Researcher: Romy Antrobus
Region: Makuleke Wetland, Greater Kruger National Park, South Afric
The Makuleke Wetland is a system of inland pans that are situated within the floodplains of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers in northern Kruger National Park. The wetland system is contained within the Makuleke Contractual Park and is bordered by Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.
In May 2007, the Makuleke Wetlands were declared a Ramsar Site – a Wetland of International Importance. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) is an intergovernmental treaty that ’embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the wise use, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories’ (www.ramsar.org).
The Makuleke area is known for its high biodiversity, which can be attributed to the geographic location as well as the diversity of landscape features. The pan system comprises a number of land cover types from riverine forest, riparian floodplain forest, floodplain grassland, river channels and pans, all of which create a variety of habitats for an abundance of plant, animal and bird species. The riverine forest system in the area provides food, shelter and nesting sites for the largest number of bird species found within the Kruger National Park. Furthermore, the pan system provides an important stopover for many migratory water birds.
Increasing water demand from sectors upstream of the Makuleke region have resulted in reduced flow in both the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers in recent years, and the latter now rarely has surface flow during the dryer months. Some of the pans within the floodplain however hold water well into the dry season when the Limpopo may not be flowing and therefore become important refuge areas and sources of drinking water for wildlife during this time.
Gaining an understanding of the seasonal usage of the perennial pans within the Makuleke Wetland System is therefore important to gain a better understanding of the reliance that certain animals have on the pans, particularly potentially endemic, vulnerable or endangered species. Usage information from the pans will aid decision makers from both SANParks and the Makuleke Community when prioritising pans for conservation or tourism/recreational uses. As a result of the wetland falling under the Ramsar Convention, up-to-date monitoring and assessments are required to better understand and therefore sustainably conserve the wetland system.
This study hopes to establish how the usage by wild animals of six perennial pans in the Makuleke Wetland System is influenced by environmental characteristics associated with each pan (water quality, surrounding land cover, soil type and degree of human activity).
- Establish the seasonal variation in chemical water quality within the various perennial pans and rivers and its influence on pan usage by game.
- Establish the seasonal usage of each perennial pan and river by different game species and identify species that are most reliant on these water sources.
- Establish the soil type and land cover (vegetation) associated with each perennial pan and their influence on usage.
- Determine the degree of human activity experienced at each pan (e.g. access by vehicle or only on foot).
- Identify key pans within the wetland system with regards to the degree and diversity of animal usage
Water quality and usage data will be collected seasonally (four times throughout the year) from six perennial pans as well as a selected site along both the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers. The information collected will then be supplemented by climate data for the area – rainfall and temperature – as well as vegetation and soil data collected for each of the six pans.
The mineral composition of the water, its temperature, pH and EC will all be measured. Water usage by game will be monitored by installing camera traps at previously identified positions around each pan such as along game paths accessing these pans and rivers. This will be done to ensure the maximum capture of approaching game. The Wilderness Wildlife Trust funded several of these camera traps, which are already yielding fascinating insights into the large (and sometimes small) mammal visitors to these pans and thus of the importance of these water sources in the landscape.
Annual Report 2011
Mammal species have different strategies for predator and human avoidance. As a result different species may have different preferences or tolerances for water quality, camouflaging vegetation and human activity. This study aims to establish how perennial pan characteristics (water quality, surrounding land cover, soil type and degree of human activity) in the Makuleke Wetland System influence pan usage by mammals.
The first fieldtrip for this study was successfully conducted in October 2010, at the end of the dry season. Water samples were taken from five perennial pans and the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. Spoor counts were conducted and camera traps were set up for a 48-hour period at each of the pans and along the two rivers, to get an indication of usage by mammal species of the different water sources.
Preliminary results from this first fieldtrip show that the water in the pans is generally more mineralised (average Electrical Conductivity of 0.87ms/cm) than the water in the two rivers (average Electrical Conductivity of 0.27ms/cm). It also shows that, in general, the pans further away from their source rivers tend to have more alkaline water. Analysis for Total Suspended Solids shows that the water in the rivers also has a much lower sediment load (less muddy) than the water sampled from the five pans.
Preliminary camera trap and spoor count data shows a preference by smaller, more secretive animals, such as civet, porcupine and vervet monkeys, to use the pans. Large antelope species, such as nyala, waterbuck and kudu, do not seem to have a particular preference and were recorded at both pans and rivers. Herds of elephants, however, seem to prefer the cleaner water in the rivers.
Three more fieldtrips will be conducted in 2011 to highlight seasonal discrepancies. Once more field data has been collected, better conclusions can be drawn with regards to how perennial pan characteristics (water quality, surrounding land cover, soil type and degree of human activity) in the Makuleke Wetland System influence pan usage by mammals.