Okonjima's New 20 000 Hectare Reserve
16 000 ha & the 4 000 ha Reserve merge in November 2011 to make one large 200 km² Private Nature Reserve
The length, height and cost of the fence & reason for its design:
This fence is 98 kilometres in length, 2.4 metres high and costs about N$ 74 000.00 per kilometre. It was built in this way to control predator movement.
Since the 4 000 hectare fence was erected in 2000, the original design has been up-dated; the new fence will prevent predators from coming in and moving out of this Reserve. In this way, effective research can be carried out on the Park's resident carnivores without disturbance from any other carnivores which may find their way in due to the high density of game inside of the Park.
Why is this fence electrified?
The improved electrification is an upgrade from the 4 000 hectare camp; the 4 000 ha fence was originally designed to prove that leopard movement can be controlled by electrifying fences, but over the past 12 years the major damage to these fences was caused by territorial Oryx fighting through the fence from both sides. The long 'arm' has been modified to shock the Oryx before they reach the actual fence, hereby preventing damage.
The current height of the wire strand attached to the 'arm' is 800 mm off the ground, but the Oryx simply reach underneath it with their horns and continue to fight; this height has been amended to 600 mm which will shock the Oryx on the legs instead of its chest. This could also prevent the spread of Rabies amongst kudus, as the electrical strand on the extended 'arm' will prevent them from coming into contact with one another through sniffing and licking through the fence. By preventing animals from coming too close to the fence, Rabies may then only be transferred through other carriers such as mongoose, which should decrease the rate of infection.
What have we learned in the 4 000 hectares and the reasons for increasing the size to 20 000 hectares?
The reasoning behind the 4 000 hectare camp was to prove to farmers that one can farm alongside carnivores and that they do not wipe out populations of indigenous game. The 4 000 ha camp originally contained 500 head of game (antelope, warthog, etc), 6 cheetahs and 6 leopards, which was 3 times the number of carnivores normally occurring in a fenced area of this size. Even with these high predator numbers, over a period of 12 years the game numbers increased from 500 to 1200. This has proven that high predation stimulates production. Farmers are however, reluctant to believe this, despite the length of time over which the research was done to prove this.
We have also learned that wildebeest and hartebeest need more open plains and to be able to sustain a higher cheetah population, the larger park would need more small-game species. Thus, the springbok and impala populations have to be increased within the 20 000 hectare camp.
Territorial pressure was extremely high in the 4 000 hectare camp; our leopard population was too large, with four mature males, two females, one of which was having her next set of cubs. Fighting increased and we feared potential fatalities; providing a safer and less pressured environment for the adult female and her two new cubs was one good reason to increase the size of the camp.
The fence between the 4 000 ha and 15 000 ha area was taken down at the end of 2011, and the dynamics have changed dramatically: within the newly established 20 000 ha Park, we estimate approximately 22+ leopards and a research project has been tabled to establish more reliable numbers. Relocation of some resident leopards will have to be done to open up territory for the new generations; increased monitoring and the introduction of a greater variety of game species, is inevitable. Managing and balancing the demands of a reserve is a great challenge.
Fences – the dilemma
Fences create the dilemma - Namibia is one of the most 'fenced' countries in Africa. The main reason for fencing our Park is to establish a protected environment for the AfriCat Rehabilitation Programme. It will take a few generations for our education programme to have the desired effect on people dealing with carnivores on open farmland. Because most captive carnivores rely on and trust humans (they have lost their natural fear of humans), the cheetahs released into the Park would be shot by neighbouring farmers, if it was not fenced. There was no way in which we could manage our Rehabilitation and Education Programmes in this Park, allowing the carnivores to roam freely. The presence of 'tame' carnivores on adjacent farmland would have resulted in increased, indiscriminate shooting of these animals and with the increased number of antelope moving from our Park onto neighbouring farms, the hunting thereof for meat would also have increased, making easy money from meat sales. Thus, we are forced to monitor these programmes within our borders, to remove and add prey species as we see fit for the purpose of research and equilibrium.
WHAT CHANGES DO WE SEE SINCE INCREASING THE SIZE OF THE PARK FROM 4 000 TO 20 000 HECTARES?
The impala bachelor herds, giraffe bulls and the zebra were the first to migrate into the new area and this was clearly due to pressure within the smaller area. The other species have held their original territories within the 4 000 hectares and only moved within 100 meters of where the fence was, before returning. It will be interesting to observe the impact that the increased area may have on the brown hyena population; prior to dropping the fence, there were two separate groups, one on each side of the fence; monitoring via our camera systems will show when the two groups will find one another and possibly merge.
We have noticed that the leopard population is saturated; thus, all future progeny will increase territorial pressure within the 20 000 hectare park, making it very difficult to sustain our Cheetah Rehabilitation Programme. To have enough space for the cheetah to hunt, we need to open up the bush-encroached areas, bring in small prey species such as Springbok and more Impala and decrease leopard numbers through relocation. In this way, we will have a better balance between animal populations in the reserve. As a model for the environmental side of the education programme, we shall be monitoring the habitat which herbivores control and in turn the carnivores, which control the herbivores, all to be managed by us.
The ultimate goal is using this 'handkerchief sanctuary' (a description for island-bound conservation used in the book 'An Arid Eden' by Garth Owen-Smith, director of the NGO, IRDNC) as a model for what this area looked like about 200 years ago, before it was influenced by cattle farming, and use this primarily as an education programme for the next generation.
Owner of Okonjima Lodge
Article posted: 2012-01-24 04:57:34