Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

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Down on the farm

For my PhD I’m currently investigating a local community and how they perceive and interact with animals. So what better way to do this than to head to a farm for the day.

Noeks and I volunteered as farm workers. We offered to do everything and anything to help as part of a social anthropology technique called participant observation. Participant observation is when an observer takes part in the daily activities of people being studied as one way of learning about their culture.  

Our first task of the day was to join the chicken processing line. We were at the end of the line and our tasks were to fold and tuck the chicken legs away properly and to bag the whole chickens for freezing.

Here’s Noeks dancing with a chicken and me folding the legs up.  We had sexy aprons and wellie boots to wear.

The chickens were just ‘hanging’ around!

Here are all chicken heads from the animals killed that morning in a bucket and all the chicken feet. In Africa people love eating chicken feet and while we were there we even got to help sell some bags of chicken feet to customers.

On the day several hundreds of six week old chickens were slaughtered but thousands of tiny less than one day old chicks arrived to start the process again. The chicks come in boxes and have to be kept warm with heaters.

A bit later in the day they took all the chicks out the boxes and let them be free. They were so so so cute. I wanted to lie down in the middle of them and be covered in cuteness but the chicks would probably get germs from me and die or get squished  by me and die. All in all probably a bad idea but I can still dream about a blanket of chicks! 

After a morning of live chickens, dead chickens, young chickens and old chickens, we were invited to have lunch with the farmers. Guess what we had??? Chicken from the farm! It was so tasty and had only been killed about 20 meters away. Six weeks ago it was a fluffy chick and now it was in my belly. 

After lunch we helped weigh several week old live chickens. The farmer has to do this to make sure they are growing at the right speed and that they have the right amount of food and medication for their weight.

We also got to see and learn about the crops, the cows, the goats and the pigs. Everything on the farm is recycled and reused. The pigs are the cleaner uppers and eat any leftover mealie meals or chicken bits. 

We helped a bit more with bagging, skinning and deboning chicken breasts until it was cow milking time.

The little calves got the first drink and then we had to go in with a stick to scare them off and  then help milk all the heffers.

Ahh fresh and creamy, straight from the teat!

Awesome day and I didn’t even get salmonella! We’re going back again to help for another morning soon. I feel like I have a much better understanding of farming and the people and will as a result be able to express this in my thesis.


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Get to the Chopper!

Yesterday the search for the collared hyaenas soared to new heights!

Last month a landowner I met during my PhD interviews offered to help Noeks and I look for the hyaenas from the air in his helicopter. We were so excited because this will enable us to cover a large area and also to check places that are virtually inaccessible on foot or car. This was our best chance yet to find them.

We organised a time with Jannie, our amazingly kind pilot and neighbour, and headed to the patches to meet the chopper. The pick up point was a bit rocky so we spent half an hour clearing a landing pad. This meant moving lots and lots of rocks. In the end Jannie found a better spot to land anyways but at least we got a work out and found a scorpion! 



Sam thought my rock moving outfit looked like Guile from the Streetfighter games. Although I was unaware of who Guile was I agreed to do some poses for him. Why not? We’d cleared a field of rocks and were waiting for a helicopter. I was feeling pretty hard core.

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The weather was a bit foggy and we couldn’t see Mount Lajuma. We were worried that if the fog didn’t lift we might not be going out. However the mist cleared and we saw Jannie flying in from a distance.


Once the helicopter landed Noeks and I got in and figured out how we were going to wield our big antennas around without whacking Jannie in the head.


And then we were off. Here we are about to lift off with a clear view of Mount Lajuma in the background.



We listened for the VHF beeps the whole time while flying around. We covered about 95 kms and at one location the receivers acted different. Although we didn’t hear beeps, there was a noise and then signals on the receiver screen all around that spot. We weren’t sure but we felt hopeful that this might be the den site!!


The views were absolutely stunning.  We didn’t take too many photos because we were focussing on the tracking but here’s an aerial view of the mountains and Oldrich’s house from the air.


The flight was incredible and we felt hopeful that we might know where to look for the hyaenas. Sam and I went out a few hours later when the UHF receiver was about to become active. This receiver is used to download data from the collars and only works after 6 pm. We drove up on the quad bike and hiked into a position overlooking the point we picked up from the helicopter.


Here’s the view overlooking the spot where we picked up some sort of signal.


At 6 pm we tried to download.


And nothing. Here’s a less smiley me after the first download attempt.


And we waited as night fell. We tried both receivers for an hour just in case the hyaenas were underground when it was light and came out later, but nothing. I think it was a false alarm, maybe a bit of interference or something. I don’t think the den site is there.

Here’s the view of Kutama, a local community, after dark.


But despite the fact that we didn’t find the hyaenas this time we searched a lot more areas than before and had the most amazing experience. We are very very grateful for Jannie who made this possible. Thank you.

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Vote for our smiling baboon!

Please vote for the Primate and Predator Project’s camera trap photo in the 2013 Trail Camera Pro Photo competition!!

Our photo is in the international category – photo number 1 of the smiling baboon!


Last year our leopard portrait photo won the international category of this competition.

Katy Standish, Curious female leopard

Our prize was a new camera trap. The camera trap we won was so vital in our research last year. Whenever one of the cameras in our grid malfunctioned we were able to use this extra camera as a filler so that we didn’t lose any data. It was absolutely essential in our research!

It would be amazing to win another piece of equipment this year. Please support the Primate and Predator Project by voting for our photo. All you have to do is click here. Voting closes August 18th.