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How to create a wildlife reserve – In South Africa

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Creating the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve

Colchester Zoo and its charitable arm, Action for the Wild, have been supporting global conservation projects for many years. In 2005, Action for the Wild decided to set up its own conservation project. Due to close ties between the Colchester Zoo collection and South African wildlife, this beautiful country seemed an obvious choice to link in with the zoo collection.

An area of farmland three hours north of Durban was deemed a suitable location to set up the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve. This 5,000 hectare area comprised of three farms previously managed for cattle, and encompasses a wide range of habitats from acacia savannah and bushveld to mountainous terrain. Due to previous agricultural practices many of the natural inhabiting species had been lost and much of the land had been eroded due to overgrazing.

Action for the Wild’s aim is to rehabilitate UmPhafa as an example of the region’s previous natural condition. The priorities for the set up of the reserve are:

Releasing impala onto Umphafa Private Nature
Reserve. Released species are increasing
naturally, but in order to ensure adequate habitat
management, the numbers of bulk grazers will
need to be increased, via introduction, to prevent
over-domination of certain grass species and
enhance floral diversity. These released species
will also eventually serve as a prey base for
larger predators.

Fencing and animal release
The first step in the management of the reserve was to remove all of the old cattle fencing and equipment and then to start the immense task of fencing the entire reserve. Early efforts concentrated on the first, and largest, farm so that this area could be managed and protected, whilst the fencing team could then focus on the other two farms. Once the fence around the first farm was electrified, an animal release programme commenced.

Mammal species
Some mammal populations remained on UmPhafa and have thrived since the reserve was established, however, since 2006, many more species have been reintroduced. The reserve is now home to a wide range of fauna, including white rhino, giraffe, kudu, impala, common and mountain reedbuck, zebra, blesbok, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, nyala, warthog, aardvark and porcupine. Small to medium sized carnivores, such as black-backed jackal, caracal, serval, genet, and several species of mongoose are also common and recently staff have been picking up more and more signs of leopard.

Breeding success
Since release, numerous species have bred on the reserve, including all of the antelope species, plus in addition, nine giraffe and two white rhino calves have been born. Eventually these species will reach carrying capacity on the first farm and then the fencing will be removed to allow colonisation of the other farms. At present, our released species are increasing naturally, but in order to ensure adequate habitat management, the numbers of bulk grazers will need to be increased, via introduction, to prevent over-domination of certain grass species and enhance floral diversity. These released species will also eventually serve as a prey base. Signs of leopard are increasing, due to an increase in prey items, but the eventual aim is to release other carnivorous species, such as cheetah, onto the reserve to ensure prey populations are managed sustainably.

Nine giraffe have been born on the reserve since they were reintroduced.

Nine giraffe have been born on the reserve since they were reintroduced.

Research and volunteer programme
In 2009, Action for the Wild hired a project coordinator, Liam Westall, to take over the management of the wildlife species on UmPhafa and to focus on the development of research and volunteer programmes. Since commencing on the reserve, Liam has focused on a number of different research topics, including behavioural studies of bushpig, (Including sounder size, home range size and foraging activity); studies into the significance of small mammal population densities on small-to medium-sized carnivore numbers and activity; and numerous surveys into vegetation growth and diversity to promote conservation management plans. Coupled with this, projects looking at alien plant control and the effectiveness of using Cactoblastis moth larvae and cochineal insects to control prickly pear species, and erosion repair and control are underway.  

More about volunteering at Umphafa. 

Self sufficiency goal
In 2010, a volunteer programme was also initiated. To date, all funding for UmPhafa has been donated via Colchester Zoo and its visitors. The goal, however, is that UmPhafa becomes self-sufficient and does not need to rely on Colchester Zoo for support. To meet this goal, a placement programme was initiated. These positions are particularly designed for those seeking to gain experience before pursuing a career in conservation and, to date, the positions have mainly been taken up by university graduates who wish to add to the theoretical side of their degree. The placement students help with reserve management work and assist current research projects, such as small mammal trapping, setting up and checking carnivore tracking stations, and camera trapping of nocturnal species in order to complete the species list of the reserve and to monitor populations. In the past year, the volunteer programme has generated over £30,000 for UmPhafa and with increasing numbers of volunteers signing up, this scheme will help pave the way for a sustainable future for UmPhafa.

The final priority for UmPhafa is to work with the local community. At present, thirteen members of the local community are employed in positions ranging from game guards to fencing. These staff are valued and their skills enhanced. To date, the game guards have been put on game ranger and wildlife management courses to increase their knowledge.

Local schools
Coupled with employment, UmPhafa staff have also been working with local schools. An education programme has commenced at one school to incorporate wildlife species into their curriculum and staff and volunteers have delivered sessions on UmPhafa’s wildlife. Fundraising has also taken place for these schools, with computers purchased for one school and a new kitchen erected at the other; purchased with funds generated by two schools in Surrey. The eventual aim is to raise sufficient funds to construct classroom facilities on UmPhafa so that the children can visit the reserve for their educational sessions.

The management and running of the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve has really taken off in recent years and it is hoped that this project becomes self-sufficient in the near future. Future wildlife releases are planned to ensure a sustainable wildlife population and income is being generated through the volunteer programme. Coupled with the educational programme and recent meetings concerning a recycling centre for the local community on site, UmPhafa is well on its way to becoming a creditable local conservation project.

Read more about Umphafa Reserve and the work that Colchester Zoo is doing there