The buck stops at Vergelegen

It was an “emotional experience” when five eland were released on Vergelegen Wine Estate as part of the Gantouw project for ecological research and veld management. “It’s as if those eland have always belonged here,” said Leslie Naidoo, estate manager at Vergelegen.

“Gantouw is a word that is derived from the Koi language and means ‘the way of the eland. This refers to a path that eland carved into the land over many years as they migrated back and forth from the Cape Flats over the Hottentots Holland Mountains.” said Dr Anthony Roberts, CEO of CTEET

Returning eland to where they used to roam in times past will assist in regenerating the diversity of the veld. The Gantouw Project aims to mimic the historic migration patterns of eland in an effort to boost ecosystem diversity. Using drones and spectral imaging as well as on-the-ground flora and fauna surveys the animals’ grazing preferences and their impact on flora and fauna will be measured. 

For the past five years, this project of Cape Town Environmental Education (CTEET), a non-profit organisation, focused on the impact of the eland on Cape Flats Dune Strandveld. It will now continue to study the effect they have on Renosterveld at Vergelegen. At Vergelegen the eland will graze on.

Much of the original vegetation at Vergelegen has revived since the estate management embarked on South Africa’s largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing project, said Vergelegen MD Wayne Coetzer.

Vergelegen has provided a fenced 10 hectare camp near the hilltop wine cellar, secluded from its hospitality and management operations. CTEET has erected a boma in this camp to shelter the eland and estate management has undertaken to monitor their health. CTEET will conduct research to obtain baseline data as well as ongoing ecological monitoring and will submit an annual report.

The project will be reviewed after five years. The eland research will form part of a PhD thesis by ecologist Petro Botha, the Gantouw Project Manager. The estate has a long history of collaborating with both local and international universities so that students and professionals can further their education through various projects at Vergelegen, said Coetzer. By end-2018 there had been 24 formal studies: seven undergraduate, eleven postgraduate and six PhD studies. Of these, 19 were from local institutions and five from international institutions.

“Urbanisation has resulted in fragmented ecosystems, many of which are collapsing. By introducing eland and allowing them to browse vegetation and prevent bush encroachment ‒ one of the main threats to the ecological health of these systems ‒ the characteristic diversity of the veld starts to return and the ecosystem functions more effectively.” said Dr Anthony Roberts

Vergelegen was the first Biodiversity and Wine Initiative Champion in 2005, and was awarded the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) 2019 corporate award, which recognises the wine estate’s sustained commitment to environmental initiatives. The Gantouw Project is proudly sponsored as an environmental responsibility project by Quemic, a unique and dynamic provider of integrated risk solutions within the safety and security environment.

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