KNYSNA NEWS - The restriction on humans to venture out into nature during lockdown over the past six weeks by many accounts seems to have given nature more room to breathe, but scientists caution that it is too early to draw this conclusion.
According to Garden Route National Park (GRNP) spokesperson Nandi Mgwadlamba, lockdown has allowed park rangers to more freely patrol the forests and waters around the the park in order to monitor the wildlife activity in the absence of human disturbance.
Activity in the Knysna section
Last week, KPH reported on the bird population in the Knysna Estuary and how it has enjoyed a welcome resurgence during lockdown. "Although we couldn't see how things have changed under the water, we do notice a remarkable difference with the water birds and particularly African black oystercatchers, which are quite vulnerable to disturbance," said Knysna park manager Megan Taplin, who further accredited this resurgence to no disturbance by boats, bait collectors and fishers.
According to Taplin, the lockdown period seems to have also allowed other animals to expand their range and use all the habitat available to them. "In Harkerville, animal tracks on access roads are still visible. Rangers have seen animals crossing hiking and cycling trails including bushpigs, leopards, boomslang and others," Taplin revealed. More wildlife images have been captured in Diepwalle and on neighbouring private land, and animals spotted included honeybadgers, porcupine and a leopard with its cubs.
GRNP scientist Lizette Moolman, who set up trap cameras in the forest as part of a mammal study, said the project targets the forest's busy hubs to examine how wildlife responds to busy and less busy roads.
She cautioned against drawing conclusions too quickly with regard to the resurgence of animals as a result of the lockdown. "Animals know their own paths and habitat better and will stick to quieter routes."
One of Moolman's camera traps, set up on Geo Parkes & Sons' Timber Merchants property, last month captured the aforementioned leopard and cubs strolling around. Although this seemed extraordinary to the public, landowner Jim Parkes stated otherwise. "We see leopards and all sorts of wildlife in the forests on our property so much," he said. Parkes, along with Cape Leopard Trust researcher and media liaison Jeannie Hayward, believes people are only really taking notice of this particular incident because they find themselves in lockdown, with not much else to turn their attention to.
Activity in the Tsitsikamma section
In Bloukrans, which forms part of the Tsitsikamma section of the GRNP, bush- pigs were snapped by a camera trap for the first time in a while. Tsitsikamma park manager Victor Mokoena said sea life is just as active with dolphins seen daily in their hundreds playing close to the shore, and there were also frequent reports of whale sightings. He has also observed the recent behaviour of Cape hyrax or dassies during lockdown. "Just last weekend, as I was driving through an area where they are often seen basking in the sun; they ran off in different directions, which is unusual and telling us they're now used to less traffic."
According to Moolman, later on in the year, scientists will release their findings about the real impact of lockdown on wildlife. "We will analyse busy stations against the less busy ones," she said. "Similarly, marine scientists will analyse fish movements from underwater cameras after lock-down."
Mean-while, traces were found of Knysna's beloved elephant cow Oupoot in the Wilderness section of the GRNP, where she had wrecked signage and elephant dung was found on the Outeniqua hiking trail.
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