By Katy and Sam Williams (PPP Field Team Leader and Research Coordinator)
We came to Lajuma in June 2011 to manage the Primate and Predator Project (PPP) on behalf of Dr Russell Hill. When we first arrived a few camera stations had been set up a couple of weeks previously, but not a whole lot else was going on in regards to PPP primate or predator research. There were two research assistants and us. Five years later and things are quite different. As we sit writing this in the new PPP office surrounded by a large team of fantastic research assistants, three permanent staff members, and a storage device filled with a lot of data, the contrasts between 2011 and now are very apparent. The project has achieved so much in the past five years. We have loved being part of it and helping the PPP to develop.
We have decided to move on from the PPP and are leaving the mountain in July to focus on analysing PPP data for publication and so Katy can finish her PhD. We would like to thank Ian Gaigher, Russell Hill, Andy Allan, Caroline Howlett, Philip Faure, the landowners we worked with, all the PPP research assistants and all the Earthwatch volunteers for being great colleagues and supporters.
Reflecting back over our experiences we have thought of a few highs and lows about our time in the Soutpansberg Mountains.
– Leading 12 leopard captures and 4 brown hyaena captures for GPS collaring
– Getting to know all the landowners and community members in the area
– Developing the PPP’s community engagement work through actions like writing and distributing a children’s book, doing a photographic exhibit and conducting environmental education
– Working with the Earthwatch teams and hearing how much they have enjoyed their experiences with the PPP
– Helping our research assistants to develop both in terms of skills and personally
Collaring a brown hyaena for Katy’s PhD
– Finishing my PhD, getting married, and starting to raise a family, all at the top of the Soutpansberg mountains
– Applying the data we collect to have a positive conservation impact on the ground. For example collaborating with Panthera and providing valuable scientific data to the South African government, which informed a more sustainable leopard management policy on a national scale
Wedding day in an acacia tree at Lajuma
Katy and Finn looking dapper in the bush
– Struggling for almost a year to find any of the collared brown hyaenas despite an epic amount of trying
– Dealing with cars breaking down on the mountain all the time
– Getting covered in maggots and foetus juices while baiting leopard traps
– The craziest rainy season, where our tent leaked for months and the river breached the bridge, almost making us miss our honeymoon flight to Japan
– Finding so many animals that had been needlessly killed by people, and discovering how steep decline in leopard numbers has been over the past few years
Despite being soaked in foetus juices and stranded in the bush from time to time, the highs have definitely outweighed the lows. It’s been a great five years!
We will be leaving the project in good hands. We have processed a lot of poo, but we will now be handing over the scat gloves to Dr Leah Findlay, who will be taking over the management of the project on the ground.
Leah (right) will be managing the PPP
The results from the PPP data analysis that we are continuing to work on will be shared through this blog and other avenues so although we are leaving, we will still keep sharing information locally and internationally.