In 2010, a joint initiative between Peace Parks Foundation, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, and the University of Pretoria refurbished and formally re-opened the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station. This was made possible thanks to an investment by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust (managed by Nedbank Private Wealth), Fondation Hoffmann, Alexander Forbes, Turner Foundation and Peace Parks Foundation. The wildlife research station provides a dedicated platform for local and international researchers to conduct experimental work focused on animal diseases and related issues.
Significant projects undertaken by the research station over the past few years include:
Herding for Health
Herding for Health (H4H) is a community development activity that promotes conservation outcomes while supporting people living in rural areas to find their way out of extreme poverty. It does this by teaching community members to make use of what they already have – cattle and other livestock. While many view livestock as a threat to conservation and especially rangeland health, it is in fact through the correct management of livestock and unlocking their value in underserved communities that significant benefits for sustainable land use and biodiversity conservation can be achieved.
Peace Parks Foundation, with support from the Turner Foundation, prioritised research on veterinary issues in TFCAs with a specific focus on Foot-and-mouth disease. The project examines vaccine efficacy under different vaccination regimes and looks at improving current diagnostic techniques.
There has been an increase in wildlife-poisoning incidents in the southern African region, mostly related to the illegal wildlife trade. Poachers poison water sources to get to elephant ivory. Vulture populations, in particular, have been severely affected by poison incidents in the region as they feed on the poisoned carcasses. A 2016 study found that, of the 22 vulture species, nine are critically endangered and three are endangered. The Endangered Wildlife Trust Birds of Prey Programme regularly holds several raptor-poisoning workshops for rangers, veterinarians, students and environmental monitors from the surrounding area at the research station. The workshops teach attendees what to do when finding a poisoned raptor, and how to care for poison survivors, report the incident and manage and clean the crime site. The Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre provided a hands-on experience in showing attendees how to treat poisoned vultures.
Today over 60% of human infectious diseases originate with wildlife and livestock. The One Health concept is a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. To assist communities in identifying and mitigating risks in and around their homes, a new One Health community training curriculum was developed by research station staff in collaboration with researchers from the University of California School for Veterinary Medicine. The curriculum worked on a train-the-trainer model with 10 environmental monitors trained through the curriculum, who in turn trained over 100 community members in One Health risk mitigation at household level, such as proper sanitation and healthy livestock.
Scientists at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, who are also A-rated bird ringers, initiated a longitudinal bird-ringing initiative at the research station. Bird ringing is the attachment of a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird to enable individual identification. Data is stored and used to monitor changes in the composition of bird species and the behaviour of migrant bird species as indicators of climatic and ecological changes.