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Kariega Conservation Volunteers: April 2014

Jone Haesslich

April has come and gone so fast – most probably because we were so busy working hard and having fun. During the last two weeks of April our area, the Sunshine Coast of the Eastern Cape, was blessed with some much needed rain. Most mud wallows are now small ponds, the dams on the reserve are full and the streams and rivers are flowing strongly. Here is what the Kariega Conservation Volunteers got up to during April.

Kariega Conservation Volunteer Research Projects

Elephant Impact Study

For 2-3 weeks, the elephant herd was found close to the Bushman’s River where they wandered back and forth on an open plain bordered by a thicket and mountainous area. There is plenty of water in this area and during our observations we witnessed many mud baths and playtime in the water. It is also nice and warm and sheltered from the wind on these plains, as mountains surround them.

The volunteers continued to try to identify new individuals but this remains a challenging task!

Here is one particular experience with the elephants that stands out this month. Whilst the roads on the reserve were still wet from the previous weeks rain, our vehicle got stuck during our elephant observation time one morning. At one point elephants surrounded our vehicle but all we could do was to stay put and remain calm. The herd passed us so closely, that certain individuals sniffed at volunteers on the back of the game-viewing vehicle. After two hours we received assistance from Kariega rangers – by then the elephants had started to move off in a different direction. All our volunteers remarked that this was an incredible experience never to be forgotten!

Lion Prey Study

The predominant prey of lions on Kariega, has been blesbuck. The blesbuck numbers on Kariega have decreased drastically because they are relatively easy prey for the lions. Therefore, reserve management decided to introduce more impala and kudu. According to the data that the Kariega volunteers obtained in April, it is clear that the lions now prey more on impala. Warthogs are still a favourite and we are aware of one kudu that was caught this month.

The Kariega Conservation Volunteers were very fortunate to see one of the sub adults stalking an impala. Although it did not succeed in catching the antelope, it was good practice session for the sub adult.

Rhino Spatial Movement Study

One Friday morning, the volunteers attended an anti-poaching presentation. Thank you to Frank, head of anti-poaching at Kariega Game Reserve, for your very informative talk about the current poaching situation in South Africa and the rest of Africa. Frank emphasized that it is critical to create awareness and to educate the public regarding poaching.

We had several wonderful sightings of rhinos in April, which include both black and white rhino.

Leopard Project

There were six movement sensor camera traps out during April in different positions. On average we kept a camera for three weeks in one spot, depending on how much activity was detected. We received several pictures of baboons, bushpig, bushbuck, elephant and black backed jackals. We received new rechargeable batteries from the Kariega Foundation for this project and it has been a great aid to us. We can now leave a camera for up to 2 weeks before having to change batteries (depending of course how many photos were taken).

Vegetation Management

Kariega Conservation Volunteers April2014

The volunteers excelled in April and chopped out 89 Black wattles, 101 Red-eyed wattles and 103 pine trees. Thirty-nine massive pine trees were also ring barked. Hundreds of small seedlings were removed, especially during the rainy days when one could get rid of them - roots and all.

The volunteers did some bush control, especially along the roads where the Searsia sp are very dense. Last year a controlled fire was used to get rid of moribund grass and also to help with bush encroachment. These bushes are now slowly starting to grow again, and before it gets out of hand, we quickly poisoned it while still controllable.

We planted 489 Pork bush (‘spekboom’) cuttings all over the reserve. With all the lovely rain we had, I am sure they will grow really well.

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty five years ago. The second best time is now"

Community work

In April the Kariega Conservation Volunteers attended the Klipfontein after-school centre in conjunction with the Kariega Project and the Kariega Foundation. This time they prepared leadership games for the children. There were three groups and the children rotated between the groups and played different games with each group. It is heartwarming to see how our presence is so appreciated by the children. It was a day for big smiles - not just the kids, but for the volunteers as well. This is definitely one of the weekly highlights (as is the pizza night afterwards in town!)

With all the school holidays and the rain this month, we only visited Farmerfield School once. Hopefully our school attendance will be better next month. We supplied the school with a big box of learning and teaching material. These were donated by kind Kariega guests from all over the world and also by the Kariega Conservation Volunteers. This is much appreciated by the kids and teachers who only have very little resources to work with.

Other Activities

One early morning the volunteers packed their backpacks ready for an adventurous hike in the mountains. We started off in the drizzle, then the wind started blowing and the sun came out and we saw a lovely rainbow over the reserve. We had four seasons in one day. The volunteers hiked all along the top fence line to check for any holes or whether any repairs were needed. No serious damage or problems were found with the fence. 

The volunteers went camping at the old Adventure Centre on the most perfect night. The magical African night sky had us all in awe. We enjoyed a traditional South African braai, starting with self-made stick bread. Then the campfire stories started…

The volunteers did three game counts this month. We used various techniques to for these game counts. One method is the Road Strip count method which we adapted a bit to suit our conditions. Usually you count all the animals in a pre-determined mean visibility strip from the road, but because the vegetation is so dense in some areas we counted all the animals we could see. The reason for this is because some animals are overlooked within the strip because they happen to be standing behind a tree or a bush.

The volunteers attended a snakebite talk presented by a medical doctor. The talk was mostly about what clinical symptoms you could expect with the different snakes species, as their venom differs from each other. The doctor also showed us first aid techniques that could be applied and what treatment a doctor would give after the different snakebites. A really interesting and helpful exercise.

The Kariega Conservation Volunteers were fortunate to be present at the release of impala onto the reserve. Our responsibility was to count the impala to check if the numbers were correct and that no impala were injured during transit. It all happened really fast and fortunately there were no problems.

Well that is all from the Kariega Conservation Volunteers for now. We are taking a break for two weeks, and will be back in action on 19 May with a full group of 10 volunteers. We are looking forward to meeting them all.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed. - Mahatma Gandhi

Yours in conservation,

Frances van Pletzen

To find out more about what the Kariega Volunteers get up to, check out their projects on the Kariega blog, or view their webpage on the Kariega website. You can also find their lively Facebook page here.