Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa


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Cold hands, warm pie

Today is the winter solstice in South Africa and it properly feels like winter. I have 4 layers on and it is misty and cold. This is the view from my tent:

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Sam had his birthday last Sunday. On Saturday Camilla and I made him a steak and milk stout pie (Sam’s version of birthday cake). We had a fire and some people around for drinks. On his actual birthday though he took the bus to Pretoria to catch his flight back to the UK. Sam is now in the UK for his PhD graduation!!! Happy birthday and happy graduation Samma!

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I did some drawings to celebrate Sam’s birthday. This is the last one in the series.

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In other exciting news my proposed PhD research into brown hyaena ecology and human-wildlife conflict looks like it going ahead. I have been extremely lucky and secured a grant from a passionate independent donor in the states to get the work going.

An Earthwatch team is coming this weekend and we will have back to back groups until mid-August. Trapping is still continuing well. My team and I moved the traps to new locations the other day and we are hoping to catch some of the female adult leopards on our wishlist soon. So far at the new trap locations we have only caught a cow. We decided not to collar it. The Primate, Predator and Bovine Project didn’t have the same ring.

All in all things are busy but good at Lajuma. Have a great longest and shortest day everyone! And happy birthday to Sam and his mum, Sally!

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wild dogs photographed at Lajuma!

Over the past 12 months our camera traps have revealed that we are lucky enough to share our study area with a number of carnivores.  So far the carnivore species we have photographed including dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, banded mongoose, marsh mongoose (I know what you’re thinking – enough mongooses already!), cape clawless otter, small-spotted genet, African civet, honey badger, African wild cat, black-backed jackal, serval, caracal, brown hyena, spotted hyena and leopard.  Many of these species we expected to photograph, some others were pleasant surprises. We am thrilled to announce that as of 3 days ago we can now add one of our favourite species to that list: wild dog!

 

When we checked one of our leopard traps on Wednesday night we noticed that one of the traps had been triggered, but the animal had released itself before we arrived.  The traps are designed in this way so that that animals with paws smaller than those of leopard are not captured. It was only when we checked the camera trap that we used to monitor the trap that to our amazement we saw a wild dog triggering the trap!  The camera didn’t show if the animal was not caught, or if it was caught but quickly freed itself.  We also captured the pack of around 4 individuals on two of our normal camera trap stations shortly before and shortly after they visited the leopard trap.

 

The species is not known to be resident in the area, and the owner of Lajuma had never recorded them here in the past, so we expect this pack to be dispersing. Wild dogs are individually recognisable from their unique coat patterns, so we have contacted researchers in the region to ask if anyone knows where these animals came from. There are probably less than 5,000 wild dogs remaining in the wild, making them Africa’s most endangered large carnivore. They also have fascinating social lives, hunting together and sharing their kills while helping to raise each other’s pups. Unfortunately many farmers hate wild dogs and the species are heavily persecuted, so now only a few hundred remain in South Africa.  Sadly, the few individuals in the photographs below probably constitute about 1% of the remaining population in the country!

 

Watch this space to find out if they show up again and where they came from!

 

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Wild dog about to spring the leopard trap.

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45 seconds later the trap had sprung but the animal was back with the rest of the pack.

 

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Wild dogs passing our camera traps


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The littlest Hobo

 

There’s a voice

That keeps on calling me

Down the road

That’s where ill always be

 

Oooooooo-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooooooooo…  Everyone knows the Littlest Hobo theme tune, clearly one of the pinnacles of song writing in the 20th century.  This is the song that rattled round our heads when we captured his namesake, Hobo (the leopard version is actually a girl), on Lajuma last night.  And it proved to be an apt name – judging from her size and dentition we estimate that she is only about a year old, and she still has still has some of her deciduous teeth. 

 

She was too small to collar so after collecting data and samples we released her and off she ran to tell mum about the crazy night she had.  Her mother, Grey, is one of our target animals for collaring, so we hope to capture her soon.

