Signs of re­cov­ery for once-dev­as­tated ranch as but­ter­flies re­turn

The Witness - - NEWS - CHELSEA PIETERSE • [email protected]­ness.co.za

ONCE dev­as­tated by drought and over­graz­ing of farm an­i­mals, the Zulu Rock Game Ranch in the Ba­banango re­gion has started to re­cover with but­ter­flies be­ing the main in­di­ca­tors of its re­turn­ing health.

Zulu Rock Game Ranch is now a re­serve but was once di­vided into dif­fer­ent plots for farm­ing.

The ranch’s di­rec­tor, Jeffrey van Staden, said the land had not only been sub­jected to over­graz­ing by farm an­i­mals but had also gone through an “ex­ten­sive drought”.

How­ever, an as­sess­ment com­pleted at the ranch by KZN-based in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised but­ter­fly ex­pert Steve Wood­hall showed that there had been an in­crease in but­ter­fly species in the re­gion, which in­di­cated “a healthy en­vi­ron­ment”.

“The pres­ence of but­ter­flies and moths in an area are in­di­ca­tors of ... healthy ecosys­tems.

“They are ex­tremely sen­si­tive to changes in their ecosys­tems, which is why sci­en­tists of­ten use but­ter­fly pop­u­la­tion and be­hav­iour shifts as a mea­sure for changes and prob­lems in lo­cal en­vi­ron­ments,” said Van Staden.

Talk­ing to The Wit­ness, Wood­hall said there were 700 species of but­ter­flies in South Africa.

He said the more in­sects in an area, the bet­ter. “In­sects, but­ter­flies and moths are good in­di­ca­tors of a healthy or un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment as they are very sen­si­tive to pol­lu­tion, es­pe­cially pes­ti­cides.

“The higher the num­ber of dif­fer­ent but­ter­fly species spot­ted in an area the bet­ter.

“But­ter­flies are very picky about what they eat so if there are many species of but­ter­flies in an area, you can be sure there is a great va­ri­ety of in­dige­nous plants and grasses grow­ing in the area too.”

Wood­hall said but­ter­flies, mosquitoes and moths are also pol­li­na­tors and if the in­sect pop­u­la­tion dropped, there would be less food for birds and the whole food chain would be af­fected.

Van Staden said Wood­hall’s re­port is ex­tremely en­cour­ag­ing “as he notes signs of the re­gen­er­a­tion of this re­gion ... So with time, rain­fall, and con­tin­u­ing good veld man­age­ment, the plant bio­di­ver­sity will re­turn and the but­ter­fly species count is bound to in­crease”.

He added that the area also forms part of the Um­folozi Bio­di­ver­sity Econ­omy Node devel­op­ment, a chain of linked pri­vate pro­tected ar­eas, pri­vate game farms and com­mu­nity-owned land, with the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a con­ser­va­tion area of 20 000 hectares.

PHOTO: ZULU ROCK GAME RANCH AND BA­BANANGO OUT­DOOR ED­U­CA­TION

The Cat­acroptera Cloan­the is one of 700 species of but­ter­flies in South Africa. But­ter­flies are a good in­di­ca­tor of a healthy en­vi­ron­ment.

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