The Eland-scape of the Drakensberg

by Tamanna Patel, PhD Candidate

I am currently conducting field work for my PhD research in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. My study is focused on mammal populations in three land use types, the first being protected areas within the Park itself. Protected areas are usually surrounded by other land uses and habitats which have been transformed by humans to some extent. Communal and commercial areas are the two most important land covers consisting primarily of near natural vegetation offering the opportunity to study biodiversity conservation.

Within these three different land uses I am looking at distribution patterns and foraging locations of mammals. Furthermore, I aim to get a current census of mammal populations in the Drakensberg and surrounding areas.

Mammalian herbivores play an important role in the ecology of an area, influencing plant communities and individual plant growth. The diversity of herbivores in montane environments will reflect the diversity of plants. There are relatively few studies that compare the impacts of herbivory of plant diversity between protected areas and adjacent non-protected areas, and more so, within a montane environment.

Conservation areas

Giants’ Castle Game Reserve

Observing mammals in conservation areas in the Drakensberg is a bit challenging! Appropriate equipment is required to spot animals from quite a distance away. For my field work, I am using a spotting scope, binoculars and a camera.  A hand held Garmin GPS is used to record distribution points where animals are observed, as well as feeding locations if animals are observed to be feeding. If they are feeding, more detailed data is collected about the feeding patches. As mentioned, visual observations are quite tricky, so I also rely on additional evidence to increase my distribution database of the different mammals (see photos below).

Dung, footprints and bite evidence

 

 

 

 

Communal and Commercial areas

Livestock grazing in communal & commercial areas adjacent to the Drakensberg.

Feeding observations in communal & commercial areas are a lot easier to obtain compared to protected areas.

Therefore, feeding patches can be assessed in more detail and a more extensive foraging database can be built for mammal populations in these areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This project is funded by the National Research Foundation through the PDP (Professional Development Programme)