BackgroundEducation Bursary Recipient 2006 – Gayle Pedersen
Gayle Pedersen is the first recipient of the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust’s Bursary Fund. She is registered as a student at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, on the programme MSc Conservation Ecology as of January 2006, under the supervision of Dr. Alison Leslie. Prof Norman Owen-Smith is in collaboration as co-supervisor, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Her project aims to observe and monitor the feeding ecology and behaviour of six reintroduced white rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, to the Makuleke region of the Kruger National Park. Particular attention will be paid to habitat use, diet selection and establishment of territory as well as an assessment of the long-term benefits of this megaherbivore’s presence.
The project title is: The habitat preference and behaviour of reintroduced white rhinoceros, Ceratotherium simum simum, in the northern Kruger National Park
- Gain a better understanding of the local ecology of the white rhino in this particular area and communicate this knowledge to interested parties in the conservation community.
- Improve the availability of literature on this specific subject, as there is a substantial gap at present.
- Enhance the marketability and sustainability of ecotourism in the area.
- Lay the foundations for possible future reintroductions of numerous other species into the area
MethodologyMethods used will include monitoring surveys on a daily basis, locating and observing the study group. This will be done using radio telemetry and GPS technology. In depth study of dietary selection and other aspects of behaviour will be recorded and compared to existing literature on the behaviour of reintroduced rhino.
The overall aim of this MSc project is to help in the establishment of a breeding nucleus of white rhino in the northern area of Kruger National Park – from which they have been absent for over 120 years. The project therefore is run in conjunction with the Makuleke Large Mammal Reintroduction Project.
Plan of Action
- Literature review and research, proposal preparation and presentation.
- Commence fieldwork – familiarisation with area and study animals, consolidate ranging and behavioural data already collected.
- Daily monitoring of each animal and collection of data on diet selection, habitat use and general behaviour.
- Data analysis and statistical interpretation.
- Manuscript write-up.
- MSc thesis write.
Gayle Pedersen has just submitted her Master’s thesis for examination. Below is the summary:
This project, which saw the reintroduction of a number of large mammals into Pafuri (Kruger National Park), commenced in 2005, with the initiation of a white rhino behaviour study in 2006. Findings, after a year of tracking the rhino daily and a year of analysing their diet composition from faecal samples, as well as movements across the landscapes from GPS data recorded, confirmed that Pafuri is a suitable habitat for this metapopulation of white rhino. At their current rate of increase the available grazing and surface water is sufficient to maintain the population, although future interventions may need to be considered if their genetic diversity is to continue.
Grass species consumed were consistent with the majority of white rhino studies, apart from a couple of exceptions that were indicative of the drier northern climate in this area of low rainfall. They showed a distinct difference in landscape preferences between the dry and wet seasons, with most ranges and territories focused around the permanent water sources. The project was concluded with some management considerations for the future of this group of rhino in Pafuri, and the success of three new births since their reintroduction.
Gayle Pedersen has now left Pafuri to write up the results of her research, some of which will be placed on the website.
She wrote to thank the Trust:
I can’t believe a year has flown by already and my time at Pafuri has come to an end. I just wanted to express my greatest thanks for having given me the opportunity to share some of life’s most incredible experiences in what has to be one of the planet’s most precious, rare, breathtaking and stunning little secrets. I never imagined that Pafuri would touch my heart quite as much as it has and I will always be grateful to you all for having introduced me to it. And of course the daily routine of waking up to the sounds of birds that some people dedicate years of their lives to finding, and heading out to a secluded spot of the Kruger to hop out the vehicle and walk for 20km with one other person while hunting down one of the more elusive species in the area, is not something I would have dreamed I would be doing with my 2006. But believe me it is something I am more than ready to do again as soon as my MSc is complete!
Thank you for all your assistance with the vehicle and getting a tracker organised so I could get out regularly with little difficulty. No research project is ever without hiccups and mine certainly threw a few of those my way but in the end it just made the challenge a little more exciting. Now it is time for the serious work and I am hoping your new additions to the Pafuri fauna will turn out some interesting findings once all the data has been analysed. The lab work is set to keep me very busy for the next couple of months at least, but I hope to work on the mapping data in between so I should have some feedback in the next few months.
Thanks again and I will keep in touch with progress reports as I make it.