Lapalala’s very diverse habitat, and its many years of preservation as a wilderness, have meant that many bird and animal species have been naturally attracted to the area. Among the fauna endemic to the area are eland, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck, zebra, wildebeest, crocodile, leopard, baboons, monkeys, galagos, servals and many others. This species diversity has subsequently been augmented through the careful introduction of other species, including white and black rhino, roan antelope, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, wild dog and red-billed oxpeckers.
Lapalala has been at the forefront of private rhino conservation in South Africa since its establishment in 1981. Successive purchases of white rhino were made in the first decade of the reserve’s existence and then, in 1990 the opportunity arose to acquire five black rhino from the Natal Parks Board. This has been followed by substantial further additions to the reserve’s black and white rhino population over the years,
As a result, Lapalala Wilderness is now one of the most important rhino sanctuaries in Africa. The ongoing monitoring and protection of these animals is ensured through a combination of specially developed computer tracking devices and a dedicated team of highly motivated rangers, as well as contracted security guards.
Historically roan antelope occurred naturally in the Waterberg, but the species was largely eliminated in this area by hunting during the earlier part of the twentieth century. It was not until the 1960s that the first steps were taken to protect the rapidly diminishing population and, by 1971, 21 of the remaining animals had been relocated to the Percy Fyfe Nature Reserve.
Roan are physically the second largest antelope species in Africa. The handsome animals have strikingly marked faces, large prominent ears with tufted ends, and long sharp recurved horns. Their coats are reddish-brown with lighter undersides, and this mixture of colours gives them their name. Although still relatively common in Central and Western Africa, Roan are becoming increasingly scarce in South Africa.
Although there were already Roan at Lapalala, it was decided to embark on a dedicated breeding project and the first bull arrived from Percy Fyfe Nature Reserve in 2010. Since then, Lapalala has acquired 18 more cows. The first calves were born in July 2012.
As at October 2014, 24 Roan calves have been born as a result of this very successful programme
Buffalo are also of course an important part of the ecological process, and historically were known to occur throughout southern Africa apart from in parts of the drier areas. However in an effort to control the spread of diseases prevalent amongst buffalo such as foot and mouth and corridor disease, as well as brucellosis and bovine TB, a ‘red line’, which confines them mainly to the north-western corner of the country around the Kruger National Park, has been established across which buffalo may not be moved. Thus until recently the only disease-free animals came from herds at the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, but recent innovative projects have seen new stocks of buffalo bred to be clear of disease. These projects are very strictly controlled and the animals may only be moved after various vet-supervised tests.
Lapalala associate Elandsberg Farms, in the Western Cape, has been part of a successful buffalo-breeding project for over 10 years and numerous buffalo have been transported to Lapalala, where they are regularly monitored.