The Importance of Having Good Grass

Mon 08 Feb 2021

When Limpopo-Lipadi’s management and game reserve council approached shareholders during the October 2019 annual meeting and indicated that selective bush-thinning in the reserve’s encroached and formerly overgrazed areas is imperative, many shareholders were not thrilled by the idea. There were many questions regarding cost, potential success, methodology, and the general aim of selective bush-thinning.

We are quite thrilled to say that we are realising our goals. Half of the areas that have been cleared over the last year are regrowing as beautiful grassy pastures. The reserve is now being utilised in a more even and balanced fashion, with little impact on specific areas like waterholes, which were previously closed because of year-round pressure and overutilisation (causing “dust-bowl” conditions).

The removal of 20 elephant bulls has also made a massive difference in the usage of grazing, and the overall wanton canopy tree destruction has decreased significantly. A lesser-known fact about elephants is that 28% of an adult elephant’s diet consists of grasses, with tree bark, branches and stems making up 58% of the diet, and 3% herbaceous plants and forbs making up the remainder. A 5 000 kg elephant bull will consume between 250–400kg of fresh food daily, between 5–8% of its body weight. Of course, this varies depending on forage availability. The rhizomes of perennial grasses are dug out and consumed especially in the drier wintertime, as they have more nutrition than the dry stems and leaves.

White rhinos are hind-gut fermenters, like horses and zebras, and known as bulk grazers. They feed on coarser grasses 12 out of 24 hours every day, accumulating about 55kg of forage a day. Hippos, by comparison, are fore-gut fermenters similar in size to the rhino. Hippos only feed for 4–8 hours a day and consume 35¬–45kg of graze during that time.
Eland are intermediate feeders that feed predominantly on 75% grass, 15% tree leaves and twigs, and 11% herbs and forbs.

The zebra’s diet is made up of 93% grass. They have a very short retention/digestion time, relative to those of ruminants; 36–45 hours in zebras vs 70–100 hours in cattle and other ruminants. This means that they will consume double of what a wildebeest would eat during the same time. The small intestine is where most of the absorption of nutrients take place in the gut of a herbivore.
The difference between the zebra and wildebeest’s small intestine is staggering. The zebra’s small intestine only 4m long on average, which is small in comparison to the wildebeest’s massive 43m small intestine! A zebra’s digestive organs only constitute about 15% of its overall body weight, whereas a wildebeest’s will account for 40% of its body weight.
Probably the most underestimated grazer is the little impala. Small animals have higher metabolic rates, and thus need more protein to survive. An impala needs the same amount of protein as a wildebeest on a daily base.

Impalas are opportunists. They will graze and browse depending on which food source is more available, as well as on their surroundings during the course of the day. They will easily switch between grazing and browsing, and if competition for grass grows too severe, they will simply switch to browsing. The ultimate opportunists!
Since these grazers constitute a large number of animals on the reserve, it is of the utmost importance that our balance between grazing and browsing is maintained. Not only to keep the animals in a good condition but also to ensure that the lactating females are able to feed their young with wholesome, nutritious milk.
With our labour and good rains, we have moved much closer to achieving the required balance.

The following photos show two of the remediated areas, from before the areas were thinned, and after they were thinned (in January of 2020 until mid-January 2021). A massive positive difference!