Between 1992 and 2012, the springbok population in Botswana declined by a huge 71%. There is thus a need for research on springbok to understand the reasons behind the downward population trend in order to recommend appropriate management responses.
The project aims to investigate factors that contribute to the decline in springbok numbers in the southern Kalahari of Botswana and foster knowledge and positive attitude towards wildlife in both adults and children.
Researcher: Tshepo Moatswi
Region: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park-Mabuasehube and Kgalagadi Wildlife Management Areas
Organisation: University of Botswana
Partner Organisation: Kalahari Research and Conservation Trust
- BSc Environmental Sciences
The majority of Botswana’s springbok population inhabits the Kgalagadi region, within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) and the surrounding Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).
In the nationwide aerial census of Botswana conducted by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) highlighted a massive 71% decline in the springbok population between 1992 and 2012, whilst the nationwide range also contracted. In addition it was noted that the population had also declined across all protected areas, including in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
There has been very little research done on the general ecology of springbok anywhere across their range. The lack of ecological studies, the persisting population decline, and lack of understanding of its causes suggest that research on this species is long overdue.
There is a need to identify migratory patterns, dry and wet season resource requirements, threats to ungulate movement, and habitat use to know which resources wildlife need for survival to help inform management. Habitat selection can be used to identify key resources for animals. KRC has taken a bold step in leading this very important research.
Increasing human populations in areas adjacent to conservation areas lead to a high level of poaching and human-wildlife conflict in unprotected areas that often contain key seasonal resources. The KRC Community Engagement Team (CET) in collaboration with Denver Zoological Foundation, aims to change people’s attitudes towards poaching, using springbok as the lead species in its conservation education programme.
The primary focus of the project will be the dissemination of findings through to the outreach and research divisions of the DWNP through detailed reports and publication of papers in scientific journals, oral and poster presentations on relevant seminars, workshops and meetings. All findings will be passed to the relevant non-governmental organisations. Articles will be published in popular magazines in order to reach and educate the general public.
The general objective of the project is to determine factors contributing to the decline in springbok numbers in the southern Kalahari of Botswana to inform conservation and management of the population in this area. The specific objectives are:
- To study the recruitment rates of springbok population in different seasons using direct observation to record recruitment data, as well as recording the age and gender of each animal.
- To study seasonal patterns of habitat selection by deploying satellite collars to determine seasonal movement and habitat use by the springbok. We will plot springbok movement using ArcGIS (ESRI, Redlands, CA) software and develop a habitat map.
- To determine seasonal diet of springbok by identifying and sampling grass and other plant species consumed by springbok in different seasons.
Springbok recruitment rate
Springbok congregate on open pans, where they are easily observed. The total count of the springbok population including the demographic categories will be recorded at each pan. The data is being collected from at least ten herds per season to record herd size and quantify the number of males, females and young in each season. Confidence estimates are used to distinguish between accurate and possibly inaccurate counts, allowing triage of herd counts at the end of each season.
Satellite GPS collars have been deployed on ten female springbok in different herds in the KTP and the surrounding WMAs. The collars record at a baseline rate of one fix per day, at 07:00, for a year. During the middle ten days of each month, the rate will be increased to four fixes per day, at 01:00, 07:00, 13:00 and 19:00. These more intense periods allow the researcher to quantify habitat selection at different times of day.
The springbok movements are thus being studied in response to changes in resource availability and environmental conditions throughout the year. GPS data collected by the collars are also used to identify key habitats and critical seasonal resources, plotting this on a habitat map.
A disc pasture metre (DPM) is used to estimate grass biomass as it consumes less time and labour than cutting grass samples for weighing in a laboratory. The DPM is dropped 50 times at 1 m intervals in a random pattern within 50 m of the location where springbok are grazing.
