I have just completed my second round of checks and we have been getting some great leopard images, along with a ton of other great shots! Unfortunately, I have already lost three cameras to four-legged thieves. One of my stolen cameras was found yesterday still attached to its pole… halfway up a tree. When the poles are ripped out of the ground along with the cameras, elephants are usually the guilty ones. The fact that this one was up a tree tells me that some naughty elephant probably pulled the whole camera up and then just lofted it up in to the air with a fling of the trunk. Sadly, the camera did not survive its adventure, however, thanks to the SD card remaining intact, I was able to get the images off the camera. There is a close-up photo of a trunk and the next sequence is the camera on the ground. Then it ended up in the jaws of a lion, after that, no more photos. Using my mad Sherlock Holmes skills, I have decided that the camera was pulled out of the ground, pole and all by an ele (side tangent – it has recently come to my attention when talking to friends not in the animal world that the term ele (pronounced ‘ellie’) is not very commonly known when referring to elephants. However, ele is quite a common nickname in the sense of using rhino instead of rhinoceros in the wildlife and zoo fields, I guess it just not has made it out to the general public. Many of my non-wildlifer friends always have a puzzled expression when I say “ele,” so, I figured I would explain it to you, just in case you have never heard elephants called eles before – and now you know. Side tangent done), and then after the ele got bored with it, some lions came by and found this new toy on the ground and decided to play with it too. The camera did not survive being a big kitty chew toy, however it was still a temping javelin for an ele to try his skills to see how high up he could throw this plastic box and metal rod. And thus, my stolen camera ended up in a tree.

To counter my cameras being stolen by eles and other animals, I have started placing elephant dung around and on top of my cameras in “high risk” areas. This makes the cameras much less interesting since they just smell like ele poo now and not as much like me anymore.

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Cross your fingers (or “holding thumbs” which is the South African version of fingers crossed) for me that this reduces cameras being thieved and chomped on.

Everything is going very smooth with this survey thus far. I did manage to scare the poop out of myself the other day though (man, this post is full of poop today). I was checking a camera station which had to cameras at a crossroads and they were decently far apart from each other. I collected both cameras, changed batteries and downloaded the images from them. I then walked over to the far camera and set that one back up. After, I walked back to the closer station to my bakkie to set that camera back up too. As I was fiddling with securing the camera onto its pole I looked down and saw fresh leopard tracks right in front of the camera pole. I did not remember seeing those tracks when I first grabbed the camera. My heart stopped as I thought of a leopard walking just here while my back was turned and I was crouched over setting up the other camera. After about 20 seconds of deciding I was about to die I decided to investigate a bit further and followed where the tracks crossed the road. My bakkie tyre treads went OVER the tracks so the leopard had been here before I arrived and I somehow just completely missed them when I initially took down the camera. And I live to see another day.

I know I have shared my joy of finding tracks with you before, but now I have some photos to go along.

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I love that this survey site is mostly sandy and after a rainstorm, the spoor in the freshly cleaned sand are phenomenal! They tell stories of a small pride of lions that walked through and one decided to waltz right up to one of my cameras for a selfie! (I can’t wait to see those images) Or of a genet that came to check out one camera then crossed the road to come check out the other camera as well, just to make sure they were the same thing. A huge giraffe walked right through the centre of my cameras a day or so ago. A porcupine walked through, but I don’t think he crossed the path of the camera, he stopped and gnawed on this monkey orange for a bit before giving up and continuing on his way. Driving down the road, I noticed a rhino used this road recently. I follow her tracks as she walked along the road, stopping every so often to leave a calling card for the next rhino to come by. Rhinos swipe their back feet as they defecate (and we are back to poop again), this helps to spread it around making a larger visible display along with helping to spread the odor as well. Ah, a miniature handprint here – perhaps a samango or a vervet has been by recently. This area is not known to have hyaena, however I found a trail of a lone spotted hyaena as he made his way past one of my cameras (look out for him in the images). I absolutely love all the tracks and their stories.

I put down the iPhone and pulled out my Canon for some photographs this week as well. I hope you enjoy them.

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This past Sunday, the 24th of September, was Heritage Day, which is a public holiday in South Africa. Many different cultures make up the population of South Africa and on Heritage Day, everyone is encouraged to celebrate their cultures and traditions. To many this means getting together with your family and close friends and braaing, so Heritage Day is often referred to as “Braai Day” (remember a braai is a BBQ). We participated here at the research camp by having a nice braai of our own and making a potjie. A potjie is usually a stew-like mixture of meat and vegetables cooked in a three-legged cast iron pot over a fire. The flavours and ingredients vary depending on what the cook wants to throw in. It was all very delicious and everyone stationed at the camp had a wonderful evening.

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Until next time!

Station Set-Up

Hey all,

I arrived at my study site on Tuesday afternoon and immediately began organising my equipment and set out to check out some of my camera station sites. This place is absolutely beautiful and has such a unique landscape! There is a little research camp here where I am based out of. I have my own little ‘house’ which is a concrete building fitted with two single beds, a cabinet, working desk and ample space for my equiptment. At the research camp, there are also communal bathrooms, a shower room, kitchen and outdoor braai area. As far as field camps this one is set up quite comfortably! I share the communal areas with other researchers and volunteers.

Wednesday morning started bright and early. Another Panthera team member, Gareth, joined me to help with the initial set up. Right away we hit morning traffic. You know, the usual traffic when living in the bush in Southern Africa – a big ole’ bull elephant was taking his time utilising the convenience of having a nice road to walk down. You may have noticed that we set many of our camera stations up on roadways. This is not just for our convenience, many roadways here were made from old game trails. Also, for the animals it is easier walking down a (quiet) cleared pathway then trekking through the bush, and so they travel quite frequently on roadways and paths.

