Greetings to all volunteers past and future: This is the first blog that I have written and by no means the last. I just feel compelled to commit some of my thoughts to paper after a bumper few months at Paradise Camp! We have seen many volunteers move through the camp this year and the quality of both the volunteers as well as our data that we have managed to capture in this time has been extremely high. This has boosted our profile on the Reserve and we now find ourselves in a position to advise management on ecological matters from a very strong resource base.
We hit a bit of a snag early in June when our treasured lap-top and various very important accessories disappeared out of our Land Rover in town. On top of this, our inverter and batteries in the camp popped their mortal coil and ye olde Sekorokoro, our prized Land Rover, burned out its starter-motor, forcing volunteers to push-start the old beast every morning and seriously hampering our chances of conducting field work. Just when we thought of changing the name of our camp to the Balule Triangle, volunteers Joke Lammers (Holland), Viv Burns (UK) and Shirley Minassian (Australia) came to our rescue and helped sort us out! It remains one of the most touching and rewarding moments in my life when the new batteries were installed, Sekorokoro started first time and a massive box arrived at the post office with a lap-top and all necessary accessories neatly packaged inside! So……….we are back in action and have caught up on all our lost data. A further thanks must be extended to the Rangers at Pondoro Lodge, Ezulwini Lodges and Naledi Lodge for completing the predator / prey data capture forms for us and thereby increasing our data-base in this respect.
Our animal population dynamics surveys are progressing well and although it is difficult to draw conclusions or discuss them on this forum, it appears that all consumer species are in good shape. Sex ratios and age structures look good and almost textbook in their dynamics. The blue wildebeest numbers appear stable with small increases evident at this early stage and it is apparent that predation plays a negligible role in this species. The reasons for their small herd sizes and low numbers is attributed to the fact that the habitat that we sample is not considered primary habitat for this species. We are blessed with good winter grazing following the bumper rain season of 2008/2009 and the water-holes still have good quality water. This is great for such a late stage in the normally dry season and we are stillcounting several breeding herds of elephants and even buffalo herds of over 150 individuals!!
All in all, the reserve is in good condition and management should be proud. It must always be kept in mind that this is an open system and therefore not fenced. Animals are here only because they want to be! Our policy of a “hands-off management model” and the “precautionary approach” appears to be working in the natural environment’s favor.
John (our Research Assistant) is still working on the fine-scale monitoring of the impact that Elephants have on woody species (trees andshrubs). Our hypothesis that roads influence or concentrate elephant movement and therefore impact on trees seems to be yielding results already! I will leave this up to John as I do not wish to steel his thunder. I would like to conclude, by emphasising that this little organisation of ours is an integral component of the management system in the OWGR section of the Balule Reserve which forms part of the GreaterKruger National Park. We are unique and privileged to be able to provide the services that we do, for free. This is due to the inclusion of volunteers on our projects and as a result places us in a better position to pass unbiased comment and also not burden the already humble conservation budget for this reserve! Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters!!!!