Timothy O’Connor – South African Earth Observation Network
Timothy O’Connor – University of the Witwatersrand
Managing animals requires an accurate estimate and understanding of their long-term population dynamics. The aim of this study was to analyse long-term population trends of wildlife species in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park vs. livestock in surrounding communal and commercial areas. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife conducts annual game observations in the Drakensberg to monitor populations. For the nine species assessed, number of individuals, number of sightings, distribution and game ranger patrol hours were recorded between 1995 and 2018. Long-term databases were acquired consisting of population numbers for a number of different livestock species in areas immediately surrounding the Drakensberg from 1911 to 1996. A general decreasing trend was evident for the majority of the wildlife species. Blesbok, common reedbuck, grey rhebuck and oribi all showed decreasing overall population trends. The eland population has been declining since 2004. Mountain reedbuck, grey duiker and klipspringer populations experienced increases and dips over the years, but there was a high variance around this data. Chacma baboon showed an initial increase in numbers, followed by a dip and stabilization in recent years. All wildlife populations, to some extent, experienced a reduction in their distribution in the last 12 years compared to past distributions. Overall livestock populations showed declining trends in the majority of the Magisterial Districts surrounding the Park. However, when the 1996 figures were compared to the 2004 stock census, 50% of the Magisterial Districts surrounding the Park showed increasing population trends, while 50% showed decreasing trends. This study provides a good understanding of the long-term population trends of livestock in communal and commercial areas adjacent to wildlife populations found in protected areas in the Drakensberg. Findings of this study will contribute to areas managed by both Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Department of Rural Development.