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6 January 2019
Looking At Life In The UWC Nature Reserve - UWC’s Faunal Survey 2019

(Published - 6 January 2019)

Why would you send over 60 University of the Western Cape staff, students and other volunteers to bundu-bash the Cape Flats Nature Reserve for everything that moves, equipped with torches, cameras, know-how - and loads of energy and enthusiasm? For the UWC Cape Flats Nature Reserve Faunal Survey 2019, of course.

“The Survey offers an opportunity to update species lists, and affords students from various tertiary institutions an opportunity to practise or participate in a variety of scientific sampling methods,” says Reserve HOD, Hestelle Melville. “This information is always available and very useful, especially with any change in management styles or methods applied.”

The Cape Flats Nature Reserve is a private reserve that falls under the administration of the University of the Western Cape. First created as a refuge for Strandveld and Coastal Fynbos, the 30ha reserve now functions as a base for ecological teaching, environmental education, research and a natural space for the public to enjoy.


“The baseline data collected helps to assess the general health or state of the area, and can relatively quickly indicate any change in the environment,” Melville explains. “We were not disappointed by the results - the data and photographs were exactly what we needed to update our species lists.”

There are over 200 indigenous plant species in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve, along with a variety of animals, including tortoise, mongoose, a variety of reptiles and insects, and dozens of species of birds.

But how many? That’s what the participants set out to find.

Over the course of several days, they set mammal traps, kept an eye out for birds, went searching for tortoises, identified plants, hunted down insects and spiders and more. There were motion sensor traps, Sherman traps, binoculars - and experts on hand to help identify whatever was spotted.


“With such a small reserve of only 34 hectares, we keep thinking nothing new will pop up,” says Laurenda van Breda, Education & Research Officer at the Reserve. “But each year the survey surprises us with more than one addition and special sightings - and this year was no different.”

So what’s new this time around?

Once again, the majority of new discoveries were made by the birdwatchers, under the watchful eyes of birders Martin Hendricks and Felicity Ellmor, alongside UWC’s resident birder, Mark Gibbons. The new additions included... 

  • The southern grey-headed sparrow (Passer diffusus), a monogamous, usually solitary nester that occasionally breeds in loose colonies;
  • The fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis), an arid-tolerant insect-eater that uses alarm calls to steal food from birds and animals such as meerkats; and,
  • The Diederik cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius), a noisy species that feeds on a variety of insects and caterpillars.

Another bird, the little rush-warbler (Bradypterus baboecala) was added in August, during another survey.

And back on the ground, the tracks and burrows of the Cape burrowing scorpion (Opistophthalamus capensis) were also found.

Almost as exciting: a critter removed from the list was re-added.

“At one point, the reserve had a feral cat problem, resulting in a drop in the rodent diversity,” van Breda says. “As the problem got sorted, the diversity increased - and now we are happy to have found the hairy-footed gerbil (Gerbillurus paeba) during the survey, re-adding it to our lists.”

All in all, a successful weekend, and some encouraging results.

“Once again, we had a great turnout for our annual survey,” says HOD Melville. “It was lovely meeting new people and seeing familiar faces, and we have to thank everyone who participated and helped make this both an educational and entertaining experience. We certainly couldn’t have done it without you.”

Want to know more about the Survey? Why not check out the official newsletter? Or take a look at what else you can find while wandering in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve. And you can always find out for yourself - and contribute to the Reserve’s lists - by joining one of the weekly Nature Reserve Photowalks in 2020. Just grab a camera (or phone) and meet up at the Reserve building on a Thursday at lunchtime, and get the guided tour.