essential that we have an ongoing project collecting data of what is visiting these areas at various times of the day and night.
Results to date
Results so far have been excellent and as predicted. We have lots of elephants visiting them on a daily basis. Some of our more endangered and target species being observed by our volunteers include spotted hyena, brown hyena, leopard, and eland along with our regular visitors from ostrich, impala to blue wildebeest.
The observations also include birds, which again allows for us to monitor summer and winter visitors and study any population fluctuations.
Alien Plant Removal
Invasive plants can have a significant effect in changing the natural landscape and are a serious threat to southern Africa's eco-systems. Some 80% of the region is vulnerable to at least one alien invader. All protected areas have programs to combat these species, with Kwa Tuli being no exception. These plants use resources that are already limited and cause the decline of indigenous species. As the plants are alien, they themselves cannot be used as a resource by indigenous flora and fauna and therefore have no natural predators causing them to spread rapidly.
Results to date
Along the Limpopo River where Koro Camp is situated there has been a sharp increase in the amount of Prickly Pear Cactus. Our volunteers have been involved in the pain-staking task of removing the cactus and burning the remains to assure it does not spread again. We have removed the cacti from a 2km stretch of the river and we are confident that with continued efforts we will eradicate this species from the reserve in the forthcoming months.
As predators act as key species in an eco-system the management at Kwa Tuli have placed a strong emphasis on the collection of data to determine what species are present on the reserve and to monitor their populations and movements. Our volunteers are involved in the tracking of leopard (Panthera pardus), brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) on a weekly basis and with cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) on monthly basis. Smaller predators are also recorded such as caracal (Caracal caracal), serval (Leptailurus serval), African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica) and African civet (Civettictis civetta). All species are monitored through tracking, sightings and camera traps.
Results to date
Our volunteers have been extremely successful in the data collection regarding leopard, brown and spotted hyena. We are building up a large database that is beginning to show the home ranges of these animals. One of our camera traps recently showed a brown hyena that appeared to be pregnant, great news for conservation of the species in the Tuli. Our data collection has indicated that we have several leopards on the property, and we are now beginning to piece together the data and identify each individual. As long as they are not genetically related we can hope for some Kwa Tuli cubs in the future. One of the leopards we have seen in camera traps and through tracking is a huge male we have named Nkwe (Setswana for leopard), as dominant males patrol large territories we are very proud that he has taken residence within our boundaries.
With the sheer number of elephants that use Kwa Tuli it is inevitable that they will damage trees in their constant search for food and water. It is widely documented that elephants can destroy trees through pushing them over to feed on their leaves. But they can also kill a tree by removing the bark. As many of our trees have fallen victim to this, the management at Kwa Tuli has decided to protect the small population of the elephant's favorite trees that we have left through tree wrapping. Tree wrapping involves wrapping wire around the tree trunk to deter these huge herbivores. The wire is wrapped in a discrete way that does not affect the ecology of the tree or any other species that utilize the tree.
Results to date
Since Projects Abroad and Kwa Tuli joined forces our volunteers have wrapped approximately 40 plus trees. The target areas are along the riverine habitat as this is a very delicate and beautiful area of the reserve that needs strict management to ensure it is kept in pristine condition. Our target trees that elephants are particularly fond of include the marula (Sclerocarya birrea), white seringa (Kirkia acuminata) and weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala).
As with any reserve within Africa, anti poaching is a necessity to ensure the protection of sought after wildlife for bush meat, medicines, curios and the pet trade. These demands on wildlife have brought some species to the brink of extinction in areas and as custodians of the land the management at Kwa Tuli have adopted several anti poaching measures to ensure our wildlife is safe from poachers. The techniques that our volunteers are directly involved with include patrols to show presence and the removal of snares.
Results to date
Due to a recent increase in the number of poaching activity within the reserve the majority of the work has been handed to the Botswana Defense Force to run patrols, an invaluable resource that we are extremely happy to be able to work with. Our volunteers have also been working by trekking through the bush to search for snares and remove them. We systematically search different areas on a rotation basis. Some of these areas are extremely remote and by showing our presence we have no doubt we are deterring further poaching activity. Our volunteers have also been involved in searching other properties where we believe poachers have been active. These areas are usually around water holes where wildlife may travel long distances to drink. Therefore our efforts benefit a large area and ensure the protection of wildlife within it. Recently we have been finding what we believe to be old snares, good news that there is no new activity in these areas. Although as poaching is rife within the Tuli it is also a motivation to search for the areas where poachers are currently targeting.
Although we have had burning temperatures at camp, over 42 degrees in the vegetable plot, our volunteers have been working hard assuring the plants do not wilt and die. Our tomatoes, green beans, peas and carrots are all flourishing and on track for a harvest in January. Some of the herbs and spices are germinated also and ready to be used.
Due to the environmental impact of the average diet in Europe and North America we have decided to implement a vegetarian day to show our volunteers how easy it can be to cook nutritious and delicious food without meat. With this we teach them about the impact of red meat on the worlds resources and how unsustainable many farming practices are.