 

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              Dog                                                Leopard

 

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Meeting Michel

This is Michel. He is one of the dominant male leopards found on our camera traps. He is my favourite leopard. We first recorded him in July 2011 and since then we have regularly photographed across a massive area.

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We are about to find out exactly how big his home range is… Last night we caught Michel in one of our leopard traps. Two of our Research Assistants, Anna and Laura, found him caught during their 9 pm trap checking rounds. They alerted the leopard processing team who arrived on the scene shortly after.

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The vet darted the leopard and once he was immobilised he was treated for a minor foot wound. We then identified him as Michel using his coat pattern. Michel was one of the resident leopards we were aiming to collar so we were extremely pleased. A microchip and a GPS collar were affixed. Then we took morphological data and genetic samples. We weighed him, measured him and inspected his teeth, face, and head to help us to age him accurately. Blood and hair samples were taken. I was in charge of identifying the animal and recording the data. Sam was responsible for putting the collar on and taking photographs.

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Michel was moved into a recovery crate to safely sleep off the drugs. In the morning he was awake, alert and well. He was released from the crate and was off like a shot into the bush.

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Until the collar drops off in a year and a half we will be receiving regular information about Michel’s movements, behaviour, activity patterns and proximity to baboon troops once this part of the research is set up.

We are hoping to catch an additional male and three female leopards before July 31th. We will keep you posted as and when we finally get to meet the leopards we feel we know so well already from the camera traps.


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Spots in Bots

Sam and I are now in the midst of leopard and vervet monkey trapping and we are preparing for two months of Earthwatch groups arriving and Sam going back to the UK soon for graduation. It’s all happening!

However before things got hectic we decided to take a short trip to the Tuli Block in Botswana. Anna and Claire, our two predator assistants, came along too.

The Tuli Block is just over two hours away and this includes a very quiet, relaxing and un-beitbridgey border crossing at Platjan.

As soon as we were in Botswana I told Anna and Claire to keep their eyes open for elephants. They thought I was exaggerating until we found a herd within minutes. We sat and watched them for awhile and then continued onto Limpopo River Lodge where we camped on the banks of the river for the first night. While having a braai we heard a noise so Anna shone the megalatorch in the bush to see a startled porcupine. We could hear the hippos wandering around next to our tent and hammocks throughout the night.

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While driving around the reserve we saw an African wild cat and found black-backed jackal road – a spot where we just kept running into the little guys. They were often walking in pairs and one would move off and then stop and turn back to wait for their friend. It reminded us of the littlest hobo since he just keeps moving on but always gives one final look back. 

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While driving around the Tuli Block looking for animals we encountered regular signs reminding us we were still in the reserve. I suppose this was just in case we got head butted by an elephant and got amnesia.

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For our second and final night we moved to Molema campsite. We went on a game drive in the afternoon and one of the camp’s staff members came with us. We saw zebra, wildebeest, impala, maribou storks and…drum roll please, a leopard. Using his African eyes our guide, Chris, spotted a pregnant female leopard sitting on a rocky outcrop. We watched her for a long time and then she moved off carrying a piece of meat with her. We tried driving behind the rocky area to see her by putting the landy’s skills to the test. We didn’t find her there however as we headed back up the road we spotted (pun so intended) her again. She was relaxing on the rock. She watched us for about 20 minutes and then closed her eyes for a sleep. After an amazing hour long viewing we decided to head home to our camp because the light was fading.

 

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Molema was right by a sandy bank of the Limpopo River. Sam and I went for a walk in the morning to look for hippos and crocs.

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On our way back to the South African border we saw ostrich, giraffe and impalas rutting each other.

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Funnily enough there wasn’t a sign letting us know we had left the Tuli Game Reserve. But we figured that out for ourselves as we literally drove through the Limpopo River and re-entered South Africa. It was either that or take the shopping trolley on a string which was essentially the dodgiest cable car in the world across the river…

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