Buffalo update

A number of exciting events have happened with the buffalo on Welgevonden. Going back a few years, in 2004 the buffalo on Welgevonden were diagnosed to possibly be infected with Corridor disease. The animals were captured and moved into quarantine. After establishing that it was this disease and determining the status, these animals were donated to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and moved to Mkuze Game Reserve.

After the two year quarantine period ended at the end of 2006 Welgevonden made a decision to reintroduce buffalo to the reserve. Ten buffalo bulls were purchased and became sentinel animals on the reserve. Welgevonden together with the State Veterinary Department and Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty tested these buffalo periodically to determine if these animals became infected or not. If re-infection did occur it would indicate that an animal species other than buffalo could be a carrier for Corridor disease. After numerous tests over a number of years, no indication of re infection has been found.

South African National Parks committed to replace the buffalo that were initially removed and, in 2010, the re-introduction of these animals was undertaken. The animals originate from the old Vaalbos National Park and Graspan, another breeding property of SANP. The animals were captured and held in the SANPs Kimberley bomas while awaiting the results for tests for corridor, foot and mouth disease, brucellosis, contagious abortion and Bovine Tuberculosis. At the end of October the animals were moved to a temporary holding boma on Welgevonden while the buffalo camp was established.

It was decided to establish a buffalo camp, which excludes lion, as the animals were not yet fully grown and it was feared that they would be easier prey than an adult buffalo. After the buffalo camp was been established, it was decided to allow the buffalo to start breeding and allow the herd to increase a bit before will be released onto the remainder of the reserve. It is envisaged that this will be a 3-5 year project depending on the breeding success. One or two of the free ranging bulls will be relocated into the camp at a later date to bring in additional genes. At present the buffalo herd consists of 8 male and 8 female animals, 16 in total.

Once the buffalo camp fence was nearly complete all elephant, rhino, giraffe and as many other animals as could be moved out of the camp were moved. This included the 2 large male lions that were spotted while we were herding  wildebeest out of the camp. As luck would have it the poor wildebeest herd ran right into the lions which promptly caught one of the calves. After that there was no ways those wildebeest would be driven by a helicopter and they remain in the buffalo camp. Both male lions were then darted and removed from the camp.

A number of people who assisted the Welgevonden Management had the opportunity to see and feel how big these animals are especially when they were seconded to carry the males up the mountain to the waiting vehicle. Some other game was left in the buffalo camp because the distance the animals would need to be chased out was too great. The presence of general game in the buffalo camp is good in that when the buffalo calve any predators present, leopard, brown hyena and jackal will have sufficient easier food so as not to focus on the buffalo calves. Management will also make use of the opportunity to look at calf survival and population growth of the larger game species, namely wildebeest and zebra, in the absence of lions. At a later stage excess animals in the buffalo camp will be moved onto the reserve.

The buffalo move went well until the offloading when one of the transport trucks got stuck up to the axles in the mud. Fortunately with the help of the grader this vehicle was extricated from the mud and the buffalo unloaded. Due to the truck getting stuck the buffalo were off loaded in two groups, these groups have now joined up and all the buffalo have been together for the last few weeks and are doing very well.