Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Duties at Thanda Part 2

I promised to write more about what volunteers do at Thanda. The second part of what we do is conservation. There are many part of conservation – removing alien plants, picking up litter, removing wires, and water management. Let me try to explain a bit about each of these activities and why they are important.

1) Invasive and alien plants are considered one of the greatest threats to South Africa’s game reserves and open land, so African Impact created a program to eradicate these plants. This program is important because invasive, alien plants cause all kinds of problems.

Invasive species suffocate indigenous species causing mass extinction of indigenous plant and animal biodiversity. As a result, local people can’t harvest indigenous natural resources. The plant also encroach on potentially productive land, leading to the loss of crops and grazing land for livestock. 

Alien species also increase the problems associated with flooding and fires. They cause erosion, destruction of rivers and siltation of dams and estuaries. They reduce water quality and waste an estimated 7% of national water resources in a country where water is already scarce. 

Most of our efforts are focused on two plants – Chromolaena and Prickly Pear. Although there are biological and chemical ways to control these plants, we try our best to remove them manually. We pull out smaller plants or chop down bigger plants with a machette or a saw. 

2) We also clean up litter along the roads and paths. Thanda and Kingsland have poles and fences remaining from when this land was used for farming. These fences still have barbed wire on them which could cut and injure the animals. We are trying to return Thanda and Kingsland to as natural state as possible so these poles and wires must be removed. 

3) Removing snares is also a vitally important task in Thanda and Kingsland. Poachers use wire from fences surrounding the reserve to make snares to catch animals. The snares cause many animal deaths. In 2011, the largest male Lion was killed by a snare and a month later two of the endangered Wild Dogs were lost.

I haven’t done a snare sweep yet, but from what I learned, volunteers go into a designated area with the trackers and members of APU (Anti Poaching Unit). The volunteers form a line and sweep through the bush. Any wire found is removed and returned to the camp.

4) Water management is also a crucial part of conservation.  This region is very dry, so water is the most valuable resource in the reserve and needs to be protected. In the wild, animals move from one water source to the other. The game reserve, however, isn’t big enough for the animals to move from one water source to another. As a result, the waterholes don’t get a chance to fill up properly

Volunteers at Thanda work to repair existing waterholes and develop new ones. Work has already been done to repair damage at the water holes using bitumen. We can also create settings in which new water holes can develop.  At an area designated by Thanda, volunteers will remove trees, bushes, rocks etc to create a natural habitat. Once cleared, we will lay down plastic sheeting and seal it to allow water collection. Water can be pumped into these holes if necessary.

I haven’t done all of these types of work, but I know I will be ready and willing to do anything to help make the reserve more livable for the animals. I remember my first conservation morning from last year. When they gave me a big machete and pointed out the plants which didn’t belong in Thanda, I was hooked. I love taking down alien plants!  (It’s a great way to work off anger or frustration!)  I also find it very satisfying to clean the roads/paths. Every piece of trash we remove makes it less likely that an animal will get injured or sick.

Conservation work may not be as glamorous as photography, but it seems every bit as important. People created these problems in the natural world. I’m glad to play a small part in solving the problems, so the animals can have the habitat they deserve. 

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