Well, the field work portion of it anyways… now on to the computer side of getting it all organised and prepped so we can load it up on CamCAT! I cannot wait for you all to see this survey. Again, I apologise now for all of the vehicles, but I promise the animal photos are worth it! I hope we have some brown hyaena lovers out there – this site is teeming with them!
I still owe you a more detailed post and I will get that up soon, but until then here is a little video montage of the first survey of the year that I am running.
Why hello there, you. Thank you for stopping by my blog, and if you came here via an email notification because you are one of my millions (okay, maybe not millions – more like 27) of email followers, then a double thank you and a huge hug! And if you are not an email follower, but want to be one of the first to know when I do post a new blog, photos, videos, etc all you have to do is enter your email there on the right of this post under “Follow along on my adventures.”
And speaking of followers… I did something this week. With a bit of encouragement from Philip, I have joined the Twitter world! I now tweet (it is tweet right? Twit? Twat? Haha… ahem) from the field! I also post SUPER fun games such as “guess who destroyed my camera trap” and lots of cool animal selfies just prior to said camera trap being destroyed. So, if you are ahead of me on this whole Twitter game and are already on Twitter, you can follow me at @tigerbushcat – wait, do I type “at @” (hehe this just made me think of an AT-AT) or is just “@” sufficient? Ah man, I have so much to learn. I swear that I am a high-tech millennial. *cough*.
Why “TigerBushCat”? Good question – tiger bush cat is the direct translation of tierboskat which is the Afrikaans word for serval and if you have been keeping up, I kinda have a thing for servals. Not to mention (oh look I am doing it anyways), my MSc project is looking at serval densities and occupancy within South Africa. Cool.
This current survey seems to just have flown by! I feel like I have been saying that a lot lately… In less than two weeks I will be wrapping things up here and heading out to the next survey site – after a brief stop over in America. I think one of the reasons it has just flown by is that, unlike my survey site last year, I have been all over the place during this survey. I have had to make three trips to Joburg, a trip to another one of our sites early on to pick up a survey kit (remember the buffalo story?), and just last week my field assistant, Michelle, and I drove about 6 hours to another Panthera survey site to bring up a kit and help there with setup. This particular setup was a such a great experience and probably the most fun I have had on a setup so far! It was a site that I had never been to before and I really did not know what to expect. Unlike many of our survey sites which are on a single reserve or park, this one is a combination of multiple farms and properties spread across a mountain. You want to talk about views? Let’s talk about views…
Check out the view from my cottage at their research camp. I swear this is work and not holiday. But seriously, just look at that! I got to brush my teeth to that view for nearly a week.
Philip Faure, the community engagement officer and carnivore research coordinator works with the landowners in that area and has helped to organise permissions for us to deploy camera traps on these private properties. The landscape of some of these farms was also very different than anything else I have experienced in South Africa thus far. Thankfully, Philip drove as we navigated nearly sheer rock faces and roads that I am pretty sure have not been driven on since last year’s survey – if ever.
When doing a setup at a site ran by that place’s ecology team or volunteers, I more or less bring the gear, help choose camera locations within the predetermined sites (ie. which game trails to cover, rhino middens to avoid, etc), and assist with physically placing and programming the cameras before heading off on my merry way back to my current site that I am running at the time. After that survey is completed, I then head back and pick up the collected data and gear. Setup can take anywhere from two days up to a week depending on how accessible the station sites are. Because this particular site required lots of driving to different properties and lots of opening and closing of gates, this one took us four days to setup.
Wild game on these farms is exactly that – wild. Because of this, sightings are much more fleeting than the sightings I have gotten accustomed to on reserves with animals that have become habituated to vehicles. But in a way, that almost makes them more special. While scoping out a new farm for the perfect location of two new camera stations, Philip pointed straight ahead and exclaimed, “that’s a leopard, bru!!” Yes. Bru. *shrugs* Of course neither Michelle nor I saw the supposed leopard, bru, that dashed across the road and into the bush. But not long after that, as we were making our way around a bend I had my turn to exclaim excitement (minus the bru) at seeing a leopard! This one was probably around a year old and what we would call a dependent (still relying on its mother). It was not nearly as quick to disappear as its mum (guessing on the first being mom, but it would make sense) and everyone in the bakkie had a quick glance. Too quick for a photo, so you will just have to take my word for it, but it was still remarkable to see a truly wild, non-fenced leopard. As I said previously, each leopard sighting is something special.
The rest of setup went great and in no time, Michelle and I were back on the road heading “home” to our survey site. I can tell you that I am definitely looking forward to going back for pickup and taking in those beautiful mountain views again. One of the greatest perks of my job is how much I get to travel and how fortunate I am to be able to see so many different parts of this incredible country. Another perk is getting to meet amazing fellow ecologists and conservationist and exchange knowledge, field stories as well as friendship.
