In 2012 Struwig Eco Reserve contacted WEI to set up a research monitoring station on their trust-owned section of the APNR (Associated Private Nature Reserves) in the western section of the Greater Kruger National Park.
Like many of the properties on the APNR, Struwig is dependent upon tourist revenue to support the conservation management of the area. As a result, a large camp has been developed next to the Olifants River and, despite this perennial river running alongside the property, there is still a high density of artificial water sources to attract game.
There is a concern that the high levels of anthropogenic disturbances will detrimentally influence the natural functioning of the ecosystem in and around Struwig. The Greater Kruger National Park is well over 2 million hectares, so in isolation helping to relieve the pressures of these disturbances in the relatively small section of land at Struwig Eco Reserve would not make much of a conservation impact. However, the majority of reserves in this region have similar problems, and this project aims to create a research-supported best practice guide for conservation management here.
There are multiple ongoing WEI research projects on Struwig. Firstly WEI are investigating the extent of piospheres around water bodies. The piosphere concept assumes that degradation to habitat around waterholes can be modelled in concentric circles at set distances, decreasing in severity the further you move away. The closest area, the ‘sacrifice zone’, is the most heavily impacted, with only annual, pioneer herbaceous plants surviving. The next area is the ‘transitional zone’ which holds a greater proportion of perennial species. Outside of this zone is the area where perennial climax species again dominate. The size and extent of these zones is likely to depend on the size of waterhole, density of utilization, vegetation community, habitat type and proximity to other water sources.
Secondly, WEI are investigating herbivore responses to tourist infrastructure on Struwig. We would like to determine the effect of lodges on species distribution, group size, vigilance and inter-specific associations. Lodges are likely to be seen as safer environments with an expected decrease in vigilance and group size. However, certain species are more tolerant of anthropogenic disturbances than others and our research hopes to identify these associations and provide recommendations for the further expansion of the area.
As our research teams are working on Struwig throughout the year, we are also able to dedicate time to predator monitoring, providing useful information to managers on home ranges, prey preferences and intra-specific associations in this section of the Greater Kruger.Selected Outputs:
WEI Research Programme Overview 2014 - OREC
The effect of African elephant on biodiversity.pdf
WEI Struwig Ecological Report 2012 to 2015.pdf
Meso and Mega-herbivores 2012_2016.pdf