Mission of the Drylands Conservation Programme

The Drylands Conservation Programme, part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust mission: to maintain ecosystem conditions in the drylands that can support biodiversity, including threatened species such as Riverine Rabbit, whilst simultaneously ensuring socio-economic benefits to landowners and communities.

 

Vol. 7 December 2013

As the year winds down, we reflect on an incredibly busy, but exhilarating year in terms of some great milestones achieved by the EWT-DCP. We share with you some of the highlights below, but take a moment to reflect that it is only through the support of our partners that we are where we are today. The Karoo farmers, departments of agriculture and conservation, our donors, our advisory group, and of course our colleagues in the EWT. As individuals we can achieve a great deal, but when we pit our combined strengths against the challenges facing our endangered species and natural resources, anything is possible. The Riparian Ecosystem Restoration Project and Cape Critical Rivers Project are both models for what can achieved through the united strength of strategic partnerships.

 

BOSSIES AND BUNNIES GO BIG
UPSCALING RIPARIAN RESTORATION IN THE NAMA-KAROO

The EWT-DCP and third-generation merino farmer Martin Scholtz, broke ground on its 5th restoration site on the banks of the Sak River in the Nama-Karoo in April this year. This site represents a significant upscaling of restoration efforts as part of the Programme’s Karoo Ecosystems Restoration Project. The work was preceded by comprehensive baseline monitoring of a variety of parameters, including ecosystem services and erosion assessments, on which we received training from Lehman Lindeque (Research Scientist, Natural Resources Unit, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) and Stefan Theron (Chief Technician: Landcare Central Karoo. Directorate: Sustainable Resource Management).

Restoration work commenced at the end of April with a team of seven men from the informal settlement in Loxton digging just over 1500 microcatchments. These hollows are designed to harvest water, reduce erosion, and trap silt, windblown organic material and seeds. In this way a micro-habitat is created that is conducive to the establishment of vegetation. Due to the relatively short viability the seeds of many Karoo species, and the extent of degraded areas, the importation of seed and/or plants is essential to promote revegetation. Seed from species universal to the riparian areas, collected in nearby intact riparian vegetation, as well as from the nursery production plot and road reserves were sown, and just over 3400 plants from nine species (propagated at the nursery) were planted.

The EWT-DCP has enlisted Master’s student Andrew Jackson (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) to investigate certain aspects of the effectiveness of microcatchments in riparian areas. Andrew launched his fieldwork on the site with the tagging and planting of 800 study plants. The results of this study will help guide the development of protocols for best practice restoration in riparian ecosystems.
Altogether 1599 man-hours were worked on the site by casual labour from unemployed communities of Loxton (11 men, 4 women) and Beaufort West (4men, fencing team) from the 15th April to 21st May.

 

NAMA AND SUCCULENT KAROO FARMERS MEET OVER BUNNIES AND WINE IN ROBERTSON

Karoo Farmers from the Loxton, Victoria West, and Beaufort West area, EWT-DCP staff, Advisory Committee members and interested members of the public recently gathered at the Graham Beck Wine Estate to brainstorm Riverine Rabbit conservation over superb wine in the beautiful Robertson valley.
Over the last 15 years efforts to conserve the Riverine Rabbit and its habitat have been focussed in the Loxton and Victoria West areas where four Conservancies, the Sak River, Wagenaarskraal, Krom River and Brak River, covering 350 000 hectares, were established. Farmers from these conservancies shared their knowledge with the attendees, and exchanged ideas on unlocking the secrets of the Succulent Karoo rabbit populations.

The day was rounded off with a lavish Bush banquet, during which a giant bottle of Chenin Blanc Game Reserve wine, with its unique Riverine Rabbit label, was auctioned off to raise funds for the conservation of this species. The Riverine Rabbit Awareness Day bore fruit in the form of a whole bunch of new ideas, including plans to launch a new research project soon in the southern Cape - the result of the champagne-sparked discussions and brainstorming.

We would like to thank Mossie Basson and Graham Beck Wine Estate for hosting the event, and camera trap guru Jeremy Bolton (www.trailcamadventures.blogspot.com) for generously lending us his expertise and camera traps for the camera trap demonstration. We also thank the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund for enabling the Riverine Rabbit Project staff and some of the Loxton farmers to attend this important information exchange event. Thanks to Steve Moseley (www.karooimages.co.za) of Loxton for harnessing media attention and to Prof Tony Rebelo for his talk on spotting rabbits and iSpot (www.ispot.org.za). Special thanks to the Advisory Committee for their talks, ideas and ongoing support.

