The only floral kingdom contained within a single country, the Cape Floral Kingdom consists primarily of two key vegetation groups: fynbos and renosterveld. Gondwana Game Reserve is situated within this kingdom and is currently trying to balance the conservation of the over 8000 potential plant species in the region with the reintroduction of large herbivore species such as elephants and rhino. This fenced reserve represents a pocket of protection for these species, amid a landscape dominated by agriculture. Floral and avian diversity and composition within the reserve are currently poorly understood, and the reserve management are eager to understand how different land use and management histories are affecting them. Experimental burn and exclosure plots designed to prevent herbivore browsing have been set up throughout within each main habitat type. Vegetation assessment data is collected both inside and outside of these exclosures to assess the impact of herbivores in relation to fire. Bird point counts are also performed at these locations, allowing comparisons between floral and avian diversity across the reserve and over time.
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 rain and wind are regular at this site. Temperatures can get up to 18-20 degrees during the day, but will regularly drop below 5 degrees at night. The wind-chill can make this feel very cold, so warm and waterproof clothes are essential.
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.
You will be staying in large safari-style tents with bunk beds. Hot running showers and flushing toilets are provided in a separate block, with large, structured tents used for the kitchen and communal areas. There is very patchy phone signal, no wifi and electricity is provided by generator for a few hours each day.