Well the New Year has kicked off and things are busy as always in the Ecology department. Unfortunately, with the recent rains and fewer people around, a lot of our focus has been mainly indoors and on the computer rather than out in the field. On the upside, the veld has turned green and our dams, many of which had gone dry, are starting to fill up with water once again.
|Cattle Dam with and without water|
We have been having a hard time trying to get all our monthly game counts done with the rains and the condition of the roads. We have managed to get our four circuit counts completed (two afternoon and two night counts), however, we are still waiting on some clear weather to complete out Field Counts and Bellebenno 12-hr Waterhole Counts. At the moment, there are lots of red hartebeest and oryx around, with large herds often spotted on or near the field. Our resident Ostrich pair and their chick (who is now at least 4 months old) are regularly seen near Vlei dam and seem to be doing well.
|Red hardebeest on CCF’s big field (archive photo)|
Whilst Rob was away over New Year’s, Rick and I were responsible for rhino tracking. With lots of rain (and therefore puddles) around, the rhinos are less reliant on dams for drinking water, however, we continue to monitor them through the use of camera traps at dams and elsewhere in the Rhino Reserve. We still continue to get signals and triangulate the whereabouts of Rhino 4. Rob is now back and will continue with our monitoring.
Our camera traps for the cheetah census continue to go well. After analysing our data for the first half of our year-long survey, we have discovered that we are capturing on average over 3000 photos of animals each week. In total, we already have over 7000 photos of cheetah, from which 11 different individuals have been identified. In addition to cheetah, we have over 2000 photos of leopards as well as occasional photos of other carnivores such as brown hyaena, caracal and serval. Of course, all these photos mean lots of data sorting, entering and analysing. Volunteers continue to be a great help in this regard. Without their time and effort the ecology department would be drowning in data.
Our wild male cheetah “HiFi” continues to be seen in the area. After trapping and switching out his GPS for a VHF collar in December, we continue to keep tabs on his whereabouts using a camera traps, recording fresh spoor and sightings. We hope to continue actively tracking him again soon.
Swing gates continue to be checked daily, however the rain and muddy conditions are making parts of the road undriveable, so some gates cannot be checked. Interestingly we are seeing a slight increase in hole production with the rain softening up the ground and allowing animals to dig holes more easily. The number of holes produced, however, is still much decreased from the level it was at the beginning of the study.
Our two interns from the Netherlands are both working very hard. Intern Jonas is working on looking at our farmer training courses in the past and designing a follow up survey to see how effective the courses have been in teaching farmer predator friends farming techniques. Intern Marjolein continues to work on a paper analysis if non-target camera trap photos can be used to estimate density of species.
We have recently received three new Namibian students. Kornelia (from UNam) will be with us for six weeks and will be involved in many different aspects of research at CCF. Eric and Gustaf (both from the Polytechnic) will be at CCF for six months and will be involved in agriculture and ecology respectively.
That is about all from the Ecology department