Kariega Conservation Volunteer Programme

March 2014 Blog Update!

The month of March is still marked in the Eastern Cape with balmy weather and lovely hot days.  The days are however becoming shorter and the nights cooler and we can tell that winter is slowly creeping up on us.  The Kariega volunteers have been very busy this month.  Here is a short summary of what they have been up to:

Research Projects

Elephant research

We have been fortunate to have had excellent sightings of elephants this month and therefore a lot of useful information and data regarding their spatial movement and their impact on the vegetation on Kariega could be gathered.

There are quite a few younger elephants that still need to be identified.  This is quite difficult as they do not have unique markings or scars like the more mature elephants. The volunteers observed that there are two older cows with their sub-adult and younger calves wandering on their own, quite a distance from the rest of the main herd.  Often an older calf will remain with its mother even though a newborn is present and the older calf even assist with  ‘raising’  the younger sibling.

The big bull still mostly wanders alone.  One of the young bulls sometimes joins.  There are other younger bulls that also wander alone from time to time and that will stray from the big herd.  These bulls are in their late teens maybe early twenties and like to play-fight with one another. They test their strength and are already determining dominancy amongst each other.  The below map presents a rough idea of the spatial movement of elephants on Kariega Game Reserve during March 2014.

Volunteer World International South Africa Kariega Volunteer Program Elephant Research
Spatial movement of elephants on Kariega Game Reserve for March 2014

The volunteers have noted during March that the elephants on Kariega Game Reserve are mostly consuming the following plant species ; Azima tetracantha (Bee-sting bush), Buddleja saligna (False olive), Prickley pear, Searsia sp., Acacia karroo (Sweet thorn) and different grass species.  These are in no particular order of importance.

Lion Research

There are quite a few interesting changes regarding lion activity noted this month.  The Kariega volunteers witnessed how a male lion is busy pushing out a sub-adult male from his pride.  The sub-adult male is getting quite big and is starting to develop a mane.  The big male is trying to eliminate any possible competition and therefore acts aggressive towards this sub-adult.  Many early mornings and evenings were marked with impressively loud lion calls – this was mostly our dominant male making sure he’s heard.

From the data collected via the two-way radio’s (rangers on game drives), observing fresh carcasses and lions feasting on carcasses, the volunteers concluded that warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), impala (Aepyceros melampus) and blesbuck (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) were the most frequently caught prey during March 2014.

Rhinoceros Research

March has given the Kariega Volunteers great opportunities for collecting data regarding the spatial movement of the white and black rhinoceroses.  This is sensitive information and can for safety reasons not be shared.   Thandi, the white rhinoceros cow, that was poached two years ago and survived, is doing really well. We have been fortunate to have really good sightings of her.  She seems relaxed and peaceful.   The latest statistics as per DEA: (14 March 2014) states that 172 rhinoceroses were poached in South Africa of which three in the Eastern Cape.  A total of 54 arrests, regarding poaching, were made in South Africa  of which four were in the Eastern Cape.  Let us hope we can find a sustainable solution to ensure that the statistics of 2013 ( a total of 1004 rhinoceroses were poached) will not be repeated during 2014.

Leopard Research

The Kariega Volunteers have set up camera traps on several different locations, hoping to find a leopard.   These are mostly areas where there are not much human activity and where there have been signs of leopard, like tracks, or where we thought leopard territory could be.  No photographs have been recorded with leopards for this month, although we saw really good pictures of Aardwolf and Black rhinoceros. It is always interesting to see what is sneaking around in the bush.  We are awaiting an order of new rechargeable batteries for our camera traps, which will greatly help with this project.

Invasive Species Control

In spite of some extremely hot days this month, the Kariega volunteers got their hands dirty and chopped down more or less 175 Pine trees, 530 Black wattle and 150 Red-eyed wattle, varying in size from seedlings to medium sized trees.  The seedlings are usually pulled out with the roots and the bigger trees that are too big to cut down, are ring barked.  The volunteers use machetes and hand saws to cut the trees down as close as possible to the ground. The remaining tree stumps are painted with an environmental safe herbicide,  preventing re-growth of the trees.

Bush Control

The volunteers assisted with bush control.  Three roads on the reserve have been targeted, where the volunteers poisoned Searsia sp. with pellets that are administered to the base of the stem. This dissolves when it is wet and kills the plant from the roots up.

Erosion Control

Due to thunder storms in South Africa, erosion is a big problem because of the resultant quick water run-off.  The Kariega Volunteers have identified areas where erosion has started and  the branches of the chopped invasive species were placed into these gullies.  These branches stabilise the soil by preventing animals to trample the areas and give pioneer plants, like grass and shrubs, a chance to grow where it was previously bare soil.  The vegetation will slow down the water run-off and help build up silt. Sub climax and climax vegetation can start growing, creating a stable environment for other organisms to live and restore the natural balance.

Community Project

The Kariega Volunteers have helped out at the Klipfontein after-school centre in conjunction with The Kariega Project and the Kariega Foundation.  They assisted the kids to write letters to their pen pals in the USA. They also helped administering reading tests and playing business simulation games on computers with the kids (a newly set-up mobile computer lab thanks to the NGO; The Kariega project).  This is a real joy and the volunteers are always greeted with hugs and happy songs from the learners.  It makes you realise that giving makes you a richer person than receiving.

To conclude:  March truly was a jam packed month. The weekends were filled with fun break-aways, like shark cage diving in Plettenberg bay, horse riding on the beach in Port Alfred, a canoe trail on the Bushmans River and a trip to the historical rich town, Grahamstown.

Come and join our volunteer team on Kariega Game Reserve, as you can see, never a dull moment at this amazing program!