 

RIVERINE RABBIT CONSERVANCY FARMERS AND CONSERVATIONISTS PLAN THE WAY FORWARD

Members of the Sak- and Krom River Conservancies recently joined the EWT-DCP staff during a Conservancies Workshop, hosted by the EWT-DCP, at the aptly-named Riverine Rabbit Retreat on Dunedin. The partnership between landowners and the EWT-DCP was considerably strengthened by the fact that many common goals were identified and ways were discussed to move the conservation of biodiversity in the conservancies forward. Farmers in the Nama Karoo have been integrally involved in the conservation of the Riverine Rabbit since 1965. The survival of this iconic Karoo species is literally in the hands of landusers, given that this Critically Endangered species occurs only on privately owned land.

The workshop was given honorary status by the sighting of a Riverine Rabbit by one of the famers, Pottie Potgieter, on his way into the workshop! In addition to the EWT-DCP staff, the departments of conservation in the Northern and Western Cape were represented, as well as the Department of Agriculture (Landcare) in the Western Cape.

 

EWT-DCP STAFF ROAM FAR AND WIDE FOR DRYLANDS CONSERVATION

The EWT-DCP conservation work was widely showcased this year, including several presentations to Arid Zone Ecology Forum, where the DCP Programme Manager was nominated as Chair of the AZEF Committee, a host of Agricultural Association meetings, various partnership meetings, the Karoo Parliament conference, and attendance on a scientific exchange Travelling Restoration workshop organized by Conservation SA and Nurture Restore Innovate. In most cases the audiences represented not only regional southern African countries, but also overseas countries, including the United States and Australia, or as was the case during the WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) conference in May, no less than 24 countries were represented.

 

SNAPPING RABBITS IN THE KAROO

The EWT-DCP is very pleased to announce that we have received funding to undertake a full-scale rabbit demography project now, using 30 camera traps and 5 GPS tracking devices. A MSc student will receive a Riverine Rabbit Bursary to develop a scientific monitoring tool over 2 years, so that we will be able to accurately determine how many rabbits there are and where the optimal rabbit habitat is.

In March this year Christy did a presentation at the Johannesburg Country Club on the camera trap trial results, stimulating the sponsorship of 6 more camera traps. Christy also attended the Lindt Gold Bunny Easter Day in Johannesburg, the proceeds of which were donated to the programme by Lindt. In addition, we are very grateful to the following donors who made this project possible: Koos and Rona Rupert Opvoedkundige Trust, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Sean Williams Living Creatures Trust, Peter van de Meer, SA Hunter’s and Wildlife Conservation Association branch, and Ian Müller.

 

MAPPING RABBIT HABITAT

One of our most critical needs for the conservation of the Riverine Rabbit is a fine-scale map of the extent of the suitable habitat across the range. The EWT-DCP has recently received a great sponsorship for obtaining SPOT6 satellite imagery from SANSA as well as sponsorship of a very useful software package from Trimble eCognition for detecting the spatial pattern or signature of suitable rabbit habitat. Our next step is to do a broader riverine plant community characterization study, which will allow us to determine the optimal habitat characteristics associated with riverine rabbits (in conjunction with the camera trap results). We recently held a Research Workshop with a couple of Karoo ecological experts who advised us on the format and design of this study. We are now urgently seeking funding for this ecological study which will add tremendous value to our Conservancy maps, our understanding of biodiversity in the Central Karoo and our understanding of the interplay between natural disturbance associated with riverine ecosystems, anthropogenic disturbance and rabbit habitat requirements.

 

The EWT-DCP steal the show at the EWT Conservation Week!

Bonnie, the DCP Senior Field Officer, won the EWT award for Consistently Strong Performer (shared with Samson Phakathi and Marion Burger) and Christy, the DCP Programme Manager, and Bridget Corrigan (Source to Sea Manager) shared the award for Programme Manager of the Year.

 

FRACKING IN THE KAROO

The EWT-DCP is concerned about the potential impacts of fracking on dryland environments and species, but understands the reality of the socio-economic context of the need for affordable energy for development. The EWT has thus contributed comments on the gazetted Department of Mineral Resources’ fracking regulations and has delivered several talks to interested stakeholders on some of the concerns and requirements regarding fracking. Please contact Christy for a copy of our comments or if you are interested in working with us to monitor potential impacts on Riverine Rabbits during exploration.

 

THE CCR COUNTS THREATENED FISH

The EWT-DCP joined forces with Cape Nature, DENC (Department of Environment and Conservation, Northern Cape) and the EWT-Source to Sea Programme to launch the Cape Critical Rivers Project, generously funded by the SOS (Save Our Species). The Cape Critical Rivers (CCR) Project aims to integrate freshwater biodiversity conservation with water resource management in the Cape’s special Olifants-Doring and Breede-Tradouw catchments. The Olifants-Doring is of significant conservation importance as a remarkable 43 species of fish, of which 10 are endemic thrive in its waters.-. Unfortunately, eight of these endemic species are listed as Threatened, primarily due to the spread of predatory invasive alien fish species. This threat is exacerbated by habitat loss due to the increasing demand for agricultural and domestic water use, and pollution. The Project got off to a flying start with the installation of levelloggers on the Huis-, Riet- and Oorlogskloof rivers and the appointment of the EWT-DCP Field Officer, Alwyn Lubbe.
The CCR team also recently conducted an extensive survey of the Doring river, between the Tankwa Karoo and the Biedouw valley in the Northern Cape, collecting invaluable information on the population demographics of both indigenous and alien fish species. Although the team caught hundreds of chubbyhead barb, an indigenous fish species, they did not find any yellowfish in the nets. They did catch 60 sandfish on this survey, more than double the number caught on the previous survey in 2011, but this is not enough fish for the ongoing viability of the species. It is one of the aims of the CCR project to implement conservation actions to improve the population of this species.

