Return of the Rock Hyrax
The Dargle Conservancy has been actively engaged in having a large area of moist grassland and indigenous forest officially proclaimed as a Nature Reserve as part of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. This is a positive proactive partnership between EKZNW and landowners to protect areas which contain critically important species or habitats. The Dargle is home to many endangered species, including the Cape Parrot, the Oribi and all three Crane species.
In consultation with KZN Wildlife and various experts addressing the issue of reintroductions of threatened species, the Dargle Conservancy learnt that in order to be successful, the systematic rebuilding of the food web from the bottom up is necessary to sustain the introduction of 'higher' animal species. The Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), or as it is more commonly known, the Dassie, is the most important component of the food web that is missing from the Dargle.
In July 2009 the Conservancy embarked on a programme of reintroducing the Dassie in an attempt to strengthen the food web and improve the biodiversity of the area. Whole populations become locally extinct about 10 years ago. Professor Colleen Downs of UKZN suggests that it is likely that the original populations were wiped out by a Sarcoptic mange, but speculation also exists that the extinction may have been caused by a virus.
The Rock Hyrax is a species in the order Hyracoidea. A typical family group consists of one territorial adult male, a few adult females, several sub-adults and juveniles. Rock Hyrax females give birth to one or two well-developed young after an 8 month gestation period. The offspring are weaned at ten weeks and become sexually active after 16 months.
Dassies are social and noisy, having many different vocal signals for the group, from barks to twitters and wails. The most important signal represents danger. The area into which they have been released is ideally situated at the top of the mist belt forest with cliffs, large boulders, crevices and caves to enable them to establish flight paths to escape most predators. Dassies are most active during the early mornings and late afternoons, grazing during summer and browsing in the dry season.
As the colony grows it is hoped that, as a source of food, it will attract the Verreaux's Eagle back to the area. Careful monitoring of the new Dassie colony will ensure that lessons learned are shared with other conservation organisations planning similar projects.
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