RESEARCH & LONG-TERM PROJECTS

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is proud to support research projects and programmes.

UNIVERSITY PROJECTS

University of Pretoria

Andrea Webster

Mammal Research Institute University of Pretoria

Non-invasive Monitoring of DDT and Trace Metal Contamination in the Faeces of Wild Mammals to Evaluate Terrestrial Ecosystem Health

North West University

Dr Frances Siebert

North-West University

The contribution of forbs to the dietary composition of wild herbivores using DNA metabarcoding

University of KwaZulu Natal

Dr Lindy Thompson

University of Kwa-Zulu Natal / Endangered Wildlife Trust

Ecology of the Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, in the Kruger –to- Canyons Biosphere Reserve

Nelson Mandela University

Amore Robinson

Nelson Mandela University

The influence of water dependency on the spatial ecology of large mammalian herbivores on the paleo-Agulhus plain

North West University

Dr Frances Siebert and Dr Aline Bombo

North-West University

The effect of fire frequency on the size and density of bud banks and belowground organs in semi-arid South African Savanna

APRN SOUTHERN GROUND HORNBILL PROGRAMME

The Southern Ground-Hornbill Research Programme, is run by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, and began in 2000 with the aim of creating a better understanding of the breeding ecology and home range use of this cooperative breeding species.

During the breeding season, from October to March, the Programme monitors all 58 natural and artificial nests in the Timbavati, Klaserie and Umbabat to determine the success of each breeding attempt (Figure 1). This is done to determine what makes certain groups more successful at breeding than others. During this season we also harvest second-hatched chicks which are hand-reared for the wild-release and captive breeding programmes run by the Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project.

Then, with the use of satellite transmitters attached to one individual in each group we are able to track their movements and calculate home range size and habitat use. Using this information, we can better understand how Ground-Hornbills use this space: what habitats they favour and avoid and why. 

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Southern Ground Hornbills are the largest cooperatively breeding bird in the world. They are faunivorous, terrestrial living birds which are classified as vulnerable throughout their range, and have suffered major population declines in South Africa. Efforts to conserve the species are predominantly based around habitat preservation and reintroduction programmes. While these programmes have had success, understanding the social dynamics which govern cooperation within the species can play a vital role and significantly improve the conservation of these birds. Researching the social structures and how environmental factors may influence their reproduction and territory defense will provide unexplored insights into the population dynamics of the species through a changing climate. 

The aim of this study is to investigate the social structure of Southern Ground Hornbills, and to understand how individual group members contribute to two vital group functions: territory defense and reproduction, two poorly understood topics.

Should you wish to know more please contact the Programme team by email: nghututu@gmail.com. 

Follow their progress, these birds need you more than ever!

Check out our guest blog: "The booming call of ground hornbills. What are they saying?"

PANTHERA LEOPARD RESEARCH

The Timbavati Leopard Project is a research project based on broad co-operation between the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, researchers and private partners. The leopard is currently listed as a “near threatened” species on the IUCN Redlist. However, it is considered likely that the species will soon qualify for a “vulnerable” status. It is therefore important to address the many threats posed to the species as part of any comprehensive management strategy.

As an effort to cast light on the current status of this elusive and secretive cat, we wish to estimate the leopard population, occupancy and space use within the TPNR.

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Combined with genetic and behavioural profiling, we intend to add variables to the study that will increase the understanding of the species and directly address many of the threats against the species. Modeling the importance of behaviour in the context of spatial use and habituation remains very relevant and represents a new research approach for leopards.

This might very well have implications for big-picture leopard management planning across its range. The project is completely non-invasive to the animals and will be based on both still shots and video footage from camera traps throughout the reserve.

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve has partnered with Panthera, the only organisation in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 38 wild cat species and their ecosystems.

EWT HOODED VULTURE PROGRAMME

The vulture nest monitoring project is done in collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust of South Africa. The project has two main aims. The first aim is to monitor permanent marked nests in terms of yearly use and secondly, to monitor elephant impact on trees used by vultures.

The Timbavati has the largest vulture nesting colony in the APNR. Together with the management of vegetation and elephants it is imperative to monitor vulture nest numbers as elephants’ impact on these trees. Vulture chicks are marked, and visitors, guides and staff are requested to record their location.

Some marked birds have been found in KwaZulu-Natal and the Kalahari regions!

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

The Timbavati has a scientifically formulated impala culling programme as well as limited professional hunting activity. By making a small portion of carcasses from these activities available to vultures, maybe the birds could be “persuaded” to stay in protected areas thereby keeping them safe? Vultures range over huge areas looking for food. Unfortunately, this ranging behaviour often takes them out of protected areas exposing them to hostile and often fatal environments.

Read more on our “Timbavati and EWT vulture feeding programme gets off the ground” blog.

ELEPHANTS ALIVE

Spatial, temporal and population dynamics.

The Transboundary Elephant Research Programme represents the South African branch of Save the Elephants. The research extends across Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, presently continuing as Elephants Alive. The project started officially in 2003, but draws on data collected over more than two decades thereby representing a long-term study, focused on understanding the motivation behind elephant movements from core conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park (KNP) to the North (Zimbabwe), the East (Limpopo National Park in Mozambique) and the West (Associated Private Nature Reserves).

Previous and ongoing research efforts have resulted in an extensive individual elephant identification database for the western (more than 1500 elephants identified since 1996) and the northern study site (more than 100 bulls and 11 independent breeding herds have been identified since 2008). They have obtained an improved understanding of elephant ranging behaviour through the collaring and recollaring of 53 elephants during 75 collaring operations in the western, eastern and northern regions of the KNP.

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

A long-term database of elephant impact on selective trees started in 2004 to monitor changes in the survival rates of large trees over time and the consequences that these changes may have on other species (tree nesting birds). The project monitors 2 971 individually labelled trees to determine their survival rate. Since 2008, 62 large trees used by southern ground hornbills and 102 trees used by raptors and white backed vultures as nesting sites are being monitored to understand the influence of elephant impact on these nesting sites. They also experiment with large tree protection methods (wire netting) to foster positive human-elephant interactions as large trees are of aesthetic importance to landowners, tourists and managers alike.

The project believes that a sound scientific basis is important in wildlife management and scientific endeavour should also partly be dedicated to education and action pertaining to environmental issues. They involve local people at grassroots level in research and education to develop a conservation ethic based on local knowledge and elephant needs. Their community outreach programme, which promotes conservation among local children on the periphery of conservation areas, has hosted five Bush School Programmes in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve since 2007.

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