Nylsvley Game Count

Sep 1, 2010

MISSION  31 of  2010

Name of Mission: Nylsvley Game Count             
Date of Mission: 1 September 2010
Beneficiary: Dr Salmon Joubert, Mr Luke Perkins, Mr Charl van der Merwe, and Marion Dunkeld-Mengell of the Friends of Nylsvley
Aircraft used: Cessna 182           
Pilot: Wouter van Ginkel

Objective of the Flight

To count the large mammals on Nylsvley and inspect the southern portion of the Nyl floodplain for any untoward activity.

Beneficiary’s story of the mission : By  MARION DUNKELD-MENGELL

As far as the Friends of Nylsvley are aware, an aerial count of the large mammals has definitely not been conducted for the last three seasons and we have not been informed of any results of any other counts that may have been conducted before that.

On 1 September 2010 the weather conditions were excellent:  mild temperatures, open skies and no winds of any consequence. Surface water resources were restricted to supplies from a number of boreholes while the copious rains of the summer season were all too evident in the inundated Nyl River and large sections of its floodplain.

The census commenced at 08.40 and was concluded at 09.15. The procedure followed was to fly parallel strips, approximately 600m broad and 60m above ground level, starting from the southern boundary of the Nylsvley Nature Reserve (NNR). The strips were flown in an east-west direction, aligned to the southern boundary. The observer in the front seat (Dr Salmon Joubert) navigated the flight-path on a large-scale map and recorded sightings onto the map as they were called out by the observers.

No veld fires have been applied to the NNR for the past number of years. This was evident in the overall moribund state of the vegetation, both in the woodlands and wetlands. Deciduous trees had all shed their leaves and there was little evidence of new growth.

Results: Eland: 2, Giraffe: 12, Impala: 28*, Kudu: 12, Ostrich: 24, Reedbuck: 4, Roan: 20 **, Tsessebe: 51, Warthog: 10, Waterbuck: 25, Wildebeest: 24, Zebra: 40

Comments on results: Species with the greatest deviation from the figures provided by the Nylsvley Rangers on their daily walks were: Impala, Kudu, Reedbuck, Roan Antelope and Warthog.

Environmental conditions did not favour spotting or counting of Impala, Kudu or Warthog. Reedbuck was included, but as they are cryptically coloured and very secretive, the numbers are unreliable. Nylsvley supports a second herd of Roan that was not observed during this mission.

The grass sward was heavily moribund due to the absence of veld fires. At this stage the accumulated litter had changed to a deep grey colour and provided a background against which it was difficult to spot cryptically coloured species, in particular kudu, waterbuck, warthog and impala. Other species would also be affected but not to the same degree. The aircraft used, a Cessna 182, has a large cowling (engine cover) which makes forward vision ( to cover the area directly under the aircraft) difficult. Animals directly or close to the flight path are often difficult to spot.

The moribund state of the grass sward was again all too evident from the air and the need to implement a systematic fire policy should be regarded as a priority of the highest order!  As a first step towards the implementation of a rational policy it is strongly recommended that at least a third of all three of the major ecological units (the Nyl wetland and the two adjoining woodlands) be burned this year when the first rains are imminent, as gauged from weather forecasts. It is suggested that two experts on the ecology and management of the NNR, Mr Vos, a former manager, and Dr Warwick Tarboton, be approached for guidance.

This was the first aerial census of the NNR undertaken by the Friends of Nylslvey, in collaboration with The Bateleurs. Censusing a variety of large herbivores frequenting different habitat types, with different social organisations and colour patterns, can never be expected to yield exact population figures.  By standardising the method, time of the year and, as far as possible, the team of observers, the major value of the exercise lies in monitoring population trends in relation to environmental variables, similar to the value already apparent from the annual monitoring of the woodland birds.  It is, therefore, strongly recommended that consideration be given to establishing the aerial census as an annual event!

The large mammals were counted and the area south of the reserve on the Nyl floodplain was inspected for any untoward activity. No mining activity or any other untoward undertakings were observed.

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Pilot’s story of the mission: By  WOUTER VAN GINKEL

The Bateleurs were tasked to support a game count at the Nylsvley Game Reserve by the Friends of Nylsvley association.

I took off from Kitty Hawk airport to the east of Pretoria early on Spring Day the 1st of September 2010 and headed for Modimolle (Nylstroom airfield).  Here I met up with the rest of the team: Dr Salomon Joubert, Charles van der Merwe and Luke Perkins.  We had a quick discussion on the objectives of the mission and the best ways to achieve these, followed by a precautionary safety briefing.  We took off at 07h45 and headed towards Nylsvley, approximately 25km towards the east.  We decided to fly SW to NE transect lines +- 800m apart at between 150 and 200 feet above the ground, to give the observers the best opportunity for a fairly accurate game count considering the position of the sun.

One of the objectives was specifically to locate and count the Roan antelope present on the reserve.  After the first count Dr Joubert suggested that we repeat the count but with transect lines spaced only 400m apart.  Towards the end of this count the Roan antelope were located in an open swampy area of the reserve which made counting them fairly easy.

The mission was successfully completed and we returned to Nylstroom airfield for a quick debrief after which I departed for home, and landed back at Kitty Hawk airfield just after midday.

What a way to spend the first few hours of spring!

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