Thanda Private Game Reserve is a conservation site of international importance for so many reasons. Located in one of Conservation International’s Biodiversity Hotspots due to its high levels of endemicity (species only found in one area in the World), and on the edge of the Peace Parks Foundation’s Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area, WEI’s research camp was set up in 2010 to assess the ecological impacts of dropping perimeter fences to create mega parks.
One of the main concerns to landowners was the impact that elephant would have on their areas. As ecosystem engineers, elephant have the ability to modify the functioning of a system through their impact on habitat. As natural elephant migrations have been blocked by the erection of artificial fence-lines, it is impossible to know the ‘natural’ level of impact in the region, so managers instead determine an acceptable level of impact, often without empirical support for their decisions.
Elephants were introduced into Thanda Game Reserve in 2002 and the fence was dropped between Thanda and the neighbouring Intibane property in 2009, around eight months before our survey began. Subsequently, another herd of 22 elephant were introduced into an adjacent property, broadly called the ‘Kings Property’, in 2011, with plans to drop the fence-lines between these areas within the next few years to create a single contiguous conservation area.
In 2010, WEI research teams selected a total of 66 one hectare survey sites in the three areas; Thanda, Intibane and Kings. At each of these survey sites, habitat assessments recording tree species, size and levels of elephant impact are conducted annually to monitor how elephant impact is changing as elephants move into and utilize new areas. The survey also provides information on tree species, classes and habitats most vulnerable to elephant impact as they colonise new areas. Additionally, annual bird point counts record how winter bird guild communities are affected by elephant impact in these areas.Selected Outputs:
Investigating the impacts of elephant damage on three reserves with differing elephant use history