During the official opening of the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station in August 2010, Peace Parks Foundation, with support from Turner Foundation, made available a donation towards priority research concerning veterinary issues in transfrontier conservation areas. The Research Station provides a dedicated platform for local and international researchers to conduct experimental work focused on animal diseases and related issues at the transfrontier interface between people, livestock and wildlife.
The wildlife research station provides a dedicated platform for local and international researchers to conduct experimental work focused on animal diseases and related issues at the transfrontier interface between people, livestock and wildlife.
The Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station was refurbished and upgraded thanks to an investment by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust (managed by Nedbank Private Wealth), Fondation Hoffmann, Alexander Forbes, Turner Foundation and Peace Parks Foundation.
Peace Parks Foundation, with support from the Turner Foundation, made a donation to prioritise research on veterinary issues in TFCAs. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was selected as the research topic to assess FMD vaccine efficacy under different vaccination regimes and to improve current diagnostic techniques.
In 2014, the environmental impact study for the development of the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station was completed and permission was obtained to develop the bio- and chemical waste disposal extensions. A Section 20 approval was also obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to be able to conduct and process biological specimens in the laboratories.
The construction of the camps for the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine and transmission trial was started and will be completed in 2017. The camps will house cattle and goats that will be vaccinated and challenged with the live virus. The aim of the study is to understand the risk of transmission of the virus from cattle to goats and the value of the vaccine to protect animals from infection. The results of the study will be applied to the community areas surrounding transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) to better protect livestock from foot-and-mouth disease and to promote the trade in red meat according to commodity-based trade standards. Commodity-based trade is a science-based and risk-based approach that is applied globally.
In collaboration with other stakeholders in the area, the research station hosted a workshop to develop a Herd Monitor training curriculum, which will be used to upscale the Herding for Health programme in TFCAs. Herd monitors are community members who are recruited to be trained as eco-rangers, in partnership with Conservation South Africa. The Herding for Health model was developed by the research station to promote wildlife-livestock compatibility in TFCAs, using commodity-based trade standards as a catalyst and to ensure both positive conservation and rural development outcomes.
The perimeter fence of the research station was upgraded with additional electrical strands to prevent wildlife from entering the facility.
There has been an increase in wildlife-poisoning incidents in the southern African region, mostly related to the illegal wildlife trade. Poachers poison water sources to get to elephant ivory. Vulture populations, in particular, have been severely affected by poison incidents in the region as they feed on the poisoned carcasses. Vultures' highly specialised digestive systems efficiently eradicate diseases when consuming carrion, whereas facultative scavengers are more susceptible to contract and transmit diseases among themselves and to humans. A 2016 study found that, of the 22 vulture species, nine are critically endangered and three are endangered. For the second year running, the Endangered Wildlife Trust Birds of Prey Programme held several raptor-poisoning workshops for rangers, veterinarians, students and environmental monitors from the surrounding area at the research station. A special workshop with local traditional healers was also convened and was well supported by the local organisation representing traditional healers. The workshops taught attendees what to do when finding a raptor that is showing signs of being poisoned, and how to care for poisoned survivors, report the incident and manage and clean the crime site. The Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre provided a hands-on experience in showing attendees how to treat poisoned vultures.
Today over 60% of human infectious diseases originate with wildlife and livestock. The One Health concept is a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. To assist communities in identifying and mitigating risks in and around their homes, a new One Health community training curriculum was developed by research station staff in collaboration with researchers from the University of California School for Veterinary Medicine. The curriculum worked on a train-the-trainer model and was tested in the Mnisi study area of the research station from March to July 2016. The 10 environmental monitors hosted by the research station were trained through the curriculum to become trainers in the community. In turn, they trained over 100 community members in One Health risk mitigation at household level, such as such as proper sanitation and healthy livestock. Data analyses indicated a significant level of risk mitigation measures adopted and implemented by community members who had been trained. The new curriculum has proven a success in addressing pertinent One Health risks in communities at the wildlife-livestock interface and further research and refinement of the curriculum is planned. The plan is also to test the curriculum in other TFCA areas.
In August, Ross University in the USA, in collaboration with the University of Pretoria, set up a new PhD study, which will focus on testing whether rabies vaccination of puppies at a very early age could increase survival rates in the dog population, over and above protecting the animals against rabies. Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans. The study is being conducted in the Hluvukani village, where the research platform’s animal health clinic is based.
As part of a collaboration between the research station and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, the bi-annual carnivore census was conducted in May and in October. For the first time, Andover Game Reserve, which is part of the research station's study area, was included in the survey. The survey determines the health and population dynamics of wild carnivores at the community-conservation interface in the area.
In December, two bird-ringing events, which included local and international scientists, were conducted. Bird ringing is the attachment of a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird to enable individual identification. Scientists at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, who are also A-rated bird ringers, initiated a longitudinal bird-ringing initiative at the research station. Specific ringing sites were identified and bird-ringing groups will be mobilised to conduct as many annual bird-ringing events as possible. Data will be stored and used to monitor changes in the composition of bird species and the behaviour or migrant bird species as indicators of climatic and ecological changes. The hope is to expand the initiative to sites across the community–conservation interface in future.
At the end of the year, additional approvals from the Department of Environmental Affairs were obtained to conduct experimental work on livestock, in addition to wildlife, at Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station.