Adaptive management and monitoring
Scientific wildlife management requires the application of ecological knowledge to achieve predetermined goals. Unambiguous specific goals are necessary. Without these goals one cannot recognise or solve problems, since problems are only observed deviations from a predetermined goal. Wildlife management is the science of conservation through wise use. Wise use means to utilise a natural resource in an optimum and wholly sustainable fashion for the benefit of mankind, doing in such a manner so as to maintain ecological process, to preserve genetic diversity, and to accommodate the optimum sustainable utilisation of all other related renewable resources.
The term wildlife includes animals and vegetation. Therefore wildlife management can be subdivided into animal management and vegetation management. Problem solving on wildlife areas is inherently complex. This is also because there is a myriad of possible interactions between the diversity of plant and animal life and the abiotic environment in any given environment, and therefore a myriad of possible solutions to any one problem. In solving problems in applied ecology, two broad strategies are possible. They are deferred action. Which is known as passive management, and active adaptive management the basic principle of deferred action is the belief that system cannot be managed until they are understood properly, while with active adaptive management problems are tackled immediately by a course of action believed to lead to the desired result.
Central to the strategy of active adaptive management is the continuous monitoring of sensitive environmental parameters which would indicate if the course of action pursued is achieving its set goal or not (Stuart-Hill 1989). The natural (ecological) inventory must determine the veld condition, game numbers, species diversity environmental conditions, and erosion. The social inventory should concentrate on man itself. Thus the needs of the surrounding communities, the skills that are necessary to run the ranch and expertise needed. If the skills to run the ranch are not available one of the objectives should be on requiring the skills through training or in getting workers that have the necessary skills. If not possible to train the workers or to import the skills the objectives should be set in such a way that the available workforce would be able to reach the objectives with their limited skills (Rethman 1989).
Initial surveys must be done to form the basis of a monitoring programme and will be used to determine if the objectives are reached. These surveys can be determining the veld condition in certain areas (ecological) or determining the amount of bush encroachment. The information from the initial resource survey can also be used in this. It must be emphasised that this information will be used in the setting up of a monitoring programme. Thus if this is kept in mind when doing the initial resource to survey fixed monitoring sites can be identified and marked for this purpose (Rethman 1989). Monitoring of the veld conditions, as well as the animal conditions are of great importance. The type of animals to be stocked is dependent on the habitat requirements of the different species, as well as the preferences and available money of the owner or manager of the ranch. The stocking rate must always be conservative to prevent degradation of the veld. Animal populations must also be monitored, and stocking rates refined according to the findings.
A prerequisite for the development of an effective veld management plan is a comprehensive assessment of the condition of the veld upon which realistic veld management practices can be formulated (Trollope 1990). Veld condition is regarded as the condition of the vegetation in terms of a functional characteristic like food production, resistance to soil erosion, physiognomical structure and the production of fuel for fire. For any ranch manager, it is crucial to know what the veld condition is in order to determine the grazing capacity and monitoring the effect of the animals on the vegetation.
Phenology is the term used to describe the different growth phases or phenophases in the life cycle of plants and animals that occur in reaction to the climatic rhythm of the environment (Van Rooyen and Theron 1996). Phenophases like leaf, flower, and different fruit phases of grasses, forbs, and trees are usually repeated at the same time every year. This is the reason that monitoring of the different homogeneous plant communities must also be done at the same time every year. Monitoring sites were established in each management unit with a total of six monitoring sites on the game ranch. GPS coordinates were taken at each point so that the manager can determine change in vegetation over time.
The results of the Step-point, and BECVOL method were listed in a survey sheet (Appendix 6). Also photographs were taken of each monitoring site (Appendix 7). With every resurvey, the highest veld condition score up to date for every monitoring point should be kept as the benchmark of the potential for that specific community. Biomass production can be monitored in order to adapt the burning programme every year. It is advisable to use disc pasture meter to determine the fuel load of an area.
The ecological carrying capacity of an area is the maximum amount of animals that can be kept in a area. The ecological carrying capacity is a function of the habitat and social pressures. The ecological carrying capacity for each species is the number of species that would occur in large natural areas (Grossman, Holden and Collinson 1999). The increase per unit time or growth rate in a population is important because it is used in determining harvesting quotas. The rate of growth is also determined by the different growth phases. Population growth is a lot faster during the exponential phase than during the establishment phase.
It is important to monitor population regularly to determine the effect of success, so as to establish whether the selected management technique yields the desired results, and to see how the technique or results should be adjusted. Birth and death rate are other ecological principles in animal populations. These rates are used in determining growth rates and then to determine harvesting quotas. The sex ratio of different species should also be considered when stocking a game ranch. An optimum sex ratio is necessary for optimum production.
Unbalanced sex ratios often lead to poor mating frequency and poor reproduction. The age structure of the herds should also be monitored. Game counts are the basis of effective veld management. Known or individual count is the method suitable for game count in Highlands, the total population of game including game occurring in fixed herds can be estimated, by obtaining regular recordings of their sightings including the number and composition of every herd encountered (Bothma 2002).
It is also important to monitor changes in environmental factors such as rainfall and temperature because they give rise to the changes in vegetation. Long-term weather data can be obtained from Department of agriculture in Bela-Bela (Warmbath) to check climate change on monthly and yearly basis.
Erosion can be prevented and controlled, when proper measures are followed. The steps taken in the reclamation of the bare patches and the degree or capability of certain areas to be eroded can be evaluated. Erosion should be monitored annually, while the recovery of erosion should be monitored most often.
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