Kariega Conservation Volunteer Programme: July 2014 Newsletter

Where did July go to?! Apologies about our July newsletter being a bit late, but this month was truly a busy volunteering month. Below is what our July volunteers got up to. Happy reading!

Research Projects

Lions prey study

The Kariega Conservation Volunteers have concluded that our lions on the reserve mostly hunted impala during the month of July. On the 9th of July, two of Kariega’s lions were darted and sold to another reserve in the northern parts of South Africa. Early that morning, the volunteers were out searching for the nomad lioness. This proved to be quite a task as she has no tracking collar and moves around on her own. Luckily we found her quickly and lured her out to the plains where wildlife vet, Dr. William Fowlds could dart her and do a check-up on her health and physical condition. The volunteers were hands-on and helped carry the lioness into her transport crate. She is a large animal for her age and was actually doing extremely well on her own (bearing in mind that lions are very social animals). She will be missed by the volunteers, as it was always a novelty when our path crossed with hers.

Dr. Fowlds also had to dart a young sub-adult male lion.   The pride was located easily, but to dart one lion and remove it from the pride can be quite tricky.   The capture team once again did a great job. They darted the male and after chasing the rest of the pride off, they could quickly load the male and take it away from the pride to examine him before he started his long journey to north. This was a definite highlight for July and we believe that the two lions will be very happy at their new home.

Elephant impact study

We were fortunate to have several lovely elephant sightings this month, where we could take our time and observe the elephants browsing and taking mud baths. Figure 1 is a rough illustration of what the elephants on Kariega Game Reserve consumed during the month. The elephants especially concentrated on the bark of trees during the winter months. This is probably because the bark of a tree contains much more nutrients than the leaves for example, and is therefore more sought after.

Rhino Spatial Movement Study

The rhinos on Kariega Game Reserve are all doing really well, and our volunteers help to track them and note their position and the dung middens to establish their territories and home ranges. This information can not be made public for safety reasons.

Camera traps

Our volunteers were really fortunate to get more photos of the same brown hyena as the previous month.   We don’t want to get our hopes up, but it could mean that it has a den on Kariega Game Reserve (everyone keep fingers crossed!). We also got photos of the small spotted genet, black backed jackal, warthog, several antelope species, porcupine, and caracal. The bait and chum (sardine oil, water and blood mixture) that we have put in front of the camera traps have been really successful, as this attracted a lot of different species, curiously sniffing around the camera.

Other Activities

Alien Invasive Species Control and Vegetation management

The Kariega Conservation Volunteers chopped down 91 Pine trees, 6 Red Wattle and 122 Black Wattle trees this month. These invasive tree species tend to use more water than our indigenous trees, grasses and shrubs and thus the overall water use by the vegetation increases, leaving less water for the streams and rivers.   Alien vegetation species have no natural enemies to control them, and it is regarded as the second largest threat to biodiversity after direct habitat destruction.   On the positive side of things, our volunteers are still continuing to plant Pork bush (Portulacaria afra) cuttings on the reserve. In July we planted 645 Pork bush cuttings. Pork bush is a leafy succulent plant with the ability to store more than four tons of carbon per hectare per year according to an article in the SANparks times, June 2014. This is more than any other plant, even more significant than some rainforests. It is a great plant to help rehabilitate damaged areas, as it grows so easily here in our Albany thicket biome.

The last week of July the volunteers helped a great deal with controlled fires on Kariega Game Reserve. We use fire as a management tool when we want to get rid of moribund grass material and to eradicate and/or prevent bush encroachment. Fire is an important natural driving force in savanna systems.   It is preferred to burn just before the first spring rains, when the grass sward is still dormant. This will allow to get rid of the moribund grass but prevent too much damage to the veld.

Community Projects

On the 18th of July, South Africa celebrate Nelson Mandela day.   To honour him and what he did for South Africa, it is encouraged that every South African spend 67 minutes of their time helping someone or a community in need. The 67 minutes is a symbol of the 67 years that Madiba served South Africa. Our volunteers spent the 18th of July painting the Age-in-Action centre where the elderly people of Ekuphumleni get together doing arts and crafts and exercises.   We did the primer the first day and after two weeks we went back again and did the first colour coat in Aqua Marine. A nice bright colour to enlighten every ones day! After we finished the primer, the Age-in-Action centre provided a delicious soup and fresh bread for everybody that helped. It was a satisfying and rewarding day for all involved.

Maintenance projects on Kariega Game Reserve

The Kariega Conservation Volunteers finished up the main entrance gate after several weeks of hard work. We believe it is strong enough now so that it will endure the strong August winds. The volunteers are also helping to construct the Anti-Poaching Unit’s accommodation. It is almost done. The decking is looking really good and we are busy putting up the shade cloth. It is very satisfying to see ones hard work taking shape. We started with bush clearing where the building needed to be erected, mixed the cement and dug holes for poles and helped with general development of the structure on a weekly basis.

Weekend Activities

July was not just all about working hard but also about having loads of fun. We let our hair down a bit by exploring the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. This festival continues for ten days, celebrating all forms of art in South Africa.   The second weekend the volunteers went horse riding on the beach at Kenton on Sea. The ride is always such a hit with all our volunteers – white sandy beaches and breathtaking views. Volunteers also went to a nearby elephant sanctuary, where one can interact with the elephants and also ride them.   The only problem we have is that with so many great options for weekend activities, it can sometimes be difficult to choose what to do!