South Africa

Operation Wallacea and our partners, Wildlife and Ecological Investments (WEI), coordinate large-scale research programmes to provide an empirical backbone for key conservation projects in South Africa. Our main aim is to assist conservation managers with pressing large-scale issues that they do not necessarily have the resources to address themselves. The South Africa research programme covers a series of reserves across the country, each using slightly different management strategies to conserve diversity in their reserves. Big game areas in South Africa are fenced to avoid the spread of disease and conflicts between communities and dangerous animals. However, in densely populated areas such as around Dinokeng Game Reserve, human-wildlife interactions are still common. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of these interactions with a special focus on large mammal species. Elephant movements are monitored daily through GPS collars, and predator distributions are assessed using a matrix of camera traps set up throughout the reserve. By combining this information with our knowledge of human activity “hotspots”, we can begin to understand the drivers behind large mammal movement and any potentially disruptive behaviours they exhibit.

The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to potentially unsustainable levels of vegetation impact when mammal populations are high. Elephants, for example, are destructive feeders and high feeding pressures can lead to excessive damage to the vegetation. By directly monitoring feeding impact on vegetation and its knock-on effects to other taxa, such as birds, our teams can assist the reserve managers to better understand how to manage their elephant populations to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Similarly, this monitoring is especially important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the florally diverse fynbos region. While the vegetation here is highly valued for its diversity, it holds little browsing or grazing value for many of the game species commonly found in tourist reserves. The management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve.