14 Oct 2016
Somkhanda Game Reserve
Somkhanda Game Reserve is a community-owned game reserve managed by “Wildlands Conservation Trust” in partnership with the Gumbi community. Somkhanda is the first community-owned reserve to be proclaimed under the Protected Areas Management Act, meaning that this community has committed their land to biodiversity conservation for the foreseeable future. Somkhanda is supported by the WWF “Black Rhino Range Expansion Project”, and has a healthy population of both Black Rhinos and White Rhinos that Wildlife ACT helps to monitor.
Besides breathtaking scenery, a number of game species can be found on Somkhanda, including FOUR of the Big Five species (namely Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and Leopard), but there are no Lions or Cheetah on the reserve. It is home to a rich diversity of other wildlife including African Wild Dogs, Hyena, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Kudu, Nyala, Impala, Bushpigs, Warthogs, as well as some rarer species such as Jackal, Aardvark, Honey Badger and Caracal.
Wildlands Conservation Trust has assisted with re-introducing a number of different species into the reserve to boost game numbers. African Wild Dogs were introduced to the reserve in 2014 to fulfill the conservation objective of saving endangered species, and reintroducing natural predation into the system.
Conservation Work at Somkhanda Game Reserve
Wildlife ACT’s main focus on Somkhanda is to assist with the daily monitoring of African Wild Dog and Rhinos. In addition to this, there will be 2 – 3 sessions of Elephant monitoring a week. During these monitoring sessions, any incidental sightings of other endangered and priority species including Vultures, Hyenas and Leopard will also be recorded. Camera trapping also forms an important part of our work on Somkhanda.
Somkhanda has a critical need to ensure daily sightings of the Wild Dog pack.
The pressing need to track this particular pack of Wild Dogs is due to the fact that Somkhanda suffers from an influx of poachers from local rural communities, who consistently trespass onto the reserve to set snares with the intention of catching bush meat (mostly antelope). Tragically these snares have a large unintended by-catch, which includes any unsuspecting animal that walks into the snares – including Rhino, Elephant, and very often the Wild Dogs since they cover such large distances daily in search of food.
For this reason it is absolutely vital that the monitoring team devotes the majority of their time to locating the Wild Dog pack each morning and evening, to ensure that all the dogs are accounted for and unharmed.
Somkhanda Research Camp Accommodation
Somkhanda volunteers are housed in a large house within the reserve, with twin rooms, an indoor bathroom, a large kitchen and a braai (barbecue) area. The water is good for drinking, and the house has electricity and hot water. There is limited cellphone (mobile) signal in the area. The “Cell-C” mobile network receives the best signal.
History of Somkhanda Game Reserve
After being forcibly removed from the land in the late 1960s, the Gumbi people had the land restored to them under the Land Reform process in 2005. Large portions of the land were previously settled by white game farmers and when the land was restored to the Gumbi people, they decided to keep the majority of their land under conservation and to create a consolidated game reserve that could be used as an economic engine to drive development in the community. As such, partnerships have been formed with the Wildlands Conservation Trust and the World Wildlife Fund. Various skills-development projects have been derived from these partnerships that would ensure that Somkhanda Game Reserve is sustained by the community.
Somkhanda Game Reserve has a large number of species of both fauna and flora. It is home to about 230 bird. It is still rich with game and contains Black and White Rhino, African Wild Dogs, both Spotted and Brown Hyena, Leopards and the smaller nocturnal predators such as Caracal and Serval and many more including a large range of antelope from Kudu to Duikers as well as Blue Wildebeest and Zebra.
What Makes Somkhanda so Special?
The Somkhanda Game Reserve is situated within a Key Biodiversity Area. The site is also located along a very important biodiversity corridor and improving the area will lead to the realization of these corridors and the creation of mega reserves. These corridors are important for migratory animals such as the endangered Black Rhino and Painted Dogs, whose survival will be assisted through this project. In addition to the direct jobs that will be created, the project will also produce a net income to the community of which a portion will be used to catalyse and support sustainable community development.
Somkhanda Game Reserve is special for many reasons, but one reason that stands out is that the community are trying to help save the wildlife that live on their doorstep and are ensuring that their land is conserved. The reserve is also relatively free of tourists. A lot is still to come for this special habitat and ecosystem.