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To fence or not to fence….

November 17, 2011

I was joined the other night for the post-dusk 20km transect by two volunteers from Galagos Wildlife Conservation.

Peter Nitschke from Australia and Hilton Brandao from Brazil, are here for two weeks to assist with the tracking of the lions on a nearby reserve. They fancied seeing a ‘different’ angle of research and asked to come out one evening with me to see what it was that I did.

Hilton had completed a biology degree so was pretty au fait with data collection, so I explained in more detail what data we were going to collect and why. I gave the GPS to and clipboard to Hilton and set off…….

The post-dusk transects are to assist with understanding more about when species are being hit. Through driving, pre-dawn, at dawn and post-dusk, we can start to see patterns in what species are hit when and also how quickly roadkill is disappearing from the roads.

We drove the entire 20km but didn’t see a single roadkill. What we did see was a breeding herd of over 30 elephants wondering down the tar road towards us. Hilton and Peter were incredibly excited as they had yet to see a large herd of elephants. I had to point out to them that the elephants were not supposed to be there, and that they had clearly just broken down a fence somewhere and wandered out.

Elephants on the tar road

We pulled off the road to allow the elephant to pass, but were then overtaken by another car, driving extremely fast. The moon had yet to rise, so there was no light, and the elephants ‘trumpeted’ and started to run as the car approached. Fortunately, they all avoided each other, but it had been very close.

This is certainly not the first time that the elephants have been ‘for a wander’, and whilst there were no human or wildlife fatalities this time, there have been occasions where elephant have been injured and drivers killed. Fences are there for a reason, but they do not always keep animals in.

Whilst I am studying the impacts of roads on wildlife, there are many other man-made things that impact on wildlife, one of which I encountered when returning from a morning transect.

The reserve on which I live is surrounded by electric fences as it contains ‘Big 5’ animals. Surrounding my house is an electric fence and an electric cattle grid. When I drove home, I saw that the cattle grid was ‘shorting’ and that something was trapped in the wires; it was an enormous Monitor Lizard.

We tried to remove it, but its mouth was clamped tight around a wire.

Its back was scarred from electrical burning, and it was dead.

A study of electric fences was conducted by the EWT examining which species were most at risk, with possible solutions to preventing mortality. Leopard Tortoises, Rock Monitors, South African Python, Pangolin and Porcupine were the most common species killed on the electric fences.

So, whilst fences are designed to protect wildlife from roads, they can often be at the detriment of an animal – is it a case of swings and roundabouts!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. neilaldridge permalink
    November 26, 2011 10:24 am

    Great post Wendy. The final question is such a difficult one to pin a clear-cut answer to. So many tourists to Africa hate to see fences because in their mind they picture a vast open wilderness untouched by man. But Africa is booming with modern development, the world’s human population just tipped 7 billion and if you want to give wildlife a fighting chance of survival then fences do offer a degree of separation and protection from speeding drivers, diseased domestic animals etc. What fences also help to keep out are poachers. But…for some larger mammals (like the elephants in your article) that need more space than that which they are fenced into, fences cut off populations and the natural flow of genes which, in turn, can create fragmented inbred islands. It’s a conundrum for conservationists and one that I think was perfectly illustrated by the translocation of wild dogs from Venetia Limpopo to Mkuhze. At Venetia they were fenced in and genetically cut off but there wasn’t the poaching problem or threat of disease from domestic animals that is evident in more open reserves. Once moved onto a more open reserve that offered the chance of natural interaction with other wild dogs from neighbouring territories, they had to deal with the increased poaching activity from local rural communities and that, sadly, was a battle many of the dogs lost out in. So fences…friend or foe? I’m no closer to answering that question than you are…

  2. Wendy permalink
    November 30, 2011 9:20 am

    Thanks for the comment Neil…… and some really relevant points. I understand that you are publishing a book on the wild dogs that were on Venetia – would you like to share details?

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