Singatha Conservation Research Fund (SCRF)

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The PHASA Foundation is an NPO functioning within the wildlife management sector. The foundation supports a variety of projects pertaining to research, conservation and livelihoods being undertaken by existing NPOs, and is empowered by various business owners who share an interest in wildlife management and inbound tourism. By supporting one of our projects, you are helping to feed an orphan, provide shelter for a homeless person or support a farmer in need, or contributing towards the sustainability of animals. We have identified Singatha Conservation Research Fund (SCRF) as a worthy cause in this regard. I would like to share some insights with you into one of our ongoing projects.

SCRF grew out of a recognition of the difficulties postgraduate students face when conduct field research, the challenges landowners have in obtaining scientific information relevant to their specific needs, and a desire to offer corporate sponsors the opportunity to become involved in transparent projects worthy of funding. We strive to forge connections to promote conservation research, tertiary education and community involvement.

SCRF’s current endeavours include research projects in the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve and Northern Limpopo, where we lend assistance with the monitoring of wildlife through camera trapping; and the training of students in using different field data collection techniques. We are also actively involved in WESSA’s Save the Magaliesberg Species initiative, organising and hosting snare-removal events, in collaboration with landowners and volunteers. SCRF welcomes collaborations, firmly believing that only when working together can we make a meaningful and lasting contribution to nature conservation. Hence, we are delighted with our newfound relationship with PHASA and Rhino Connect, where we conduct leopard monitoring and contribute to the scientific knowledge base needed to manage these illusive creatures.

The SCRF team is comprised of members with experience in the industry. Mariska Nel, with a background in project management, is working with landowners, students, academic institutions and public sponsorship initiatives and will be at the steering point of project relations during the monitoring programme. She is currently completing her MTech degree in Nature Conservation, while lecturing part-time at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and fulfilling the office of Co-Director of Rhino Connect.

Leanne Ray will be the running point on the implementation of the monitoring programme. Leanne’s résumé includes a BSc honours in Zoology from the University of Pretoria and an MTech in Nature Conservation from TUT. She is presently a PhD candidate at TUT, with her thesis focusing on leopard population demographics. Leanne has conducted research on wildlife management strategies, camera trapping and predator relocation, and, as a part-time lecturer at TUT, has experience in mentoring postgraduate students.

Marié de Vos completed her MSc in Zoology at the University of Pretoria and is presently working in bio-monitoring. She will be assisting with scientific report-writing and content creation for the leopard-monitoring project.

Mart-Mari Scholtz has a BTech in Nature Conservation from TUT, where she is also a part-time lecturer. Mart will be providing administrative support for the monitoring project.

Rhino Connect is a registered, non-profit company hosting numerous projects in South Africa that have a real-time conservation benefit. Its role during this project is assisting with logistical and legal support, and the governance of finances for transparency. The Rhino Connect team, Tersia Jooste, Mariska Nel and Jana Jooste, have a passion for private wildlife ownership in South Africa. The Rhino Connect projects have been able to assist with meeting numerous needs, such as providing supplement feed for rhinos in the aftermath of drought, milk and supplements for young rhino orphans, outsourced security and security equipment (Seek Thermal, medical emergencies for veterinarian care); assisting rhino-poaching victims in Limpopo & Mpumalanga; relocating animals and providing emergency transport for orphans; and association with the International Veterinary Students Association (IVSA) and SYMCO – a Veterinary Student Symposium. These successful initiatives have earned them a reputation that has built strong relationships with landowners, students and internationally recognised institutions to improve the public understanding of private wildlife ownership in South Africa, as well as creating opportunities such as project collaboration between SCRF and PHASA. All financial contributions will be governed through Rhino Connect to ensure financial transparency. Due to the success of the current public programme initiative of Rhino Connect, there are great opportunities for assisting with the Citizen Science project for leopard monitoring through public programmes.

The leopard-monitoring project uses the scientific protocols recommended by the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and follows the process required by the relevant governmental and scientific authorities to ensure unbiased, scientifically sound outputs. Camera trapping is frequently used in wildlife research, including determining carnivore abundance of, for example, leopards. It has been especially effective in counting elusive carnivores and studying their behaviour and habitat use. For the leopard project, the following method is used: camera traps are placed along roads, drainage lines, water sources and game trails to maximise the chances of capturing leopard movement.

Twenty camera trap stations with 40 cameras are arranged in a map-defined grid across the property, covering a minimum of 10 000ha. This can be one property or adjacent properties, comprising at least 10 000ha, and stations are placed at least 2km apart to ensure the areas around a camera are large enough to include the home range of a leopard in the area. Two cameras per station will be mounted on trees or steel droppers, about 45cm above ground, across from each other, in an attempt to capture both sides of the animal for better identification. Camera-trapping occasions will be divided into 24-hour cycles, consisting of sampling periods lasting about three months; the cameras will be rotated every 45 days to cover 10 000ha. With the data captured from the camera traps, a leopard identity kit will be compiled to identify individuals on properties. Once all the data has been collected from the various points of capture and corroborated among the team, an official report will be compiled and presented to the landowner, explaining and discussing the unique nature of leopard diversity in the area monitored.

We have successfully set up monitoring projects in Northern Limpopo, Ellisras and the Magaliesberg Biosphere. Continuing from here, we aim to monitor and sample on private properties within the five districts of the Limpopo province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

SCRF believes in ‘letting the science do the talking’, in order to provide truly objective findings that are uncorrupted by the opinions and agendas that we as the human species are so prone to follow.

Only about 7% of South Africa’s land is formally protected, placing enormous responsibility on our country’s private landowners to protect the natural heritage of this uniquely diverse land. The SCRF team is excited to work alongside PHASA, Rhino Connect, private landowners and communities on the leopard-monitoring project. By relying on the strengths and expertise each party brings to the table, and working in unity towards the goal of conservation, we hope to achieve great things with the leopard-monitoring project.