Environmental research at Tswalu began almost from the outset when the current custodians of the reserve, the Oppenheimer family, took ownership over 20 years ago. Without clear guidelines or required outputs in place, the research initially undertaken on the reserve evolved organically and was frequently academic, or purely scientific. While the Tswalu Foundation will always recognise and support the role of pure science within the research field, what was identified overtime was the need to generate targeted, tangible research to inform sustainable conservation decisions on the reserve. The benefits of targeted research extend beyond Tswalu, adding to a collective knowledge base that has already assisted conservationists in wilderness areas in other parts of Africa as well as those working in academic fields.
Today, through the Tswalu Foundation, research is environmentally focused with a strong emphasis placed on projects that have the potential of guiding a best-practice approach to the ecological management of the reserve. In contrast to the early days of research on Tswalu, prospective projects now undergo a rigorous selection process which includes, amongst other things, a detailed research proposal that includes scientific and management outcomes, accurate budgets, projected time frames and key deliverables for each phase of the work to be undertaken.
The research is primarily guided by the three core themes of the Tswalu Foundation – namely Conservation Biology, Climate Change and Anthropogenic Factors. All prospective projects will need to fall within one or more of these themes to be considered. Although there is and always will be a place for ‘pure science’ within the Foundation, the research that garners the most support are those that contribute significantly to the management of Tswalu Kalahari. One such example is Joanne Shaw’s thesis on habitat utilisation by black rhino. This research has been instrumental in enabling Tswalu to become one of the leaders in black rhino conservation in southern Africa.
The Foundation team also actively encourages collaboration between teams – the Kalahari Endangered Ecosystem Project (KEEP) being an excellent example of how effective constructive collaboration can be when it comes to efficient data collection and knowledge sharing. The projects currently falling under the KEEP umbrella also point to the immense value of long-term data collection. The Kalahari ecosystem is prone to long droughts interspersed with years of good rainfall – and it is these inherent and often unpredictable fluctuations that make long-term data collection so valuable.
Through the cutting-edge research undertaken on Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, supported by the Tswalu Foundation, we hope to continue to contribute in a meaningful way to the scientific and ecological management communities both locally and internationally. Selected research projects fall within one or more of the three core themes that have been identified by the Tswalu Foundation, namely Conservation Biology, Climate Change and Anthropogenic Factors.
Biological diversity at all levels is being lost at an unprecedented rate, many referring to the observed losses as the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction episode. Factors such as habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation are influencing the distribution and abundance of species, often in ways that are impossible to predict.READ MORE
During Earth’s long history, natural processes such as variations in solar radiation, orbital vicissitudes and even continental drift caused changes in temperature and rainfall patterns and inevitably impacted on biodiversity and species patterns and abundances. Climate change is thus regarded by many as a natural phenomenon.READ MORE
This involves documentation of archaeological sites on Tswalu and in the surrounding areas. There is a need to establish the human time line within the Kalahari, closely identifying the eras. These will form layers in our knowledge of the archaeology and palaeontology of the area. The use of current techniques in remote sensing to identify areas with fossil and other archaeological sites will add significantly to our understanding of the human impact on the Southern Kalahari.READ MORE
BASELINE DATA COLLECTION
Tswalu aims to have an understanding of current plant, mammals, birds, reptile and invertebrate species richness, diversity and abundance. This requires clear baselines on which we can identify increases or decreases in a species as well as community composition. Identifying essential ecological processes in the Kalahari and how these processes are changing over time is a vital measuring tool and an important function of research on Tswalu. What are the key elements causing shifts in species or community structure (drivers – short, medium and long term, both natural and anthropogenic), and how does this impact Tswalu as a whole? What are the implications of various management interventions, and how do these impact Tswalu’s biological integrity? Species composition, changes over time and understanding of how dramatic and rapid these changes are will be important in the future and have implications for the ecological integrity of Tswalu Kalahari.