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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor Russell Hill

Smith, R.K., Ryan, E., Morley, E. & Hill, R.A. (2011). Resolving management conflicts: could agricultural land provide the answer for an endangered species in a habitat classified as a World Heritage Site? Environmental Conservation 38(3): 325-333.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The short-interval fires required to promote grazing for large herbivores within the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site are detrimental to plant diversity. At the same time, longer interval fires significantly reduce graze quality. Conservation managers thus face an enormous challenge when the herbivores are also a conservation priority, since the competing conservation objectives are difficult to reconcile. Population growth rates of genetically important populations of endangered Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) are low or declining following management focused on their fynbos habitat. Investigation of spatial and temporal habitat use and the diet of Cape mountain zebra, focusing on the use of land historically converted to agricultural grassland within fynbos in De Hoop Nature Reserve (South Africa), determined factors limiting populations and facilitated development of management strategies. Zebras selected grassland over other habitat types, despite grassland accounting for only a small proportion of the reserve. Grasses also made up the greatest proportion of diet for zebras throughout the year. Time spent on grasslands increased with grass height and was likely to have been influenced by grass protein levels. It is likely that grazing resources are a limiting factor for zebra, and so options for improving and/or increasing grassland at De Hoop should be considered. Translocation of surplus males to other conservation areas, reductions in other herbivore populations and targeted burns to increase grassland availability all offer short-term solutions. However, the acquisition of agricultural grassland adjacent to reserves is likely to be a viable long-term management strategy for this and other genetically important Cape mountain zebra populations. Low conservation priority habitats, such as farmland, should be considered for other management conflicts, as they have the potential to play a vital role in conservation.