By Bradley Gibbons, the EWT’s Threatened Grassland Species Programme Field Officer, and Dr Ian Little, the EWT’s Threatened Grassland Species Programme Manager
The custodianship project for Sungazers was launched at the end of 2015. Twenty landowners were each given a custodian sign board to display on their properties, proudly acknowledging their efforts to conserve Sungazer populations and habitat on their farms. In addition, these farmers signed a commitment for the protection of Sungazers on their farms for the next five years (2015 to 2020). The participating landowners were very excited when they were presented with the boards, a positive indication that our enthusiasm for the survival of these interesting creatures is becoming increasingly contagious.
The basic premise behind the custodianship initiative is for landowners to have committed to working in partnership with the EWT to ensure the survival of these endemic lizards on their farms. These properties must meet a number of requirements, including of course the presence of a suitable number of Sungazers on their farms. Certificates are issued to individuals who commit voluntary efforts for species conservation but do not necessarily own property with suitable habitat for them. All custodian boards were given to landowners in the Free State, including the four priority areas of focus for Sungazer conservation (namely Harrismith, Vrede, Edenville and Welkom). Other areas include Lindley, Arlington and Heilbron. The aim of the initiative was to get Free State landowners involved with the Sungazer conservation project in the hope that we can formally secure these areas for long-term conservation going forward.
Since the boards were distributed, there has been overwhelming positive feedback from the landowners which is a true reflection of their continuous commitment to the conservation of Sungazers and we hope that these already passionate individuals will act as role-models for their peers.