Two radio collared Roan Antelope (lithakayezi) bulls have recently been released at Mkhaya Game Reserve and their progress is being monitored by park Rangers. Both animals have been seen regularly since their release. This is a significant event as it signals the next step in the phased Roan Antelope breeding programme based at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Roan Antelope are amongst the rarest antelope in Southern Africa.
Swaziland’s Roan Antelope became locally extinct in 1961 when Ted Reilly found the last animal caught in a poachers wire snare on the Tsabokhulu stream near Tabankulu. The species is known to have historically occurred (among other areas) along the foothills of the Mdumezulu Mountains, the Lubombos and the Lowveld flats of Hlane. The last herd of 12 roan on the farm “Forbes ranch” (now Hlane Royal National Park) were poisoned during the 1930s and were a casualty of the former British Administration’s campaign to eradicate wildebeest from Swaziland in order to “tame the land” for agriculture and development.
During the 1980’s a small group of Roan Antelope were re-introduced to Mkhaya from Namibia. Unfortunately, being from such vastly different climates, and due to limited knowledge of roan introductions at the time, the re- introduction was not successful. The remaining animals were moved to Mlilwane, where they joined a group of Roan that had been imported from the Marwell Zoo in England and the Dver Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic with the assistance of the charity “Back to Africa”, to bolster the species re-introduction efforts in Swaziland’s protected areas.
Under specialized management at Mlilwane, the Roan Antelope numbers have now grown to a point where the options for the best protocol to re-establish a wild population are being investigated.
Roan are known to be very sensitive to loss of grass cover from competing grazers. Once grass cover is lost, their calves become very prone to predation and the adults suffer from nutritional challenges as their highly selective feeding requirements are affected. Roan are also very susceptible to ticks which makes this a particularly difficult animal to re-introduce to the wild in sub-tropical areas .
It is for this reason that the two bulls which are 2nd generation Swazi born, were chosen and fitted with radio collars before they were released. Through the use of the collars, rangers will be able to determine the animals’ movements and preferred habitats. It is anticipated that lessons can be learned and knowledge gained from these two animals before a larger Breeding group is committed to release in pursuance of Big Game Parks objective of re-establishing viable populations of Swaziland’s wildlife. In the case of sensitive species which are rare and therefore have small founder populations, Big Game Parks considers such re-introduction projects to run over an approximately 30 year period.