Aspects of the conservation of oribi (Ourebia ourebi) in KwaZulu-Natal.
The oribi Ourebia ourebi is probably South Africa's most endangered antelope. As a specialist grazer, it is extremely susceptible to habitat loss and the transformation of habitat by development. Another major threat to this species is illegal hunting. Although protected and listed as an endangered species in South Africa, illegal poaching is widespread and a major contributor to decreasing oribi populations. This study investigated methods of increasing oribi populations by using translocations and reintroductions to boost oribi numbers and by addressing overhunting. Captive breeding has been used as a conservation tool as a useful way of keeping individuals of a species in captivity as a backup for declining wild populations. In addition, most captive breeding programmes are aimed at eventually being able to reintroduce certain captive-bred individuals back into the wild to supplement wild populations. This can be a very costly exercise and often results in failure. However, captive breeding is a good way to educate the public and create awareness for the species and its threats. Captive breeding of oribi has only been attempted a few times in South Africa, with varied results. A private breeding programme in Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal was quite successful with the breeding of oribi. A reintroduction programme for these captive-bred oribi was monitored using radio telemetry to assess the efficacy of such a programme for the oribi. As with many reintroductions of other species, this one was not successful and resulted in many mortalities. However, many variables have been identified that contributed to the failure of this programme and they can be adapted to increase the chances that captive breeding and reintroduction be a viable conservation tool for oribi. Besides captive breeding and reintroductions, the translocation of wild animals can also be effective in sustaining wild populations. Translocations usually appreciate a higher rate of success than reintroductions. A translocation of wild oribi was attempted in this study. This involved the translocation of four males and eleven females and a year-long monitoring programme. This translocation proved to be extremely successful in establishing a sustainable wild population of oribi with few mortalities and several births. However, such translocations can only be attempted when there is suitable habitat and high security from poaching. One source of oribi for the translocation part of the study was from a housing estate that had a high density population of oribi. The existence of such a thriving population of animals on what is often a controversial type of development led to a case study investigation. Housing developments are increasing in size and in numbers in South Africa, and are rarely held accountable for the destruction caused to local habitat or wildlife. This case study used this housing estate as an example of development and conservation cooperating and enjoying the success of a thriving population of endangered oribi. Many variables have been identified that contribute to the success of this venture and that could be used as a requisite for planned housing developments in the future. In particular, clustering of houses to leave open wild areas that are managed ecologically. Finally, the issue of illegal hunting was identified as a very serious threat to oribi conservation. Using surveys, residents of rural settlements and landowners were probed about this issue so that a demographic profile of hunters could be created. This profile could then be used to make recommendations on ways to slow the spread of illegal hunting as well as educate hunters and conservation laws. The results showed that many rural people hunt on a regular basis and most hunt with dogs. It also III showed that there is a high level of ignorance amongst these people on the laws concerning conservation and wildlife species. It was concluded from this study that captive breeding and reintroduction of oribi might be a way to enhance wild populations, but might be more useful in creating public awareness. Translocation, on the other hand, was extremely successful as a way of saving doomed populations and augmenting stable ones. However, it requires suitable and protected habitat. Using housing estates as havens for endangered species is an option but only if the right legislation is passed and cooperation demanded with large portions of land remaining undeveloped. Addressing illegal hunting is the most important, and possibly the most difficult hurdle for oribi conservation besides habitat destruction. Finally, recommendations for oribi conservation and management were made based on the results from this study.
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