8 November 2006
South Africa and Mozambique joined forces between the 2nd and 5th of November in the first aerial game count of the Usuthu-Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA). The counts resulted from the close working relationship between conservation management staff at Tembe Elephant Park and the Maputo Special Reserve. This relationship has recently been fostered through the establishment of a bi-lateral operations committee, which also comprises Peace Parks Foundation's Technical Advisor to the Maputo Special Reserve and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife's Lubombo TFCA Project Unit.
The TFCA game counts that took place this year is an extension of annual game counts done at Tembe Elephant Park and Ndumo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The helicopter and pilot are donated to the counts through an international sponsorship arranged by Parsons Aviation.Wayne Matthews, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife's Regional Ecologist and Momade Nemane, the Conservation Manager of the Maputo Special Reserve lead the first international game count of the TFCA. A ground crew, comprised of staff from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Maputo Special Reserve, assisted them. The ground crew also conducted a mapping exercise of the TFCA while the aerial counts were taking place, plotting all roads and other infrastructure in the wider conservation area, essential for planning and management of the reserves.
While the annual counts over Tembe and Ndumo passed relatively uneventful, the aerial game count of the Maputo Special Reserve provided extremely surprising results. Contrary to common perception, the Maputo Special Reserve is still home to large numbers of wild animals. Preliminary results suggest that there are still approximately 300 elephant in the Reserve, the bulk being in breeding groups and 40 of them being yearlings. The results from the survey also suggest large numbers of reedbuck (more than 700) and hippo (more than 180), while other animals counted include bushbuck, grey duiker, bushpig, kudu, nyala, red duiker, side-striped jackal, steenbok, suni and waterbuck. Although these figures are still approximate indications at this stage, they are definitely not indicative of an ailing reserve.
The aerial count of the TFCA was a watershed moment in the expanding relationship between conservation staff from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Mozambican Ministry of Tourism (MITUR) and provided a firm basis for future joint operations in the lead-up to the establishment of a Joint Management Board for the Transfrontier Park.
Dr Roelie Kloppers, Project Coordinator - Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area