The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area is a collaboration among 25 different landowners and the community of Elim to protect their irreplaceable 460km² slice of the Agulhas Plain in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province. By successfully marrying conservation and sustainable farming practices since 2002 this driven group of people is simultaneously protecting the complex ecosystem that sustains their livelihoods and doing their part to keep food on South African tables. The indigenous vegetation of the SMA is characterised as Lowland Fynbos, with around 1,850 species occurring here. Remaining pockets of this threatened plant community have been connected through corridors between the agricultural fields and invasive alien plants are continuously eradicated. Animals that were hunted to local extinction 150-200 years ago, among them buffalo, hippo, bontebok and eland, have been re-introduced, and the reserve already has a list of over 230 bird species that’ve been recorded.
An excellent way to experience the Nuwejaars Wetland is by joining one of the guided wildlife tours the organisation offers in the summer months. We did just that in December and were taken on a drive along the banks of the Waskraalvlei and onto the hill that looks out over it by Eugene Hahndiek, the SMA’s Conservation Manager for Game & Veld Management. So rich was the experience of sights, smells and sounds, not forgetting the fascinating information about the reserve, farms and ecology that Eugene shared with us, that we’ll definitely never travel through this area again without booking another tour. And as soon as DeWetsWild starts guided itineraries we’ll definitely include it in the package too. Anyone with a love for nature will come away from the 3-hour experience with a deep appreciation for the scale and importance of what the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area is trying to achieve.
One of the most inspiring projects that the NWSMA is involved in involves the breeding of zebras that resemble the extinct quagga (Equus quagga quagga), the southernmost subspecies of the plains zebra that was hunted to extinction in the late 1870’s, with the last specimen of this uniquely South African species of horse, a mare, dying in distant Amsterdam Zoo in 1883. Over a century later however it was realised, through DNA analysis, that the quagga was a localised race of the still extant plains zebra, and the Quagga Project came into being to try and bring them back through selective breeding. With each subsequent generation showing more and more quagga-like characteristics, one day we may again see true-to-form quaggas roaming their native country in vast numbers. At this point, the Nuwejaars Wetland boasts three viable breeding herds of remarkably quagga-like zebras, and seeing them was a highlight of our visit.