A year in South Africa

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My name is Rebekah and I am a Primate research assistant at PPP.

Working with PPP so far has been life changing for me. I thought I would struggle to find an opportunity that would allow me to experience the career path that I would like to take, however working here has surpassed my expectations entirely.

Life as a Primate assistant can be a challenge, but there is nothing better than the feeling of completing a challenging week and knowing that all your hard work is going towards supporting an incredible project. The early morning starts (as early as 3:30AM!) during the summer months, can be the most difficult challenge to overcome. However, seeing the beautiful sunrise does make it worthwhile, watching the rays of sunrise splash across the canopy is mesmerizing and something I have not had the privilege of seeing anywhere else.

Day to day life of a primate assistant can consist of a multitude of activities. The main event being following a group of Samango monkeys. It really is a special opportunity to be able to follow such a habituated group and get so close to observe them. The juveniles are my absolute favourite to observe. They are always so curious and like to climb onto a nearby branch and watch what you are doing, while tilting their heads from curiosity, which makes them look even more adorable. However, be careful…..although it may not be in a published paper, they love to wee and poo on your head!! Ensure you don’t sit underneath what we call a ‘poo branch’, otherwise you will smell for the rest of the day. It is not pleasant, I can tell you from experience! Other activities can vary from vegetation plots as we study how the vegetation across the mountain can change over the course of a year to helping PhD students with their projects.

Living in bush camp is very different from living at home with the nearest shop over an hour away. Shopping for two weeks can be a challenge and you must be organised and plan ahead. Waking up and walking past a Bush baby or a Bush buck on the side of the road is something you will not experience back home and something I will never forget.

There are a multitude of activities to do at PPP during your spare time; hiking up nearby mountains, taking a trip up to the patches on top of the cliff or using your holiday time to take a trip to Cape Town. There are some very cool places to go swimming with giant waterfalls that you can climb on and sit under. One of my favourite social activities on the mountain is during the weekend or when there is a birthday to celebrate, we usually pick a theme for a party, dress up for the theme and cook a specific style food. It is a fun activity that gets everyone involved and provides a really relaxed social atmosphere for managers and assistants to get together and talk outside of working hours. It is also a great opportunity to show off your cooking skills:) Maybe even cook a meal that you might not have a chance to do within the week, whilst you are working, and to experience the food that others cook.

I have loved my time at PPP, working with primates for the first time has been so exciting with everyday bringing a new challenge and something I have not experienced before.  Whether it’s spotting a new animal or discovering a new part of the mountain (when the monkeys decide to go on a bit of an adventure), it’s all new exciting experiences. I have met so many new people from all over the world who I will never forget and they will always be my bush camp family.

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A month in the life of a short term primate and predator assistant

 

Upon arriving at the Primate & Predator Project a little over a month ago, I have experienced a welcome and encouraging environment, provided through the excellent tutelage of project managers, PPP staff, researchers and other interns alike. A wealth of knowledge is available to anyone willing to venture out and experience working life in the bush; this project offers positions to aspiring students keen on working with wild populations, contributing to international conservation efforts. Leopard, baboon, samango and vervet monkey, crowned eagle, honey badger, galago, and aardvark are just some of the charismatic species here at Lajuma.

Bush Camp is situated high in the Soutpansberg mountains and days are full and bursting with things to do. As a primate assistant; following Samango monkeys is a vital part of the work, ‘follows’ consist of shadowing habituated groups from dawn until dusk, scan sampling behaviours and observing individuals, providing data for long term research. Spending significant lengths of time with the animals creates a bond and closeness to wild primates, that is undoubtedly unique. An exclusive biome with endemic flora and fauna, secluded along a montane mist belt forest, offers an exceptional opportunity to study primates, predators and much more.

As a new addition to the project, I have much to learn, that being said; my time has been carefully conducted providing a plethora of experiences thus far. How does a week look for me? Starting Tuesday, my week begins with three follow days, followed by two utilised to office work, vegetation sampling, predator hikes, phenology and other miscellaneous tasks. Evenings and weekends (Sunday-Monday) are dedicated to socialising with like minded people allowing for rest and relaxation; with the opportunity to explore hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife and the incredible vista views. Biweekly trips to town are provided, where you can find “home” equivalents along with anything else you may need.

