Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is located in Limpopo (Northern Province), South-Africa, approximately 12 km northwest of the town Bela-Bela. Highlands Wilderness is approximately 1300 ha. The research study excludes stand number 100 of approximately 70.76 ha, which is managed as cattle grazing. The game ranch is planned to have 99 houses after full development. The size of each house stand is approximately 1.13 ha. Houses are constructed randomly throughout the ranch. The ranch is dominated by average to steep slopes due to mountainous terrain.
Highlands Wilderness Game ranch is situated in an area with annual rainfall of between 450 to 750 mm and temperature ranges between an average low of 2.87 °C in winter and average high of 30 °C in summer. The geology of Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is dominated by igneous rock, which is rhyolite and granite. The soils are generally deep (450 to 750 mm). The soils found on the mountain slopes and rocky hills are suitable for conservation/recreation. The majority of the plain is considered poor suitability for arable agriculture where climate permits. The vegetation of Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is characterised by Sour Bushveld. On shallow soils red bush willow Combretum apiculatum dominates the vegetation. Other trees and shrubs include common hook-thorn Acacia caffra, sickle bush Dichrostachys cinerea, live-long Lannea discolor, marula Sclerocarya birrea and various Grewia species. The grassland on the north-western side of the ranch is dominated by common thatching grass Hyparrhenia hirta and yellow thatching grass Hyperthelia dissoluta. On deeper and sandier soils, silver cluster-leaf Terminalia sericea becomes dominant with peeling plane Ochna pulcra, velvet raisin Grewia flava, weeping wattle Peltophorum africanum, and wild seringa Burkea africana are prominent species.
The classification of vegetation on Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is essentially in the formulation of a management strategy. The Braun-Blanquet method of vegetation survey was used to classify the vegetation of the ranch. The phytosociological classification led to identifying three plant communities with their respective thirteen sub-communities.
The veld condition and grazing capacity of the ranch were calculated using the Ecological Index Method and the Danckwerts equation. These results indicated that the veld condition ranges from moderate to good. Plant community productivity is highly depended on the presence of woody vegetation, which provides for the requirements of browsing species. The browsing capacity was calculated using the BECVOL method. These surveys revealed that Management Unit 1 could sustain an estimated 42.93 Large Stock Units or 25.71 Graze Animal Units and 7.24 Browse Animal Units; Management Unit 2 could sustain an estimated 66.95 Large Stock Units or 40.09 Graze Animal Units and 13.06 Browse Animal Units; Management Unit 3 could sustain an estimated 53.46 Large Stock Units or 32.01 Graze Animal Units and 17.82 Browse Animal Units; Management Unit 4 could sustain an estimated 114.77 Large Stock Units or 68.72 Graze Animal Units and 20.34 Browse Animal Units; Management Unit 5 could sustain an estimated 48.12 Large Stock Units or 28.81 Graze Animal Units and 7.12 Browse Animal Units. In total, Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch could sustain an estimated 326.23 LSU or 195.34 GAU and 65.58 BAU.
In the study of fire behaviour an important measurement is the estimation of the fuel load available for combustion. The amount of herbaceous material per unit area must thus be determined in order to get estimation of the fuel load. The biomass production in Management unit 1 is approximately 6569 kg/ha, Management unit 2 is approximately 5129 kg/ha, Management unit 3 is approximately 3373 kg/ha, is the lowest biomass production due to bush encroachment in the management unit, Management unit 4 is approximately 4809 kg/ha and Management unit 5 is approximately 4127 kg/ha. It is recommended that fire regime on different management units be implemented.
Based on the estimated grazing and browsing capacities for Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch, the current estimated game numbers on the game ranch is not sufficient in utilising the whole ranch sufficiently. Stocking rates were estimated using the ECOCAP programme. Bulk grazer number should be increased by either introducing more zebra Equus burchelli onto management unit 4 and 5 or by introducing animal like buffalo. The highly selective grazer category should be increased as well by in proportion by introducing gemsbok Orynx gazelle, sable antelopeHippotragus niger, waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus and increasing number of red hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus, blue wildebeest Connochaetus taurinus. The exponential increase of eland Tragelaphus orynx population on management unit 3 should be controlled. SpringbokAntidorcas marsupialis are productive animals, twin lambs are common and in good season ewes may lamb twice. Springbok make important ecological contribution by utilising a broad spectrum of the vegetation and plant types. Browsers could be increased as much as the range size could permit because of of the available browse. The giraffe Giraffa camelopardis population on Highlands Wildernis Game Ranch could be introduced, generally giraffe feed at a height of between 2.5 and 5.5 m, thus not compete with other browsers. Considering the available habitat on Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch, no more than two animals can be sustained. Black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis is not recommended due to limited suitable habitat. Blue duiker Cephalophus natalensis population should be increased as well. The klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus could also be introduced. It is recommended that animal populations, sex ratios and age distribution of game species be regularly monitored. Knowledge of the number of game present on a game ranch and their annual increase in numbers provides an indication of the successes and failures of veld management practices. It is thus of great importance for the ranch manager to know the number of animals present on the farm. Game counts are the cornerstone of effective veld management.
It is common for certain areas to have mineral deficiencies. Specific supplements should be made available to the game during certain times of the year even though the nutrient composition of the ranch remains good throughout the year. During the winter months a protein-mineral lick is recommended and in the summer a phosphate-mineral lick should be provided. Diseases that occur in many parts of South Africa may occur in Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch, vaccinations yearly are important to prevent diseases that may occur in animals.
A tree density of 800 to 1200 in areas around Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is acceptable. The potential concern for bush encroachment in management unit 3 is high, especially in the mountainous areas. The tree species should be monitored fixed-point photography in order to establish whether they are increasing over time.
Game ranch management involves the management of the non-living entities such as the roads, waterholes, fencing, and infrastructure. The roads on Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch are in very good condition and most areas are accessible by normal vehicles. However, the roads on very steep slopes could only be accessed by means of a 4 x 4 vehicle. Drainage pipes and trenches should be constructed in order to channel water from the steep road onto the adjacent mountain slopes in order to prevent gully erosion. Water points in Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch should be well maintained throughout the year especially during dry season. There are only two permanent waterholes which are approximately 2.5 km far apart. Types of waterholes on the ranch are artificial earth dams. Waterhole on the south-western side is not reliable source for water supply especially during dry season. The waterholes require reliable maintenance of borehole equipment that should be inspected regularly for problems especially in low rainfall season. Highlands Wilderness Game Ranch is characterised by vast number of hills, and level areas to erect new waterholes are very limited. It would be advised to provide another permanent artificial earth dam on the north-eastern level area side of the ranch, which is next to old gate, neighbouring Ochna pulchra Game Ranch. Placement of licks is crucial to ensure an even utilisation of the veld and to limit soil erosion due to footpaths to and from the waterhole. Sufficient waterholes should be provided to accommodate all types of animals. The waterholes should be spaced such as to limit competition between animals around the waterhole. Water quality should be tested in order to predict certain nutrient abnormalities.
The establishment of a game ranch requires erecting a game fence to protect the animals from illegal poaching activities, and to keep the animals on the property. A 17 to 21 wire strand fence of 2.25 m to 2.4 m is high enough for fencing in those animals that are capable of jumping. Closer spacing of 80 to 125 mm of the lower wire strands in contrast to 130 to 170 mm of the top wires prevents animals from crawling through the fence. If dangerous animals such as buffalo or rhinoceros considered to be kept on the ranch, the current fenceline construction will require upgrading to include electrification.