Research is vital for conservation purposes; it enables scientists to learn about species both biologically and behaviourally, additionally it provides an insight into the status of the species. From this research, suitable projects to manage and conserve species can be implemented.
There are many areas of research required for the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve. As it was previously managed as cattle farms, there is little knowledge of the area. Due to this, studies into both the habitat and the species that reside there need to be undertaken.
Conservation placement volunteers and dissertation studies are essential in conducting much of the research on the reserve. Research Coordinator, Liam Westall, is responsible for overseeing the research on site and for developing new proposals for future work.
Examples of current UmPhafa research proposals include:
The influence of seasonality on the activity of aardvark
Aardvark (Orycterapus afer) are important for the biodiversity of African savannah ecosystems, with many other species dependent on their burrows for shelter. Evidence of aardvark presence on UmPhafa has been noted, but as yet no study into their number, range or interactions has been conducted.
This research proposes to address these points in the Gevonden Farm region of the reserve. This area is home to several of the reintroduced game species making it prime habitat for aardvark, as the trampling effect of herbivores increases termite population size; the aardvarks’ primary food source. This research will require application of different techniques including transects, use of camera traps, and live observation under different seasonal conditions. Information gained will contribute towards the understanding of this species and their importance within UmPhafa.
Behavioural ecology of the white rhinoceros
The Southern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum ) is the largest animal to reside on UmPhafa and is of high conservation importance. The animals within the reserve are elusive and have had little contact with humans. This study aims to slowly habituate the rhino to human presence, so that greater understanding of their ecology may be established through observation.
During these observations particular attention will be given to monitoring their feeding routine, associations, territorialism, along with sexual or aggressive behaviours. This research will require use of photography to establish individual characteristics, as well as live observation of the rhino from hides at a number of locations. White rhino primarily graze on fodder; the results of this study will therefore have significance in the development of vegetation management practices on site.
Behavioural study of bushpig: sounder sizes, home ranges and foraging activity
The African Bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus) was originally thought to be a sub-species of the red river hog, but has recently been reclassified as a separate species. These animals are greatly under-researched and the ecological importance of their foraging and behaviour is unknown. This research will aim to ascertain population estimates for this species within Gevonden Farm, an area where individuals have previously been sighted.
The main characteristics of this population in terms of age and structure shall be identified and their behaviour observed. Data will be collected from research sites representing different habitats within Gevonden Farm. Bushpigs will be attracted to study sites using dug bait pits, within these camera traps will be set to record any activity. Live observations and video footage will be obtained diurnally and nocturnally for two week periods before baiting sites are moved to a new location. This study will provide scientific data on the ecology of a little-known species as well as its importance within the UmPhafa reserve.
Pre-emptive survey of potential predation of antelope progeny by black-backed jackal
Black-backed jackals pose a major threat to antelope offspring on the UmPhafa reserve. Therefore Jackal predation on game stock must be monitored to ensure that the antelope population is not negatively affected. Initial research into this has been undertaken and methods that use carnivore stations have been implemented so that spoors can be monitored.
This study was initiated at the beginning of the lambing season for impala and blesbok in order to broadly quantify the level of activity by black-backed jackal on UmPhafa. From the study to date, the jackals have been shown to spend more time in two particular areas due to the higher potential for food; however this does not necessarily mean that they are preying on antelope young as they will also commonly feed on the afterbirth. Jackal numbers are not significantly high on UmPhafa at present but will need to be further monitored.
The significance of small mammal population densities on small- to medium-sized carnivore numbers and activity
This study aims to determine the effect that small mammals have on the numbers and activity of small/medium sized carnivores, such as black-backed jackals and caracals. Small mammals are a key prey item for many carnivores. However some, such as the black-backed jackal, are known to predate upon young antelope as well. This is a big concern as it may prevent sustainable antelope populations from being achieved. Black-backed jackals are opportunistic so it may be an unavoidable problem. If small mammal populations reduce, the reliance on antelopes may further increase.
This study is important to understand the specific dynamics of the predator-prey relationship; fluctuations in density of both prey and predator will be monitored and the relation to any pattern in carnivore activity and numbers can be realised. This study will be achieved by the use of Sherman traps to temporarily secure small mammals, and baited camera traps to determine the presence of carnivores. Results will allow us to see if the increased predation of young antelope is a result of decreased numbers of small mammals and allow suitable strategies for remediation to be advised.
Examination of Vegetation Survey Techniques and Report
This study attempts to identify and examine practical and repeatable techniques for the monitoring of the vegetation of UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve. Through analysis of the findings, the nature of the study site can be established, providing crucial data upon which a wide range of ecological surveys will be dependant. The need to continually monitor the vegetation on a reserve is also imperative to the welfare of the inhabiting game species as surveys provide detailed records of fodder availability and quality and allow the condition of the habitat to be ascertained. This can enable an informed collection plan to be devised, as well as the further management of populations already present.
Extensive surveys were carried out dealt largely with the designation of particular biomes within the site as well as establishing a detailed species list. Methodology was therefore adapted to be suitable for the recording of all species present, not just those in notable abundance. Also to consider was the need for simplicity in procedure to ensure that surveys may be repeated by personnel without extensive scientific training. These surveys are now conducted on a regular basis to monitor the habitat of UmPhafa over a course of time.
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