Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

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Storytime and a meatchete

This year I have had the immense honour of working with Noeks Cilliers. I hired her as a research assistant to focus on the project’s predator research but specifically to help me with my PhD work. She is an absolute legend, an amazing person to work with and a great friend. Yesterday she left the project after 8.5 months to finish her field guide training. Her dad hosted a braai at Lajuma to thank everyone.

As a leaving present I wrote and illustrated a short story for Noeks about our adventures. I wanted to post it here because it tells the story of what we have been doing this year.

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Noeks gave Sam and I presents too! She gave us both giant slabs of biltong. Sam decided his was a ‘meatchete’ – definition: an edible sword made of meat. Deadly and delicious.




Make mine a double.

One of the best things about our jobs is when we get to catch and collar animals. It feels like Africa; wild, sometimes dangerous, close, unpredictable and fascinating. The data that comes back is amazing as well. We get to see where animals which almost nobody ever sees go like an omnipotent spies. 

Trapping is not always glamorous though. When trapping we get very little sleep and constantly smell of rotting foetuses.

From the end of August to the end of September we trapped every night for a month. Along the way we lost the plot a bit as we got more and more tired and less and less hygienic but ultimately it was a pretty successful period despite not succeeding in trapping Michel, a leopard with a snare around his waist who we wanted to help and recover a GPS collar from.

We caught 2 leopards. One was BB, a young male we collared in July. He obviously couldn’t resist the alluring and unique taste of foetus and the buzz he got from the drugs used for sedation!

Here is BB just before getting caught again.



While BB was sleeping Sam downloaded data from his collar while Oldrich combed for ticks to sample.



We also caught a feisty female called Jenny who we were delighted to collar since we are lacking home range data from females. Sam collared Jenny and since then we have already received GPS points from her collar via the collar’s SMS function. 



We also caught a bushpig, one of the non-target species here that is big enough to get caught in our foot traps. The vet had to sedate the pig so we could safely release it again.



We had another non-intentional animal trapped. Sam caught a domestic dog called Shumba! Sam let him out and he was fine. Silly dog, traps are for leopards.



And the best catch (in my humble opinion) was Hermione the brown hyena. Hermione almost didn’t get caught which makes her even better. She was a happy accident. So we close the traps in a particular order. The trap nearest to our house gets closed first but it was forgotten on that particular night so it was closed later after all the other traps. There was a hyaena waiting there! She was caught between the time the trap was supposed to be closed and when it actually was.

Hermione was collared. Sam was a legend and downloaded some fixes from her collar after she was released. Here she is in the trap and some photos from when we were processing her.   




So all of that was with foot traps but that’s not all that was going on. Oh no. As one of my supervisors said, I don’t do things by half measures! Sam and the baboon assistants went out with a vet we had staying on site and collared three baboons by free darting them. This was amazing in every way because we had wanted to get this job done for a long time and now all the individuals in house troop who need collars have them on. The baboon collars talk to the leopard collars so we can better understand predator-prey interactions. Here are some pictures of the process. The last photo is of two baboons who are waiting to be released back into the wild again.



Just all that alone in September would have kept us out of trouble but in September we were also busy with a field course, a film crew, an Earthwatch team and a big birthday. October is also busy with another Earthwatch team here now but soon it will be a bit quieter and of course we can’t have that so we will be trapping again for the last hyaena needed for my PhD. Never a dull moment, never a half measure when you can down a double.  


And in August we saw….

This is long long overdue. Here come my excuses…1. busy 2. busy 3. still busy.

But things are quieting down a bit now.

So lets reflect back. In August (whoah this is overdue!) my dad came to visit us which was awesome! He took Sam and I to a game reserve outside of Kruger called Tshukudu. The name means rhino. We went on daily bush walks and game drives in a big 5 private reserve with our guide, Shadrack.

We also had a day in Kruger National Park and a day at Blyde River Canyon.

Here are some photos:


Smiley smiley crocodiley.


Vulture and rhino face.


Sam stroking one of the semi-tame cheetahs living on the reserve.




A crash of rhinos. Seriously that is the collective noun.


An elephant real close up.


One of the semi-tame cheetahs made a kill and we watched her eat from 2 meters away.


Wild lion roaring right next to our open vehicle at night.


Leopard and caracal.


Wild leopard sighting in Kruger National Park.


Me, my dad and a log.


Sam at a waterfall at Blyde River Canyon.




The most highly educated tap ever.


On safari!


Thanks Dad for a nice trip away and for coming to visit us in South Africa!!