Thorns not welcome at school

The scholars at Kaapmuiden School can look forward to playing barefoot on the rugby and netball fields once again, thanks to TRAC and the Lowveld and Escarpment Fire Protection Association (LEFPA).

The school fields were invaded by Alternanthera pungens (commonly known as Paper Thorns) early this year preventing learners from enjoying much needed, and loved, sporting activities. For the children of this school, situated in one of the hottest areas of the Lowveld wearing shoes is unbearable and not an option in scorching heat. So when the pesky thorns invaded their playing field the kids, and school staff, faced a major dilemma.

 LEFPA Kaapmuiden school 3  LEFPA Kaapmuiden school 2  LEFPA Kaapmuiden school 1
The school approached TRAC for assistance and we contracted LEFPA to eradicate the troublesome weeds. The thorns were dug out by Lefpa teams after which the sports fields were treated with a special chemical which prevents regrowth.

LEFPA is a volunteer organisation with 515 members. As the largest FPA in the country, LEFPA deals with all aspects of Detection, Prevention, Supression, Rehabilitation and Awareness and form part of the Provincial Umbrella Fire Protection Association (MUFPA – Mpumalanga Umbrella Fire Protection Association).

This is one of the numerous project TRAC is conducting for and with Kaapmuiden School. We are also building additional classrooms at this institution and we’re running a Literacy Boost Program which encourages children to read. The latter aims at improving the literacy skills of 180 foundation phase learners at the school and also consists of teacher support, school book banks and community driven reading camps.


HEAL Report – February 2015

Following on with our dedication to protect the environment, TRAC is pleased to release the Houtbosloop Environmental Action Link (HEAL) report for January and February 2015.

This report lists a number of interesting things, but one of the most notable ones is that incidents of snares have fallen drastically recently. This is attributed to a number of reasons:

  • The recent rainfall has supplied animals with plenty of water so the animals have no reason to come down from their normal feeding grounds in search of water
  • Local farmers are on their property more frequently these days so farm staff allegedly involved in snaring have less opportunity to set up and monitor their snares
  • Visible HEAL patrols on farms are having a positive impact in the fight against snares

According to HEAL rangers, animal activity on the farms has dropped significantly as most animals are staying away from populated areas due to the favourable water conditions.  Animals sighted include:

  • Grey Duiker
  • Red Duiker
  • Bushbuck
  • Black Mamba
  • Baboon
  • Jackal
  • Banded mongoose
  • Slander mongoose
  • Hippo
  • Vervet Monkey


This map shows points of interest collected by the HEAL rangers. The results are sorted in the groups: snares (red), dead animals (black), spotted living animals (blue) and alien plants (white). The groups are marked separately by colour and shape of the icon.

Saving our environment – one tree at a time

Planting trees seem so simple, so easy, so … low-technology doesn’t it? Yet it plays an essential role in combating pollution which is important to the livelihoods of people and their surroundings, now and for the future. Trees are needed for a variety of reasons including to supplement and anchor soil to maximise water supplies, to revamp and transform rural and urban areas as well as provide shade and shelter for all.

Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) is an organisation that has taken on the task of implementing the high impact environmental and conservation initiative – Wessa Eco-Schools Project – which prompts the public to participate in caring for the earth. They contribute to conserving the terrains energy and diversity by:

  • Promoting sound environmental values and sustainable lifestyle
  • Integrating conservation and development
  • Encouraging and generating individuals and community action
  • Enabling and growing a vibrant and active broad-based membership
  • Securing the protection and wise of natural resources
  • Acting as an environmental watchdog
  • Responding to changing needs and fostering collaborative partnerships

Through WESSA, TRACN4 was given the opportunity to be involved with this initiative by donating trees, stepping in a greener direction, raising awareness of South African municipal improvement and allowing the Eco-schools in the Nkomazi region an opportunity to participate in planting trees and related educational programmes.

Last year during Arbour month TRAC donated 10 Paper Bark Acacia trees and 10 Sausage trees which were grown at Thembalethu Nursery in Schoemansdal which happens to also be one of our champion CSI Projects. Trees were planted at various schools in the area namely Joseph Matsebula High, Lovunywa Secondary, Lomatidraai Primary and Matsafeni Primary. Learners took their first active step to reducing negative impacts on the planet by planting trees in a bid to keep Mother Nature alive.

This year WESSA held their 10-year commemorative conference and award ceremony for all Eco-Schools from across Mpumalanga acknowledging them for their commitment, dedication and participation in the programme.

TRAC is pleased to have had the opportunity to engage with WESSA in their programmes as our policy is to deliver environmentally responsible or “green” projects.

Helping HEAL ‘heal’ the environment

The fate of wildlife often lies in the hands of mankind and with poaching and unethical hunting techniques on the rise, it seems wild animals remain vulnerable to the selfishness and immorality of some human beings.
In wildlife-enriched areas, which make up a large portion of Mpumalanga, conservationists and environmentalists combat poaching and illegal hunting – of all wild animals – on a daily basis.

