Sunday, 30 March 2014

Hyena den

This evenings night drive in the Balule Game Reserve ended with a great sighting of spotted hyena. We were very fortunate to find a hyena den where the cubs had come out to play and annoy mum.
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Written by Will Fox

First camera trap pics from Balule

As many of you will know the latest phase of our conservation and research project expansion has been to deploy camera traps into the Drifters concession on the Balule Reserve. We visit Drifters wonderful bush lodge during our safaris and so it made sense to include their concession into our suite of research zones. Drifters share a common philosophy with regard to conservation and they were very happy to welcome our head guide (and INGWE Leopard Research Manager) Becky Freeman to run this latest project.
I've attached some of the first camera trap images from Balule, but there are a lot more to come, of Lion, Leopard and Wild Dogs which we'll post over the next weeks.

Written by Will Fox

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Curious Mongoose

It is rare to get such a relaxed slender mongoose as we have at Thaba Tholo, so I thought I would share some photos with you.

I was able to sit with this little one for 15 minutes while he sniffed my wheels! 

Written by Becky Freeman

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Young leopard just leaning his trade, messed up this time.

During our safaris we encourage our guests to learn a little more about many aspects of the African bush from tracking to smells and of-course sounds.
Animal alarm calls are great indicators of where to find predators, as can be seen from this video shot by our research team who heard a kudu alarm call just outside their camp and went to investigate.
So now when you come on safari with us, you'll already know one of the sounds to listen out for.

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Written by Will Fox

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Newborn Kudu Calf

Kudu calves have been appearing all over the reserve for a few weeks now, by the time we see them, they have mastered the use of their legs and are expertly jumping all over the place. While out checking cameras with head researcher, Tara Pirie, we saw next to us in tall grass a very young kudu calf. It was very wobbly when trying to walk, and was still a bit wet, so could only have been a matter of hours old. Kudu, like many antelope, leave their calves in safe spots for a the first few days of the calves life, so it was not unusual to see one so small on its own, it was just unusual to see it at all.

Written by Becky Freeman

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Unusual sighting in camp

Some mornings when not on safari, I like to sit and watch birds coming to the small waterhole in the camp I live in. I was not expecting to see a very young diedericks cuckoo sat on a branch calling for its mother to bring it food. I sat waiting when a female weaver perched next to it and began feeding it. Cuckoos often lay their eggs in other birds nests and leave them to rear the young, but it is not often you actually see the young. It was a real treat to witness, though it did look a bit much for the poor weaver, her "chick" is easily twice her size already!

Written by Becky Freeman

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Citizen Scientists saving leopards

Leopard takes a selfie
Citizen scientists are making a real difference for our leopard research program. What started off as an idea from our head researcher (phd candidate Tara Pirie) to encourage our guests to buy camera traps for leopard research on our home reserve. Is now growing to enable us to recruit anyone with an interest in wildlife conservation to be part of our online team.
So how does it work? Well it couldn’t be simpler. We will provide our citizen scientists with access to a monthly digest of camera trap pictures. Each picture will have some part of a leopard photographed on it. At this point I should say that even though we have honed our camera trapping techniques over the last ten years, it is (as many researchers will tell you) not an exact art. Often a camera trap will only photograph a part of the body, face, tail, inside leg or whatever as the animal passes by.  The good news is that each leopard’s spot (or rosette) pattern is individual to that leopard. Therefore we can create ID kits for each individual leopard we encounter from the pictures. These kits are made up from camera trap photographs taken over time from a variety of angles, views and sides of the leopards. By relating the ID kits to the new pictures they get each month, our citizen scientists can work out which leopard it is. Then using the known location of each camera, we can determine where that leopard was and when. In that way we can build up a comprehensive picture of leopard movement and behaviour.
Thaba Tholo Leopard on camera trap
Of-course all of this is fine for the resident animals that we know. But leopard behaviour is often a fluid, meaning we see new leopards on camera traps from time to time. Here again citizen scientists can help us to identify these new leopards and determine if they are just passing through (and if so why), or if they settle in, to assist in building up new ID kits for those animals.
There is also a lot more that we can analyse from this citizen science. One thing for certain is that an individual leopard’s behaviour is affected by a many variables. Things such as prey species, the presence of other species, weather, season, even the phases of the moon are all key elements that are integrated to develop a better understanding of leopard behaviour by our research team.
By recruiting citizen scientists from our global family we are significantly increasing the amount of data we can analyise. But moreover it is exciting the interest of people who can actively participate in African conservation from the comfort of their homes.
We are expanding our operations into other reserves, cementing the link between tourism and conservation. This is more than just an admirable desire to support wildlife conservation on behalf of lodges and reserves. It enables lodge guests to maintain a connection long after they have returned to their home countries.
Camera trap pic, leopard not getting feet wet
It’s vital work that is needed to help accurately estimate the numbers of Leopards in South Africa. Let’s not forget (how could we?) that over 2,600 leopard hunting licenses will be allocated by CITIES to sports hunters in Africa this year! Whatever your views on big game hunting, it's plain to see that if we don't know how many leopards there are, then it’s very difficult to set a figure as to how many could be hunted. And while I know that the thought of killing a leopard for sport may be abhorrent to many people. It is only by using scientifically generated data that we can reasonably estimate the leopard population and enable the decision makers to make qualified decisions.
Written by Will Fox

Diamond Girls "Small Cub"

For those of you who have been to Thaba Tholo, you will know of Diamond Girl, the main female leopard on the reserve. She had two male cubs just over a year ago, and they have been getting up to all sorts in the last few months. They were called "large cub" and "small cub" as we don't want to name them because they will most likely be pushed out sometime soon by the leopard who is most likely their father, Big D.

Small cub game me a fright and a half a few days ago, when I was stood trying to see the antelope that were barking nearby. As I turned my gaze to the left, I made eye contact with the leopard the antelope had been disturbed by. Small cub was watching me from a mere 15m away, but showing only curiosity, there was no concern from him or me about how close we were. Only when I called for others in the camp to come and see did the leopard decide to move on. We followed him in a vehicle and were able to sit with him for another half hour while he tried (and failed) to hunt a kudu. He clearly still has a lot to learn, for example, don't stick your head out of the long grass when the kudu are close enough to see you.

Written by Becky Freeman

Monday, 3 March 2014

Leopards will surprise you every time.

If there is one thing that I have learned about leopards over the last ten years of managing the Ingwe Leopard Research program, it's that they will always surprise you.
The books say that leopards ate solitary creatures. Mmmmm, really!
I have seen one instance of five leopards on one kill, or known Mum to leave her cubs with Grandma and go hunting. According to the books that can never happen. Not only have I seen it, I filmed it for the doubters to scratch their heads.
Bottom line is that safari guiding is about experiences and understanding animal behaviours in the field. That is why our guides are also members of our research team, living every day in the African bush.
Written by Will Fox