City’s nature reserves home to more animal life than you think

A camera trap picture of a Cape Grysbok.

Table Bay and Blaauwberg nature reserves were part of a study into what influences species richness in urban reserves.

The study by Andrea Schnetler, a municipal intern who recently completed her Master’s degree in conservation, used remote-sensing camera traps at 151 spots across 12 Cape Town reserves to see what medium and large mammal species are still surviving there and why some of the reserves are home to more species than others.

The cameras recorded 19 native species – 11 carnivores, seven herbivores and one omnivore and reflected almost half of the 39 species believed to have been present in these areas historically.

There were four antelope species; three mongoose species; three hares; two genet species; striped polecat; honey badger; Cape clawless otter; Cape fox; caracal; leopard, chacma baboon and porcupine.

The surveying of the reserves started in May 2017 and ended in February 2019.

Up to four reserves were surveyed at a time and the survey design was dependent on the reserve size. Five to 30 cameras would be set up in each of the reserves, with surveys ranging from 30 days to almost seven months at a time.

“Knowing the status of these mammals in our reserves is an important indication of ecosystem health,” said mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt.

The number of species in a reserve varied from one to 12. The survey results were analysed to see how reserve size, shape, connectivity, habitat variety, and the presence of permanent freshwater influences medium and large mammal community composition in a reserve.

“It was reassuring to note that most species we expected to find were still present in reserves, and to see how reserve characteristics affect the presence of certain species, “ Ms Nieuwoudt said.

The research analysis showed that higher species richness and the presence of large carnivores was best explained by improved access to large amounts of natural habitat and that the most common mammal species in these reserves tend to be generalists that did not rely on very specific food sources or habitats.

“It was a privilege being allowed to explore each reserve while setting up and checking cameras, and very exciting to discover which species the cameras had recorded, especially those we weren’t sure were still present in a reserve, “ Ms Schnetler said.

“The most exciting part about doing this research though was discovering the potential of the results to provide data, support and motivation for conservation efforts going forward.”