Special Feature: Lajuma Life as a Research Assistant

Marc’s blog on Lajuma

My name is Marc Engler and I finished my bachelor’s in Biology at the Humboldt-University to Berlin in January 2017. I soon decided that I wanted to gain more work experience, meet people from around the globe and specialize in certain research methods by joining a project that combines wildlife research with important conservational aspects, before heading into my Master’s.

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Fresh leopard tracks along the trail to one of the camera stations

I came up to the stunning Soutpansberg Mountains to work at the Lajuma Research Centre, focussing on the usage of canopy bridges by samango monkeys and other diurnal and nocturnal species. But with the PPP being short on predator assistants at that moment due to unexpected visa problems, I was asked by Dr. Leah Findlay if I was interested in helping out. Of course I was, so while conducting my own project I was also helping out as an honorary predator assistant as much as possible – and it turned out to be probably one of the best decisions in my life so far.

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Servicing our cameras

 

 

 

The life of a predator assistant for the Primate and Predator Project can be tough, physically challenging, with long days and lots of organization – but most importantly it is highly fulfilling and a hell of a lot of fun! Soon after Leah worked me in, my daily working routine became a varied mix of different tasks. Incredible hikes of different length (2h to 6h), four times a week, to several camera stations in the study area gave me the unique chance to not only help run a camera grid for an important conservational purpose, but also to enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Soutpansberg mountains in areas that hardly anyone else visits regularly. That given, I was very grateful to be able to spot several different species like bushbuck, duikers, baboons, mambas and cobras on those hikes.

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Stunning view on the way to the camera stations

The work as a predator assistant is also very rewarding, since it surprises you every day what has been captured on the camera traps when inspecting and organizing the collected data back in the office. Having the chance to see animals like leopards, civets, aardvarks and hyenas on the images, knowing that they shared the same path you took just a few hours ago, is an amazing experience that keeps you going and leaves you stunned every time. Taking part in an incredible research project whilst being able to have unique insights in the surrounding nature and wildlife with a minimum of disturbance or impact – in my opinion there is not much out there that can beat that.

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Fresh leopard scratch marks at one of the camera stations

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Spitting cobra

But not only the scientific and conservational aspects of my work with the PPP made be feeling proud being part of it, it is also the people around you that shape both the social and the work environment. Even though I didn’t actually live in PPP’s bush camp, for the period of my stay at the Lajuma Research Centre I am tempted to say they became a second family, but even more importantly I found friends for life. I am going to miss a group of highly motivated students with different backgrounds (undergraduate to PhD), with people helping each other out whenever needed and a very positive atmosphere. I learned a lot, both scientifically and socially related, and I am grateful for that. For that reason, I especially want to thank Dr. Leah Findlay and Philip Faure. Still, I am convinced that this won’t be the last time for me working on this mountain, and I am looking forward to it – a lot.

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PPP Team in front of the office

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Fun times (work related of course) on the quad

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