UmPhafa Update - UmPhafa

As usual, the last quarter of the year on UmPhafa has been filled with hard work and exciting projects.

Animals of UmPhafa

Our game counts have shown the baby boom that has occurred on UmPhafa in the last three months. As of December 2022, we have seen an increase of 490 animals since December 2021, with Zebra, Warthog and Kudu all having significant increases. In some exciting news, our Ostriches hatched chicks in October 2022, and 9 of the 11 chicks they hatched are still going strong. This quarter, two new species have been recorded and added to the species lists: the Striated Green Backed Heron and the KZN River crab (Potamonautes sidneye). Hive moths and beetles, unfortunately, infested three of our beehives, and the bees in them abandoned the hives. We currently have only three active bee hives left. Despite the challenges, we did successfully harvest honey in 2022. Lastly, on the 5th of December, 3 Male Wild Dogs joined us, nicknamed Dennis, Menace and Shadow.  They came from Somkanda Game reserve in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and remained with us until late January 2023.

Busy Field Rangers

The rangers spent 136 hours monitoring animals this quarter including weekly patrols with interns. They also patrolled 4718km of the fence line. Poachers have been inside the reserve 34 times this quarter, much of the damage was caused to fences this quarter, primarily as dogs were being left behind as the poachers escaped, so numerous holes were being cut to get them out.  29 meters of our fence were stolen on 3 occasions.  In total 20 animals were taken, mainly porcupine and warthog.

Caring for the Reserve

The maintenance team have again been on the go. They have created 30 metre drains and fixed 25, 1 Hectare of land has been seeded with Couch grass which helps in preventing erosion, four gabbions and one dam have been built. One hectare of sweet thorn was cut, sprayed, and then used to brush pack an erosion patch with the help of the interns.

44 Hectares were sprayed with herbicide to control plants along the fence line, there has been so much growth this quarter that the fences had to be sprayed twice, and another 0.5 hectares of bugweed growing near one of our dams was also cut and sprayed.

Multiple projects using natural and recycled materials have been completed on the reserve. The bush camp has a new roof that was built with thatch and wood – the wood was recycled from old gum poles, and the thatch gathered from the reserve; a table has been built for the new merchandise room using old wood flooring, a shade structure and bench has been built near Papleni dam using poplar trees from the reserve and old wood cut-offs. An old tanker trailer was converted to an equipment trailer for the interns, and a butterfly net was made from a mosquito net for use in butterfly surveys.

360 Hectares of veld have been burnt this quarter which also includes areas burnt by a runaway fire that started from lightening hitting a tree. We moved a few fish into two dams that didn’t previously have fish, but it hasn’t been warm enough to catch fish easily; hopefully, with warmer weather in summer, we can introduce more fish into other dams.

Community, School & University Visits to UmPhafa

We have had a few exciting visitors this quarter. Eleven students from Howick orphanage visited for a weekend, where they took part in a tracks and signs course. Three students from the mottled eel project also came in October to survey eels in the Tugela river and were successful in finding some. A group of Archaeologists came to Vertrek to look at the potential Iron age ruins, and UmPhafa is now linked to the GCF – Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Our giraffe population will be part of a study on the conservation status and genetic diversity of giraffes in South Africa.

Intern Program

We have had 11 interns on the program in the last quarter, joining the program from  2 weeks to 3 months.  Five of them were studying conservation and came to get work experience in their fields. Alice, kindly brought lots of toys, pencils, books etc., which we gave to the staff children for Christmas.

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