Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

The adventures of an intrepid social scientist

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One of the very best thing about my PhD is meeting the people who live in and around the Soutpansberg Mountains. Everyone is fascinating and different and has a story to tell us. So far my assistant Noeks and I have conducted just over 40 interviews. We’ve got a lot more to go (I’m aiming for about 200 in total!).

Every time Noeks and I go out to do interviews we don’t really know who we’re going to meet, what we’re going to find out or what is going to happen. We’ve ended up in graveyards, at funerals, on the top of mountains, being yelled at, being given free lunches, hearing legends about black leopards, exploring nature reserves, being attacked by jack russells, at wimpy’s burger restaurant, at a salt mine, having our fortunes told by sangomas and being offered helicopter rides.  

We are gaining a huge amount of information about how people live with predators in the area; how they think about them, how they use them, how they feel about them. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot people like to make animal noises for us during their interview. Most of the people we interview are adult males since they are the landowners or managers. When they tell us about hyaenas or leopards or birds or monkeys, they like to mimic the calls of the animals while they tell us a story. When I’m listening back over the recordings and doing transcriptions Sam will often hear me chuckling to myself as I encounter a grown man pretending to be a hyaena.

I wish I could photograph every person I interview and make a collage of them all but I feel that might be a bit invasive since the interviews are anonymised but I have collected together a few images of things and places I have encountered along the interview adventure so far.


Checking out fresh fresh leopard tracks on a farm we visited.


Collecting hair from a roadkill aardvark for scat analysis on the way home from interviews.


Visiting one of the first settlements by white voertrekkers near the Soutpansberg, Schomandaal. This is the cemetery where General Potgeiter was buried.


This is where the town of Schomandaal used to be in the early 1800s.


Driving along the railway tracks near Kutama.


Meeting one of my interviewee’s pet meerkat!


A bottle store called Wolwekraal or wolf’s kraal. Some Afrikaans people called hyaenas wolves. We were referred to as ‘die wolwemense’ (the wolf people) at one interview.


A view of Kutama.


A great sign at one interviewee’s place.


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