The PPP is a unique place with a distinctive atmosphere, time here is therapeutically calm and moves at a gentle pace, underpinned by a shared comradery toward a united goal. If you’re open to new experiences, are willing to work hard, and be versatile, this is a superb chance to see South Africa at its finest. I thoroughly recommend the Primate & Predator project to any hopeful volunteers keen to gain real-world experience, at an endemic location, irreplaceable to an already special country.

 

 

 

 

 

A predator assistants life at the PPP

Hello, my name is Maxim, and I am a predator research assistant at the PPP. Having studied at Nottingham Trent University for the past two years, moving half way across the world and living up a mountain, most definitely takes some adjusting to.

Fortnightly, there are trips to town, so popping to the shops isn’t a luxury. Surprisingly enough however, I prefer it this way as you learn what is needed over a two week period. Enjoying undisturbed weekends in paradise, is worth the removal from society. Living in a remote and natural environment we are privileged enough to enjoy trips to the waterfall for swimming. These natural pools are much better than any artificial pool. The remote location of the research station means that you live and work with fellow research assistants in close proximity. Living in each other’s pockets can be personality strengthening at times, but creates good friendships and plenty of laughs.

A predator assistant’s working week is enjoyable, with reasonable hours and time in the evenings to spend as you wish. Working at a long-term research station gives me a sense of pride, contributing to real research with the aim of conservation. Hiking is my favourite part of the job; getting the blood pumping and burning some calories on a regular basis causes much happiness. Not to mention, giving you an excuse to eat cake (the oven bakes delicious brownies). Philip Faure, our predator coordinator, is always on hand and is great at supervising personal projects, answering questions and dealing with problems you may have.

On the same property is Lajuma Research Centre. It is only a five minute walk down the road and is home to other like-minded research assistants. During weekends, a combined braai (barbeque) is often held there, with plenty of socialising and connecting with like minded folk. One of my apprehensions prior to arriving, was whether there will be enough people around to socialize with. Lajuma Research Center students do a great job of mixing things up, with often a variety of nationalities and all of the fun that brings.

I thoroughly enjoy being a research assistant here. The location is beautiful, the weather is lovely and the people are great. I would recommend applying, given you are happy to adjust from what is probably a privileged and connected background, to a more simple life with all the perks that come with it.

Thanks for reading,

Maxim.

A “Bushbuck licking” samango

I’m Sophie, a Wildlife Conservation undergraduate on a placement year from the UK. For the last six months I’ve been working at the PPP as a primate research assistant, focusing on the samango monkeys living at Lajuma.

As a primate assistant, you get to know your monkeys pretty intimately. My main job has been to collect behavioural data on full-day follows, sticking with the troops from dawn until dusk. Spending a whole day out with the habituated monkeys means you get to see a wide variety of behaviour, almost always including something very weird. I’ve seen a samango try to eat a chameleon, seen a juvenile get licked by a bushbuck, and seen a crowned eagle swoop in and try to carry a monkey off. At the end of every follow day, there’s always been something ridiculous or unbelievable that has happened to tell everyone about in the office or over dinner.

Some of the samangos have ear tags or wonky tails which you can identify them by. Within my first week I already had a favourite samango (Polo, an adult female with a little hole in her ear who I got to name!). Learning to recognise an animal from just a little tear or scar has been a really useful skill, which allows you to get to know the individuals even better. The day in November when Blue-White had the first baby samango of the season was amazing, and over the last few months I’ve watched the new generation grow up and develop.

Follow days can be very long, and spending up to 14 hours a day out in the bush is a challenge in itself. Learning to navigate, using GPSs and dodging acacias has been a big part of my time out here. But there can’t be many places more spectacular than Lajuma to get lost in. The Soutpansberg Mountains are stunning, with magnificent mistbelt forest and winding crystal-clear streams. Following the samangos leads you into patches of the bush no one else ever visits, giving you the chance to come across the most elusive wildlife. Whilst working at the PPP I’ve seen leopards, black mambas, a honey badger, genets, bush babies, dassies, several different kinds of mongoose, bushbuck and red duikers. It’s been a privilege to get to know a landscape so well and to explore it independently.

I’ve loved working with the team out here, where staff and volunteers alike are knowledgeable, passionate and funny. Coming back from a monkey follow, I always know I can count on someone to either laugh hysterically or sympathize with me about how a samango pooped on my head. I’m going to miss the sunny days, swimming in waterfalls, but most of all the bush banter in our little camp in the mountains.

