Biodiversity conservation is the clear mandate for Sanparks and the savanna unit of scientific services in Skukuza is seriously getting to grips with this issue in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
This means doing surveys on all the smaller creatures in the park that are often not seen. To do this, scientific services has a new team of skilled people including four overseas volunteers.
This is the first time volunteers have been used for biodiversity surveys and they had to go through a stringent selection process.
The specialised survey team is lead by Graeme Ellis of the Organisation for Tropical Studies (OTS), who are helping Sanparks with their detailed biodiversity surveys. Graeme says “Our volunteers are people who know what is expected of them during these surveys.
They are all hard-working and happy to be out and about in the veld and they are also learning so much about the Kruger ecosystems”. The volunteers are here from June 4 to July 16 this year, which is six weeks of digging holes and checking 11traps.
The team is currently working in the south of the park and sets out the rodent traps and pitfall traps with the associated drift lines every Monday. Team member Stephanie Natho is from Germany and has enjoyed the outdoor experience.
“I like the hard-work Mondays – in the end you feel satisfied, happy and are excited about what is going to be in the traps the next days” says Stephanie. Olivia Dieser, also a German national, said, “that the volunteer work in the KNP has been a whole new experience for me. I have found the project very inspirational.
Also, I have very much enjoyed discovering more about the natural world of South Africa – an enriching country. I’m very glad to have the opportunity to be here.” Roisin Wolfe is from England and says, “being a volunteer here has opened a whole new world to me.
I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity”. While her partner Hugo Fearnley, also from England, says “being involved with this project has increased my knowledge of the natural world and helped me to understand some of the smaller and interesting species that we share this incredible planet with”.
After setting out the traps on a Monday, they go out at 05h00 each morning to do bird surveys and to check the traps to see what has wandered in during the night. They re-bait the rodent traps and come back the next day. This is their routine for the next five days until Saturday. Monday signals starting over again in a new site.
It is labour-intensive to set up the survey site because they have to dig holes to take the buckets for the pitfall traps, clear a small area to set up the drift fence and cover the bottom of the drift fence. The group presently surveys two sites a week and is busy all day out in the veld. So far the surveys have turned up some interesting species, from bushveld gerbils to snakes and scorpions.
All the information collected during the surveys will be added to the KNP database, helping scientific services have a better understanding of all the important components of the ecosystems."All the volunteers would also like to extend a special thank you to Graeme Ellis for all his support, guidance and good humour over the course of this pioneering project," says Olivia.
By Michele Hofmeyr and Sarah Webb