Work is continuing at Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) but the exact timing of the opening and what type of elephant interactions will take place have not yet been decided, said owner, Craig Saunders, during a guided walk on 17 November, with the Kogelberg Branch of the Botanical Society (BotSoc) of South Africa.

The view from the high water level towards the sand dunes and the ocean. KWS plans to erect ten eco-friendly tented units here on one-metre platforms.

The walk on the historic Lamloch Farm, east of Kleinmond, was organised by Dr Allan Heydorn, a well-known coastal and marine ecologist, former CEO of the WWF South Africa and a part-time resident of Betty’s Bay. Along with Tim Attwell, chair of the Kogelberg BotSoc, the approximately 40 guests heard first-hand about the clearing of alien vegetation on the 455-hectare property, the restoration of indigenous fynbos vegetation and the re-introduction of historically indigenous wildlife in the area.

Craig said that the Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary project comprises four phases. The first was to establish properly designed fencing that would keep the elephants and other wildlife within the property but also allow corridors for the Rooisand horses to pass through. This necessitated building new fencing, mostly along the R44 main road, and the replacement of existing fencing along the sand dunes.

The second was to get permits for all the wildlife species that will be reintroduced to the property. Already, approximately 40 kudu, eland, springbok and bontebok are roaming, with plans to introduce zebra and other antelope species, all indigenous to this region.

Permits, with conditions, have also been obtained for elephants. One of these conditions, Craig said, is that he needs to build holding pens as it is a requirement that an elephant, when being moved, needs to spend a period of time in a secure boma before it can be introduced to its new environment.

The third is to build the infrastructure and this is the phase that KWS is focused on right now. Given that the property is classified as a wetland, all construction, waste, water and power facilities must adhere to strict environmental standards, Craig pointed out.

The final phase will be the introduction of the elephants themselves. Craig said that the plan at this stage is for three to four bulls (adult males) to be settled first. “We work with bulls generally, which are solitary animals,” said Craig. “Males may associate with other bulls but normally in small, open-ended groups.”

“We haven’t defined what type of interaction there will be between the public and the elephants and what the programme will be,” said Craig. “Markets change and we need to adapt to them. However, I think that a massive opportunity will be lost if, when the elephants are here, we don’t educate people about them. My intention is to influence mindsets and behaviour, and to make people passionate about elephants,” he added.

However, a key component of the whole project has been the restoration of the property to its original indigenous fynbos vegetation. The previous owners spent R3 million on this and KWS has already spent over R4 million. From a team of 18 who first started the alien vegetation clearing, six are now employed on a permanent basis to continue with maintenance.

KWS owner, Craig Saunders, discusses his plans with Tim Attwell of BotSoc.

A total of 350 ha have been completely cleared without the use of herbicides and 100 hectares, mostly near the sand dunes by the ocean, have been partially cleared while KWS awaits confirmation from CapeNature on whether they should completely clear the area, given ecological sensitivities. Photos from the 1950s and ’60s show that the dunes were originally completely free of alien vegetation.

“I was very dubious and full of doubts about some of the things that Craig wanted to do,” said Allan. “But when we drove down in his 4X4 this year, I could not recognise this terrain. The birdlife amazed me. Within three years, the environment has rehabilitated itself. What is coming up now is what was originally here.”

Craig said that new pans have formed, the water table has risen and over 350 species of birds have been sighted on the property. What has surprised him is the strength and diversity of the seed bank in the soil that germinated once the aliens were cleared.

But what really excites Allan and Tim is that a new ecological corridor has now been established in Kleinmond that links the ocean to the mountains which will promote the genetic transfer of both plants and wildlife.

“Craig has broken the barrier that has been there and established a pristine ecological environment,” said Tim. “Lamloch links the Bot-Kleinmond Estuarine System with its mountains in the hinterland.”

The properties on either side of Lamloch are full of alien vegetation, which means that KWS must continuously maintain a programme of alien clearance to stop seeds blown by the wind or transferred by birds or animals from taking root. However, Craig has begun discussions with the owners of both properties on potential solutions.

“Luckily though, aliens generally germinate more quickly than the fynbos does. Port Jackson, for example, comes up first so we are able to clear it without damaging the fynbos,” said Craig. Going forward, the elephants will be fed the Port Jackson and wattle that are pulled out. “Elephants do eat fynbos but it consists of only 5% of their diet.”

The Bot-Kleinmond Estuarine System became South Africa’s 23rd Ramsar wetland on 31 January 2017. The System supports more than 20 000 water birds and 20 of the 41 fish species recorded are indigenous. The wetland accounts for 12% of total estuarine fish nurseries stretching along 900 km of coastline from False Bay to Port Alfred and forms an important breeding and migration path on which fish stocks depend.

A key focus of Kogelberg BotSoc has been the creation of the Hangklip Ecological Corridor, an area that was originally established between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay from 1998 to 2010 to guard against urban creep and progressive property development, and is now part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

For more information about what was originally planned for the Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary, go online to thevillagenews.co.za and read Safari park mooted for Kleinmond, 5 March, 2019. thevillagenews.co.za/safari-park-mooted-for-kleinmond/

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