Signs of recovery for once-devastated ranch as butterflies return

2019-01-11 15:40
The Catacroptera Cloanthe is one of 700 species of butterflies in South Africa. Butterflies are a good indicator of a healthy environment.

The Catacroptera Cloanthe is one of 700 species of butterflies in South Africa. Butterflies are a good indicator of a healthy environment. (Zulu Rock Game Ranch and Babanango Outdoor Educati)

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Once devastated by drought and overgrazing of farm animals, the Zulu Rock Game Ranch in the Babanango region has started to recover with butterflies being the main indicators of its returning health.

Zulu Rock Game Ranch is now a reserve but was once divided into different plots for farming.

The ranch’s director, Jeffrey van Staden, said the land had not only been subjected to overgrazing by farm animals but had also gone through an “extensive drought”.

However, an assessment completed at the ranch by KZN-based internationally recognised butterfly expert Steve Woodhall showed that there had been an increase in butterfly species in the region, which indicated “a healthy environment”.

“The presence of butterflies and moths in an area are indicators of ... healthy ecosystems.

“They are extremely sensitive to changes in their ecosystems, which is why scientists often use butterfly population and behaviour shifts as a measure for changes and problems in local environments,” said Van Staden.

Talking to The Witness, Woodhall said there were 700 species of butterflies in South Africa.

He said the more insects in an area, the better. “Insects, butterflies and moths are good indicators of a healthy or unhealthy environment as they are very sensitive to pollution, especially pesticides.

“The higher the number of different butterfly species spotted in an area the better.

“Butterflies are very picky about what they eat so if there are many species of butterflies in an area, you can be sure there is a great variety of indigenous plants and grasses growing in the area too.”

Woodhall said butterflies, mosquitoes and moths are also pollinators and if the insect population dropped, there would be less food for birds and the whole food chain would be affected.

Van Staden said Woodhall’s report is extremely encouraging “as he notes signs of the regeneration of this region ... So, with time, rainfall, and continuing good veld management, the plant biodiversity will return and the butterfly species count is bound to increase”.

He added that the area also forms part of the Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Node development, a chain of linked private protected areas, private game farms and community-owned land, with the potential to create a conservation area of 20 000 hectares.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  butterflies
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