The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, part of the Associated Private Nature Reserves adjoining Kruger National Park, has just released 50 wildebeest to supplement their existing population of around 80 animals. According to reserve warden Colin Rowles, “The release is generally deemed to be an experiment”.
Between 1999 and 2001, the wildebeest numbers in the 57,000ha reserve plummeted from 300 to 100, eventually stabilising in the last two years at around 80 animals. Predation by lions is believed to be the main cause of the decline, with the lions choosing wildebeest as a preferred meal.
Now that the population has stabilised, the reserve hopes that by almost doubling the antelope’s numbers, they will be able to breed fast enough to keep pace with the lions’ appetites. The reserve’s annual census revealed that even without the addition of the 50 extra animals, the wildebeest population had already naturally increased by about 15 animals.
This may be partly attributed to an influx of animals from the neighbouring Balule Nature Reserve, as over 20km of fence were removed between the reserves earlier this year. Rowles says the wildebeest will be closely monitored, and if the experiment proves successful they may consider introducing other species, such as waterbuck, which had previously suffered similar declines. Despite the introduction, the reserve still has more than twice as many elephants as wildebeest roaming the veld.