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The Rock Hyrax capture and reintroduction

Capturing hyraxes is not as easy as one may think and finding reliable volunteers to assist is about as difficult as it remains a task for the super dedicated. Our interest was a natural progression mainly because we are closely associated to a pair of urban eagles that find it extremely difficult to hunt suited prey not only to sustain themselves but also to ensure that there is enough prey for a growing chick to juvenile and fledgling stages. The very least that we could do was to capture and reintroduce hyraxes in great numbers with the least time wastage associated thereto.

Of paramount importance was to ensure that the eagle pair could hunt their most preferred prey at sites that were known to them and more so we deliberately released hyraxes in areas where we knew that they would be able to get to them with the least exertion. Whilst the eagles were in a fine position to plunder these nearby sites, we would simultaneously release into areas less known to them in an attempt to recreate self-sustainable populations. Easy target sites were within the outskirts of the WSNBG approx. 2km from their nesting site as well as Kloofendal Nature Reserve and Kingskloof that is situated 6 and 8km from the nest respectively.

Interestingly, when the eagles’ artificial supplementation program was initiated in 1993, it was exactly a decade later in 2003 that it became unnecessary to supplement the eagles at all as 61% of the prey caught successfully consisted of hyrax – a far cry from years gone by. 2009 was yet another year that supplementation had become unnecessary.

2002 – 2008

The reason why we embarked with the capture and reintroduction of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) was predominantly aimed at assisting the world-renowned Roodekrans Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles (Aquila verreauxii) pair to hunt their most  referred prey within relative close proximity of their nesting site situated in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden (WSNBG) in Roodepoort, Gauteng Province.

Make no mistake; despite the fact that it remains an onerous task, we were fortunate that we had a small yet enthusiastic team whose mindset was elevated high enough to pursue what is believed to be a near impossible task. Ensuring that the eagles stood a fair chance of survival was paramount despite the fact that the odds are stacked very high against them in that they have to endlessly fight against continued loss of hunting habitat.

All members of the HOP team are voluntary, and as we only captured over weekends, I believe that we would have achieved a much greater success were we in a position to capture fulltime but unfortunately none of us could do so. Considering that the RCP and HOP were self-funded from 2000 to 2003, it was necessary that I had a reliable day job to ensure that the wheels remained turning.

With 7 large reintroduction sites – 70 plus that excludes the minority 15 released at the Theo De Jager private game farm – 3 sites yet remain self-sustainable today (2018), but I believe that it is a little overdue and that some additional blood should be introduced for the populations to remain sustainable. Not only competing with the eagle pair, the hyraxes also have to contend with caracal, jackal and poachers. Throwing all these additional threats into the fray we may yet lose our current stock to these predators, which is an issue the eagles can ill afford. Kloofendal Nature Reserve (Roodepoort), which is by far the most regularly frequented hunting site within relatively close proximity to the eagles’ nesting site is one such site where 210 hyraxes were reintroduced during 2004 but due to general public upheaval has subsequently prohibited us from continued reintroductions. It is sad that it had to conclude in this manner as little do the complainants know that a mere three to four decades ago, hyraxes were observed here in vast numbers but they too succumbed to a disease known as Sarcoptic mange (Skinner & Chimimba 2005) that resulted in them becoming near extinct within the greater West Rand area.

Not all is lost though as there are at least 3 additional sites that we are aware of that can accommodate at least 200 to 300 hyraxes with relative ease and two of these sites are situated within the WSNBG a mere 150 – 200m from the nesting site whilst the third site is the Little Falls ridge system situated 4km southeast of the nesting site. The only problem standing in our way at the latter site is the vagrants that have invaded the ridges in increased abundance since the mid 1990’s.      

Capture Summary 2002 – 2006 & 2008

It is uplifting to know that what we managed to achieve on a part time basis that included Thursday to Sunday operations and managing to do this with a small voluntary team consisting of 12 individuals. For instance, available project members would bait the capture cages on Thursday afternoon and occasionally on a Friday, and then activate the cages and we’d return to capture on the Saturday and Sunday.

During our initial capture period from 2002 to 2004 we baited our 12 capture cages with vegetable waste and fruit pulp that was donated to the project in 6 x 15kg containers that I collected every Wednesday and distributed it to our baiters to bait on Thursdays and Saturdays. When our consignment of cages and transportation boxes increased to 24 units in 2005, we decided to change our bait of fruit and veggies to lucern, which we manage to procure at a discounted rate. Lucern is a much cleaner substance than the latter and worked beautifully especially when we added additional nutritional rabbit pellets, the hyraxes loved it!     

Our capture statistics

2002 – 81,

2003 – 282,

2004 – 123,

2005 – 41,

2006 – 242,

2007 – 0 and

2008 – 63 totaling 832 hyraxes.

We did not capture during 2007 as I was too ill with having contracted the airborne virus known as Q-Fever through the handling of carcasses without personal protection. First diagnosed in 1997, it was still prevalent in my system in 2017 ten years post hyrax captures.

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