Welgevonden Game Reserve

Established in 2009, WEI’s Welgevonden research camp was developed to assist Welgevonden with their vision to become leaders in South African applied ecology and conservation. Welgevonden is a 37,500 hectare privately owned Game Reserve in the UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere. The naturally nutrient poor sourveld vegetation does not provide an ideal environment to support a Big 5 conservation area so the reserve has adopted an adaptive management regime to provide an evidence-based framework to assess the effectiveness of their work.

WEI’s core projects investigate ungulate distributions and habitat preferences on Welgevonden, veld condition and palatability across the range of habitats and land-types on the reserve, and herbivore responses to fire and fertilization on old farm lands. We have also taken data from our vehicle-based game transects to provide population estimates for the reserve. Our current estimates using the DISTANCE© software programme (data for each individual species is stratified by habitat) are falling within 10% of estimates from the much more expensive annual aerial surveys.

Welgevonden is proudly home to strong populations of elephant and white rhino. These species are high in the minds of conservationists at present, with the scourge of rhino poaching and the concerns around the impacts of elephant in fenced reserves. WEI have created an up-to-date rhino identikit database for all known individuals on the reserve. Once a rhino is sighted, its location and intra-specific associations are recorded. WEI researchers then use this data to plot home ranges, habitat preferences, and rhino distributions on Welgevonden.

WEI’s elephant programme investigates the current levels of elephant impact to vegetation and bird guild diversity, an indicator of overall biodiversity. The research identifies tree species and morphological parameters most vulnerable to impact and maps how impact is spread across habitats and terrain across the reserve. Welgevonden’s elephant population is controlled using the immunocontraceptive, porcine Zona Pellucida (pZP). The pZP, injected into females, is essentially an antigen that stimulates an immune response to produce antibodies, which in turn prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg. The pZP injection only provides effective contraception for around two years, which, although labour intensive and financially costly, allows the reserves to manipulate the population growth as desired. WEI’s research ensures that Welgevonden have up-to-date information on the impact that their population is having on the ecology of their system, and can therefore make informed decisions on their elephant populations.

Selected Outputs:

Patterns of bird diversity in Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa: insights from distribution modelling using point count data
Operation Wallacea and WEI Field Research Report: Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa
Advantages of Vehicle-Based Transects Over Aerial Censuses in a South African Game Reserve
Herbivore distribution patterns mapped on SA game reserve
Limpopo Leopard Project Progress Report 2014

Operation Wallacea