Research and Conservation

During your time at Askari you will spend time observing in the field and collating many different kinds of data. You will learn the skills needed for data capture techniques and also receive training to use the research equipment such as GPS consoles and when needed, radio telemetry equipment. The data you collect contribute to a huge variety of projects and monitoring both on Pidwa and with other research and conservation organisations. Herbivore counts and predator monitoring are essential for management decisions on the reserve while data collected during the brown hyaena project are being used in Askari’s own scientific publications. Furthermore, much of the data you assimilate will contribute towards projects and research being carried out by fellow conservation organisations.

Project Impisi – Brown Hyaena Research

‘Project Impisi’ began in 2010 when 5 brown hyaenas were translocated to Pidwa Wilderness Reserve. Although classified as ‘Near threatened’ (lower risk) by the IUCN, brown hyaenas are often the victims of both deliberate and incidental persecution by commercial stock farmers and traditional healers. Additionally, one of the biggest threats is the continued deterioration of their natural habitat. The hyaenas were rescued from farmer’s traps and their arrival marked the beginning of a ground breaking study at Askari with potential implications for the improved conservation of brown hyaenas. To date, no brown hyaena relocations have been successfully monitored. Our research aimed to be the first of its kind and discover whether translocation could be the key to reducing hyaena/farmer conflicts across their range. The study covered two main areas, the translocation itself and also general brown hyaena ecology. The field work was completed in 2012 and the project was a huge success. Results are now being analysed and the findings written up in conjunction with the University of Bristol, UK. Askari will be publishing the research once complete.

Cheetah Metapopulation Project

As part of our commitment to cheetah conservation, Pidwa has reintroduced 5 cheetahs onto the reserve since 2009, the most recent female in July 2017. All new cheetahs are fitted with a radio collar and their initial survival and progress is closely monitored by the Askari team. The data collected are then used to assist continued cheetah conservation efforts in both the Lowveld and South Africa by contributing to the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) Cheetah Metapopulation Project. The project aims to develop a national metapopulation management plan for cheetahs in smaller, fenced reserves and one of the key aspects is to ensure adequate gene flow among fragmented sub populations. Life history, survival and breeding data are collated for each reintroduced cheetah and wherever possible, DNA samples are taken to add to the nationwide genetic database. Askari sends data for all reintroduced cheetah and has also contributed two samples to the genetic database.

Vulture Monitoring Project

Data collected by Askari contributes to the Vulture monitoring project, part of the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) Birds of Prey Programme. The project aims to ensure the survival of all vulture species throughout the southern African sub-continent and monitoring is an important part of this to determine if conservation activities are being successful. Data on vulture nesting sites and other raptors on Pidwa are collected by Askari and passed on. Sightings of tagged vultures are also reported to the project by the Askari team.

Ground Hornbill Conservation

The Southern Ground-Hornbill is a flagship species for the savannah biome classified as Endangered (IUCN) within South Africa. With their numbers still in decline, an estimated 1500 remaining birds require immediate assistance to prevent the species becoming extinct outside protected areas within the next 3 generations. The Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project is working to slow decline through a variety of techniques including the harvesting of chicks, re-wilding and reintroduction and the provision of artificial nesting sites. Askari works in conjunction with the project to build and place artificial nesting boxes and also provide spatial data for the Ground Hornbills on the reserve.

Conservation Biology of Cheetah

Information from Pidwa’s cheetah reintroductions is also contributing towards research on the conservation biology of cheetah in fenced reserves. The research is being carried out by Kenneth Buk in association with the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) and University of Tshwane, South Africa and incorporates many different aspects of cheetah survival and ecology. Data provided for the research includes cheetah spatial movements, feeding habits, habitat use and relationships with other predators.

Energy Wildlife Conflict Project

Through data collection and reporting, Askari has been able to contribute towards the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) Energy wildlife conflict project. One aspect of the project is a strategic partnership between Eskom (who are responsible for the supply of South Africa’s electricity) and the EWT. The partnership aims to find a balance between the power needs of South Africa’s people and economy, and the protection of fauna and avi-fauna from negative interactions with electrical infrastructure. These interactions take on many different forms and include the electrocution of birds and mammals, the collision of birds with power lines and even birds nesting on infrastructure. By reporting electricity related fatalities on Pidwa (including vulture, giraffe and ibis) we can ensure problem areas are addressed with the help of the EWT and Eskom partnership.

Rhino Anti-Poaching

Poaching is now taking a tremendous toll on South Africa’s rhino population as demand for the horn continues to soar across the Far East. Here at Askari, one of our key goals is to protect our rhinos from falling victim to this barbaric trade and in turn contribute to the conservation of the species as a whole. In 2012, the decision was taken to dehorn the rhinos on Pidwa, therefore removing the reason that the poachers have for killing them. To safeguard our rhinos, the Askari team works continuously to cover all aspects of our anti-poaching plan. Volunteers assist with rhino monitoring as we aim to account for all our rhinos on an extremely regular basis. Learning the rhino’s home ranges and behaviour patterns is important so we can monitor and patrol these areas more intensely. Sleep outs around the reserve also allow provide an extra opportunity to monitor any unusual activity.

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It could not have been a more exciting end for our last group of the year. Over the weekend we were able to join with the preparation of cheetah for their final leg of the journey to Malawi. Joining the EWT team and environmental officials at the Langa boma, all 3 cats were darted and put in their crates. In the early hours of the next morning they were in the air and en route to Liwonde National Park in Malawi. The release into the boma that end was a great success with all cats having travelled well and in good health. It has been such a privilege to be a small part of this amazing EWT and African Parks partnership to introduce cheetah back to Malawi and we hope for all the best for the cats #askariwcp ...

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