Welgevonden Game Reserve’s conservation management practices are arguably some of the best in the world. This is largely due to management’s continued efforts in obtaining robust data on the ecological functioning of the Reserve, ensuring a thorough understanding of ecosystem dynamics within the protected wilderness area. This is where the Welgevonden Biomonitoring Programme comes in. The programme was established in 2015 and has since been responsible for the collection of research data and dedicated monitoring of fauna and flora on the reserve. From monitoring herd dynamics and animal condition, to assessing the state and ongoing changes in the ecosystem, the programme offers participants a truly hands-on experience in the management of a world class, Big Five reserve. All this data is then analysed and processed by the Research Ecologist and used to inform management decisions.
If you are looking to gain some experience in ecological monitoring or are simply looking for a way to get out into the bush in a useful and meaningful way, becoming a participant in the Welgevonden Biomonitoring Programme is the way to go!
Rhino monitoring – participants identify uniquely marked individual rhinos in the field using an identikit. Data is captured electronically in the field and later automatically downloaded to a secure database. Information recorded includes animal ID, location, social groupings, body condition, etc. The data is analysed by the research ecologists and used to make informed management decisions regarding the rhino population.
Predator monitoring – this includes all the large predators: lion, cheetah, leopard, and spotted and brown hyaena. Individuals are occasionally collared for research and/or management purposes. Participants monitor these collared individuals using telemetry or GPS tracking technology. Camera trap surveys, in conjunction with Panthera, are conducted annually to determine the range and population dynamics of the resident leopard population as part of the larger Waterberg population. These camera traps are tailored for leopards, but capture photographs of the smaller, meso-predator population of the reserve – this is useful as these cryptic species are seldom seen otherwise.
Game transects – pre-determined routes are driven along which game is counted. Transects are driven monthly during which the team collects data pertaining to animal species, body condition, herd structure and herd location. Analysis of these data provides an in depth understanding of the reserve’s prey base and the population dynamics of the more important/common species.
Vegetation surveys – Grass species composition and biomass are determined on an annual basis. This information is used to understand the quality and quantity of available food for grazing species as well as to decide where best to establish fire breaks (an obstacle to the spread of fire). Woody (tree) monitoring occurs every five years and is used to determine: species composition, recruitment and growth rates, and the impact of fire, elephant, browser and invertebrates on the woody plant layer.
Plains monitoring – Welgevonden Game Reserve was not always a protected wilderness area with its early history rooted in agriculture. Upon conversion into a game reserve, many old agricultural fields were rehabilitated into grazing lawns. These fields, as well as the animals that make use of them, are monitored on a monthly basis to evaluate the effectiveness of this long-term programme.
Special Interventions – As these interventions occur sporadically, where possible, participants and volunteers will be given the opportunity to join and witness these special veterinary interventions which could include elephant collaring, rhino notching, predator captures and animal releases.
Participants are accommodated at the Welgevonden Research Camp which is nestled in a secluded corner of the western region of the reserve surrounded by pristine wilderness and overlooking a magnificent grazing lawn. Regular animals seen from the camp include rhino, elephant, zebra, impala, warthog, wildebeest and eland with cheetah, lion, hyaena and even leopard making the occasional visits.
Participants enjoy the luxury of a fully kitted, large canvas tent during their stay. Complete with a concrete floor, plug points and a comfortable bed, this “glamping” experience will ensure that you enjoy the sounds of the bush nightlife in comfort.
Well-kept individual showers, toilets and basins can be found at the communal bathroom area. There is no need to worry when using the facilities as the camp itself is protected by a fully electrified game proof fence.
While fresh food is provided, participants are expected to prepare their own meals. This is generally done in a large communal kitchen where the group, divided into teams take turns to cook, wash up and prepare lunch for the next day. Many memories and friendships are made in the kitchen!
Participants often end up socialising around a communal braai (BBQ) after a long day in the field. Other amenities include a table tennis table, a variety of board games, a dart board, a small library of wildlife books and for those who stay a bit longer there are a wide range of movies available for those looking to relax in front of the television. There is uncapped Wi-Fi and limited cell phone reception for participants to keep in touch and share their amazing experiences with friends and family and the outside world.
A washing machine is available for use during your stay.
Take the opportunity to get out in the field with our three FGASA qualified Biomonitoring Officers and experience what it is like conducting research monitoring on a big five game reserve.
If you are interested in volunteering or bringing your university or school group out, please contact the Biomonitoring Manager, Carmen. We can tailor a programme to compliment your curriculum. Lecturers/tutors can be accommodated in en-suite rooms in the main house if preferred.
Carmen Warmenhove: Dave@welgevonden.org
Your Biomonitoring kit list HERE