news from the Okavango!

Hello all,  We have been going through a few changes here in the Okavango carnivore program. First, Dungi, the primary contributor to this site, has moved on from the program. He has taken a job with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in his home region of Tsabong. We wish him the best of luck with his new job close to his family. We will begin adding new posts from our research program and revamp this site with new information about the many exciting programs that we have ongoing from our camp on the fringes of the Delta. In the last week we have located new Cheetah cubs from one of our study animals- Binti. We were very surprised and excited as Binti moved well north of her typical range. Dr. Sven Bourquin, the camp manager and lead researcher on the leopard project, tracked Binti into Moremi Game Reserve with coordinates acquired through aerial tracking. After several visits, Sven located 3 tiny cubs. This was particularly surprising as we felt that Binti was a very young female. With recent heavy rains, we have not been able to follow-up on this sighting, but we hope to confirm the number and sex of the cubs very soon. Also, one the females in the Santawani Pride- Valentina- has given birth to cubs. Our first clue was her reclusive behavior. In previous months she was associating with Santawani female 5 (SaF5) and occasionally with Krystal, SaF3 and their 8 cubs. Since January, however, Valentina has been difficult to see. She tends to spend time in thick vegetation, out of view. Only two days ago, were the cubs seen- all four little balls of fur. They seem to be several weeks old already and full of energy.Here I have posted the first photos that we have of Valentina and the cubs.Valentina We are very excited to share the news of these findings with you and we hope to share their stories- as well as those of the lions, spotted hyenas and wild dogs that we are monitoring throughout our study area! Thanks for the interest and comments and questions are welcome. Andrew

More Showers and More to Come

I was been aware from camp for four days and my arrival was confronted by amazing report from one of my collegues. Astonishing! over 70mm recorded over a period of three days during my absence!. Since then, the atmosphere has been masked with grey heavy clouds with occasional drops at night and sometimes daytime. Following the astonishing showers, tremendous and fascinating changes has been observed.

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Pictures (Above): Three weeks ago this waterhole (picture a)) was completely dry, with no sign of life. Birds (geeses ,ducks,stocks etc) which have been concentrated towards the north can now be seen around the locality of our research camp(picture (b)).

As a result of the first great showers, pans and water holes are now filled rain water, attracting a variety of birds and mammals species. Signs of wildlife movement directed to the south, away from Okavango delta fan, is now evident. . Before then, inorder to have more excting game viewing, one would prefer going towards the river and closer to the permanent swamps. But, now we see all kinds of birds which were not seen in the area few weeks ago. With emerging variety of insects,and amphibians, birds (eagles, stocks, kites, etc) flourish and survey the sky more often, than they normally do. Most eyes (of birds) are glued to the ground in search for insects and flies that has encroached the earth surface. These happy birds, are often seen either crawling and spreadout on the ground slowly gliding in the sky or seating patiently on tree branches.

Pictures (above): Colourful flowers start to emerge.

Rain is approaching

This week marked the first feeling of the sensational moments of rainfall. Our long anticipation for rain has come to an end, after working and getting soaked in sweat in extremely hot temperatures. On monday morning,   9 mm of was recorded at our camp (also known as Wild Dog camp). Although, it was just a small overnight shower, the difference was apparent. In spite of the fact that continuous rainfall can negatively influence our field work, it stirs to life many species that require a moist environment and the new growth associated with it including the many amphibians, insects, reptiles and plants. In the previous rainy season, 700mm was recorded (from October to end of March). The average rainfall in the area is 500mm. This marks the end of dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. Rain has a huge influence in the distribution and movement of wildlife in the area and it will once again be very interesting to follow movement patterns associated with a shift in the season.

After the first drops, the sky has been decorated by patches of clouds with minor thunder storms and lightning vaguely seen at a distance. Everyday, I wake up in the morning, give a glance around, anticipating for one thing only – rain. “Is it coming?” I often ask myself. “Well, hopefully” answers one of my research colleagues whilst sipping hot coffee.

mopane bush

Picture above: Soon, these leaveless dead  looking trees would be turned green

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Picture above:The dusty ground,  will soon get a shape

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Picture above: This is a recent land scape picture of historic floodplain in front of the camp. Acacia trees (the green tree line- normally bloom during september). Notice the goldish colour of the dry grass.

