Olli Hyvärinen heads to the field to assess vegetation cover at Asante Sana Game Reserve

6 Nov 2017 - 09:45

Finnish Conservation Biology Masters student Olli Hyvärinen, who is currently doing his thesis with the Plant Conservation Unit, recently visited Asante Sana Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape province from the 23 to 27 October 2017 to collect data on vegetation types and cover. Olli is researching long-term vegetation change and its implications for reserve management. Remote sensing vegetation indices are central to his methodology. The week-long trip to the reserve, during which he was accompanied by his supervisor, Timm Hoffman, was part of a ground-truthing exercise, which will be used to validate his remotely-sensed vegetation estimates.

This was Olli’s first time to visit a game reserve in South Africa, and he had never seen mega herbivores, such as Elephants and Giraffes before. The week for Olli was therefore, not only important for his thesis project, but also an unforgettable experience, during which he could expand his knowledge on South African plants and animals and game farming practices. The myriad of wildlife in the reserve amazed him. In addition to countless Leopard Tortoises and Warthogs, he saw for instance different antelopes and a Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Asante Sana Game Reserve covers about 12,000 hectares of land and is enveloped by mountains all around. It borders Samara Game Reserve and its beautiful landscapes are breathtaking. During his visit, Olli was introduced to the different vegetation types including Karoo shrubland, Montane grassland, Thicket and Riverine vegetation, which deepened his knowledge on local plant species. Interestingly he observed that Thicket species such as Acacia karroo (now Vachellia karroo) and Rhus lucida (now Searsia lucida) had encroached onto the Karoo shrubland. Acacia karroo seemed to be consumed and toppled down by elephants, but Rhus lucida had remained relatively intact.

Richard and Kitty Viljoen, the managers of the reserve, were extremely welcoming and helpful in the success of Olli’s field work. Not only did they show him around, but also gave him a detailed account on the environmental and land-use history of the reserve. Olli considers himself lucky, and the knowledge and expertise of the management invaluable for his research. He added that, “Richard and Kitty are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work. They welcomed me warmly into their reserve, showing me around and providing me with great insights. Now, I can put all what I learned into good use in my thesis.” Olli wishes to keep in contact with Richard and Kitty, updating them on his research.

The next step for Olli is to perform a regression analysis on the field estimates and the remotely-sensed vegetation indices, after which he will undertake a time series analysis of the remotely-sensed vegetation cover. He hopes that the results of his thesis will prove useful for the reserve management.

See some images of the reserve below. 

A Pale Chanting Goshawk flying over a toppled down Acacia karroo.

Acacia karroo encroaching onto the Karoo shrubland.


~ Article and images supplied by Olli Hyvärinen