New residents at Vergelegen farm
SOMERSET WEST – An ambitious project for veld management and ecological research took a step forward with the release of five eland at Vergelegen Estate last Wednesday (29 July).
The arrival of the eland is the latest stage of the Gantouw Project, which combines ancient animal lore with stateof-the-art technology. The programme of the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) was launched in 2015, under its Nature Care Fund, and mimics the historic migration of eland using them as a natural driver to boost ecosystem diversity.
“Gantouw is a word derived from the Khoi language and means ‘the way of the eland’,” Dr Anthony Roberts, CEO of CTEET, explained. “This refers to a path that eland carved into the land over many years, as they migrated back and forth from the Cape Flats over the Hottentots Holland Mountains.
“Urbanisation has resulted in fragmented ecosystems, many of which are collapsing. By introducing eland and allowing them to browse vegetation and prevent bush encroachment, one of the main threats to the ecological health of these systems is eliminated and the characteristic diversity of the veld starts to return, and the ecosystem functions more effectively.”
The impact of the eland on the Vergelegen veld will be monitored using drones and spectral imaging as well as onthe-ground flora and fauna surveys. This will indicate the animals’ grazing preferences, their impact on flora and fauna as well as estimations of veld carrying capacity.
The eland group comprises three cows and two neutered bulls, transported from
Elandsberg in Wellington. The project will run for five years and then be reviewed.
Vergelegen has provided a fenced 10-ha camp near the hilltop wine cellar, secluded from its hospitality and management operations. CTEET, an NPO, has erected a boma in the camp to shelter the eland and estate management has undertaken to monitor the animals’ health.
The organisation will conduct research to obtain baseline data and ongoing ecological monitoring, and will submit an annual report.
The first phase of the Gantouw Project focused on Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, which is endangered and only found on the lowlands of Cape Town. At Vergelegen, the eland will graze on various species of fynbos including renosterbos, osteospermum, searsia, helichrysum, oxalis, various grasses and restios.
Much of the original vegetation at Vergelegen has revived since the estate management embarked on
South Africa’s largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing project, explained Vergelegen MD Wayne Coetzer.
Completed in 2018, the project has restored 2 200 ha of fynbos vegetation while supporting job creation and skills development in local communities of the Helderberg.
The eland research will form part of a PhD thesis by ecologist and project manager Petro Botha.
The estate has a long history of collaborating with local and international universities so that students and professionals can further their education through various projects, said Coetzer.
By the end of 2018 there had been 24 formal studies – seven undergraduate, 11 postgraduate and six PhD studies. Of these 19 were from local institutions and five from international institutions.
“We are delighted to be able to play a part in this farsighted project and look forward to seeing the research findings in due course,” said Coetzer. “We hope the knowledge gained at the estate will help to protect other precious natural habitats.”