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A South African National Parks (SANParks) section ranger was dismissed for “gross negligence” after 20 rare roan antelope died of dehydration in the N’waxitsumbe fenced breeding camp in a northern section of Kruger in 2019. This fenced camp of 2km long by 1,4km wide was set up to breed roan antelope for introduction into the Kruger, and now only has nine remaining roan.

In response to a series of questions put forward by Annerie Weber to parliament, Barbara Creecy, the Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries confirmed that the section ranger of Vlakteplaas (situated in the north-west corner of Kruger) had been convicted after an investigation by the Environmental Crime Investigation Unit of SANParks. No criminal charges were laid against the section ranger due to a lack of evidence of criminal activity.

The N’waxitsumbe breeding camp water is supplied by a large reservoir that feeds water into a trough for the antelope in the enclosure. The reservoir is in turn fed by a borehole powered by a diesel pump. The drinking trough has a ball valve to ensure that it remains at three-quarters full and does not overflow. It is unclear which aspect of this system stopped working and led to a lack of water.

There are at least three such breeding camps in Kruger, where rare or endangered wildlife is fenced off to reduce the risk of predation until numbers reach sufficient levels for the animals to be released back into the reserve.

In response to the death of the 20 roan antelope, Minister Creecy explained that an action plan had been developed to ensure the safety and security of the remaining nine roan in the N’waxitsumbe breeding camp, to be overseen by the regional ranger of the Nxanatseni North Region and the head ranger of the Kruger National Park. This action plan will include weekly visits with mandatory reports on the condition of the fences, water supply and food provision, as well as an assessment of the health of the animals.

While the overall roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) population in Africa is classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, there were believed to be fewer than 350 individuals in formally protected areas in South Africa in 2016. The roan antelope population in the Kruger National Park plummeted from a population of around 450 in 1986 to fewer than 30 individuals in 2003. The population has failed to recover, and it is estimated that the current roan population of the Kruger numbers no more than 50 individuals after this loss. Researchers and conservationists have identified several possible reasons for this decline, including the installation of artificial water points in the drier sections of the Kruger. These water points attracted large numbers of zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo and attendant predators such as lions. The increased lion predation on roan led to increased adult mortality in the already small roan antelope population, resulting in a population crash. Other recent studies point to the susceptibility of roan to diseases such as anthrax as a contributing factor.

Minister Creecy’s written answers regarding the case can be accessed here: Internal Question Paper No. 19 of 2020/1076 and 1077

The numbers quoted for the roan antelope population in South Africa were extracted from the Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Subsequent story on a related topic: Kruger roan deaths by neglect – more of the same, says informant

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