The present study compared Sand Forest bird assemblages found in a communal land area with that of the Tembe Elephant Park, and determined the habitat preference and status of selected herbivore species within the park. The study forms part of the Maputaland Conservation-based and Integrated Rural Development Programme of the Centre for Wildlife Management from the University of Pretoria and is linked to the activities of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area (LTFCA). The main purpose of the study was to compare Sand Forest bird assemblages found in the Tshanini Community Conservation Area, which is characterised by low levels of human utilisation, with that of the Tembe Elephant Park, which is characterised by wildlife utilisation. This approach was used to determine the biological importance of this communal land area in contributing towards the conservation of the rare Sand Forest habitat. Visual and auditory bird surveys revealed that the communal land area contains unique Sand Forest bird assemblages, which demonstrated the biological importance of the communal land for Sand Forest conservation, especially from an avian perspective. The second purpose of the study was to identify possible competition between selected herbivore species within the Tembe Elephant Park and/or a decrease in numbers of rare species. Herbivores that might be adversely affected by the destruction of the Sand Forest, or who may themselves have a destructive effect on the Sand Forest were also identified. Target herbivores included the nyala Tragelaphus angasii, impala Aepyceros melampus, Burchell’s zebra Equus burchellii, greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, red duiker Cephalophus natalensis and suni Neotragus moschatus. Road transects were used to record the spatial distribution of the target herbivores, and the vegetation types that were used more or less often than expected were subsequently determined. None of the target herbivores showed a preference for the Sand Forest or appeared to have a destructive effect on the Sand Forest. The suni, however, reached its highest density within the Sand Forest and the destruction of this habitat will therefore negatively affect the suni population. In several parks and reserves that aim to conserve a variety of species, it has been necessary to control the populations of highly competitive species. Both the nyala and the impala are highly competitive and occur in relatively high numbers within the Tembe Elephant Park, and consequently their population numbers should be kept sufficiently low in order not to have a negative influence on the vegetation or the survival of less competitive ungulates. Total aerial counts and transect distance sampling counts indicated an increase in the numbers of all the target herbivores. It is important to protect a viable portion of the preferred habitat of every target species within a reserve, and to keep competition with rare species to a minimum for the long-term survival of the regional biodiversity. Key aspects of wildlife and their habitat should be monitored so that trends are noted in time, and management adjustments can be made accordingly.
Dissertation (MSc (Wildlife Management))--University of Pretoria, 2007.