A number of my local readers are familiar with the 11,595ha Suikerbosrand Reserve, the Afrikaans name meaning ridge of the sugar bushes, where sugar bushes are not the maple syrup yielding trees of North America but rather proteas. This is one of the few places close to the built up areas of Johannesburg where one can walk or cycle, although cars are allowed on the 66km one way circular road. The attraction includes the fact that it is hilly, providing some relief from the flatness of the Highveld, allowing more challenging cycling and walking, plus the large herds of animals (including eland, hartebeest, springbok, impala, wildebeest, jackal, meerkat and many others). The following picture gives an idea of the landscape, though higher hills in parts.
Large numbers of animals used to be seen but of late we have seen far fewer and this was particularly the case on our recent visit. This is most noticeable in one part of the southern reserve where the vegetation appeared ideal for grazers year round. Because the road inevitably only gives a view of a portion of the reserve it is not possible to determine total stock numbers. and if animals are being rounded up to relocate them as numbers expand because of the shortage of predators then possibly animals are searching out areas less accessible for such exercises.
What is a concern is when an alarming scarcity of animals seen is combined with the picture below, taken on our last visit.
This mobile abattoir (with a trailer of similar size) has bean in the car park for some time. The Facebook message from the reserve via the Friends of Suikerbosrand posted two months ago was:
The big abattoir truck in the parking lot does not mean that the Suikerbosrand animals are being turned into chops! There has been no culling on the Reserve for about 10 years.
The truck is parked there because the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), who is also responsible for conservation in the Province, does not have another place to park it.
Game numbers on the Reserve are kept within the ecological limits by live capture. Animals are driven into a corral or boma, usually with a helicopter.
The next round of game capture is scheduled for March when hartebeest, eland and kudu will be captured after the calving season. Game capture is necessary because there are no large predators to control the populations of herbivores. Without this control, and without being able to migrate the animals would otherwise outstrip the carrying capacity of the veld and the Reserve would degrade.
My own Facebook response after two months has elapsed from this posts was:
John Livesey Firstly it is devastating for perceptions to see this truck parked here for so long, especially for the large majority of visitors who do not check this Facebook page for the reason. Secondly it is difficult to believe that this is the only or most appropriate place to park the truck. Thirdly there has been a drastic reduction in the number of animals seen on the tourist route, especially close to the Heidelberg – Meyerton road where very large herds were always encountered, eland in particular. Yesterday there was just a handful of animals. Hardly any wildebeest seen. Possibly the remaining animals have relocated themselves to other parts of the reserve in response to game capture operations but the drop in sightings is dramatic, close to 90% based on yesterday’s experience.
Maybe I am being needlessly concerned on this but the picture presented is troubling.