Many of us have got to know Ann Burke, who volunteered at the KZN Crane Foundation for the past 18 months. She has left to pursue a job which promises to secure her a work permit to continue to live in South Africa as she has no desire to return to the United States. Ann has had an enormous impact on conservation in the KZN Midlands during her short stay. Serving on the Lion’s Bush Conservancy Committee, the Spring Grove dam monitoring committee and the Nottingham Road Farmer’s Association. To thank her for her hard work and encourage her to return to the area, Dargle Conservancy presented her with a Dargle Dassie certificate. She was delighted! “I have so enjoyed being part of your interesting programme of talks and movies and delicious local food. Certainly, some of the best meals I have had in SA have been in the Dargle! Also, such a terrific group of people – the Dargle really feels like a community. I wish you all well with your conservation efforts, your conservancy is an example and inspiration to many.”
The Dargle Conservancy has been actively engaged in having a large area of moist grassland and indigenous forest officially proclaimed as a Nature Reserve to protect areas which contain critically important species or habitats. The Dargle is host many endangered species, including the Cape Parrot, Oribi and all three Crane species. On consultation with various experts, the Dargle Conservancy learnt that rebuilding the food web is necessary to sustain the introduction of ‘higher’ animal species. The Dassie is the most important component of the food web that is missing from the Dargle and as the food web is strengthened we plan to extend the re-introduction to other areas and eventually introduce the now very rare blue duiker.
Graham Griffin, who grew up on the original Dargle farm says “When I was a youngster, I remember there being plenty of Dassies about, nowadays we see few.” Whole populations become locally extinct about 10 years ago. Professor Colleen Downs of UKZN suggests “It is likely that the original populations were wiped out by a Sarcoptic mange, but speculations exist that the extinction was caused by a virus.”
After successfully bidding for a group of 40 at the Ezemvelo auction in May 2009, the Dassies arrived in July and were released into an ideal area at the top of the mist belt forest with large boulders, crevices and caves to enable them to quickly establish flight paths to escape most predators. They appeared to settle in almost immediately, feeding on the supplementary vegetables and water placed nearby to welcome them. They have been regularly monitored and they appear to be doing well. In September 2010 another 23 joined them to improve genetic diversity and boost the population. Another group of 20 arrived in 2011. Exciting news is that Crowned eagles have been spotted along the ridge recently, after being absent for many years. A small group have taken up residence in the farmyard and have been breeding successfully. A recently installed webcam captured dassie activity at night, which is a surprise to many.
Many visitors to the area have enjoyed the tranquility, natural beauty and interesting wildlife and want to give something back. The Adopt-a-Dargle-Dassie Project has been initiated so that you can directly contribute to enhancing the diversity of a forest near you. Show your concern for environmental issues and the local ecology by adopting a Dassie on behalf of family and friends to celebrate special occasions. It is the perfect gift for your (possibly homesick) family in Canada, ideal for newlyweds who would treasure this reminder of their special day in the Midlands, perfect too for urban relations who would enjoy making a meaningful contribution to conservation, or your niece who would consider a Dassie too cute for words! You could simply indulge yourself and do something constructive for our planet today.