30 March, 2016

Send in the eland

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

The Gantouw Project
About pruning and browsing

They say the best way to achieve a perfect lawn is to have a resident sheep. (An actually sheep, not the bead wire our neighbour has) Sheep mow in a Paris park.

Prince Charles at Highgrove when the petticoats on the trees are trailing says - send in the cows - so I would prune our Porterville ash trees to shoulder height.

From a Californian blogger - you are the fire, you are the deer. Prune hard!

Eland browsing

The Gantouw Project is returning eland (Dutch settlers used their word for elk or moose) to the Cape Flats. Gantouw is Khoi for the Way of the Eland. Hunter gatherers followed the migrating eland across the mountain pass. Later followed by settlers in their ox wagons (ruts in the stone can be seen by hikers). Today the road is across Sir Lowry's Pass. That wonderful moment of coming home, when we see Table Mountain and the sea in the far distance.

Gantouw Project boma

We had an early appointment to see the eland. Between 8 and 9 in the morning. Running around between the piles of branches were a family of mongoose.

Morning mongoose

At Rondevlei there are small antelope like grysbok and duiker - but their delicate appetite is like dead-heading the roses - doesn't make a visible difference. To open paths and make space for bulbs and annuals - the rare and endangered plants for this remnant of Sand Fynbos - it needs the hearty appetite (about 24 kilograms a day) of our largest antelope the eland. The eland can make a difference to the three exuberant shrubs. Pictures of browse lines. Blombos Metalasia has honey-scented tiny white flowers. Searsia (was Rhus) grow in our garden, and lie in those piles of felled branches waiting for the next controlled burn (20 April 2016 hoping for Rondevlei spiderhead seedlings) (the controlled burn took place). Bietou Osteospermum moniliferum is also in our garden.

Five eland at the Gantouw Project

Gantouw Project eland

Five eland calves came from Bartholomeus Klip. 2 males (which have been castrated, breeding not wanted and also to make them friendlier to their monitors) and 3 females.

Eland at Rondevlei

Eland return to the Cape Flats

Project monitors always escort the animals. Teaching them to return to the boma at night where they can be safe from potential poaching. If the project is successful the eland herd will be 'migrated' around Cape Town's reserves - opening up paths and restoring 'lost' plants. They will be taught to enter the trailer - avoiding darting, immobilisation and associated stress.

Rondevlei hippos

Gantouw Project is in a separate part of Rondevlei Nature Reserve where there is a seasonal pan. Again a pruning problem. This time, reeds. Hippos were brought in to trample paths down to the water for smaller animals. It was so exciting then! Now it seems ancient history. Nearby Zeekoevlei is named for once were hippos.

Rondevlei's elusive hippos
leave tracks

'Hippo leg bones, estimated to be about 300 years old, were uncovered by [the new] Rondevlei's hippos while they were excavating a deep wallow in the vlei. These bones are the first real evidence that the animals once occurred in the sanctuary'

Despite the - come back when we've had some rain - we did see dramatic flowers. April Fool. Haemanthus coccineus

April Fool at Rondevlei

And birds in the distance ('where seepage from the Cape Flats Waste Water Treatment Works keeps this wetland permanently full'). Flamingoes and pelicans.

Flamingoes and pelicans at Rondevlei

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  1. I love this idea to use nature to prune. As you know I let the deer browse my red twig dogwoods...they are hearty eaters but can't kill these shrubs. Now Elk could do lots of damage to my garden, but thankfully we do not have them here. I love the mongoose picture!

  2. That is a fine example of "win-win"--the Eland have a life browsing and free, and the plants get trimmed enough to allow small plants and native bulbs to survive.

    Beautiful Haemanthus!

  3. On several occasions I found perfectly shaped little beech trees in the woods in form of pyramids. The place was remote and in one case in a national park, so I suppose this had been done by deer and not by an ambitious gardener.
    Why not train them to form trees?

    1. We sometimes see the Searsia shrubs, perfectly sculpted on one side, where the Southeaster has carved them just so.

  4. The Eland are such beautiful animals and I cannot think of a better way to keep things pruned!!!
    I really like that they are training them to return to the shelter and not using forceful manners to control them,what an amazing project!The use of Hippos to trample down paths is amazing as well, these are things one would never know about, so interesting, thank you for sharing this,

  5. I like this post very much, lots to learn that is new to me. A town here, Laguna Beach, used goats on hillsides to chomp foliage as a fire fighting technique. But elands, that is so interesting. I read your links and found them fascinating as well. And I like Prince Charles and what he is trying to do. I guess I am one of the few that does. Very nice post, thanks, Diana.

  6. I've heard the same about sheep and goats, re: lawn maintenance. I guess I need a goat. ;-) You've shared some amazing photos of the Elands and Mongooses. This seems like a wonderful project!

  7. I really should put my goat to eating the invasive muliflora rose on our property. Your eland are beautiful, Diana. I hope the project works. P. x

  8. They are sturdy critters! not like our fine boned black tail deer that were just nibbling at my son in law's vegetable patch yesterday. One area in Santa Cruz where the endangered Santa Cruz Tarweed grows, or might grow, is being grazed too to help the plants - but by common or garden beef cattle, nothing so lovely as your Eland!

  9. So interesting. I've not heard of the eland before and it is a lovely looking animal.

  10. You're making me want to go out (where ?) to find some wildlife.

  11. Your area is so dry I had no idea there were hippos! I love when native fauna are brought back to restore the land. What a beautiful circle. :o)

    1. The Khoi people called Cape Town - Camissa - place of sweet water.

  12. A local park is undergoing a huge restoration, using specially trained goats to clear out invasive species like kudzu, allowing native plants to make a come-back. Apparently there is a company that rents out goats for the purpose. You also get trained dogs to guard the goats!

    1. Those highly skilled Mowers must be carefully looked after. So encouraging that we are finding ways to work WITH nature.

  13. The Eland is indeed a very handsome creature and that mongoose looks like it needed another hour in bed.

  14. The Eland look such sturdy animals, most deer always appear quite fragile. Our close-clipping of certain plants (which I often think of as quite unnatural) is actually all part of what happens in a natural situation; very informative post, thank you Diana.

  15. Such a stunning landscape. I love that they are using animals to manage it. The mongoose is rather appealing!