To date one-fifth of the world’s population is in some form of isolated lockdown, and with that has come a number of online memes of animals returning to reclaim the earth. Usually these online posts are nothing more than fanciful photoshop efforts, but one South African wine estate has seen its own wildlife boom.
Many don’t know it, but Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset includes 1900 hectares of land promulgated as a private nature reserve and has been sharing heart-warming news of the young indigenous animals that are flourishing on the farm.
In the space of the past week, the estate has experienced a rare sighting of a Cape fox family, an out-of-the-ordinary set of Nguni calf twins, and the healthy development of 11 bontebok lambs.
Vergelegen environment manager Eben Olderwagen says staff had previously sighted individual animal Cape foxes, but it was only when the resident horticulturist, Richard Arm, spotted two adults and three babies gambling together that they realised they have an entire family unit living in a burrow on the estate.
Cape foxes (Vulpes chama) are usually extremely shy, and therefore rare to see especially in urban areas so Vergelegen staff have been delighted to encounter the two adults and three pups right on their doorstep.
“They are delightful, with large floppy ears, and proof of how local species are thriving since hundreds of hectares of alien vegetation were cleared from the farm from 2004 to 2018,” says Olderwagen.
Olderwagen explains that the foxes are just one of a few new species they have seen on the farm since the they engaged in the largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing project 18 months ago. The estate cleared an area of some 2200 hectares of densely packed pine, acacia and eucalyptus, which is now home to burgeoning fynbos. In addition to the foxes staff have also seen Cape leopard, caracal, honey badger, grey rhebok and spotted genet.
Additionally, Olderwagen explains, the birth of 11 bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus) over the past few months has brought the number of this rare breed on the estate to over 50. There are three breeding herds: One is located in the aptly named Welpiesvlei (cub) area, another near the wine cellar, and one near the management office.
Vergelegen first welcomed 13 bontebok to the estate about 11 years ago. The estate’s late conservationist, Gerald Wright, was on the advisory board of the Helderberg Nature Reserve, where grazing was insufficient. The buck were treated for ecto-parasites and given copper and zinc supplements, and have since flourished on the estate’s lush indigenous and pasture vegetation.
In addition to the wildlife, the estate has also said their local Nguni cattle herd is thriving. The farm is currently home to some 340 Nguni cattle, recognisable by their richly patterned hides and no less than 146 of the cows are pregnant and due to give birth between June and September this year.
Vergelegen CEO Wayne Coetzer says: “During this worrying time, our priority has naturally been to ensure the safety of our staff while we have attended to essential farming and horticultural duties. It has given us a real psychological boost, however, to hear reports of how nature continues to flourish.
“While we cannot open our gates to visitors at present, we are delighted to share this positive news. Connecting in some way with nature seems more important now than ever,” says Coetzer, adding, “We look forward to the time when we may again welcome visitors to this beautiful estate, so that they can walk in nature and soak up the peace and tranquillity of 18 exquisite gardens.”
See www.vergelegen.co.za, email [email protected] for details of when Vergelegen will open after the lockdown.