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UWC Cape Flats Nature Reserve Faunal Survey 2017

Faunal count reveals a rise in animal life and biodiversity in UWC’s Cape Flats Nature Reserve

Over 60 staff, students, hobbyists, school kids and volunteers joined in UWC’s Cape Flats Nature Reserve Annual Faunal Survey - and the 2017 count brought some welcome biodiversity news.

How do you know how healthy a nature reserve is? By setting out traps, grabbing some volunteers, and setting out on a midnight adventure to count animals - as happened with the recent UWC Cape Flats Nature Reserve Annual Faunal Survey.

First created as a refuge for Strandveld and Coastal Fynbos, the Reserve now functions as a base for ecological teaching, environmental education, research and a natural space for the public to enjoy - so the results of the survey are important for all concerned.

And the 2017 Faunal Survey (animal count) brought encouraging news of increasing animal numbers - and provided valuable scientific experience and good times for volunteers.

“Older members of the community may remember how commonly the dwarf chameleon occurred in any Cape Town garden just a decade or two ago,” Reserve manager Hestelle Melville says. “And when we think of how rarely we see them today, it can give you a good indication of how quickly animal species can be lost or their numbers significantly be reduced.”

This year’s faunal count saw over 60 staff, students, hobbyists, school kids and volunteers join CFNR staff in the fun, setting out traps and wandering the reserve checking them. From arachnids to sand frogs to tortoises and whip snakes, the survey revealed some interesting results.

“We are very pleased with the results after we had staff and community members spending a late night and early morning in the reserve collecting animal life in the designated areas where we’ve put up traps the day before.”

There has been an increase in the number of invertebrates over the years, after the application of herbicides was discontinued. The return of the smaller animals was accompanied by an increase in larger animals as well, like the resident caracal, water mongoose and birds of prey, and the ecosystem seems fairly healthy.

“The faunal survey takes place every year in the third week of October,” Melville explains. “It’s a biodiversity survey to collect information that can provide data to assist with the management of the 34-hectare privately-owned nature reserve.”

Over the years, the baseline data collected has helped to assess the general health or state of the area, and can relatively quickly indicate any change in the environment.

Dr Adriaan Engelbrecht, a small mammal expert from UWC’s Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BCB), was part of the midnight group of surveyors.

He says such surveys are very important since they help assess the reserve’s current state with regards to biodiversity.

“Other than that, it also helps to assess the conservation value of the reserve. For instance, small mammal species such as vlei rats (Otomys irroratus), and sengis (Elephantulus edwardii) only occur in ecologically intact environments. Other rodents species, such as the common four striped field mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), in turn flourish in disturbed habitats - so a huge population of them in a particular area would indicate a general decline in habitat integrity.“

Reptile expert Dr Bryan Maritz, also from the BCB, says protecting and managing biodiversity poses some significant challenges, especially in big and rapidly-developing cities like Cape Town.

“Without knowing which species occur in a particular area it’s impossible to tell how the different organisms are responding to current management,” he notes. “Also, it’s impossible to tell if our own activities have resulted in any species disappearing from particular areas.”

The only way to gather that kind of information is with regular detailed surveys.

“For some groups of animals, the question of which species occur in an area can be very tricky to answer,” he adds. “For example, many reptile species are secretive in nature, and might live in an area without being noticed by humans for extended periods.”

There are benefits to the participants as well.

“It 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,” Melville says. “This information is always available and very useful, especially with any change in management styles or methods applied.”

By The Numbers: The UWC Cape Flats Nature Reserve Annual Faunal Count

The sixth annual faunal survey was conducted from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 October 2017. The faunal count covers a section of the Cape Flats Nature Reserve, using that as a sample for the whole 34ha area. Over 60 participants spent day and night bundu-bashing and yielded:

  • A variety of reptiles counted thus far: 25 chameleons, along with egg-eaters and cross-marked whip snakes and various gecko and other lizards; and 12 Angulate (Chersina angulata) tortoises (seven males, four females and one sub-adult, of which the sex couldn’t be determined);

  • 35 bird species;

  • 5 rodent species (mice, gerbils, rats and shrews);

  • 8 sand frogs (even during this very dry season);

  • several arachnids (spiders) and insects were counted, including 10 species of butterflies;

  • and many other crawling creatures and invertebrates which still need to be identified.

The Cape Flats Nature Reserve is celebrating its fortieth anniversary - the CFNR was officially proclaimed in 1977 as a private nature reserve proudly owned by UWC. In 1978, it also gained the status of National Monument, and is today a Provincial Heritage Site.