There are over 40 species of large mammals at Summerplace Game Reserve, including Giraffe, Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Eland, Roan, Kudu, Sable, Tsessebe and many more. And, occasionally, you might spot our herd of Boran cattle. While they’re not nearly as exciting to spot in the bush, they fulfil an essential role in our ecosystem. Here’s why.
In order to have a balanced and functioning ecosystem in the wild, there needs to be animals that feed on the various types of grass, bushes and trees. Buffalo is the natural bulk-feeder in the bushveld, but because of the challenges that come with having Buffalo at Summerplace, a herd of Boran cattle has been introduced to fulfil this important role.
“Buffalo is a natural bulk-feeder because it has a broad mouth. Hippo and White Rhino are also bulk-feeders, but they prefer short grass, whereas Buffalo favour longer grass,” explained Summerplace Game Reserve Conservationist, John Mackie.
“The Zebra is also essentially a bulk-feeder, but, like a horse, it pulls the grass out from the roots as opposed to cutting it off. Cattle try to choose the best grass, but as they have broad mouths, they tend to hoover up everything. As long as they are continuously moving, they perform the role of cleaning up grass that other animals avoid. They essentially eat the less palatable grasses, which helps stimulate new-grass growth and a more balanced eco-system.
“We need cattle that mimic the movements of Buffalo, which is why we chose Boran. We need to keep them moving or else they will stay in one area where they like the grass. Moving them daily is important, which is whey they can be seen in many different parts of the reserve over time. A herd of Buffalo in in wild is essentially a moving echo system and we can mimic that with the cattle,” added Mackie.
Because Summerplace Game Reserve is a mountain biking and trail-running destination, it’s risky to have Buffalo as the bulk-feeder. According to Mackie, the herds would probably not be an issue, but the old bulls would be a danger and not worth the risk.
The Boran is a medium-sized animal with a short head, small ears, loose dewlap and a large hump above the shoulders. They can be horned or polled and vary in height from 114cm to 147cm tall. The bulls weigh between 500kg-850kg, while the cows weigh 380kg-450kg. Their skin is loose, thick and extremely pliable for added insect repellence and they also have dark pigment with fine short hair, which is good for heat tolerance.
Originating from East Africa, Boran cattle have developed adaptive traits of crucial importance for their survival. Some of these include the ability to withstand periodic shortage of water and feed, the ability to walk long distances in search of water and feed and the ability to digest low quality feeds. The herd instinct of the Boran makes it easy to manage and survive in the bush and ideal to perform the bulk-feeder role at Summerplace.
“The other important role the cattle play at Summerplace is that of tick control. Like other animals, they pick up ticks. It’s impractical to capture and treat wildlife for ticks, but with the
cattle herd, regular tick treatment is possible. This helps us reduce the overall volume of ticks and lowers the risk of tick-borne disease for animals and humans,” added Mackie.