Back to our usual weekly checks and we were blessed with another remarkable lion sighting (actually we have had two great ones just within this week). First thing in the morning and somehow there were no other vehicles or anyone else around, so we had the sighting all to ourselves = animal sighting perfection!
Check out this sunrise that morning too!
Just down the road part of the Central Pride of lions were making their way in search of their next meals. Four stunning male lions accompanied by two lionesses walked down the road directly towards my bakkie. I pulled over to the side of the road, rolled all the windows up (safety first) minus a crack just big enough to fit my camera through and snapped away as they made their way closer and closer.
The leading female, who was heavily pregnant, simply strolled past the bakkie as if we weren’t even there with her swollen belly gently swaying back and forth with each step. She was followed by a younger female who paused a moment to rub at an itch on her nose before seeming to even notice us for the first time. She glanced up and down the bakkie before deciding we were not very interesting and, too, continued on her way.
Two of the males also strolled directly past us within such close proximity I could SMELL them. Anyone who has worked with lions in a zoo knows that smell quite well. For the rest of you, a lion smells like a musky and very dirty house cat who has been playing up in the attic all day with a pinch of that familiar cat urine smell and mixed with a touch of old meat that lingers on their breath. Lovely, hey? Smells aside (well, actually included since they just added to the experience), it was an incredible morning of camera checks. Have I mentioned how much I love my job?
Now go follow me on Twitter! @tigerbushcat
Can you imagine an Africa without lions? Within the past century wild lion populations have declined from as many as 200,000 down to only 20,000. Their numbers have dropped by 40 percent just in the past 20 years (and 90 percent within the past 75 years). I am 28 years old – within my lifetime, wild lions have almost halved their population numbers, what do you think is going to happen in the next 20 years? They are already extinct in 26 African countries.
The leopard is likely the most persecuted large cat in the world. Slaughtered for their stunning spotted coats and other body parts which are used for ceremonial regalia, killed in conflicts with people and through poorly managed trophy hunting and suffer from the loss of prey due to bushmeat poaching. They are extinct from six countries, and likely six more. Leopards have vanished from 49 percent of their historic range in Africa, and 84 percent of their historic range in Eurasia. They have the largest range of any wild cat and yet, are still in trouble and facing a grave future. There are fewer than 70 wild individuals of the subspecies, the Amur leopard left in the world. 70.
The cheetah may be known as the fastest land mammal, but they are quickly disappearing as well. They have vanished from approximately 91% of their historic range. There are estimated to be less than 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild today. The Asian cheetah is nearly extinct with fewer than 50 individuals left in central Iran.
The tiger. My personal favourite animal. I have been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember (seriously, just ask anyone in my family). They are the largest of the big cats. They are also the closest to extinction. There are only 3,900 tigers remaining in the wild. Of the subspecies of tigers, three (Caspian, Javan, and Bali) are extinct and one more (South-China) is likely to be extinct in the wild. They have disappeared from 96% of their historic range.
And I am sorry to say that I have never had the privilege to see a tiger in the wild, so until that day I can only share a photo of a captive Amur tiger that stole my heart while working as a zookeeper for the Pittsburgh Zoo. Photo taken by Amanda Westerlund.
The jaguar, the puma, the snow leopard… all big cats (and we are using the expanded definition of “big cat” here) are under threat.
I will be completely honest with you, I am nearly in tears just writing this. These numbers are devastating – heartbreaking.
But this is not the end. Not yet.
We can still make a difference. Today, the 3rd of March, is World Wildlife Day and the theme is big cats.
I have dedicated my life to wild cats and their conservation. I am not asking you to drop everything and move to the bush, but I am asking you to help. Educate yourself. Read about these remarkable creatures and the plights that they face. Learn about the illegal fur and parts trades as well as the illegal pet trades. Read stories of conflicts between farmers, locals and cats. Find out about real conservation efforts and distinguishing them from the fake conservation efforts of companies that profit from petting, feeding and “walking with” big cats. Do not support, ‘Like’ or share photos of people petting, bottle feeding or treating wild cats as pets. Do not spend holidays or money supporting organisations that promote tourist physically interacting with big cats. Most of those cats end up in the canned hunting trade or even worse. Watch the documentary Blood Lions. And if you have the means, donate. That is honestly one of the best things you can do to help. On the ground conservation is not cheap. We need support to keep fighting this battle. If you cannot donate money, then donate your time. One great way (no bias here, of course) is you can help in research by becoming a citizen scientist and taking action, even from the comforts of your home. Log on to Camera CATalogue and help us to classify animals from camera trap surveys throughout the world and including the surveys that I run here in South Africa.
So please do something for big cats today – and use Panthera’s Facebook Frame for the day, use the hashtag #istandforbigcats to show the world your support.
Help us reverse these numbers. Help us change fate. I stand with big cats, do you?