The Greater Makalali Land and Wildlife Trust (MLWT) was initiated to act as caretaker of the land and all the wildlife on it.
The Reserve, founded in 1994, consists of lowveld Acacia bush and open savanna grassland and all surrounding the perennial Makhutswi River. Considered one of the leading pioneers in ecotourism in South Africa, Makalali Private Game Reserve, represents a conservation mission to expand South Africa's green frontier. In the process lion, cheetah, leopard, rhino and breeding herds of elephant have all been reintroduced to the reserve, making the Makalali Conservancy home to a wide species diversity including Africa's "Big Five" wildlife species. Makalali has contributed to the ongoing conservation efforts of endangered species.
Considered one of the leading pioneers in ecotourism in South Africa, Makalali Private Game Reserve represents a conservation mission to expand South Africa's green frontier by re-establishing the ancient wildlife migration routes that linked the famous Kruger Park in the east to the lush Drakensberg Mountains in the west. In the process lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino have all been reintroduced to the wild, making Makalali home to over one thousand wild animals including Africa's "Big Five".
MLWT has funded the rehabilitation and release of 7 caracal (2 female and 5 male) onto the Makalali Private Game Reserve since 2004. These sturdy little predators are still considered vermin by many farmers in South Africa
, and have been persecuted relentlessly. As their habitats are encroached by humans, so they predate on livestock, making them even more unpopular. Makalali offers these individuals a second chance at a life in the wild, free from persecution and danger.
African Wild Cat project
Previously listed as endangered, the African Wildcat has recently been “down listed” to species “unknown”, simply because little information exists on these animals, particularly in a savannah system.
The greatest threat to these cats is loss of habitat and hybridization with domestic cats. As a result, it is feared that few “pure” Wildcats remain in the wild. As the true African Wildcat resembles the domestic cat, the only accurate method of distinguishing the two is by DNA testing.
Together with the FreeMe Centre for the Rehabilitation of Indigenous Wildlife, Makalali initiated a breeding program with a breeding pair that exhibited excellent wild cat to domestic cat ratios. The offspring were released onto the reserve to enhance the genetic variability of those Wildcats already present on the reserve.
To date, 10 cats have been released, one of which has produced two litters that we know of. The primary goal of this project was to breed African Wildcats with high Wildcat ratios and release these offspring back into a natural environment within the Greater Makalali Conservancy.
In all enclosed (fenced-in) game reserves, animal numbers (both predator and prey species) need to be carefully managed because they exist in closed environments. It is essential that the delicate balance between predator and prey be carefully maintained.
The aim of this project is to produce a GIS based model that will act as a tool for correctly managing the predator population on the reserve. This project will allow one to determine the ‘carrying capacity’ of each large predator in the reserve and will also consider the possibility of introducing more predators into the system.
Bird & Mammal Release Site
Makalali acts as a release site for rehabilitated birds of prey. After rehabilitation, the birds are relocated and released on the conservancy. To date, over 30 barn owls and a green pigeon have been released. Similarly, a number of small rehabilitated mammals have been released onto the conservancy including small spotted genets, caracal and duiker.
A substantial database has been compiled which will illustrate the bird diversity that exists within the conservancy. It will also be invaluable in the managing of endangered species e.g. Ground hornbills and Lappet-faced vultures.
The monitoring has revealed that a resident group of Ground hornbills continue to forage on Makalali, but have failed to produce a fledgling due to unsuitable nesting sites. Together with the help of Yuval Erlich of the Mabula Ground Hornbill project, an artificial nest has been procured and will soon be erected within the birds ranging area to facilitate nesting.
Birds are recognised as good indicator species for biodiversity monitoring and thus monitoring is essential in the long-term preservation of a healthy ecosystem.
This invertebrate diversity study encompasses an investigation into the factors influencing invertebrate diversity in the Greater Makalali Conservancy. In addition to the vegetation monitoring, it serves as an alternative method for monitoring the health of the environment as the invertebrate biomass forms approximately 70% of the total faunal biomass.
