The most comprehensive goal for the Lifeline project is to create a balanced and safe environment for all animals suitable for release and allow them to adapt into their natural, wild surroundings. Harnas has been rehabilitating sick, injured, orphaned and problem animals for the past 31 years and has in this period developed an exemplary infrastructure for rehabilitation. Approximately 25% of the animals on Harnas are classed as releasable. The biggest obstacle has been finding release sites, as the most successful method of rehabilitating any animal is to return them to the habitat they were originally from. During the last 31 years Harnas have acquired an indispensable amount of knowledge, experience and resources. Harnas believe that conservation and the Namibian Tourism Industry (NTB) have a very important contribution to deliver by establishing a sustainable animal future in Namibia.
Harnas is a place for second chances; no matter how insignificant the being might seem to the outside world and fondly believe that all living creatures have the right to thát opportunity.
Animal related goals are the following:
Part of the Lifeline Project is to conduct research in continual protection of the released animals as well as to provide important knowledge for the future of Harnas animals and other conservation foundations. Harnas will serve as an exemplar for other foundations across the world. Our goal is to release predators into what is left of the Namibian wild. In doing so, we hope to be part of the efforts to remove several species from the endangered species list.
Currently all of our GPS collars are supplied by the New Zealand company, SirTrack. This system lets us track our released animals remotely using the Argos Satellite system which also provides us with mapping data via Google Earth ™. The Argos system is a global satellite location service which allows for all the location data to be downloaded directly to a PC through an Internet connection. All of the GPS collars are also fitted with a VHF transmitter to allow for ‘in field’ monitoring of the animals as well as making collar retrieval easier.
Our VHF collars are supplied by African Wildlife Tracking in South Africa. Each collar transmits a specific frequency and tracking animals with VHF collars can only be done in the field by searching for the signal of the specific frequency through a receiver and antenna. We work with both the rubber-duck “H” and Yagi antenna.
Prey base sustainability
An important part of the project is to make sure that the Lifeline area is stocked with the appropriate type and amount of prey species. Having enough food available to all animals is crucial to maintaining a healthy eco-balance.
A large amount of impala, springbok, gnu and other herbivorous species are bought to stock the Lifeline camp. It is very important that the prey have an opportunity to get to know their perimeters, waterholes and geography of the area well before the predators are released. This would prevent animals running through fences or being unfair prey. It also provides a better, natural way of life for both prey and predator, allowing the animals’ instinctive nature to take control.
Slow release program
The slow release program is based on certain individuals within a given species that has been carefully chosen on individual potential in regard to the probability of their survival in the wild. Of course it is impossible to guarantee that the chosen animal’s release will be successful. How then is success determined?
By releasing animals first in an area where there will be little or no major threat from predation and also by sending out researchers to monitor them and ensure their safety. During this stage the animal will first be released on a daily basis. A team takes the animal to the selected area, study it and then collect it before dark. Once further studies prove that the animal can survive in its chosen habitat comfortably during the day the animal is left overnight, still with a team constantly observing through the night. This is best done during periods of full moon due to the increased visibility of such occasions, and therefore the reduction of artificial light produced by the research team.
After certain criteria’s are met, for example exhibiting stalking behaviour in predators, the animal is left alone with a GPS collar on. From this point onwards the location and well-being of the animal is checked on a daily basis. During these stages the research team monitors the animals’ general condition and also the animals’ behaviour and attitude towards humans. The feeding procedure for the animal also changes; the amount of food given is slowly reduced to encourage natural hunting or foraging behaviour and careful checks are made to ensure that the animals’ health does not suffer as a result. Limiting interaction between humans and the animal, gradually reduced to as little as possible, also aids the release procedure. During the release of a few species major improvement was documented in the animals’ behaviour and their ability to hunt and kill. After numerous months of roaming freely, all physical contact with these subjects is stopped.
Vegetation balance control
For the Lifeline Project to be completely viable for the animals released, the vegetation balance needs to be controlled. Research has been done and the results show that the Harnas area is more than suitable for this project. The research will continue during the Lifeline projects’ active period.
Sustainable waterhole management
Waterholes have been constructed with irrigation systems to permit a constant flow of water for the wild animals. The van der Merwe family, the Harnas volunteers and workers have converted the farm dams into natural waterholes. Methods to manage these waterholes and their maintenance are constantly observed so that the animals’ natural habitat and environment can continue to develop.
Animal health control
Animal health management is a massive undertaking, requiring enough funds for surgery equipment, microscopes, medicines, and vaccinations. Without these, the project will fail as even the smallest virus can eliminate an entire family of cheetahs. Residential veterinary staff is necessary in order to keep the animals healthy and to supply on-site diagnosis for a variety of possible problems.
The released animals can be completely sustained with the above help, but poaching, sadly, remains a major factor in animal conservation. Therefore, 24-hour surveillance is necessary to assist an anti-poaching unit. Not only would this team provide safety for our animals but the workers and guests as well. Fence patrolling, as well as daily monitoring, tracking, and research will help the animals to thrive. In order to do so, Harnas needs food and shelter for these units, research equipment and study materials for both the voluntourist staff and the permanent staff. The process of establishing a security force to patrol the external electrical fences on horseback has been implemented.
Lifeline Case Study: