Dinokeng Game Reserve is a 20,000-ha reserve that straddles the Gauteng and Limpopo provinces of South Africa. Dinokeng is one of the youngest provincial reserves in South Africa and represents a novel model for game reserve creation. It was formed through the donation of land from multiple small and large landowners in the area, many of whom still live within the reserve in fenced homesteads. Along with these homesteads, there are several lodges within the reserve and a self-drive route that tourists can explore unaccompanied. This means that in certain areas of the reserve, human activity levels are high and interactions with wildlife common, leading to potential human-wildlife conflict. Opwall and its partners are currently monitoring the usage of the reserve by various taxa, to better understand the dynamics of both the human and animal movements. Data is collected on vegetation types and the impact of herbivores on them, large mammal distributions and bird diversity. Each of these datasets can be compared to detailed maps of physical boundaries and information on road usage to determine any anthropogenic effects. Camera traps have also been set up through the reserve to allow for data collection on the more elusive species such as lions and hyena, and to also monitor how mammals use the environment in response to humans.
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. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and a matrix of camera traps set up throughout the reserve. By combining this information with our knowledge of areas of dense human activity, we can begin to understand the drivers behind large mammal movement and any potentially disruptive behaviours they exhibit. The use of roads in the reserve is also monitored through camera traps and behavioural observations to quantify how roads and vehicles affect animal movement, survival, and behaviour.
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 keystone species and high feeding pressures can lead to excessive impact 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. 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.
Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so in Dinokeng temperatures can drop as low as 0-2 degrees at night. It is also dry season, however, so the chances of rain are slim here and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees.
Fitness level required
Low. There are some short hikes over rough terrain, but most of the work is in or close to the game-viewer vehicles.
Accommodation is in shared tents, each with two beds, some storage space and charging points. Hot running showers and flushing toilets are provided in a separate block and large, structured tents are used for the kitchen and communal areas. There is reasonable phone signal in Dinokeng but no wifi.