By Mike Zingel
On a cold, wet yet bracing autumn morning recently, a dozen bird dogs, accompanied by their handlers from the South African Field Trial Club (SAFTC), reserve guides and keen observers, set out across the slopes of the Verloren Valei Nature Reserve’s mountains. Their objective was to find and record Grey-winged and Red-winged Francolin. Verloren Valei is prime habitat for these species of gamebird.
The findings were recorded on CyberTracker, a computer programme that collects, stores and processes data on birds found, location, time of the day and conditions. Data from the survey was transmitted to Jannie Coetzee, Regional Ecologist at the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, who uses the data to monitor population dynamics of francolin on the reserve.
Francolin have their own role to play in the ecology of the Reserve, but like all wildlife species, they need to be managed. If the annual survey reveals excess numbers of these birds, a carefully controlled number of hunting permits is made available. Funds raised accrue to the Reserve, and have made a significant contribution to its sustainability over the years.
The survey showed 60 francolin in the predetermined sampling area, indicating that francolin populations are at healthy levels.
Founded in 1908, the SAFTC is the oldest trialing dog club in South Africa. The Club exists to nurture and perpetuate the natural hunting instincts inherent in gun dogs or bird dogs. It caters for all pointing breeds, including Engish Pointers, German Shorthaired Pointers, English Setters, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Weimaraners, Vizslas and German Wirehaired Pointers. The SAFTC has a long relationship with the reserve. Several of its members are Friends of Verloren Valei in their own right and contribute to its projects.