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).

NA

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).

2. Credit Johan Botha

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.

3

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.

Thank you Braai (6)

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.

Highlight work slide

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.

Thank you Braai (9)Thank you Braai (5)

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

Thank you Braai (1)

PPP Expand to Alldays

The Primate and Predator Project has recently received a grant from the Earthwatch Institute that has allowed us to extend our research base. In 2011, Dr Leah Findlay began her PhD on human-primate conflict, focusing on working with farmers who suffer crop damage from baboons and vervet monkeys. In order to do this, she moved off the Soutpansberg Mountains down into the Alldays area, where there were more crop farmers to work with. The main aim of the PhD was to gather information on the crop raiding problem and provide farmers with non-lethal ways to keep primates from entering crop fields. Although Leah’s PhD made progress toward this end, we felt that the research needed to continue in order to reach real solutions. With that in mind, and the help from the Earthwatch Institute, we have now set up a second research site in the Alldays area.

CR baboon zoom

A crop foraging baboon in a butternut squash field on a farm in the Alldays area.

Through the data we have collected so far, and our interactions with the local farming community, we have established a number of deterrent methods that we will test out to determine whether they are effective at keeping primates out of crop fields. As you can imagine, this can be a pretty difficult task, and we expect to have to trial a fair few ideas before we come up with anything successful. If you have any ideas of your own, please do send them to us in the comments below! As well as these mitigation trials, we also hope to help local livestock farmers that come into conflict with predators, through spreading the work of Philip Faure, our Community Engagement Officer at the Lajuma Research Centre. We will also be getting involved with the local community and increasing our target zones for our environmental education programme.

Research camp

Our new research centre at Camfornis Game Farm in Alldays.

The Alldays Wildlife and Communities Research Centre is located on Campfornis Game Farm, about 5 km outside of Alldays and is run by Dr Leah Findlay. Through the grant provided by Earthwatch, we have also been able to employ another member of staff – Peet Botes, who is our Farm Trials Assistant. As with our site up at Lajuma Research Centre, we will continue to take on volunteers and students to help us conduct our research – which will mainly be focused around human-wildlife conflict. If you would like information on the positions available at this new site, simply visit http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/jobs/listings/38115.

Ground Pangolin Spotted on PPP Cameras for the First Time in Two Years

The ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), also referred to as the Cape pangolin, scaly anteater or the South Africa pangolin has recently been spotted on the PPP camera grid. The presence of this elusive species was last recorded on our camera traps in 2015. Station 22, the location where the images were captured, has only recorded pangolin images once before since the cameras were deployed in 2011.

IMG_0489IMG_0492

The word ‘pangolin’ is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’ meaning something that rolls up. The ground pangolin is one of eight armour-plated species belonging to the order Pholidota, which are distinguished from other mammals by their imbricated protective scales, formed from tightly fused hairs. This species is primarily nocturnal and solitary, making the discovery of a pangolin during daylight hours, a rather pleasant and surprising find.

This charismatic species are currently severely under threat due to an increase in local and international trade for bushmeat and traditional medicinal purposes.  They have the unfortunate title of ‘the world’s most trafficked mammal’. Additional threats include traffic accidents, the construction of electrified fences, and  incidental mortalities in gin traps; all of which are injurious to pangolin populations when combined with their long-lived, slow producing life history strategies. However, their typically secret existence suggests their populations may be somewhat underestimated.

Some interesting facts about the ground pangolin:
– Pangolins have no teeth. Instead they possess a long conical tongue to retrieve their prey, which can be extended 10-15cm beyond the lips then retracted into a pouch located in the throat when not in use. Sand ingested with the withdrawal aids mastication of food items.
– They often seek refuge in burrows which were dug by other species, with a preference to use burrows dug by anteaters and spring hares.
– They have thick eyelids, which is suggested to be to prevent their eyes from ant bites.
– Pangolins are surprisingly very capable swimmers.
– This species is insectivorous, more specifically, they have a myrmecophagous feeding behaviour, defined by the consumption of ants and termites. In the case of the pangolin it has only been observed consuming approximately 19 species of formicid ants and termites.
– In one night pangolins can feed up to 90 times, with each execution lasting around a minute.
– The pangolin can roll into an almost impenetrable ball when threatened, wrapping its muscular tail around its unprotected underside leaving only sharp scales exposed.

Although the PPP camera grid in the Soutpansberg is positioned to primarily assess leopard densities, home range, survival and recruitment rates alongside activity patterns of other members of the carnivore guild, the camera traps are providing excellent sightings of other unique species on the mountain, including the ground pangolin!