Ongava provides a sanctuary for more than thirty white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum), plus a small population of the rare Western black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis), of which there are now less than 1600 of the latter in the wild, currently held under a custodianship agreement with Namibia’s Ministry for Environment and Tourism (MET).
We have been investigating the genetic relationships between individuals in these resident populations in order to determine their lineage. We extract DNA from both dung and tissue samples, construct a genotype and then apply parentage analysis to assign calves to their correct parents across generations. In this way we hope to be able to assess the genetic fitness of the population and advise on an optimum management plan to avoid inbreeding.
As part of our broader duty of care, all our rhinos are 'ear notched' to aid recognition in the field, where they are regularly monitored by Ongava’s dedicated game wardens to deter poaching. We also perform regular medical checks, take biological samples and administer booster vaccinations to help protect against the threat of disease.
The concentration of large herbivore species like kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), gemsbok (Oryx gazella) and blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) on Ongava, has made it a popular hunting ground for lions (Panthera leo). In fact, the density of Ongava's lion population is now more than 4 times that of the much larger, neighbouring Etosha National Park; with nomadic individuals, male coalitions and even prides all moving through the reserve.
Maintaining the delicate balance between predators and prey is an essential part of wildlife management, particularly in a small reserve like Ongava. Here, the importance of accurate monitoring, to determine the number and distribution of animals, is crucial.
In addition to traditional observation and census techniques we are now using GPS collars to investigate the movement and social structures of Ongava’s lions. Combined with data obtained similarly from our resident herbivore species, this ongoing research is revealing more about the dynamics of our lion populations, helping us to avoid the problems of over-predation on the reserve.
A key objective of ORC's research in Ongava is to develop a detailed GIS-style database (geographical information system) covering every aspect of the local ecosystem: geology, water sources, the dynamics of our different animal populations – even the weather!
To this end, our scientists are constantly busy; mapping and monitoring, surveying and sampling, tracking and trapping – building up a detailed statistical picture of Ongava’s diverse wildlife and habitat.
Utilising data from our aerial census and waterhole counts, GPS tracking, remote monitoring systems and hands-on research, the ORC GIS will ultimately provide us with a powerful tool for scientific investigation and resource management. Placing 'virtually' the whole of ORC's research at our fingertips!