A MESSAGE FROM OUR CE
On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced to the nation that the country would go into lockdown at midnight on 26 March 2020, in order to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Leading up to this announcement – and based on the fact that positive cases were confirmed in South Africa – the board and management of the Lapalala Wilderness Foundation had already begun to implement preventative measures on hygiene and social distancing. This was not without its challenges… Would we need to transport staff in multiple trips to each work location? How would we ensure effective handwashing in the field, and sanitise the vehicles after each trip? We responded as best we could within the context of our limitations.We made sure that all our vehicles carried extra water and our staff members were each given soap and an individual water bottle – thank you to the Lapalala Wilderness School for the loan!
We also knew that we needed to consider scenarios to deal with a possible lockdown. Management held various meetings with the Lapalala team to seek staff input into suitable options.
So, on 25 March, the rest of our staff returned to their homes to shop for essentials and prepare for the lockdown. That evening, the gates to Lapalala were locked and our team went from 67 to 19 members. Together with their families, they prepared to spend lockdown in one of the most beautiful places in South Africa!
Our work plans focused on the essentials i.e. rhino monitoring, fence monitoring, wildlife management and infrastructure maintenance and monitoring. Waterberg Ranger Services continued to provide access control and anti-poaching services. With the lockdown extended by a further two weeks, the ‘lockdown team’ currently remains on the reserve while we await further announcements from government. During this difficult time, it has been incredibly heartening to see how every team member has pulled together to ensure that the Lapalala ship keeps moving forward. I would like to thank Dorah, in particular, for coordinating our staff food supplies. My thanks also go to Pick n Pay Lephalale, specifically Celeste, who made a tremendous effort to ensure that our food orders were delivered like clockwork every week.
Sadly, it is our lodge partners and the Lapalala Wilderness School that have been hardest hit as they have had no choice but to shut their doors. However, we have little doubt that they will come back stronger.
I want to thank the Lapalala Wilderness board, my management team as well as every team member for their support, dedication and hard work during this time. I have no doubt that Lapalala Wilderness will emerge stronger and, despite the challenges that lie ahead, we will still emerge as Africa’s finest sustainable conservation initiative.
Oh, and I almost forgot – Lapalala remains COVID-19 free!
Chief Executive, Lapalala Wilderness
LAPALALA EARNS STATUS AS VULTURE SAFE ZONE
Lapalala is proud to be recognised as a front runner in the protection of vultures. The reserve is the first in the Waterberg to be declared a vulture safe zone (VSZ).
Essentially, a VSZ is a large geographical area which the landowner commits to manage in a way that is safe for vultures. The VSZ project is managed by Birdlife SA to support national and international efforts to reduce the impact of threats, and to stabilise and promote recovery of existing vulture populations.
Birdlife SA vulture project manager, Linda van den Heever, visited Lapalala in March to assess whether the reserve met the criteria for a VSZ. She was impressed by a number of vulture safety measures that Lapalala has already put in place: we have removed all overhead power lines and we provide safe carcasses (free of any potentially harmful substances) at our vulture ‘restaurant’.
Lapalala is also recognised for its pioneering approach to lead-free ammunition for game management purposes. Our biodiversity manager, Herman Müller, makes his own ammunition using locally manufactured, lead-free bullets. Globally, lead poisoning is a major threat to vultures as they feed on offal or carcasses of wild animals which are contaminated by lead-based ammunition during hunting or culling. As a member of the national lead task team, Linda van den Heever actively engages with hunters, farmers and wildlife managers to highlight these hazards, and encourage the use of suitable alternatives.
Vulture sightings on Lapalala are currently very low. However, we anticipate that our newly established predator populations will provide a natural increase in carcasses that will attract vultures over time. Lapalala is situated half-way between Blouberg Nature Reserve and Marakele National Park – the two largest Cape vulture colonies in the world. We are confident that the skies over Lapalala will again be graced by these majestic wanderers.
Lapalala uses an innovative monitoring system that was developed by Mark Marshall and his team some years ago. The system takes a holistic approach to monitoring vehicles, animals and fences.
By their nature, our fences present unique challenges – Lapalala has some truly remote fence lines, many of which are inaccessible to vehicles. Yet they have to be monitored, because fences regularly require maintenance.
The technology uses remote, real-time monitoring of our fence line that allows us to effectively respond to issues, while saving considerable time and expense. This proved to be vital when our fence maintenance team was reduced to two individuals during the COVID-19 lockdown on Lapalala. When the main base station at Lapalala reserve headquarters stopped working this month, we had to urgently courier a replacement unit from the Western Cape. The unit was replaced on a tall antenna and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the system returned to function.
During March, Lapalala took an active step to reduce our numbers of dominant herbivores through live capture and relocation.
The recent introduction of predators will naturally increase predation pressure on Lapalala’s herbivore populations. However, the numbers of certain herbivores had reached levels that needed active management. Left unchecked, dominant herbivores such as impala, zebra and blue wildebeest can compromise less resilient species by over-utilising limited natural resources. This is amplified during periods of prolonged drought and can have a detrimental effect on habitats.
The Lapalala management team set a removal quota for these species, based on game census figures and estimates of reproductive and predation rates. A local company, AWA Game Capturers, was contracted to capture 500 impala, 200 zebra and 100 blue wildebeest from areas where these species occurred in large densities.
By the end of the day, roughly half the quota was loaded onto trucks, ready for transport to recipient game reserves and farms.
LAPALALA WELCOMES RELETILE MOKOMANE
Lapalala would like to welcome Reletile Mokomane to our management team. Reletile takes up a position as assistant manager in the biodiversity department, where he will work closely with our biodiversity manager, Hermann Müller.
Reletile grew up in Jane Furse in Limpopo and completed his nature conservation studies at the Technical University of Tshwane in 2019. During his practical year, he gained valuable field experience with the SANParks veterinary department in the Kruger National Park. Since his arrival at Lapalala, Reletile has been proactive and eager to learn. We look forward to seeing him develop in his knowledge and experience, across every aspect of conservation management.