The Species of Special Concern (SSC) programme is one of the programmes under the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) management plan.
Species of special concern are species that have been classified as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened under the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species, but can also include any species that the members of the MZCPE may consider important to their values and landscape. For some of these species very few individuals are left in their natural habitat with population numbers declining.
Landscape in the MZCPE. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)
The MZCPE SSC programme focuses on the identification of important species found in the area, and where possible, the participation in existing collaborative initiatives aimed at the conservation and monitoring of these species. The GEF-5 PA Project made it possible to have full time extension support over the lifetime of the project that could assist the MZCPE to identify and connect the MZCPE to other conservation project partners involved in mutually important species. It provided ‘boots on the ground’ that have assisted the initiation of these projects in the MZCPE and has provided landowners with the systems to keep implementing these projects on their farms.
Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) putting satellite trackers on Blue Cranes on farms in the MZCPE. (Image: EWT)
Information on each species project identified was shared with landowners in order to make them aware of the species’ conservation status and the projects already in place aimed towards better understanding, managing and conserving them. Identified conservation organisations managing relative species projects were then introduced to landowners. This approach helped to connect conservation partners to the MZCPE and the landowners interested in participating in them.
Some of the current sightings projects and partners in the MZCPE:
- Blue Cranes (Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Crane Progamme)
- Black-footed Cat (Black-footed Cat Working Group)
- Cape Vultures (Karoo Vulture Safe Zone, SANParks, SANParks Honorary Rangers and EWT Birds of Prey Programme)
- Secretary Bird (BirdLife South Africa)
- Martial Eagle (EWT Birds of Prey Programme)
- Oxpecker (EWT)
Red Billed Oxpecker on a Zebra in the Mountain Zebra National Park. (Image: Jan Botha)
Some of the sightings projects have, since initiation, further developed into more intricate projects. For the Secretary Bird Project for example, interested landowners collected breeding information on nests, eggs, chicks and breeding pairs and provided this data to BirdLife South Africa (BirdLife SA). When funding becomes available, BirdLife SA has indicated that they would like to place tracking devices on some Secretary Bird chicks as part of their research project into the movement and long term survival of these youngsters.
Secretary Bird chick in one of the nests on a farm in the MZCPE that is getting monitored. (Image: Maryke Stern)
Dr Melissa Whitecross, Landscape Conservation Programme Manager at Birdlife SA explained that the MZCP is a critical site for the conservation of the endangered secretary bird, which breeds and forages in the national parks and surrounding agricultural landscapes. Through ongoing citizen science initiatives supported by landowners and managers of the MZCPE, BirdLife South Africa is kept up to date on the secretary bird population in the area. “We are excited to expand this work through the deployment of tracking devices on juvenile secretary birds in the upcoming breeding season and to learn more about the behaviour and movement of these wide ranging birds,” she said.
For some of the special species where no formal projects exist, the MZCPE project staff have encouraged landowners to submit sightings (i.e. Plain Mountain Adder and Padloper tortoises) or to conduct an annual census (i.e. Blue Cranes and Mountain Reedbuck) in an attempt to monitor the species and to collect baseline information that may guide possible future projects.
Plain Mountain Adder – endangered and endemic to the Sneeuberg mountain range. (Image: Alouise Lynch from Bionerds)
Greater Padloper tortoise on a farm in MZCPE – a species that is not red listed but is being studied to revise the red list data. (Image: Maryke Stern)
A survey was conducted with landowners to see if landowners would be interested in a Cape Mountain Zebra relocation/population establishment project within the MZCPE. The Cape Mountain Zebra is identified as a vulnerable species. The results of the survey will assist South African National Parks (SANParks) to gauge this willingness and further test feasibility of this project within SANParks systems and, if found feasible, acquire funding.
Historically, the Cape mountain zebra was found throughout the montane regions of all Cape Provinces of South Africa. Today they are confined to several mountain reserves and national parks: mainly the Mountain Zebra National Park. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)
Awareness of other important species in the area has been created by providing MZCPE landowners with the species and conservation information on the Black Harrier, Brown Hyena, Cheetah and Kori Bustards.
Landowners were able to make a valuable contribution to a project by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and SANParks focused on cycads. Cycads on some of the farms in the MZCPE were identified, marked and micro chipped as part of a national monitoring and anti-poaching initiative.
Encephalatos Lehmanni – Karoo Cycad. (Image supplied)
Dr. Hugo Bezuidenhout, from SANParks’ Scientific Services Department who has been involved in the cycad expeditions in the MZCPE explained that they always knew that there were cycads in the area, but they did not know where and how many. “We also thought there was only one species, but have discovered there are two, of which one is scarce and endangered and therefore important to protect,” he said.
The information from the expeditions provided a better idea of the distribution of the cycads in the MZCPE and in doing so contributes to the conservation of these important plants nationally. The great relationship that has been established with the farmers in the MZCPE has hugely helped the cycad initiative by providing information and access to these important populations. “It is a good example of the collaboration between farmers and conservation organisations to better understand and conserve this species. The door has been opened for other people to work on this and other potential projects on scarce plants in the MZCPE,” said Bezuidenhout.
SANParks scientist and Maryke Stern (MZCPE Ecologist) marking cycads on farms in the MZCPE as part of a monitoring project. (Image: Charlene Bisset)
The MZCPE plays a big part in conserving the habitat of naturally occurring species. Recognising that landowners already play an important role in the landscape through their land use management focused on long term sustainability, shows that these landowners are conserving the habitats and ecosystem services that support these species.
View over the MZCPE – looking beyond the conventional park model. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)
The MZCPE SSC programme has created a heightened awareness around the importance of understanding and monitoring these species and the importance of managing the natural rangelands in which they occur. The survival of these species requires a landscape approach to management, outside of the conventional park or reserve model, in order to truly conserve them through securing their natural habitats and mitigating the threats to their population health.
Brown Hyena – a first sighting for the Camdeboo National Park. It was used to create awareness in the MZCPE and community. (Image: Nelson Mandela University Snapshot Safari Project)
The information provided by the landowners to the different organisations, feeds into larger monitoring and research efforts, and thereby, is assisting in managing and protecting these species better. Zoologist Beryl Wilson from the Black-footed Cat Working Group said that having a collaborator on their Black-footed Cat research project based in the Eastern Cape for a number of years has been a huge boost for their project. “The sightings information of the species in the area means we constantly have a trickle of distribution records updating our database. Not only does this contribute to making future conservation assessments more accurate but our future research goals on the species means that an important knowledge gap will be addressed on this enigmatic species,” she explained.
Poster by the Black-footed Cat working group that was provided to MZCPE landowners to create awareness and invite them to report sightings. (Poster: Beryl Wilson and Alex Sliwa)