The success and future of conservation initiatives depends on the ability of organizations to build capacity through development of human intellectual resources, facility improvement, and sustainable funding.
The current infrastructure and staff capabilities within Major South African Wilderness Reserves provides the perfect platform for development partnerships with the Ajubatus Foundation to recruit and expand this capacity to create tomorrow’s conservation leaders for southern Africa.Our initiatives include:
- Recruiting partners who provide additional expertise for developing and implementing research programs and training of graduate and post-graduate students.
- Developing strategic collaborations with local, regional, and international organizations to promote research and professional development goals.
- Creating opportunities to involve local communities in conservation initiatives for educational and socioeconomic advancement.
- Expanding facilities such as laboratories and housing to accommodate staff and students for training in the most current techniques for ecosystem health investigation.
- The goal of these initiatives is to build capacity within southern Africa to address urgent and long-term concerns using scientifically based methods to understand, monitor, manage, and influence policies that lead to habitat preservation and health.
The Cheetah Project
The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) can be defined as one of the most endangered species of large predator within Africa. Very little was known about the cheetah population within the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR), we therefore conducted a series of studies on the cheetahs within the Reserve, designed to evaluate the:
- Abundance of cheetahs, via a photographic survey
- Genetic variability of the population, through collection of faecal samples for subsequent DNA extraction and sequencing
- Home range requirements and spatial utilisation of cheetahs within the reserve.
The research project is a joint-collaboration with the Ajubatus Foundation, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the TPNR and South African National Parks, with funding donated kindly by both John Dyer (Ajubatus Foundation) and Paul Levey (Makanyi Lodge/White’s Avoca).
About the study:
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, cheetahs are classified as vulnerable, with an approximate 7500 known adult cheetahs remaining. The total population is not expected to surpass 10 000 adult animals. The global population has therefore suffered a decrease of around 90% over the last 100 years, with Africa and Asia combined comprising an estimated 100,000 cheetahs in 1900.
The majority of the remaining population is classified as “free-roaming”, falling outside the boundaries of reserves and other protected areas. For this reason, the existing populations that are currently protected within nature reserves, as well as data relating to their status within those areas is crucial to the survival of the species in the long term.
The project operated over a 12 month period in 2010, following on into early 2011. We hope to repeat the project every four/five years to coincide with the Kruger National Park (KNP) cheetah census, thereby providing further information and a broader understanding with regards to the population within the Greater Kruger area.
Kruger National Park Lion Demographic Study
The demographic study of lion populations within the Kruger National Park represents one of the most extensive lion research studies undertaken to date. This flagship project is the result of increasing concern over the prevalence of Bovine Tuberculosis (BTb) in lion populations within the reserve.
The 6-year study will investigate the intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing carnivore dynamics – the extrinsic factors will focus on artificially introduced diseases to lion populations and which have the potential to lead to localized extinction. It is now commonly believed that BTb was first introduced into the reserve in the 1950’s by domestic cattle that, in turn, infected regional buffalo populations. Interestingly, buffalo herd dynamics do not appear to have been significantly affected and are regarded as BTb hosts. Lion predation on buffalo has spread the disease into prides predominantly in the south of the Park and to date, 10 prides have been darted and GPS radio tracking collars fitted to representative females in each pride.
Phase II of the project will involve a 5-6 year monitoring period during which time, focal sampling will be undertaken across all study zones of varying BTb prevalence in prey and prey biomass. The final phase of the project will focus on a survey or focal sampling to re-estimate lion populations and structure within the defined study zones.
This study will allow scientists to evaluate how lion dynamics have changed across varying areas of BTb prevalence and to introduce appropriate management plans accordingly.
This project is quite vital to the greater ecology of the Kruger National Park and your support in both observation and funding will go a long way in ensuring the future preservation of the African lion within the greater Kruger National Park.
The Rhino Project
We are currently awaiting final approval for a leading-edge research initiative on the Black Rhino within the Kruger National Park and have several scientists wanting to participate in the project. The dilemma over rhino preservation is critical given the massive increase in poaching of this species however as a Foundation, we are hesitant to simply “jump in” to research that will not provide better management decisions on population dynamics etc. To date we have been involved in several peripheral projects including:
- Key research into GPS telemetry application in the field
- Impact of telemetry application on species – ie. Is there the potential to compromise the animal through the application of radio collars.
- DNA sampling
- De-Horning (we are firmly of the view this is not a good concept in the least as it not only emasculates Male Rhino, but also affects their ability to hold and defend territory.
- Research into the history of animal translocation – again there are quite fascinating aspects to this research including high levels of stress in both translocated animals and those resident within a translocation zone.
- The use of Drone Technology in restricting Poaching activities. Whilst we have been inundated with offers of funding, we are of the view that the Foundation represents all that is good in scientific research and that we are not experts in the fields of anti-poaching activities. The potential threat to human life is not something we feel we can appropriately endorse within the Foundation though we have worked directly with the HAWKS on several “Sting” operations with a very high degree of success.
The key to the survival of Rhino is extremely complex – our view is that it is only through leading edge research that we will better understand the demographics and inter territorial aspects that drive Rhino populations and prevent them from becoming extinct.