Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

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Suicide month

In Zimbabwe October was referred to as the suicide month because it is the hottest, driest month of the year. I have always been a fan of October in Africa – the yellowness, the attraction of waterholes for animals and the scorching heat.

At Lajuma October has been a bit of a mixed month. It has been exceedingly hot and…wet.


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I found respite on a particularly hot day by going down to the stream near our house to dip my feet in the cool water. I also looked for leopards but none came to visit me sadly.


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It has been a mixed month because the rains have arrived. With massive ground-shaking, eardrum-booming thunderstorms on many nights, the landscape is changing from yellow to bright green. The insects are coming out in force. To us this seems premature. In Zim we didn’t get our heavy rains until about December. The mountain has its own climate though. I think it is going to be a very warm, very wet summer starting from about now. Good thing we’re heading back to the UK next week to buy wellies and gore-tex hiking boots!


Here’s one of the horses enjoying the newly green grass in our garden.


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CC’s cub!

Today we found a surprise on one of our camera stations – photos of a leopard called CC and a young cub. This is the first time we have seen the cub and we estimate that he is probably about 6 months old. Earlier this year CC was seen walking with a male called Cashew and we suspect that this might be the cub’s father. At this point in time we are unsure whether the cub is male or female. He/she has been named BB after the bride’s daughter in Kill Bill Volume 2 (this is Katy’s favourite movie). The name also works quite well considering his mother’s name. At the very end of Kill Bill the final card says “The lioness has rejoined her cub, and all is right in the jungle." In this case it should say “The leopard has rejoined her cub, and all is right in Lajuma.”


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CC and her cub walking together.

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Mount Letjume at full moon

At the moment we are between Earthwatch groups and between camera runs. This means it is a well appreciated time to catch up on data analysis and computer work. However with the sun shining I have made sure to take time to be outside as well. 

Yesterday afternoon I walked the Porcupine Trail. It is one of several marked trails at Lajuma.  First the trail skirts around the top of the waterfall where you can see leopard scratch marks in a water berry tree.


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The trail leads down to the bottom of the highest waterfall in the Soutpansberg Mountains. The hydropower generated from this waterfall supplies much of the electricity at Lajuma.


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Since moving here I have become a bit of a twitcher! I am always in the garden looking for new birds and recording them in my book. Yesterday Sam spotted the violet-backed starling (below) and this morning at breakfast (we always eat outside!) I spotted a red faced mousebird.


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Tonight was full moon so I went with a bunch of the students to the top of Mount Letjume to watch the sun set. The mountain is the highest point in the Soutpansberg Mountains at 1747 metres.


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These sunset photos are dedicated to Sally the self-proclaimed ‘sunset whore’. I’m looking forward to sunsets and sundowners in Thailand and Laos!


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As we walked down the mountain the full moon started to rise a spectacular orange colour and a little red frog tried to hitch a lift on Marine’s shoes.


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Primate and Predator Project blog

If you are enjoying reading about our adventures you might also like to check out the blog we are running for the Durham University Primate and Predator Project. We recently had a group of Earthwatch volunteers who contributed to it and explained what they are doing on the project which Sam and I lead. To read this blog and learn more about the work we do click here. We have a facebook page for the Earthwatch Mammal Conservation in South Africa project if you want to follow that too…



Five years, 65,525 words, and 278 pages.  The PhD thesis has finally been submitted!  To save you wading through all that I will give you the short version of “The impact of land reform in Zimbabwe on the conservation of cheetahs and other large carnivores”: the farm invasions in Zimbabwe’s have been really bad for carnivores and human-wildlife conflict.


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Hitting the ‘send’ button on Pete’s veranda with a beer at the ready.

Okay, so its not quite done yet.  I have my PhD viva (oral exam) in early November, where two experts grill me for several hours and try to pull the thesis apart. I will probably then be given some corrections to do, then hopefully next summer I can dress up like a proper tool and graduate.

Nevertheless it is still a relief to hand it in so some celebrations were definitely in order!  After a few beers it was time to get rid of the knowledge beard.  When we arrived back in South Africa I decided that I wouldn’t let myself shave until I submitted my thesis, so i was glad that I could finally stop looking like a  mormon/hobo. 

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The next order of business was taking some hammock time with biltong and more beer.  For those of you that don’t know biltong, it’s the reason that meat was invented.  My favourite type is the kind that comes as a giant steak you can gnaw on.  Delicious and fun!


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We then celebrated with a braai where we ceremonially burned the remains of the knowledge beard before cooking our boerewors and sweet potato, and getting to work on our booze stash!


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