Road ecology is one of the most important subjects in modern conservation. The direct threat that roads pose to wildlife is universal and increasing. Dinokeng is a perfect place to study road ecology as its variable traffic volumes and complex road network can present problems to the abundance of at-risk species; including black-backed jackal, scrub hare and many bird species. Roadkill surveys are conducted to improve our understanding of the direct risks to wildlife, and we also collect data aiming to better understand how drivers react to wildlife at different points across the reserve, through rubber snake trials. Additionally, a system of camera traps placed at strategic locations on the road network allows us to assess how both animals and humans are using these areas. By combining these different aspects, we aim to answer questions assisting with road policy and wildlife management in Dinokeng and other areas.
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 wildlife 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 reserves surrounded by densely populated areas such as Dinokeng Game Reserve, human-wildlife conflict can be a major challenge. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of this conflict with a special focus on large mammal species. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and nocturnal mammal distributions are assessed using 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 how human disturbance can alter large mammal movement and behaviour.
The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to locally dense mammal populations with high levels of vegetation impact. Elephants, for example, are ecosystem engineers and their impact can alter vegetation structure and composition. By directly monitoring both fire and 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 elephants can affect long-term change in the ecosystem. Monitoring of this type is also highly important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the biodiversity hotspot of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape. This Big-5 reserve has converted agricultural land to conservation, with the large mammals feeding on old agricultural grasslands as fynbos vegetation holds little nutritional value for large herbivores. Reserve management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve, to conserve the diversity of critically endangered vegetation types while supporting Big-5 tourism and conservation of the area.
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 and wifi available for work/research only.