Woody vegetation sampling
Using two 30 m ropes, marked at 5 m intervals and crossing over at the centre, four quadrants in each quadrat (a unit of area) are being created. These will be used to measure the height of each species, with height classes ranging from 0 – 0.5 m, over 0.5 – 1.5 m and over 1.5 m. At least one plant must occur within one of the marked quadrants or the size of the quadrant will be expanded by 5m until this is achieved. The researcher also records canopy diameter in each height class and looks for signs of feeding.
Community conservation education
The programme is working through the CET, which has been working regularly with five different communities – via the schools – since 2014: Maun, Gweta, Makalamabedi, Gantsi and Motopi. This project is being used as a platform to reach people and promote awareness on issues that affect springbok through engagement and education programmes.
Materials and messaging will be integrated into existing curriculums to include issues that affect springbok. Existing environmental education and wildlife clubs will be engaged to develop targeted programmes. The CET will also assist in establishing new wildlife eco clubs in schools. New schools in the study area that will be involved include: Letswai Primary School in Zutshwa and Ngwatle Primary School in Ngwatle.
Kgotla meetings in Zutshwa and Ngwatle will be carried out to teach adults about the importance of springbok and their role in a balanced ecosystem. Emphasis will also be made on impact of illegal hunting as one of the threats to springbok. Findings from this research will be used to influence education programme developers in designing programmes intended to conserve springbok. Results of the causes of the decline in springbok numbers in the Kgalagadi region will help develop programmes that are thus informed by authentic research findings.
The study investigates factors contributing to the springbok population decline in the southern Kalahari of Botswana, by studying seasonal recruitment rates, habitat selection, and diet, leading to applied actions aimed at conserving the springbok population of Botswana. Very little research has been conducted on springbok ecology, and no studies have utilised GPS-enabled collars to research spatial ecology in this part of southern Africa.
Fieldwork is going well with good progress being made. Vegetation in the pans and off-pan areas has been sampled, as well as where the study herds have visited, with the vegetation characteristics in those patches recorded to identify factors that determine habitat and forage selection. Data has been collected over nine months and as soon as 12 months of data has been collected, analysis will begin for seasonal comparisons. Springbok recruitment rates and the age structure of many springbok herds and lambing periods have been recorded.
To date, five collars have been deployed on springbok: four in the Kalahari Transfrontier Park (KTP), and one in a wildlife management area (WMA) outside the park. As far as is known, these are the first collars to be deployed on springbok anywhere, and the movement information has been fascinating to see. Two of the collars were deployed late last year and both animals made interesting movements between the KTP and the surrounding WMAs north and north-east of the park. Outside the park it has been difficult to deploy collars on herds, as they are too shy to get close enough to dart and collar them. However, efforts continue and it is hoped to that more collars can be deployed during the course of the year.
The next step is community engagement. The Community Engagement Team (CET) has already made a reconnaissance visit to the project site and has identified a library, some primary schools, and potential trusts to start the engagement and environmental education programmes.
Initial results on the movement patterns of springbok, and the behaviour of the herds outside the park, demonstrate the importance of the areas used by communities, and the possible effects of hunting on the population. These reaffirm the need to engage with these communities for the long-term conservation of the springbok population.
Assessing seasonal changes in recruitment rates
In the last few months the project made some great progress, with some fieldwork aimed at being part of the Master of Science degree that was completed in July 2018.
The data was analysed, looking at seasonal changes in recruitment rates of the population as a measure of young survival. The results show a high ratio of young to adult females in the wet season and a decline in the dry season. This indicates that the survival rate of young springbok is low, and this could explain some of the decline in the springbok population during the wet season when there was a high proportion of young.
We also recorded a high number of black-backed jackals near or among the springbok herds. The jackals most likely prey on young lambs and this may contribute to the low survival of the lambs, and therefore the low population recruitment. Predation of lambs by jackals and low forage quality outside the rainy season could be some of the factors contributing to the low rates but these and other factors possibly contributing to the low recruitment rates will be investigated further.
The study wishes to investigate the role of illegal hunting to the population declines, but the accuracy of the records of poaching incidences will most likely underestimate the true number of incidences. However, we will keep track of the records in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP).