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Conservation at Singita Pamushana

Pamushana - Zimbabwe

Conservation at Singita Pamushana

Our conservation objective is to restore and sustain the historic biodiversity of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. In addition to the benefits for the reserve, it is envisaged that lessons learned here will help to derive best practice protocols that will have application in other conservation initiatives, both regionally and internationally.

On the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, which is home to Singita Pamushana Lodge, we have adopted a scientific approach to conservation. Our management practice is underpinned by rigorous scientific research conducted by an on-site research department.

Research is directed at understanding how the Malilangwe ecosystem works and findings are used by the wildlife department to tailor management activities that ensure natural functioning of the key ecological processes.

Rhino Reintroduction Programme

From the outset, the Malilangwe team recognised that elements of biodiversity were missing from the reserve. The local extinction of black rhino and the depletion of white rhino numbers to only nine  was cause for great concern. A programme to reintroduce these species was initiated in 1998, when 28 black and 15 white rhinos were purchased and relocated from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

Since their release, these animals have been under the constant watchful eye of Malilangwe’s anti-poaching team. This protection, in conjunction with a favourable habitat, has ensured that populations of both species have grown significantly over the last 18 years.

The programme has been so successful that Malilangwe is now in a position to send some of its black rhino to other reserves in Africa, in order to re-establish populations in areas where the species was previously poached to extinction.

This type of relocation has a number of major conservation benefits, including the below.

  • - Benefits to the ecology of the destination through black rhino filling the ecological niche they held before local extinction;
  • - The lower numbers of rhino in the reserve means that the species is well below carrying capacity, resulting in faster population growth rates;
  • - Establishment of a geographically distant population, thus spreading the risks associated with future poaching pressure, disease outbreaks and climate change; and
  • - Strengthening conservation partnerships between private investors, international NGOs and the wildlife departments of rhino range states.

In 2015, eight black rhino were relocated from Malilangwe to a secure protected area in Botswana, and plans are in place to send a further ten in 2016.

Rhino Conservation at Singita

Protection of biological assets

Successful game reserves house large numbers of species highly-prized by international crime syndicates involved in the lucrative global trade in illegal wildlife products. Malilangwe is no exception, particularly with its high densities of elephant and rhino, and constant vigilance is required to keep these animals safe. A motivated, highly trained and well-equipped security force is therefore at work around the clock to protect the reserve’s wildlife and other natural resources.

As a fenced reserve, Malilangwe also employs a maintenance team that works tirelessly to ensure that the 121km of fencing is in good working order. This fence inhibits the reserve’s wildlife from escaping into neighbouring communities, where it can cause damage to crops and livestock. Such human-wildlife conflict usually results in the offending wild animal being killed, so the fence is a good example of prevention being better than cure.

Ongoing monitoring

Understanding the interplay between resources such as soil, vegetation, water and wildlife on Malilangwe is an important leg in managing the ecological balance of the reserve. Through regular monitoring of the various aspects of the system, the research department is able to identify trends or potential problems that require attention.

Further research can then be commissioned to investigate the matter, and possibly lead to a change in management practice. Subsequent monitoring allows the team to evaluate the impact of the new practice, thus continuing the cycle of adaptively managing this highly dynamic system.

Alien plant control

Invasive alien plants are a threat to indigenous biodiversity in many countries.

Usually introduced either intentionally or accidentally by humans, these species encounter few natural enemies in their new homes.

This lack of top-down pressure means they grow and reproduce faster than their indigenous competitors, effectively “stealing” scarce water resources and quickly taking over large areas of land.

These invasions result in exclusion of native species and subsequently a loss in biodiversity.

To counter this threat at Malilangwe, the environmental team dedicates a portion of its time to controlling the spread of invasive alien plants within the reserve.

Even when the problem appears contained, the team needs to be constantly alert to the threat of new seeds that can arrive at any time in rivers, on the wind or in the droppings of birds.

Preservation of cultural heritage

At Singita, our conservation work is not limited to wildlife and natural systems, but extends to the cultures of the communities indigenous to the areas in which we operate.

Malilangwe has had a long history of human occupation, from the early hunter-gatherers to the more recent agro-pastoralists.

Each of these groups has left behind evidence of their presence.

One of our objectives is to understand how these people interacted with the environment and also with each other. To this end, several archaeological studies have been conducted, and preservation of rock art and other sites of cultural interest is an important component of our work.

In addition, Kambako Living Museum of Bushcraft has been set up in the adjacent communal area to preserve the vanishing bushcraft skills of the local Shangaan people.