Apart from boasting the Big 5, the province is renowned for housing a vast variety of bush animals, especially in the escarpment area where numerous patches of natural land still exist. From the small bush pig to the bigger Waterbuck and Kudu – they all have the ability to thrive in the splendor of this beautifully luscious province. However, the reality is that due to greedy and callous human antics many of these species are now under threat with their numbers dwindling rapidly.

The wildlife in this area are mostly either killed for commercial purposes or by individuals wanting game meat. Unfortunately most don’t follow ethical hunting practices and instead use one of the most barbaric and inhumane hunting methods – wire snaring – which always results in a terribly cruel, sadistic death for a trapped animal. A few ‘fortunate’ ones die from the injuries endured from the trap, but most die in the most agonizing, heartless way – from thirst and hunger due to being left in the trap for days.

Having always been passionate about conservation and animals, Lowvelder Philip Owen, realized that this was becoming problematic in the Houtbosloop area and in 2001 decided to be pro-active against this brutal practice. Together with a group of landowners in the three forested gorges – Houtbosloop, Schoemanskloof and Stadsrivier Valleys (close to Mbombela/Nelspruit) Owen established Houtbosloop Environmental Action Link (HEAL) which focused on the protection of wildlife in this area. The main aim of this section 21 conservancy was, and still is, to protect and nurture the Houtbosloop River Catchment area, paying particular attention to the elimination of snares and alien plants. The organisation believes that the conservancy of the area is the responsibility of all its inhabitants and therefore also strives to keep residents involved in its activities, liaising and working together with landowners regarding any environmental issues.

Today the organisation employs four rangers who patrol the Houtbosloop River catchment area and surrounds, searching for snares and expertly following subtle signs left by hunters in the dense undergrowth.
But being a section 21 company means funding does not always come easy for
HEAL and it is currently financed by some landowners in the mentioned valleys, as well as private individuals and companies. The members of HEAL contribute to a collective fund that enables the organisation to employ the rangers and buy equipment and necessities for their jobs.

The hard work and success achieved by HEAL attracted TRAC’s attention in 2011 with the company being so impressed with this organisations efforts and achievements that we decided to contribute financially to this worthy cause. We currently contribute R21 600 per annum to the movement with these funds going towards the salaries of three full-time rangers. TRAC’s monthly contribution also goes towards other essentials such as uniforms, boots, field gear, communication equipment and transportation of rangers.
Owen can’t praise TRAC enough for their assistance saying it proves how connected the concessionaire is to the communities and regions it serves. “
As a local community, as a nation and as a people, it is critically important that we value and respect the services provided to us by nature, and to protect biodiversity resources which keep natural systems alive and functional,” says Owen.

“The contribution of TRAC has assisted us to better protect the natural biodiversity of the Houtbosloop, Stadsriver and Schoemanskloof valleys, where the HEAL field rangers have saved the lives of countless mammals, such as Red Duiker, Bushbuck, BushPig, Oribi, Common Duiker, Civit and many more.”
Owens adds, “TRAC’s contribution fundamentally supports our organisation’s success. HEAL would not be able to patrol such a large area if it did not have access to funds to pay the rangers’ salaries.”

According to TRAC’s CSI manager, Adri Fourie, the company is proud to assist an organisation that adds so much value to the sustainability and protection of the environment. “It is through collaboration that we believe humankind will achieve positive, sustainable change. Although the environmental threats are imminent and the conservation challenges real, we are confident that through mutual cooperation and respect we still have time to conserve and protect our one shared planet, Earth,” concludes Adri.

TRAC helps combat ‘aliens’

TRAC acquired the services of the Lowveld & Escarpment Fire Protection Agency (LEFPA) to assist with alien eradication. This was after it was noted with concern that the road reserve of the newly built Nelspruit Ring Road (N4 section 7) was taken over by category one alien invasive species. Working for a fire protection agency, LEFPA personnel are not busy during the rainy season from November to April and are thus available to all members of the association to assist where they can. TRAC seized this opportunity to use the LEFPA workforce in the eradication of aliens and acquired two teams — one was deployed to the Ring Road and the other to the Waterval Boven area.

The Department of Agriculture’s list of alien species features three categories based on the plants’ level of invasion, their value of usage in South Africa and how they breed and spread. Category one species must be destroyed and are not allowed to be planted without a permit. Land owners are required by law to eradicate them where they occur. TRAC saw the need to take action when it was observed that the Ring Road was taken over by category one aliens. The target species included lantana, bug weed, castor oil, syringa, yellow bells and Spanish reeds.

The two teams of 12 persons each were given their own transport. They underwent road safety induction and were supplied with safety vests. Work commenced in January and was stopped in April when the teams had to go back to their normal duties at LEFPA as fire season loomed. The teams faced many challenges, not least of which was a very wet summer season. Others included encountering snakes, wasps and bees, and inaccessible terrain proved an obstacle too.
The main method used was to cut the plants to stumps and spray them with herbicide. Because some of the aliens such as the Spanish reeds regrow quickly, they will have to be dealt with as soon as the teams become available again. TRAC learned invaluable lessons in alien eradication as well as managing outside teams in the process. Plans are already afoot to work with the LEFPA teams during their next off season.

The co-operation with LEFPA was deemed a very successful partnership because the core objective of alien eradication was achieved. TRAC used CSI funds in appointing the alien eradication teams.