This type of information is generally lacking for Southern African animals, but is very important for effective biodiversity conservation. The small-scale Geographic Information System (GIS) of the conservancy allows us to study various factors, which influence diversity and distribution. The project has progressed through the first stage of sampling for specific invertebrate groups. The second stage, which has started, is to map distribution ranges and diversity indices of species onto the GIS model. This should allow for the assessment of the impact of various factors (such as water, slope, aspect, soil etc) on diversity. Another component of this study is the influence of elephant mediated habitat on invertebrate biodiversity.
Contraception has become a useful tool in population management of wild carnivores in zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and smaller conservancies. The choice of reversible or irreversible methods depends on requirements. The main reason for carnivore contraception in southern Africa
is to slow down the rate of breeding rather than permanent sterilization or culling.
In South Africa, lions are kept on a number of smaller game reserves (1,000-10,000 ha) where they are allowed to range freely with prey species. Under such conditions, the lack of competition from other lions and large predators results in an increased cub survival rate. The resulting population explosion leads to depletion of prey species, which are expensive to replace. To solve the problem, the rate of reproduction should be slowed down and, for genetic reasons; lionesses should be allowed to breed on a rotational basis.
Makalali has adopted lion contraception, which consists of a hormonal implant, as part of their lion management regime. This forms part of a broad scale monitoring program conducted by the University of Pretoria’s Wildlife Veterinary Unit.
One of the main focuses of the hyaena research will be to determine population numbers, denning, mortality and natality rates. Makalali boasts a healthy hyaena population and monitoring has revealed some important characteristics pertaining to their denning and hunting behaviour.
Immunocontraception in free-ranging African elephants
Increasing elephant populations are fast becoming a growing concern for elephant managers and conservationists alike, especially on small isolated reserves where management is intense and requires urgent attention. When it comes to the control of elephants, managers really have only two options at their disposal, namely translocation and culling. However, translocation is no longer a viable option due to the lack of suitable wildlife areas available as South Africa
, and many other parts of Africa
, have virtually reached saturation point. Culling is greatly opposed by many and is viewed as an inhumane population control method. Thus, the majority of reserve managers are prevented from controlling their populations effectively with these means.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, has ordered an assessment of elephant management in South Africa (www.elephantassessment.co.za). As part of this assessment, a group of local and international scientists report on an alternative method of elephant population control called PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida) immunocontraception. After the initial trials of the immunocontraception in the Kruger National Park, the team have been studying the follow-up phase at The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (2000 – present) which has revealed that immunocontraception is a safe, reliable, reversible, efficacious means of fertility control with no behavioural anomalies.
The Makalali study has demonstrated that the vaccination does not affect pregnancies in progress (irrespective of the gestational stage) and a non-pregnant female will be immediately contracepted from the first vaccinational series. Makalali’s detailed population history allowed for a predictive model to project population sizes through to 2010 under the current management strategy, which allows conception in young cows before being contracepted. This is necessary for the social well-being of the herds and the population’s demographics. Even under this strategy, the Immunocontraceptive will effectively reduce the population growth rate by 70% for the period 2003 through 2010.
The prime concern raised is that of the effect of the vaccine on reproductive behaviours. Under the PZP treatment, the target animal displays a normal oestrous cycle, cycling every 15-16 weeks, because although copulation still occurs, conception does not.
The results from this study demonstrate that there was no aberrce to suggest that the PZP has any adverse effects on the behaviour of either the treated cows, their matriarchal groups or bulls.
The results demonstrated in the Makalali study have resulted in the implementation of immunocontraception as an elephant management tool in 10 reserves including Phinda, Welgevonden, Thornybush and recently, Tembe Elephant National Park.
With such comprehensive studies demonstrating that PZP contraception causes no long-term behavioural changes, managers need to assess PZP immunocontraception as a realistic alternative management tool, particularly as part of a longer-term management strategy. It is anticipated that the results of this groundbreaking research project will assist game reserves in managing their elephant populations, as the only alternatives have been culling or translocation. On a larger conservation scale, immunocontraception has enormous potential to change the way in which we manage our elephant populations in the future.