Hippos in the arid landscape of the Northern Cape might seem unconceivable, but the re-introduction of this apex river species 13 years ago in the Seekoei River is rehabilitating the vibrant water ecology that existed in Karoo river systems for millennia.
Apart from the resurgence of reed banks, the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve now offers a sanctuary for families of cape clawless otters, and forgotten bird species that thrived throughout the region historically have begun making a comeback, too.
A single hippo deposits over 20kg of dung into the river each day. As well as being a source of nitrogen for river plants, it serves as a rich food source for the fish, frogs and fresh water crabs that have gradually begun to re-populate the river. These smaller animals support predators such as the African fish eagle, and African rail, African swamphen and African marsh-harrier have recently been spotted.
As a farmer and passionate conservationist, PC Ferreira learnt over the years that reintroducing hipppos, which were wiped out in the Seekoei River during the late 1700s, comes with challenges. After years of research, mountains of paperwork and negotiating the necessary permits, Ferreira had his property declared a conservancy before finally receiving hippos in 2005.
The hippos adapted to life in the 300ha sanctuary of the Seekoei River and even multiplied. Unfortunately one of the bulls killed the calves and Ferreira had to make a heart-breaking decision to remove the bull.
It has been an uphill battle, says Ferreira, but he is ready to secure the future of these mammals in the Seekoei River by purchasing three additional hippos, as soon as he finds a way to cover the transport costs. “It is crucial to bring in more hippos to establish a herd,” he says. There are currently three hippos – a female from the original introduction 12 years ago, a bull of four years and a calf born in December 2017.
Apart from seeing the hippos blowing bubbles in the Seekoei River, guests can visit a cultural heritage site, enjoy long walks, or simply just experience the tranquillity of the area. Officially proclaimed as a private reserve in 2017, Ferreira is slowly making the move from traditional farming with cattle and sheep towards conservation and tourism. Other wildlife in the reserve include sable, roan, springbok, eland and buffalo.
Written by René de Klerk
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