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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.

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

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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Blog 6 repairing punture2

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.

Good news! Two lion prides found

Obtaining the actual density of large carnivores is the primary aim of our spoor count calibration. In the last two weeks, we have been out most nights searching for hyaenas, lions and wild dogs in areas which more density data is required. Two lionesses and a spotted hyena have been collared as a result of the darting efforts of our research team (Gabriel, Olmo, Dungi and Angie-the Vet). The work involved long hours of waiting at night and our ability to find the animals. One lioness was found and collared on 9th June at a giraffe carcass and the other on 19th June in the Mokolwane area, near the Hunting camp. The hyaena was collared near our camp two days ago after intensive efforts. The collaring process was professionally and successfully executed.

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Fig 1: Angie-theVet (left) and myself-Dungi (right) taking a blood sample from the lioness we just successfully collared

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Figure 2: A lioness wearing a newly fitted GPS collar. This unit allows us to get data about her movement patterns.

Although the whole process has been incredibly expensive, we are so pleased that we will be able to obtain missing significant data on carnivore range and territory utilization. The number of lion prides with radio collars has now increased from three to five. This is very important as the actual density can be obtained and the spoor data can be accurately calibrated. More information is needed for spotted hyaenas and wild dog pack ranges.

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Figure 3:Lion front paw Figure 4: Lion hind paw

Since collaring the animals, we have been successful in tracking and getting visual sightings of two out of the three collared animals. Both are in good condition following the fitting of the collars. Only one lioness has not yet been seen as she is further from camp. However, we will be tracking her soon, and will keep you up to date on her progress.

Dungi

Welcome to the blog!

Firstly, I’ll like to introduce myself. I am a citizen of Botswana. I come from a rural area in southern Botswana characterized by dry and temperate climate and  very low  annual rainfall. My  name  is Tshepo ‘Dungi’ Kgokilwe, but I prefer being called just Dungi. My career interests have been always directed toward wildlife conservation. It has not been easy because of the fact that I was born and raised in a pastoral farming family. Being exposed to illegal activities such  as  wildlife poaching and smuggling,  I was compelled to keep my interests a secret for a very long time. Regardless, I pursued my interests and completed my Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Wildlife Management. In 2006, I joined Botswana Predator Conservation Program (BPCP) (www.bpctrust.org), a field based research project in the Okavango area, northern Botswana. The Okavango is the most wildlife rich  area in Botswana because  mixture of wet and dry flood plains and  various woodland  habitat types. The project focuses on general ecology of large carnivores (lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyaena and African wild dog), with emphasis on their management through applied field research.

I currently  stay 1000km  away from the rest of my family, with  the hope to fulfill my career  interest to become a  field researcher and wildlife biologist and to acquire  skills so that I can be actively involved in wildlife conservation and management in my  country. Monitoring populations of these species is a great experience and provides information needed to help manage them. My focus is now on developing an indirect census method that can be used to estimate large carnivore density in various habitats found in northern Botswana. This will enable us to determine their population distribution and trends. We have proposed a technique that uses animal tracks to index carnivore abundance, the Large Carnivore Spoor Count (LCSC) specifically calibrated to our habitats. My hope and ambition is to complete a Master’s degree with a university offering conservation biology courses.

 What we do

We live in a remote camp in tents only about two hours from the nearest town where we can buy fuel and food. Our everyday activities involve radio-tracking and following large carnivores to collect observations. We have the several (still working) radio collars on study animals in all five species in our study area: three hyaenas in three clans, three leopards, four cheetahs, six lions in three prides and a couple collars each on four packs of wild dogs. The main objective of monitoring these species is to collect information  about thier reproductive and ranging behavior as well as individual life histories. In general,  field work has not been easy in this region basically because of the thick vegetation, lack of roads, and difficult weather conditions.

 Tracking a lioness-Tragedy!!

Let me share with you  recent experience when I was tracking a radio-collared  lioness which currently has four -4 month old cubs. It was about 5 p.m .Everything went very well and I got quite close without being able to see her. I decided to go around the thick bush to have a visual of her and the vehicle went into a huge hole. The back wheel was completely suspended in the air and the vehicle was just about to tilt over on one side. I had to stand on the other side (passenger side) to put weight so that it stayed balanced. The lioness was about 10m from the vehicle. The cubs kept approaching and checking out what was going on. I did not bother to take pictures as it was already dark and I  was a bit frightened.  I called a rescue car from camp. Two vehicles came after an hour. It took two land rovers, one pulling the other, to pull the vehicle out of the hole.  Below is a picture of me and the vehicle taken by my rescue team.

Stuck in a hole

Soon I will write more about my focal project and how I go about developing the survey methods we hope can be applied across the region.