After a whirlwind and pretty impressive handover from Sam and Katy I have started to settle into my role as Research Coordinator here at the Primate and Predator Project. One of my early tasks was to look after a group of EarthWatch volunteers, and I must say what an amazing group they were.
The EarthWatch group from left to right: back row Michael, Jennie, Priscilla, Tumelo, front row Jo and Natasha.
A little nervous about running my first group, the six volunteers that came to us were so easy going that the programme Katy had kindly put together for me went smoothly without any hiccups, aside from poor Michael’s luggage not arriving when he did. We were able to accommodate this however, with Phil kindly taking Michael shopping before heading back to Lajuma – though I think being two men stranded in a shopping mall they were a little out of their depth! They managed though, and Michael arrived at Lajuma with enough clothes to make it through the coming two weeks and all the activities we had planned for him.
During a jam-packed schedule these six volunteers helped us in many areas of our work. On a rugged trip across the mountain they visited 11 camera trap stations and downloaded all the data for us from these cameras. They also experienced the frustrating task of replacing batteries with a mixture of old and new batteries, some of which are no longer very good at holding their charge. This means that every now and then one battery will bring down the charge of all the other batteries, and discovering which of the 12 batteries inserted into the camera this is can be a little time consuming. After a day of this, these volunteers decided that enough was enough and we needed new batteries, offering to help us out with acquiring these. Following this camera run, they did a grand job of tagging all the photos they had downloaded, as well as discovering two new leopard cubs – which the volunteers named for us.
Our two new leopard cubs discovered by the EarthWatch volunteers: left Lourens, with mother Jennie, and right Melow.
Spending a day with Andy following samangoes the volunteers collected primate behavioural data, and a day with assistants Evan and Alex they helped to carry out our vegetation plots. A day with Jabu saw the volunteers remove a number of alien invasive plants, including 218 arsenic bush and 132 palms.
Tumelo removing an invasive plant species from Lajuma Nature Reserve.
The group also accompanied Phil, Oldrich van Schalkwyk and Fin Straughan (Leshiba Wilderness Reserve) to the western part of Medike Nature Reserve to carry out a snare sweep. During the sweep, they found and removed 11 snares, seven of which were active and four broken or deactivated. Oldrich and Ryan van Huyssteen (Medike) have removed snares here in the past, but it seems now that snares are becoming less common in this area. The volunteers also inspected an old poachers cave to determine whether there was any new activity, but fortunately it seems that the presence and patrol work of Oldrich and the Leshiba team have scared the poachers off; hopefully they are gone for good! What a great job saving the lives of our local wildlife. The volunteers joined Phil again on an Environmental Education Outreach trip, visiting one of the local schools. They helped to teach the kids about the wildlife in their local area, as well as handing out pencils and our new baboon story book – the kids were extremely grateful.
Grade 7 class at Maebani Primary School with their new baboon story books
EarthWatch trips like this provides individuals with the opportunity to volunteer at projects like ours during their vacation time. So instead of taking a holiday these guys travelled to South Africa and up our mountain to help us out with our research. Not only does the work they carry out while here contribute to our data collection, the payment they make to come here provides us with all important funding so that we are able to continue doing what we do. Over and above this, these guys brought items with them to donate to us and local schools – such as Ziploc bags, permanent markers, pencils, crayons and binoculars – and before departing left us with even more donations towards our camera trap battery fund. Sending out a big thank you to these guys; we couldn’t have asked for anything more!