Four young TMNP conservation students, Princess Jacobs, Byron Jansen, Sibulelo Cetywayo and Richardt Smith are working on an exciting range of projects that reflect the richness of the natural environment of the Silvermine section of TMNP. 

Their projects include Rock Hyrax food preferences, water quality of the Noordhoek wetlands, the status of the endangered Marsh Mimetes and the number of Kurper (fish) in the Silvermine Dam and were chosen  from a range of topics which TMNP management need information about to improve biodiversity management of the park.  

Princess‘s research is aimed at understanding some of the requirements of a healthy Rock Hyrax (Dassies) population at Silvermine.  The interest in the Dassie population in Silvermine is fueled by a dream to re-establish a healthy Black Eagle population within the TMNP.  As dassies are preferred food of Black Eagles, their abundance has implications for the number of Black Eagles that TMNP can sustain. There used to be 7 breeding pairs of Black Eagles in the Cape Peninsula.  Currently, only 1 pair nest on the cliffs overlooking Chapman’s Peak Drive.   Princess did a comparative study with a rock hyrax population in Cape Point to establish whether the food choice and habits of the Silvermine group was typical or not!!  She explained that the Dassies are quite shy and so it is not easy for her to determine how many animals there are in Silvermine.  She estimates that there are at least 7 animals near the Chapman’s Peak area.  Princess suggested that members of the public and WESSA `Friends’ could help TMNP researchers determine the number of animals by taking photos of them whenever anyone sees a Dassie and to send the photos, number of dassie seen, location and date to leighanm@sanparks.org  In this way they will be able to identify individuals and count how many animals are resident in the area.  

Byron searched for, mapped and studied populations of Mimetes hirtus or the Marsh Mimetes at Silvermine.  The Marsh Mimetes is listed as vulnerable (IUCN red data listing of 2009).  Mimetes populations outside the TMNP boundaries have been severely impacted by alien vegetation and urban development.  It is an attractive fynbos shrub in need of protective management to ensure its conservation.  The value of work by students such as Byron is highlighted by three important findings.  He found a population of previously unrecorded Mimetes Hirtus within Silvermine which will now be plotted on the Protea Atlas and monitored.  Secondly, he recorded damage to a vulnerable group of Mimetes which is being trampled by hikers as it is too close to a footpath and made recommendations about the protection of these particular plants.   

Thirdly, Byron also compared populations of Mimetes in Silvermine with populations at Cape Point and the findings proved the value of fire for the rejuvenation of fynbos species.  The Cape Point plants had been affected by fire in 2007 and as a result of less competition from mature vegetation, 30% of the Mimetes population sampled were seedlings – a good recruitment rate.  In Silvermine, where Mimetes are competing with a thicket of other marshland species, such as Berzilia, only 9 to10% of the population are seedlings indicating a weak recruitment rate. 

Richardt combined his love for fishing with an important conservation project.  And the fact that he could not tell us what Kurper taste like convinced us that he put conservation first.  Anyone who has visited Silvermine Dam will be aware of the energetic coppery fish that explode the surface as soon as anything edible is dropped onto the water.  Richardt set out to determine the size of the Kurper population in the Silvermine Dam.  A roundish fish of about 20cm in length, they are endemic to the Western Cape, but their numbers have declined because of predation of the young by exotic bass in other parts of the W Cape.  The Kurper were probably in the Silvermine River before the dam was built.  Since the construction of the dam, they have thrived and have an estimated population of anything upward of 1800 to 3500 fish.  The size of the Kurper population in the dam is surprisingly high, and Richard recommends that further research be undertaken to understand the implications of this.     

Sibulelo studied the water quality of Wildevoel Vlei, Papkuilsvlei and San Michell Furrow.  Concerns about the water quality of the Noordhoek / Kommetjie wetland system have been growing along with the urbanization of these areas.   Sibulelo collected water samples from a number of sampling stations which he sent off for chemical analysis and ecoli tests.  He concluded that these water bodies are at an acceptable level of water quality but require continuous monitoring as this may change with seasons.  Sibulelo recommended that a study of the invertebrates, which are biological  indicators of the health of water bodies needs to be done to compare these with the chemical tests for a more complete picture.

It is heartening to see young people taking a professional interest in conservation. We wish Princess, Byron, Sibu and Richardt well for the completion of their studies – and hope that businesses and organizations will look to employing them so that we can grow the number of conservation management professionals in the country to undertake all the work that is required.

 KimK