The vegetation type of the Alma valley of the Waterberg is classified as sour moist bushveld. Although the rainfall is usually high, the area is subject to intermittent drought, has relatively infertile soil, and the sour grass species that predominates becomes hard and unpalatable in the winter. The area is not sustainable for cattle farming because they are selective grazers; it requires a high stocking rate to make cattle ranching economical. This overstocking results in overgrazing with invasion of unproductive grass species and weeds. By contrast, indigenous wild ungulates can utilise the vegetation effectively: a combination of grazers makes use of various grass species and the small and large browsers utilise the leafy vegetation of trees and shrubs in the various habitats – mountain, bushveld, grassland and wetlands.
The megaherbivores, rhino and buffalo, are particularly valuable for this area because of the huge amounts of grass they consume. This is then further processed by other animals and finally recycled into the rain-leached soils. The wild ungulates play a vital role in improving the ecological health of the bushveld and therefore sustain numerous other species, including predators. The presence of large predators such as leopard is vital to maintain a balance of smaller predator species like jackal, whose numbers tend to explode when their competitors are removed. Because of this, DWR does not do any predator control – this enhances the wilderness experience for visitors, who are thrilled to see leopard, caracal, serval and wild cats.
Restoring damaged farmlands back to wilderness is a costly undertaking: fences, roads and waterholes must be maintained, which requires farm equipment, staff and vehicles. Fire is a constant danger because of the grass and vegetation cover. Since 2008, rhino poaching by criminal syndicates has exploded, requiring us to employ our own security staff and some other additional services. Hosting tourists in the main lodge and bush camp brings us income, as does the hunting or sale of excess animals to other farms – not to the extent that the reserve pays for itself, however. As a result, in 2009/2010, DWR became involved in breeding other rare species such as a recessive colour variant of the blue wildebeest, which has a gold coat colour (golden wildebeest). By managing our high-value breeding herds, such as the buffalo, rhino and golden wildebeest, we are able to pay for the overheads of the farm and sustain the diverse beauty and wealth of all the species that flourish here.