Carnivore’s Diet

Part of my daily work involves getting up in the morning and going out radio tracking collared animals and recording behavioral data. On the 16th of October, I skipped the game count survey. “Today, I am m going to find the study animals,” I said to myself. The role of the day was to radio-track male lion, which have not been seen for weeks. Aerial fix revealed that he was far inside Moremi Game Reserve (MGR), north of our research camp. MGR has spectacular landscape that includes flowing rivers, swamps and open areas (floodplains) with tree islands, which accommodates numerous wildlife species. Exposure to the area, gives you a fantastic view- you see variety of wildlife species such as lechwe, buffalos, tsessebe, kudu, impala, elephants, etc. Tracking carnivores often lead to places you are unfamiliar with. Take a tour

Casey
Above: This lonely male lion was found resting under large fever-berry tree.

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Picture above: A herd of 30 elephants crossing the road.

Most herbivore species often graze together

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Above: Lechwe and buffalo.

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Above: Zebra herd, and impala at the background.

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Above:Zebra and tsessebe found 500m away from the location of the male lion I was following.

How do lions, leopards, cheetah and other larger carnivores survive?

What contributes the diet of the larger carnivore species in the Okavango region? The study of large carnivore species requires information about what they eat; what are potential prey species in the range area, and which species are most abundant. In order to answer such questions, we conduct game count surveys twice a year. The survey is performed during wet and dry seasons to determine population trends of animal (herbivore) species which occur in the southern part of the Okavango region.  

The Game Count

The count is done for ten consecutive days in the morning only along a 36km road that has been selected for the count. A driver and two observers are required for the survey. A vehicle is driven at a speed of 15-20km/h; observers scan for animals on either side of the road and count all mammal species, of body size from as small as bat-eared fox, to as large as an elephant. We began the dry-season survey yesterday (8th October). Besides the struggle to get up from enjoyable sleep early in the morning, it is fantastic and enjoyable to see lots and lots of amazing activity during the first hour of the day.  

Enjoy  pictures of Day1?

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Survey crew

impala herd 

Impala is the most abundant antelope  in the area. 

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Elephants. Its unusual to see an elephant laying on the ground

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Female giraffe with young

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Male kudu crossing

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A pair of steenbok watching in us with us with curiosity as we approach.

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This this lonely male warthog posed nicely for the camera

Help and Support our Predator Research- Save wildlife

 The crucial point of our predator research study is basically, the idea of getting scientific data comprehend it, and consequently, apply it to solve ecological problems. In Botswana, farmers and predators are enemies (in this case, I include the five carnivore species we study). This is, and will always be a huge challenge for carnivore researchers. How are going to make large carnivore population viable, as well as preventing their effect on peoples’ livelihood investment-their livestock?  This answers the question why this blog considers carnivore research to be significant, and desperately needs help and support from people worldwide. As predators are cryptic and nocturnal, the costs are extremely high. As result, our research will always relay on donations (of any amount) to successfully accomplish our goals.  One of Botswana Predator Conservation Program (BPCT)’s long term goals is to apply what is known about carnivores to develop measures of reducing and eventually eliminating predator conflict. BCPT is an umbrella program which includes various projects.

Click on the logo (our umbrella program) below to learn more about our various projects.

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Website www.bpctruct.org

Our project also aims at improving public awareness concerning predator conservation and management. Young school children are our major target as they are future scientists and conservationists.

Pictures below show Wildlife Club children observing mongooses at our research camp.  Last year, these potential future scientists had a chance to visit our camp and witness the reality of field research.

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Above : Dinning at the camp

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A resident pack of dwarf mongooses spice our days  at our research camp. This pack (of at least 9 individuals) visits the camp regularly.


Identifying Spotted Hyaena spoor

In the previous post, I briefly discussed the African Wild Dog. Let me give you a tour on another species of my interest, the Spotted Hyaena. I am not an expert on Spotted Hyaena, but let me share with you a few things I learned during my two years of field experience and involvement with this species. My work involves track sampling large carnivore species in the Okavango region. I simply scan and identify large carnivore tracks on the road and count them.  One of the hardships I encounter is identifying tracks and distinguishing between individuals of the same species. It may sound easy but, honestly, it’s a difficult thing to do. Distinguishing Spotted Hyaena tracks is the most problematic, as footprints of individuals may look similar in size and shape. This may lead to double counting and eventually yield biased results. Animals may use the road, leave it and join it again, and one may count the tracks as a different individual.  This will lead to over counting.

