The Cape Flats Dune Strandveld is an endangered vegetation type that can only be found around the coastal areas in Cape Town, South Africa. It helps to cover and stabilise the sand dunes on the beaches and supports a large biomass of browsing animals.
Once, long ago, many large herds grazed on its succulent vegetation, including eland, who formed an integral part of the ecosystem. However, around 200 years ago the eland, and the other large mammal species, were exterminated from the area, and more than half of the area was lost to urbanisation, leaving it fragmented with less than 14% of it being conserved today.
This is where the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET), in partnership with the City of Cape Town, decided to come in. By introducing eland back into the ecosystem, they hope to conserve the biodiversity of the strandveld and prevent bush encroachment.
In the past, the vegetation was maintained by the impact of large herbivores. However, since it has been over two centuries since large herbivores were in the area, bush encroachment has become one of the main threats to the ecological health of the ecosystem as the dense, homogeneous thickets reduce the diversity of both flora and fauna.
In October 2015, five young eland were brought to the Rondevlei section of the False Bay Nature Reserve. For the first few weeks the eland spent time with the eland monitors. This is important as they need to form strong bonds to aid in the success of this project, called The Gantouw Project – the word Gantouw is derived from the San-Khoi word meaning “the way, or the path” of the eland, and was the name given to a historical mountain crossing over the Hottentots Holland Mountain range.
In order for the eland to be used as effective veld management tools, they need to move between the fragmented natural areas, using vehicles and game trailers – a modern day migration so to speak. This is why the eland monitors play a key role in the success and research of the project as they need to help move the large mammals from one area to the next.
By bringing in the five eland, the project hopes to:
• Restore and conserve the endangered Cape Flats Dune Strandveld by natural browsing and ‘migration’ activities, replicating historical processes;
• Conduct research on feeding selection of eland in the endangered Cape Flats Dune Strandveld leading to knowledge gain that may be replicated on other vegetation types where bush encroachment is an issue;
• Measure the impacts that browsing eland have on the vegetation structure in the Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and how the change in structure affect other mammals and bird species in the area;
• ‘Migrate’ the herd of eland to other fragmented natural areas within the City of Cape Town, as a complementary veld-management tool;
• Educate local communities on this endangered vegetation type and the importance of a natural system to conserve fauna and flora species;
• And provide on the job training and development opportunities to members of the local community.
The project hopes that the impact of the browse by the eland will reverse the negative impacts that bush encroachment has on flora and fauna, this way increasing biodiversity.
The project has and continues to generate a lot of public interest and support. The initial funding of the three-year pilot project is coming to an end in 2018 and The Cape Town Environmental Education Trust is putting a call out there for people and organisations to assist the project in beginning Phase 2.
You can make a difference and help keep this project going by visiting the Gantouw Project’s donation page here.