A total of 12 tsessebe, comprising five males and seven females, as well as 11 reedbuck (three male and eight females) found a new home in the northern part of Kruger having been moved from an enclosure in the south. Declining numbers of rare antelope, such as tsessebe, roan and sable have been of concern for management of the Kruger National Park (KNP) for several years now.
A recent capture operation by the veterinary wildlife services moved the two groups to Klein Shawu Pan. The tsessebe were the last of a group protected in the Hlangwine enclosure. This is a fenced area of about 220 ha that was erected in 1972 and is located in the southern granites near Pretoriuskop.
The tsessebe had a few reedbuck for company and these were also removed from the enclosure and free-released at Klein Shawu. All the animals living in the enclosure have been removed to give the veld a chance to recover as this relatively small area has been home to various numbers of animals over the years.
Conservation efforts have focussed resources on the use and expansion of existing enclosures allowing the tsessebe in this enclosure to increase sufficiently to supply a large group to be released back into the park. The intricate capture operation involved building a plastic sail and net boma inside the Hlangwine enclosure, crossed at various intervals with strong nets. The Sanparks helicopter overhead, herded the tsessebe and reedbuck into the sail boma, where they were caught in the nets.
The team on the ground was quick to respond to the animals in the nets, with veterinarians, Drs Danny Govender and Peter Buss on hand to administer the necessary tranquillisers. The team members are skilled at handling and loading the antelope into the trucks, but they have to beware of the sharp horns and kicking hooves.
The horns are covered with protective plastic piping to prevent the animals injuring each other during the trip to the release site. Some individual tsessebe bulls were able to evade the sail boma and had to be separately darted from the helicopter.
"The single reedbuck were difficult to catch because they are very agile and could jump over the nets, but the bigger size and heavier body of the tsessebe made it easier for them to be caught in the nets " said Jenny Joubert, vet technician from veterinary wildlife services. The veterinary technicians also took the opportunity to take blood and small hair samples for the bio-bank in Skukuza.
At a later stage nutritional analysis and genetic studies will be done using these samples. Before animals were released, the habitat and available forage was evaluated to determine whether the environment into which these rare antelope would be released is ideal.
Klein Shawu pan offered the best option as a new home for the tsessebe and reedbuck. The captured animals were transported to the release site and held in an electrified plastic temporary boma for two to three days before being finally released. Spending time in a confined space allows the herd members to calm down following the stress of the capture and acclimatise to the new area.
The tsessebe also need time to re-group and re-establish the herd structure so they can stay together and not run off in all directions and potentially become prey to a hungry predator.