New resource available about brown hyaenas on private land

By Katy Williams

A wide variety of species rely on land outside of protected areas for their survival. One example is the brown hyaena. Brown hyaenas are only found in southern Africa and a large proportion of the brown hyaena’s range is on private land used for game or livestock farming (Kent and Hill, 2013; Winterbach et al., 2017). Despite the importance of these areas for brown hyaena success, living on private land often implies close proximity to humans, and this can be extremely risky. Brown hyaenas are persecuted for perceived or real livestock and game predation, and killed inadvertently through poisoning, in road collisions, and in wire snares (Mills and Hofer, 1998).

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Figure 1. Brown hyaena. Photo credit Panthera.

Greater protection for brown hyaenas is required on private land, but this needs to be accompanied with better knowledge and understanding about brown hyaenas. Unfortunately, this secretive species is often misconstrued and undervalued. As predominantly scavengers, brown hyaenas pose little threat to livestock (Williams et al., 2018) and are extremely beneficial to farmers. They play an important ecological role in cleaning up dead animals naturally and reducing disease transmission (Beasley et al., 2015).

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Figure 2. Brown hyaena cleaning up carcasses at a vulture restaurant. Photo credit Johan Botha

Thanks to financial assistance from the Primate and Predator Project (PPP), the Earthwatch Institute, an anonymous donor, and the National Research Foundation, I have produced a short booklet entitled ‘Brown hyenas on private land: A guide’. The booklet provides information about the brown hyaena’s diet, ranging, habits, and identifying signs, tips for living with brown hyaenas and other predators, and the benefits of having brown hyaenas on private land.

The booklet is available in English and in Afrikaans, both as PDFs and as hard copies. The PDF version can be accessed on the PPP downloads page (click here). At present, we have only been able to fund the booklet in two languages. We would love to be able to print more copies in more languages in the future.

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Figure 3. English and Afrikaans brown hyaena guidebooks.

The booklet will be distributed across the brown hyaena range through conservation organisations and government officials. We hope that this resource will help improve the way brown hyaenas are understood and promote conservation.

If you would like more information about this booklet, please feel free to contact me at k.s.williams@durham.ac.uk.

References:

Beasley, J.C., Olson, Z.H. and DeVault, T.L. (2015) Ecological role of vertebrate scavengers, In Carrion Ecology, Evolution, and Their Applications. eds. Benbow, M.E., Tomberlin, J.K. and Tarone, A.M., pp. 107-121. CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Kent, V.T. and Hill, R.A. (2013) The importance of farmland for the conservation of brown hyaena, Parahyaena brunnea. Oryx 47, 431-440. doi:10.1017/S0030605312001007.

Mills, M.G.L. and Hofer, H. (1998) Hyaenas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Hyaena Specialist Group, Gland.

Williams, K.S., Williams, S.T., Fitzgerald, L.E., Sheppard, E.C. and Hill, R.A. (2018) Brown hyaena and leopard diets on private land in the Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology, doi:10.1111/aje.12539.

Winterbach, C.W., Maude, G., Neo-Mahupeleng, G., Klein, R., Boast, L., Rich, L.N. and Somers, M.J. (2017) Conservation implications of brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea) population densities and distribution across landscapes in Botswana. Koedoe 59, 1-16. doi:10.4102/koedoe.v59i2.1441.

 

Thank You Braai 2018

Every year we host a thank you braai for our local supporters to show our appreciation of their support of our project. The braai takes place at Lajuma’s Wilderness Camp within our core research area. This year we had fantastic weather and a great turn out.

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Thanks to the support of landowners, veterinarians, community groups and like-minded projects we are currently conducting research in a number of areas. Our research project currently include permanent and semi-permanent camera grids, recording leopard density and general animal biodiversity, long-term behavioural, range and feeding ecology data on three species of diurnal primates, recording biodiversity of a range of plant species while engaging with, and educating a wide range of community and school groups in the world of conservation.

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In preparation for the event the Primate and Predator Project research assistants and staff  worked very hard organising displays, presentations and preparing food. All of which was enjoyed by those who attended.

Approximately 30 people attended the braai and everyone enjoyed meeting each other, mingling, as well as learning more about our project and activities. Thank you so much to all that attended and making the afternoon successful and enjoyable. To those who were unable to join us this time, we hope to see you next year.

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To all our supporters, local, national and international we thank you for your support and encouragement, we could not operate our project without it.

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