South Africa celebrates Arbor Week in the first week of September annually. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, is responsible for the campaign.
This year the Department will be focusing on the country’s so-called champion trees which include some of the oldest, largest, and culturally significant trees like the Sagole Baobab Tree in Limpopo. This largest baobab in South Africa is located east of Tshipise in Limpopo Province. It is also known as the tree “that roars”.
At the FOUR PAWS’ Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in the Eastern Free State of course it is the lions that do all the roaring and those rumbles very often come from where they lie in the shade of the trees in their enclosures.
Here every tree that gives shade and enrichment to the 76 lions, 23 tigers and three leopards as well as the antelope and the zebra on the 1 250 hectares, is a champion.
To make sure there is a legacy of such trees for the future, the humble and kind Vegetation Team Manager, Zukisa Nokoyo, says the conservation, maintenance and planting of new trees is a strategic objective of LIONSROCK.
“This to ensure ecological balance and long-term sustainability of our flora and fauna. “
Zukisa Nokoyo, Vegetation Team Manager
It is part of his brief as manager that he must craft a vegetation management plan that supports this key objective. Zukisa will be building on the LIONSROCK tree planting programme started in the latter part of 2015 by creating protective fences around young trees and the laying of irrigation pipes and installation of pumps. He will also aim to start a vegetable garden to supply the restaurant at the LIONSROCK Visitor Centre.
The first consignment of 127 trees was planted in February and March 2016. The planting of new trees however remains an ongoing project for which various trees are selected to be planted in the enclosures as well in amongst the natural pasture.
One of the most popular trees amongst these is the River Bushwillow, a medium to large spreading tree. It is planted as a shade tree for the animals. Also popular is the medium-sized White Stinkwood. The Wild Olive trees are also holding their own as evergreen trees with their grey-green and glossy leaves shining all year in the African sun.
Come spring, it is the Sweet Thorn trees with their attractive blossoms and lingering soft fragrance that entice the birds as well as butterflies closer. Birds nest in them and the flowers attract insects to feed them.
Zukisa says the trees are chosen for their adaptability to the terrain and weather of the Eastern Free State as well as their suitability to the sanctuary and its animals. The area is known for its cool climate with frosty winters and mild summers. The average annual temperature is around 14 degrees Celsius.
The selected species are also chosen to provide grazing and shelter for the animal species not in the enclosures but who make their home in amongst the long grasses of the fields of the Highveld.
Zukisa’s plans and strategy as a manager include reviving the LIONSROCK nursery in order that he and his team can start with the propagation of trees. This includes the extension of the existing structure and the collection of material needed for a functional nursery.
He points out that an ongoing and long-term Integrated management plan is in place to combat the growth of invasive species of trees and plants on LIONSROCK. This includes strategies to ensure the three major alien invasive plant species, Black Wattle, Australian poplar and Blue Gum, are eradicated on LIONSROCK. The eradication campaign kicked off in 2017.
Zukisa says during this phase of the project most of the invasive species were cut down and the stumps were treated to stop all further growth.
“We are continuing with the plan and will need to reintroduce indigenous species to replace the alien and invasive plants.”
According to the plan, new trees will also be planted in the enclosures. “Trees are important for the big cats as they provide shelter and a means of exercise and grooming. We also need to protect the trees as they are key to a healthy and thriving ecosystem.”
He feels that National Arbor Day should be a celebration of our South African environment and natural heritage.
“It is a day to honour nature. A day to honour the environment. This is a day to heighten awareness about the importance of preserving and taking care of vegetation.”
His Arbor Day message to all is clear and concise: “Plant trees to sustain life.”