Project Objectives

The primary objectives of Transfrontier Africa are to

  • provide international students and nature enthusiasts with an opportunity to become involved in conservation issues within the Greater Kruger Park environment;
  • provide international and local exposure to the Greater Kruger Park environment as well as topical conservation issues;
  • provide project participants with a typical African bush and Big 5 experience;
  • compile a database of information through a consistent and standardized data capture process: vegetation density surveys, game counting and bird monitoring;
  • promote the safari and eco-tourism industry and ensure the sustainability thereof.
  • provide an opportunity for people to travel and experience Africa’s natural assets in a clean and healthy environment, under the guidance and management of expert environmentalists and operators;
  • advise management decision and demonstrate the effectiveness of management action;
  • facilitate research of topical subjects and provide tertiary education students opportunities to conduct research in these regards.
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In order to achieve these objectives, Transfrontier Africa ensures that research and data capture are standardized, and has set up a system of student volunteers to guarantee the necessary manpower to conduct the two following data capture project objectives:

  1. Crepuscular (i.e. during twilight: during dawn and dusk) and nocturnal road-side Game Census: Students spotlight for animals from a set road network using a 4x4 Land Rover, and using standardised data capture forms to record animal species, numbers, locations, sex, age, time, date, and condition (visual). This is aimed at monitoring trends in the populations of the various game species. It will not provide accurate numbers for the species but will allow managers to pick up changes in population densities and dynamics. This is then measured against rainfall figures, and other events such as fires, for any correlation.
  2. Vegetation Density surveys: Students conduct canopy cover and basal cover surveys, conduct grass versus woody plants ratio at same sites, and visual density assessments in predetermined monitoring sites on foot. This is aimed at providing an insight into the changes in the primary production of the reserve and will assist the managers in correlating changes in animal movements and population dynamics.

It must be borne in mind that the reserve has a ‘hands-off policy’ with regards to management and therefore this monitoring is essential to determine trends in primary producers and the effects on all species, not just the ones that are of interest to the tourists and are easy to count.

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Methodology

A standardized network of roads is selected and driven on a routine basis. Crepuscular animals are monitored as well as nocturnal and diurnal animals. Students are required to spotlight and record any sightings, while a ranger will conduct all driving and assist with identification. All data is recorded on a standardized data capture sheet and later translated onto a spreadsheet. The following data is recorded: animal species, numbers, locations, sex, age, time, date, and condition (visual). ‘Drive counts’ are conducted at least once a day, morning and/or evening.

Vegetation monitoring is done every second week in a random fashion and employs the ‘line-intercept method’ for basal and canopy cover in three layers: herbaceous (grasses, etc.), graminoid (shrubs, etc.) and emergers (tall trees).

Elephant damage is also be assessed as this is a cause for concern and controversy at present. Species and height of trees damaged as well as the phenological (i.e. the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate) stage will be noted on a daily basis.

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Greater Kruger National Park

The Greater Kruger National Park is now an impressive protected network of areas that includes a core area of approximately 2’000’000 hectares of state-owned land, the Kruger National Park (www.krugerpark.co.za), and a further 125’000 hectares of privately owned nature reserves, collectively referred to as the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR).

This Project has been designed to provide consistent ecological management services to the Management Authority of the Olifants West Region of the Balule Nature Reserve forming the western extremity of the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) within the Greater Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa.

The Olifants West Nature Reserve currently measures a total of 8’800 hectares and forms part of the Balule Nature Reserve which measures a total of 40’000 hectares.

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Motivation

It is essential that sound ecological principles be applied to park management within this region whilst accommodating the various land-use practices mentioned below.

The Kruger National Park is orientated in a north – south fashion whilst the natural movement of animals and many ecological processes is east – west.

The Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) provides opportunities for additional wildlife based land-use practices to be accommodated outside of the core area (Kruger National Park) and therefore provides an essential buffer for these activities. Many of these activities, especially the consumptive user-groups are not conducive to the management of the core area and furthermore, the APNR provides public and international visitors with an exclusive opportunity to engage with the wildlife without the necessary state-imposed restrictions.

Further to this, the Balule Nature Reserve represents vegetation communities that are not well represented within the Kruger National Park. Balule supports primarily ‘mixed low-veldt bush-veldt’ vegetation that boasts relatively high species diversity in comparison to the ‘Mopane veldt’ community which abounds in much of the areas to the east. Without the addition of the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) will not be able to meet its target for the representation of this vegetation community in formal conservation areas.

Apart from the above, the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) is the most recent addition to what seems to be an ever- expanding protected area network and Balule provides a perfect opportunity to engage in research and management practices that will provide for a ‘best practice model’ for the management of such a protected areas model.

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Land-use practice

The Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) and the Olifants West Region is a typical ‘co-operative protected area model’ that requires a different management approach to a formal legislated or state managed protected area. There are several land-use practices that Transfrontier Africa have identified and must be accommodated and respected in order to perpetuate the protected area as a voluntary and cooperative model and ensure that the goodwill is not undermined. The land-use practices are identified as follows:

  1. Consumptive users
  • Sport hunting of animals for traditional ‘biltong’ meat as well as perpetuating lifestyles;
  • Commercial hunting of high-value and sporting species, both for financial gain as well as perpetuating life-styles.
  1. Non-consumptive users
  • Commercial game-lodges eco-tourism based activities - Wildlife and wilderness are the key marketing tools in this category;
  • Private landowners who seek solitude and wilderness. In the above categories, there are both permanent as well as absentee landowners.
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Historical

The land-parcels that make up the Olifants West Game Reserve (OWGR) and the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) were historically agricultural holdings with varying sizes. Many of the farms were beef cattle farms with many that operated as game farms or hunting farms. Most of these were all individually fenced and managed according to landowner-specific ideals and strategies. Each farm had water-points and various fire and grazing regimes were implemented in a non-consistent manner.

In recent years, a memorandum of agreement with South African National Parks was engineered by several landowners and led to the inclusion of several of the larger farms dropping their fences with the internationally recognized Kruger National Park. Peer pressure and the obvious benefits of this action led to the further inclusion of the properties that now comprise the Association of Private Nature Reserves and more specifically for us, the Olifants West Nature Reserve. The last fence was dropped in 2004.

Prior to the formation of the Olifants West Game Reserve (OWGR) and the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR), the standard practices included predator numbers management in order to protect the farmers assets (cattle and game) and supplementing the feed of game and cattle and manipulation of the veldt for optimum grazing. This was not sustainable and as long as the farms bordered the national park, human-wildlife conflict was inevitable, particularly with predators and mega-herbivores breaking out of the adjacent Kruger. Furthermore, with few exceptions and without sound management practices, the farms were not financially sustainable.

With the advent of the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR), the region saw a new set of investors purchase the properties as they came on the market. Those that wished to retire in a clean and healthy African wilderness area, those that wished to take holidays in their own private nature reserve and those that wished to benefit from the new nature reserve financially. Many of the old families still exist and harbour much valuable knowledge about the area. In the current economic and political climate of South Africa, the threats that face landowners in the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) include heavy land-tax and potential land-claims from previously disadvantaged communities. New legislation has made it possible for landowners to receive a tax rebate should their properties be included into a nature reserves. This is a fantastic new tool in the wildlife conservation toolbox.

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