This project is made possible through the support of the Save Our Species Foundation and the Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation, in collaboration with our partners; CapeNature, Department of Environment and Nature Conservation Northern Cape, and the Freshwater Research Centre. The project is also grateful to Europcar, which sponsored a 4x4 bakkie for the Doring survey, Selectech for donations of equipment, Mazda Wildlife Fund for sponsorship, and the Department of Water Affairs for their assistance.

 

LOXTON CHILDREN GET CREATIVE AT THE BLUE HOUSE

Dennis and Lyndsay Jubie gave their hearts to the Loxton children 12 years ago. Their idea was to bring joy to the children’s lives, while creatively occupying them with a positive challenge. With this in mind they have launched many projects over the years, such as “Knit out of love”, “Read for a bicycle” and “Read for a trip to the sea”. This year Lyndsay decided to do something that would give the artistic children a chance to excel; an Art Competition themed “the animals of the Karoo” was the outcome and took place on the 15th November at the Blue House in Loxton.

Altogether 150 learners from the JJ Booysen Primary School and the RTR Academy in Loxton joined in the fun. Fuelled by delicious hot dogs, the learners demonstrated their artistic skills with great enthusiasm. Staff members from the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Programme (EWT-DCP) helped supervise the excited children, who sketched and coloured a range of Karoo critters, pictures of which were provided by the EWT-DCP.

Lyndsay said: “The children of Loxton have been my passion for many years and it all could not have been possible without the generosity and kindness of my sponsors.” Lyndsay hosts the children’s events under the auspices of the “I am Living Trust” (www.loxton.org.za), and the events are sponsored by Splash paints, Shopfitters and Designers, Signage consultants (all located in Johannesburg), and the Rooi Granaat (Loxton). This year staff from the EWT-DCP assisted by helping to supervise the children and provided pictures to inspire them.

 

ALWYN LUBBE BIOGRAPHY
I am 28 years old, and thank my mom for moving our family to Cape Town when I was two years old for my passion for nature. Growing up in this beautiful city, I have always had an interest in the natural world around me, which later developed in to a passion for research, conservation and sustainable development. After completing my Masters in Science, I have worked on various conservation projects around the world; from marine turtle’s in Guatemala, Scarlett Macaw’s in Costa Rica, and cheetah’s in South Africa. My background is primarily in freshwater and marine ecology, although I have a wide interest in natural sciences. But it is specifically my passion for integrating natural resource management, conservation, and sustainable development which inspires me in my work as part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust team on the Cape Critical Rivers project. Alwyn joined us in June, and is based out of our Cape Town office in Muizenberg.

JANICE ESSEX BIOGRAPHY
My career started in 2007 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology where I completed my National Diploma in Horticulture. My passion for nature began at a young age as I normally visited my grandparents’ farm where I was exposed to farm life. My wish was always to help, understand and continue our family history and inheritance. However, it was difficult for me to get a placement in my field; I am therefore very grateful for the opportunity presented by the SANBI Groen Sebenza programme, and my placement as a Field Officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s - Drylands Conservation Programme in Loxton.
During my in-service training I interned with SANBI at the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens (Betty’s Bay) for six months as well as at the EERU-Nursery and Research Centre at the University of the Western Cape. My background is primarily in Horticulture: the activity of growing and studying plants, designing of gardens, propagation of plants and cultivating new plants/species. The EWT-DCP Karoo Indigenous Plant Nursery in Loxton offers me the perfect opportunity to let go of my creative juices. The nursery team I work with here are very keen to help me learn from them. I am excited about my new venture with the EWT-DCP, simply because of the exposure I have had since I joined the programme. I am part of everything and I feel at home here.
Janice joined us as a Field Officer in August as part of the Groen Sebenza job creation initiative, and is based in the Loxton office.

 

If you would like this newsletter in Afrikaans, please send an email with this request to Christy

Head Office: Endangered Wildlife Trust, Private Bag X11, Modderfontein, Gauteng, 1645 (T) +27 11 3723600 (F) +27 11 6084682

Karoo Regional Office, Loxton: (tel/fax) 053 381 3068; Postal address:  P. O. Box 172, LOXTON, 6985, South Africa