Pictures

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Efforts to identify individuals include finding  hyaena dens and visiting them at night  to obtain picture shots. Picture above shows  an adult female hyaena with young.

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Spotted Hyaena tracks show claws on the ground. The front footprint is always larger than the hind one.

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Prints of hyaena walking on the road. I often encounter tracks of one spotted hyaena during spoor surveys.

Scats

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Pic. Dry Spotted Hyaena droppings. These may be found at a particular spot.

Although spotted hyaena may not be as beautiful and admired as leopards and cheetahs, they are all fall under the same level in the food chain. Just like any other predator, spotted hyaena do suffer from human persecution because of livestock depredation.  

Keep visiting the blog for more!!

Dungi   

African Wild Dog Spoor

 Animal tracks can be useful in a variety of different ways. The occurance of animal spoors signify the presence of those animals in our study area. Our project uses these tracks as an indirect measure to obtain large carnivore abundance and distribution in the various habitat types found in the Okavango region. One may ask how this is done. We simply scan and count large carnivore tracks seen along the selected roads (referred to as transects), which requires the ability and skill to identify the tracks. We normally do the spoor count survey early in the mornings and, in some cases, in the late afternoons for  easy spoor detection . In the previous post I mentioned to you that I will share with you carnivore spoor pictures. Below are some.

Picture 1: African Wild Dog 

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 African Wild dog Tracks

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Picture 2: African Wild dog tracks. The front foot print is usually larger than the hind. Picture 3: Sometimes counting tracks is not easy, especially for a socially organized carnivore species like wild dogs. African wild dogs normally travel and hunt in groups.  This picture show tracks from a pack of wild dogs encountered during the spoor count survey in the Moremi Game Reserve. 

Scats

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Picture 4 : Fresh wild dog scats seen on the road about one and a half hour after sunrise.

I hope you will visit again soon for more!

Dungi

  

Activities in the bush

Work in the field

I have been out of camp for a couple weeks visiting my family in Southern Botswana. Everyone seems to doing very well there and it was nice to spend time with them. However, I am happy to be back in camp and out in the field again. This is our winter season, which is a very good time to do more in terms of field work, regardless of all the freezing nights and mornings. In particular, it is an excellent time to do more spoor count surveys.

People often ask me what I do from day to day. Well, there is quite a lot to say as my life at camp is always busy. The central aspect of my job is carnivore monitoring which includes spoor tracking amongst other things. Below are some pictures and more information about my daily activities, some more welcome than others.

Spoor tracking

Myself in the field

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Pic: Scanning for carnivore tracks on the road (transect) during spoor survey conducted two days ago.

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Pic. Measuring lion footprint

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Picture 1 and 2. Taking notes in the field.

Other parts of my days

If you are driving a car in the bush, especially off-road, numerous challenges present themselves. It is almost impossible to avoid punctures and repairing tyres is a key aspect of our routine, although it is far from the most enjoyable!

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Pictures above show me fixing a tyre, which happens at least once a week as I go out more for spoor counts.

Leopard sometimes conceal their kill

I want to share this picture with you of the remains of an impala that was killed by a leopard. This kill was nicely concealed with pieces of sticks and grass. This is interesting as I have never encountered this behavior with a leopard kill before. In most cases, leopards leave their kills underneath a tree or up in it, they rarely take the time to cover them up like this one. This was very exciting

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Pic. Impala kill 

New leopard collared, unfortunately, one is lost.

A new leopard discovered was sighted while two of our researchers was radio tracking a mortality beeping leopard radio-collar. He was darted and radio collared. Unfortunately the old radio collared leopard which has been monitored for more half a year was found near by and confirmed dead. The cause of the death has not been identified yet.  It is so hard breaking, but we are determined to continue monitoring carnivore species in the okavango area. Our efforts are less of a fortune because, large carnivore collaring is costly, time consuming and difficult. We will continue to rely on and ask for donations from everyone to help with donation so that we can be able to accomplish our mission.e

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            Pic. The project team working on the the dead leopard.

 

A loss of a collared animal will  leave some questions unansweared, however, it is very  important to us.