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Sable and Other Species in Punda Maria Under Surveillance

03 December 2007

By Michele Hofmeyr and Liza Le Roux

Four more collared animals were added to a study currently underway to monitor the declining sable numbers around Punda Maria. Sable numbers have been declining in the Kruger National Park since the late 1980’s and this is a serious concern for park management. A research project, lead by Professor Norman Owen-Smith from Wits University, is investigating sable, where they move to and what they like to eat. The project is being done in both the Punda Maria and Pretoriuskop areas.

The project aims to look at how sable antelope compete with buffalo and zebra for food. Animals from two zebra, two buffalo and two sable herds were collared in the beginning of 2006, enabling the researchers to follow each herd and see what they eat and which areas they are using. These collars have a battery life of about one year and new collars are now necessary to be able to continue the study for a second year. Animals with collars on the herds already, makes re-collaring much easier and cheaper as it is easier to find the herds. Since it is difficult to predict exactly when the batteries will fail, the new collars have been placed on different animals in the same herd before the batteries on the old collars go flat.

The collaring operation for 2007 to fit GPS cellphone collars was undertaken with a small team including the SANParks helicopter pilot Charles Thompson and SANParks veterinarian Dr Markus Hofmeyr. The two researchers working on the sable project, Liza Le Roux and Dr Valerio Macandza, also helped with the capture operation, which was done south of Punda Maria. “It was a challenge to dart these animals from the air as they run fast, twisting and turning and making it difficult to dart them”, explained Dr Hofmeyr.

The collars are designed to take GPS readings of where the animals are moving, sending these through the cellphone network to a central computer. The researchers can download this information via the internet and create detailed maps of the areas these species are using. The project deals with three similar species using the same habitat, to see if there is any competition for grazing or water resources. The sable project was initiated in 2001 and will run until the end of 2008 and anticipates providing clearer answers on the mysterious population dynamics of the sable antelope.