conservation managemeNT

For conservation management to be effective, decision makers need to know which actions will be compatible. Decisions should ideally be based on effective scientific experiment results or the systematic review of evidence. However, the majority of conservation actions are still experience based and rely mostly on traditional land management practices.

Elsa Bussiere Brown conducting Hyena research

Elsa Bussiere Brown conducting Hyena research

Photo by Anthea Bothma

Photo by Anthea Bothma

Understanding of rare and sensitive faunA AND FLORA

Sanbona Scientific Services has tailored their practices through ongoing understanding of the rare and sensitive fauna and flora requiring management on the reserve. Key questions have been identified and form the basis for research development and ongoing data collection for analyses. Both the reserve’s flora and fauna are the focus of research and monitoring.

Camera trap set-up | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Vegetation monitoring

As yet, the impact of large indigenous herbivores – such as elephant, rhino and giraffe – on the Succulent Karoo vegetation has not been clearly seen, so there’s a concern that these animals may compromise conservation in protected areas. Also important is to see how vegetation dynamics have changed after livestock has been removed from the area. Long-term studies are necessary to answer these and other important environmental questions.

ON SANBONA, vegetation monitoring is done in different ways to determine the facts, so that conservation management can be adapted accordingly. Fixed point photography, also known as repeat photography, is an important monitoring practice which creates a photographic record of the vegetation state across the reserve. Since 1999, a total of 142 sites have been created, with eight photographs taken per site every year. The condition around waterholes is also assessed using this method. In 2004, long-term exclosures were established across various vegetation types on the reserve. They are surveyed annually to assess the impacts of grazing and browsing, compared to an adjacent fenced-off plot. 

TO UNDERSTAND the effect of megaherbivore impact on the endemic, slower-growing plant and tree species, 28 bush clump transects were established across Sanbona – mainly in the drainage lines. Vegetation transects have also been implemented to study the effect of herbivores on plant diversity on the reserve. Advanced quartz patch mapping has been developed and a detailed mapping exercise is being rolled out to monitor and document the different plant communities that populate quartz patches. The use of drones could further assist monitoring.

Bush Clump Transects | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Bush Clump Transects | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Elephant monitoring | Photo by Pascale Swanepoel

Elephant monitoring | Photo by Pascale Swanepoel

Animal monitoring

The impact of the many species reintroduced onto Sanbona still requires further study. Better understanding their impact both on the environment and each other will help to inform conservation management decisions into the future. Certain mammal populations, such as elephant and Cape mountain zebra are monitored to understand their daily spatial use, while predators, like lion and cheetah, are observed to see their prey preferences and kill intervals. The movements of threatened and endangered animals are also closely monitored. 

THIS ONGOING RESEARCH also includes: assessing the condition of vegetation around waterholes; small mammal identification; leopard density and distribution; brown hyena density and distribution; lion, cheetah and elephant spatial and feeding ecology; riverine rabbit habitat; Cape mountain zebra spatial ecology and family group dynamics; and giraffe feeding preference and seasonal movements. Back tracking is used to monitor black rhino feeding ecology. These are mostly typical behaviour, spatial and feeding ecology studies, which also overlap with the vegetative study component. Regular data collection using viable methodology that’s easy to replicate is essential for effective reserve management.  



2004 D. Jasper and J.G.M. van der Beek Management plan for Gibbaeum species – Saasveld Forestry College / Nelson Mandela University
2004 Andre Derek Mader “Elephant impact in the Little Karoo, South Africa” MSc – University of Cape Town (Data collected 2003-2004).
2006 M.B. Ellis and J. Boomker “Helminth parasites of gemsbok (Oryx gazella) in the Klein Karoo” Onderstepoort, University of Pretoria. READ MORE
2009 Krynauw Erasmus “Habitat use, feeding ecology and the impact of re-introduced elephants (Loxodonta africana) on trees within a restricted conservation area in the semi-arid, Little Karoo, South Africa” MSc -University of Cape Town (Data collected 2003-2006)
2009 Christine Madden “The impact of indigenous ungulate herbivory over five years (2004-2008) on the vegetation of the Little Karoo, South Africa” BSc-Honours – University of Cape Town. READ MORE
John E. Almond “Geology and Fossils of the Sanbona Nature Reserve, Little Karoo”. READ MORE
Paul Vorster “The feeding and spatial ecology of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and lions (Panthera leo) in the Little Karoo, South Africa” MSc – Rhodes University (Data collected 2003-2007). READ MORE
2014 Claire Nicola Gordon “Determining thresholds of potential concern for extralimital giraffe on Sanbona Wildlie Reserve, Little Karoo” BSc-Honours – Stellenbosch (Data collected 2014)
2015 CALEO FOUNDATION purchases Sanbona Wildlife Reserve with long-term conservation goals and community development.
2017 Liesl Vorster “Current status and the long-term impact (2004-2015) of indigenous ungulate herbivory on the vegetation of Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo” MSc – University of Cape Town (Data collected 2010-2015)
2017 Pascale Swanepoel “Spatial and feeding ecology of elephants (Loxodonta africana) on Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Little Karoo, South Africa” MSc – Stellenbosch University (Data collected 2015-2017)
2020 Jake Britnell “Physiological and structural responses to marginality in the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra)” PhD ongoing – University of Manchester (Data collected 2018-2019). READ MORE
2021 Zoe Woodgate, Greg Distiller and M. Justin O’Riain, “Hare today, gone tomorrow: the role of interspecific competition in shaping riverine rabbit occurrence” – University of Cape Town (Data collected 2015). READ MORE
2021 Dennis O. Umesiobi “Reproductive and stress endocrinology in the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis)” PhD ongoing – University of Pretoria



feeding behaviours

In a vast natural system, direct observation of many animals’ eating behaviours is impossible for a variety of reasons, such as animals being too skittish or only feeding at night. Antelope, for example, eat by day and night but night eating cannot be observed. To understand the feeding behaviours of Cape mountain zebra, elephant, various antelope and predators, their dung can be analysed.

Micro histological analysis of dung accurately explains the diets of various herbivores by identifying plant fragments found in the dung samples. In order to positively identify plant fragments, a reference collection of plant epidermal layers is created and distinguishing features within them identified for the vegetation on Sanbona.

This method is highly accurate and can be applied to numerous species, though it is also time and labour intensive. Still, it remains a much needed project that Sanbona’s researchers look forward to implementing in the very near future.

Long term exclusion plot vegetation-monitoring

Long term exclusion plot vegetation monitoring