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We did the only thing you can do when stuck in traffic – sit and wait. He was truly magnificent though, so neither of us minded. Throughout the day we had some more ele traffic along with a group of giraffes hanging out under the shade of a tree blocking the road (they moved off pretty quickly, but were quite interested in watching when we stopped to set up a camera station).

It was a HOT day, 43°C (that’s about 109°F), which is wayyyyyy different to the 16-20°C Cape Town weather that I have just came from. I think I might be skipping spring and going straight into summer here! We set up 20 camera stations, with two cameras per station. We set up two cameras facing each other to capture both sides of the animal as it passes through. This enables us to use the pelage patterns to identify individuals. The station locations are predetermined prior to the survey and we use the same locations year after year for data consistency.

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You can see a camera on the left-hand side and if you look down the path you can see the other on the right side. 

Thursday morning, we headed out to do our walk-in stations. While many of our stations are along roadways, some stations are also 1-6km into the bush. Since this area has some potentially very dangerous animals, we walk into these locations with an experienced ranger who knows this area very well. The walk-in stations are my favourite to set up; there is just something magical about walking through the bush. You don’t necessarily see more animals, since most are much more skittish seeing a weird two-legged animal as opposed to a vehicle which they see often and have gotten habituated to. However, you get to see the smaller details. We walked along a trail used the night prior by a pride of lions and followed their prints in the sand for quite a distance. We found a tiny little chameleon hanging on to a blade of grass, bones from a nyala that had been bleached pure white by the sun and quills dropped by a porcupine as he made his way down the game trail. My heart is always happiest when I am in the bush.

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We finished setting up the survey (32 stations in total) that evening and it officially started at midnight. The survey will run for 45 days. Once a week I will visit each camera to change batteries, download the images from the week and replace any cameras that may have been damaged or stolen by animals. I then spend a few days at the research camp doing admin: going through the images from the week for priority species as well as checking for any unusual or suspicious activity. Along with some other Panthera work that I brought along with me. Once the survey completes and we take down all the stations, we upload the images and you all at CamCAT (www.cameracatalogue.org) help us to classify all the species!

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This guy walked right past the bakkie (truck), he is about 45 years old. 

I do not have internet connection here, however at base camp I do have cell phone service, so I hope to be able to post a blog entry for you all every so often to keep you up-to-date with my field work, share photos and to share any fun stories that may happen along the way. Also, feel free to post any questions that you may have and I will respond to them when I can!

How is it almost mid September already? Where has this entire year gone to? Craziness.

I had such an incredible weekend!! Two good friends of mine from CCF (you might remember them, they visited me not long ago), Tarik and Mel got married! It is definitely something that has been in the plans for a long time now (they have a son together), but Tarik (who is South African) has been struggling to get a UK Visa to move to Wales (where Mel is from) with his family. So boom, they got married and now he can apply for a spouse visa. This was all within about two weeks worth of planning. Luckily for me they decided to have the wedding near Durban which is on the other side of South Africa and it is super cheap to fly within the country. I left Friday morning and flew in to Durban where I met up with Tairk and Mel…… and Samara!!! Woot, my Brazillian BFF from CCF. She moved to Botswana about two weeks ago and was able to fly down for the wedding too!

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We helped get things orgranised and everyone hopped in a SUV and headed up to the wedding location about 5 ½ hours north of Durban at Lake Sibaya. The wedding guest list was small and intimate – Lake Sibaya is literally in the middle of no where and we camped the weekend there. Saturday morning everyone woke up and worked together to prepare food for breakfast and for lunch after the ceremony.

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The campsite was close but still a bit of a hike to the lake so we hopped on top (literally ON TOP) of a Land Rover and drove out to the picturesque Lake Sibaya. For the ceremony everyone sat barefoot in a small circle on the sandy beach of the lake and shared stories about Tarik and Mel’s relationship and love, they exchanged their vows and were married by their dear friend, Paul. It was absolutely beautiful and such a wonderful, relaxed ceremony. Truly unique and so perfect for them. After that we ate an Ethiopian style lunch of injera (Ethiopian flat bread) with lentils, beet root, wat, tsebhi and various other veggies as music was played by portable speakers. On the opposite side of the bank you could see hippos basking in the sun (my first wild hippo sighting!!!!) The evening was spent back at the campsite dancing, sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.

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I woke up early Sunday morning and went on a little walk barefoot through the bush with a random kitty companion who decided the join me. It was so refreshing to relax and think as I watch the sunrise. I missed being in the bush more than I realised.

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As the rest of the group started to wake up and move around we cooked breakfast over the fire and played a fun round of Kubb. Its a game from… Switzerland (I think) where basically you knock over sticks with sticks. We use to play at CCF all the time. Sam and I packed up and headed back to Durban with Yusuf and Zaheer. Zaheer took us down to the beach and gave a wonderful little tour of Durban. We even saw some hammerhead sharks that had come off the ocean and into one of the little inlet canals! I had planned to go to bed early that night, but couldn’t resist one last night of chatting and catching up with Sam. Monday morning came quick though and I had to hop on a 6am flight back to Cape Town and then made my way straight to the office just in time for a full work day. Exhausted, but completely worth it!

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I am heading back that way, just about 40km or so from the lake on Monday at a reserve called Tembe, where I will be living and conducting my field work for the next six weeks! I absolutely cannot wait. My soul longs to be back in the bush. I will have extremely limited internet access, so I may be able to do a post every now and then but there is also a chance you might not hear from me in about six weeks.

I hope you have a nice life. 😉