When you visit Summerplace Game Reserve, you’ll most likely encounter free-range Roan Antelope. This is quite special because in 1985 there were only around 200 left in South Africa. A concerted effort was made to capture, protect and breed Roan and today there are around 8000 in the country. Here’s why we have brought Roan to Summerplace and how they are faring.
At up to 300kg in weight and 1.4 metres at the shoulder, Roan is the second-largest antelope (after eland). It has a grey or brown coat, a black-and-white clown-like facemask (darker in males than females) and long, large tasselled ears. Both sexes have backward-curving horns, although they are shorter in the females.
Paul Rose, a Director at Summerplace Game Reserve has a passion for conservation and, in 2021, he wanted to focus on introducing the likes of Roan, Sable and Tsesebe to Summerplace. But it first needed to be determined if the environment was appropriate for these antelope.
“We commissioned Ecologist David Lotter to examine Summerplace’s suitability to these antelope and were pleased with his findings. Although Summerplace is in the Waterberg, much of the veld isn’t typically harsh. It offers a better feeding regime than most traditional Waterberg reserves,” explained John Mackie, Summerplace Game Reserve’s Conservationist.
“At 3500 hectares, Summerplace is a nice large piece of land with lots of space, food and water. These are all very positive aspects for Roan. They’re highly selective feeders and they don’t tolerate competition at all. They will only eat and drink if there are no other animals nearby, which is why they don’t necessarily thrive in most national parks,” added Mackie.
“For this reason, at Summerplace, we need to keep the numbers of Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and even Waterbuck under control as they are competitors to Roan for feeding. We need to run with lower numbers of those animals than Summerplace can carry in order to grow the Roan population,” explained Mackie.
The long-term goal is to encourage the production of free-range herds of Roan at Summerplace. That means they’re not camp-bred and don’t require intervention of vets for survival. Mackie and his team, with significant input from friend and Roan expert Else van den Heever, were careful to source Roan from different gene pools with the right mix of ages and sexes in order to encourage free-range breeding.
“We have brought in a total of 56 Roan over the past 15 months. The good news that the calves that are being born are surviving. We have lost just one bull due to tick illness have probably had more than 12 calves,” explained Mackie.
“This is what you want. They are obviously adapting well to Summerplace and are starting to form natural herds and beginning to breed appropriately. It is however important to monitor them closely and look for signs of distress.
“Camp-bred Roan aren’t exposed to much in the way of disease and predators. Being quite a high rainfall area, Summerplace does have high tick volumes, which we actively manage (more on this in a subsequent article). And with Leopard, there is a natural predator here too,” he added.