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Our Vision & Mission


The Tswalu Foundation facilitates world-class, cutting-edge research within South Africa’s southern Kalahari region, leading to a deeper understanding of this under-explored wilderness region.



The Foundation facilitates a broad range of research undertaken on Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. Its mission is to promote conservation, and strengthen an understanding of the semi-arid savanna biome within the southern Kalahari. As a repository for information and data collected, the Foundation aims to strengthen species and ecological research capacity within South Africa while promoting the education of people in the region. The Foundation also presents opportunities for guests to interact with researchers in the field, while providing Tswalu Kalahari Reserve with data for management purposes. The Foundation is a crucial component of the Oppenheimer Family’s vision to conserve the Kalahari by restoring the natural environment, re-establishing biological diversity and maintaining the natural ecological processes of the Kalahari.

Biological diversity (including genetic, ecological and community diversity) is being lost at unprecedented rates, with some arguing that we are entering the earth's 6th mass extinction episode. Factors such as habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation are influencing the distribution and abundance of species, often in ways that are impossible to predict. When faced with environmental change, species may survive by moving (or being moved) to track suitable environments. As such, conservation biology faces a conundrum: how best to manage for species preservation and their habitats under rapidly changing and often unpredictable conditions. What is needed to help solve these challenges is conservation planning, based on accurate scientific data. For example, the impacts of fire, or lack thereof, in fire climax habitats are relatively well known, but the impacts in an already stressed, arid environment are not. Do we understand nutrient cycling in an arid environment? What is the grass – termite interaction in terms of nutrient cycling? What is the extent and impact of moribund vegetation and the overall condition of the vegetation on Tswalu?  Identifying the extent of local migratory species and the role of Tswalu in conserving them in the broader context is important. What limits Tswalu’s ability to play a larger role in species conservation in this environment?

The presence or absence of large predators within a system is expected to trigger a cascade effect among animals and plants; one that will take decades of research to understand.  The absence of lion (apex predators) will reduce predatory pressure on the herbivores. As a result, certain species may over impact the vegetation. Limits of carrying capacities may be reached (are we perhaps there yet, or exceeded?), and movement reduced. A suit of predator-prey avoidance will expect to have impacts on the trophic structure. We can document these cascade effects of what happens when a species is removed or added to the Tswalu ecosystem. The Tswalu divide between Korannaberg and Lekgaba provides the perfect opportunity to study this in a semi-arid environment. 

Nowhere in the world do the benefits of co-operative breeding assist in the survival of a species as occurs within arid environments. The need for increased search for food, nesting sites, anti -predator surveillance as well as the number of reduced breeding individuals to ensure the survival of progeny are not well understood. Age structure, behaviour relations between family members, reproductive success and interaction between dominant and sub-dominant animals in arid species are poorly understood. Invertebrates have some of the greatest co-operative communal structures, the majority under-researched. Huge scope lies within the arid associated species.

Disease has the potential to impact species and populations on a global scale. Some diseases are endemic and/or indigenous, while others are introduced directly or via a series of exotic hosts. What are the impacts of these diseases to species composition on Tswalu and how are different species affected? What are the implications to the property? What are the implications to the region? Do we understand the relationships of the hosts? Which environmental conditions are conducive to various diseases, and are there early environmental warning signs which can be detected? What are the life cycles of diseases in the arid areas, compared with what we know from elsewhere in South Africa?  Which diseases are hosted within a population, and what are the environmental triggers for these outbreaks? How do species within a population cope with such diseases? Are there adaptations? What breaks a disease cycle? What intervention, if any, are required by management for different species and different diseases?

There is a balance between predator-prey relationships in all environments. This is often a fine balance between the ability of the predator to outsmart the prey, and the prey’s ability to evade predation. The top of the chain are the apex predators preying on a large variety of other species however, the interesting, less understood relationship occurs between the smaller species. The entire predator – prey guild within the Kalahari could be researched as a programme. Research can attempt to establish the relationships between avoidance, use of behavioural adaptations and camouflage to successfully survive in an often sparsely vegetated area of South Africa.

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While there is always a human impact on the environment, the key is understanding the extent of this impact, and identifying whether the impact is significant. Species react differently to environmental impacts i.e. some species tolerating high levels of interference, while more sensitive species may react to very slight changes in their environment. Can we identify these stresses and measure the tolerances for different species?  At what level does tourism impact a species negatively? Reactions to stress differ and purely researching behaviour isn’t always an accurate measure. What are animals' physiological reactions to being handled or interacted with (for example capture or tourism)? Can the impact on their behaviour be measured, and how? How is their ability to survive compromised? There is a larger demand on wild places and the animals which inhabit them. At what level is their integrity compromised, and their survival at risk? What are the anthropogenic barriers on the Kalahari Landscape (fences, roads, water supply etc.) and what are their short and long-term implications for the ecology of Tswalu? Looking at the possible edge effects of these barriers will enable better informed decisions to be made on the ground to ensure the ecological integrity and longevity of Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. The social impact of conservation and tourism in the Northern Cape can be explored. The benefits to communities linked to Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and identifying the barriers to longevity and ecological integrity should be explored.