As of January 2020, Nkombi Volunteer Programme teamed up with the University of Gloucestershire to create robust, scientific papers. The University has been visiting the reserve and running their field courses for many years. The professors, Anne Goodenough and Adam Hart, have already published several papers regarding ecology within South Africa, but with our help, wish to publish more. We can use our time, resources and access to the bush to collect data, which we then input and send to the professors at the university, who then have the time and resources to analyse the data. We aim to produce scientific papers answering important questions about ecology and conservation, which will acknowl
We Are Currently Conducting The Following Research Projects:
Water Bird Surveys: What is the optimal survey duration?
The idea is to develop cumulative “discovery curves” for birds where we plot the cumulative number of species discovered against time, to determine how long bird surveys in wetland areas need to be. We can also analyse what affects species discovery (species type, number or individuals, season, weather conditions, number of observers, time of day).
Mammal Transects: Comparing detection curves between walked and driven transects
The simplest form of transect is a strip transect, which is in effect a simple quadrat stretched into a long strip within which animals are counted. This assumed that all objects on the strip can be detected. The thinner the strip, the more likely all objects are detected but the more strips will be needed to cover a site. The wider the strip, the better the sample size but the more chance objects are missed and densities underestimated. Line transects solve this dilemma by recording the perpendicular distance to every animal. We assume that we see all the animals that are very close to the transect, and the probability of detection declines as distance increases. We can calculate this “detection curve” for each species but we don’t know how the type of transect movement (walked or driven) affects the detection curve.
The plan for this project is for people to carry out walked transects and 3-4 driven transects that between them cover all/most roads on the reserve.
Grassland Surveying: How many surveys are needed?
This project utilises data from routine Veld Condition Index (VCI) monitoring. The basic idea is that University of Gloucestershire research with the MSc group in 2019 showed how many points on a VCI are required to give a 95%+ accuracy for that specific VCI transect (43 or more). However, we don’t know how many VCI transects are required per block or burn age that accurately summarises the VCI for that area.
Volunteers are to record VCIs as they currently do with sample points spread out on the reserve in relation to burn age, block, and (as far as possible) location within a block. In addition, two additional metrics will be recorded at transect level: both sward height and sward density, a single typical (“average”) value will be taken for the transect as a whole rather than at each sample point on a transect.
Grazing Availability: Post-burn recovery and seasonal variation.
This project involves repeated monitoring of permeant fixed Veld Condition Index (VCI) points. The plan is to identify which blocks will be burned in 2021 and then, within ONE of these blocks, set out permanent fixed VCI points that can be surveyed approximately monthly before 2020 burn and then monthly afterwards. VCIs are always done for 50 paces radiating out N, S, W, E (i.e. 4 VCI transects are done per fixed point).
Reserve Research Projects
Since the formation of the reserve, Dougal has encouraged research on the reserves habitats and wildlife. This contributes to the correct management of the reserve and increases knowledge of species behaviour, abundance, and habitat preferences.
Conserving Endangered Rhinos in South Africa
Our private reserve bought 4 Southern White Rhino in 1996 and this began a long journey of rhino conservation and management.
There is currently an exponential increase in poaching of white rhinos and black rhinos throughout the continent of Africa. It is estimated that at the current rates of poaching, rhinos in South Africa may be extinct within the next 10-15 years. Poaching is predominately driven by illegal trade of rhino horn in Southeast Asia, where the black-market value of rhino horn is reported to be worth more than gold. In 2020, one kilogram of rhino horn was worth $65 000, whereas the cost of a live animal was only $30 000. How can this animal be worth more dead than alive?
While the value of rhino horn has been well documented, little is understood about rhinos’ environmental value and how these animals impact the ecosystems in which they function. Rhinos are believed to play an important role as “ecosystem engineers”, influencing the landscape in ways that promote a unique assemblage of species of plants and other animals that may not exist without their continued presence in these systems. Yet, we have little understanding of their specific impact on the environment.
The Nkombi Volunteer Programme conducts research that forms part of a longer-term study that assess the effect of dehorning and the role rhino’s play in the ecosystem. Below is a brief explanation into each aspect of the project that volunteers can get involved in.
Assessing Body Condition
Rhino body condition is used to indicate the welfare and condition of the animal, it allows management to determine if intervention is needed to keep an individual alive. It is also vital to informing management if an animal is sick and needs vetinary attention.
Night drives are an important aspect of the volunteer programme, primarily for rhino protection as a deterrent, but also for interest in nocturnal species. Many species such as brown hyaena, aardvark, aardwolf, caracal, genet, spring hare and porcupine can only be seen at night. Therefore, monitoring their population and territories is only possible using camera traps or by driving the reserve at night.