Our Conservation Biodiversity Heroes #LoveNature

by CapeNature

We celebrated International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May 2018 which is a pretty big deal since biodiversity is at the very heart of  our survival on this planet. It provides us with clean air, food, economic opportunities, medicine, soil for agriculture and recreational enjoyment. It is the biological and social capital that supports the entire human race.

Biodiversity - CapeNature

But human activity continues to threaten the earth’s inter-dependent ecosystems. The Western Cape’s biodiversity is in a constant state of flux as it responds to natural forces and human activity. Our vast natural resources are threatened by population growth, climate change, pollution, escalating development, the illegal trade of plants and animals, and the invasion of introduced species.

One of CapeNature’s primary objectives is to minimize biodiversity loss and the entity has numerous men and women who work tirelessly towards achieving this end, usually outside of the media limelight.  In this post we pay tribute to these unsung conservation warriors who were hard at work during the month of May prosecuting animal traffickers, planting trees, nurturing penguins, rescuing tortoises and monitoring zebra.

1) Fighting Biodiversity Crime

CapeNature, in partnership with the Malmesbury office of the SAPS Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit, recently dealt a major blow to wild animal traffickers through the successful prosecution of four foreign nationals (two from Germany and two from Japan) in three separate cases in the Bellville Regional Priority Court on 22 May 2018.

The men had been charged with the collection, possession and transport of Armadillo girdled lizards, Karoo girdled lizards and Peers Nama lizards which they intended to sell for financial gain. The sentences handed down ranged from R250 000 or two years’ imprisonment to R1-million or 13 years’ imprisonment.

“CapeNature welcomes the sentences handed down by the Bellville Regional Court,” said CapeNature’s CEO Dr. Razeena Omar. “We would also like to congratulate all parties that participated in achieving this result.  This teamwork again delivers a blow to biodiversity criminals who are exploiting the biota of the Western Cape.” 

CapeNature’s Biodiversity Crime Unit Manager, Paul Gildenhuys, added “These sentences send a clear message to biodiversity criminals that we will deal harshly with those who seek to profit illegally from our biodiversity.”

2) Rescuing Geometric Tortoises

The conservation detection dog project to help conserve the critically endangered geometric tortoise, Psammobates geometricus continues to prove a great success. The field of canine conservation detection is highly specialised and requires carefully honed skills to be successful.

Earlier in May, CapeNature Ecological Co-ordinator Vicki Hudson was involved in a search and rescue in collaboration with local landowners and the Southern African Tortoise Conservation Trust to relocate geometric tortoises from a piece of land that had become barren because of the drought conditions. There was no food or cover left for the tortoises to take refuge in and the landowner was in agreement that it was best to move the animals to a safer, more suitable protected area not far from the site.

Vicki takes up the story, “Brin and Jamie, the CapeNature conservation detection dogs searched the area thoroughly and found ten geometric tortoises of various sizes in a short space of time. Unfortunately we were too late for two geometrics which had recently died but at least the others are now in a much better place. These rescues each got rehydrated and a permanent individual marking before being released so we will be able to monitor their progress in their new habitat.”

Vicki and the detection dogs continue to do a sterling job to secure the future of the geometric tortoise.

Nursing the African Penguins

Winter is arriving and the black and white residents at Stony Point are in the mood for love – the African Penguin breeding season is in full swing.

Stony Point ranger Cuan McGeorge had this to say, “Nest sites have been proclaimed and incubated eggs are hatching. Our dedicated parenting penguins are focused on protecting their clutch from possible predation and winter exposure, while the other partner flipper flaps out to face the challenges of the Atlantic with the aim to source a piece of nature’s seasonal bounty.”

Stony Point is a unique penguin breeding location. CapeNature monitors the seasonal variations and, with the help of the local community, works towards a positive future breeding outcome for this seabird breeding colony. The team is committed to improving on, and encouraging, the survival of the species by ensuring habitat security, predator protection,  and by broadening public awareness about the plight of our marine environment.

Saving the Clanwilliam cedar

On 19 May 2018, CapeNature joined Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in  hosting the 16th annual Clanwilliam cedar tree planting ceremony at Heuningvlei in the Cederberg Wilderness area. Participants included the Wildflower Society, the local branch of the Botanical Society, the Cederberg Conservancy, as well as local schools and members of the public.

Cederberg Wilderness Area Conservation Manager, Rika du Plessis, conducting the event

The endemic Clanwilliam cedar tree occurs only in the Cederberg mountains, 270km north of Cape Town; it represents one of 1000 surviving conifer species in the world. The number of trees has declined dramatically over the past two centuries, partly due to unsustainable exploitation and partly due to an increase in fire frequency. The species is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild and has therefore been categorised as endangered on the Red Data List. As a result, the annual Cedar tree planting event plays a huge role in the revival of this precious species.

The ceremony also included the planting of 240 cedar seeds by the children in attendance, that will be nurtured in the Bushmans Kloof nursery and transplanted safely back into the Wilderness, in the future.

Ensuring the survival of the Cape Mountain Zebra

In the last century, Cape mountain zebra faced certain extinction and natural populations survived in only three conservation areas: Gamkaberg and Kammanassie Nature Reserves in the Oudtshoorn area and Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock. Incredibly, each population was slightly different – good news for conservationists since genetic diversity is essential for the survival of a species.

At CapeNature’s reserves, Cape mountain zebra are a high priority when it comes to management. Because the animals are endangered, herds are carefully monitored and if a reserve reaches the point where it can no longer sustain zebra numbers (and animals could die), some family groups might have to be moved elsewhere.

Maintaining genetic integrity is vital for Cape mountain zebra conservation. Take the management of zebra at De Hoop Nature Reserve for example. Drawn from herds at Kammanassie and Mountain Zebra National Park, these animals are genetically more diverse and it’s hoped they could supplement other herds in future. CapeNature conservationists continue to work hard to move populations to locations where the gene pool can thrive.

CapeNature scientist Coral Birss commented that, “The work on which we base the genetic status is a bit old, so we have identified that we need to update that… and then look at what the mechanisms are that we can implement towards translocation and mixing. And the Cape mountain zebra becomes iconic, but it also becomes an indicator of what we’re able to do, but it’s also an umbrella. If you have a large area of land and you use it as an iconic species you know that there’s so much underneath that… that is also protected. The number of zebras that you can sustain becomes indicative of how biodiversity is faring overall.

The fight against the loss of biodiversity in the Western Cape and beyond is an ongoing mission but it is a comfort to know that there are dedicated men and women working tirelessly to safeguard our natural legacy. We salute you all.

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