Special Feature: Lajuma Life as a Research Assistant

Sandi’s Blog on Lajuma

“I am a university student who went to work at PPP for a university placement. Although most students do these placements for a year, I decided to go for 5 months. I am very happy with how my placement went, having a keen interest in primates, predators, reptiles and photography. I got to fulfil all of my interests whether it was through hobby or the placement itself.

IMG-20170315-WA0009Sandi at Lajuma

For the first month, I was participating on the primate side of the project, doing follows and office work, then I changed to the predator side, which was an advantage to both me and the project. The project was one person short on the predator side as previously a predator student switched to be a primate student, and I wanted a more social placement. I hiked four days a week which varied in distance, sometimes I was out for two hours and others I was out for six hours, which is great for fitness! The other working day I spent doing vegetation plots or phenology work for the primate assistants in the morning with office work in the afternoon.

Bush camp has a very sociable environment, there are constantly people around. Having a communal dinner and movie on a Sunday are great activities for a day off! On Saturday evenings the bush camp has a braai, and students from the other research camp at the barn also come over and join in, providing a great opportunity to mingle and get to know each other. People are always willing to help each other out and get others involved in their work. I was able to go on a few night walks to find reptiles with another student who is studying them, and this was great for me as I am very interested in them myself.

I got to practise a lot of wildlife photography in my spare time, whether it was mammals, reptiles or invertebrates. Here are a selection of the shots I got.”


Baby chameleon  


Mother and infant chacma baboon


Vine snake


Two vervet juveniles playing


Swallowtail butterfly





Lajumas’ super-sleuth’s first CSI

On a recent hike to service some of PPPs camera traps, two of Lajumas’ assistants turned detective, when they stumbled upon what appeared to be a recently perpetrated crime! Sandi and Simon used their knowledge of animal tracks and footage from the camera traps, to decipher the clues.

A leopard had very recently attacked a porcupine, but it wasn’t clear whether the porcupine had escaped or not. As the two investigated, they found clear leopard tracks close to lots of quills from the porcupine.

received_10208211174948836Leopard prints found at the scene – Simon’s hand shows a comparison for size.

The picture below shows many porcupine neck quills, indicating the leopard got the porcupine at the back of the neck.

received_10208281666711086Porcupine neck quills at the scene.

There were also porcupine quills alongside further leopard tracks at least 100 m  away – perhaps the porcupine was not so lucky this time!

received_10208281664991043Dispersed porcupine quills alongside more leopard tracks.

Whilst the actions of this leopard are a perfectly natural and normal event, it was great for our assistants to be able to put the knowledge they learn here to use. They had great fun playing detective.

Move over Miss Marple, there are new sleuths in town!

It must be baby season…

We have recently been coming across many new recruits to Lajuma Native Reserve and the surrounding farms on our camera traps. Here is a photo blog of some of our little furry friends that I am sure everyone will enjoy…

img_0297We recently had a new cub join our leopard population. You can just about see the cub following behind its mother, Rowena. We’ll post you more pictures as we get them.

img_0322This flock of guinea fowl have a lot of young to take care of!

img_1150Young bushpig are certainly much cuter than their parents!

img_1122Whilst young impala are a spitting image of their mother.

img_1135These little warthog-lets have no worries as long as they are following behind their mother.

img_0058Infant chacma baboons often play with their older siblings, but staying close to mum just in case!

img_1905This is a baby bushbuck.

honey-badgerAnd of course you will remember this little fur ball that we captured on camera back in October – honey badger.

Special Feature: Lajuma Life as a Research Assistant

Getting started at Lajuma by Zina Morbach

“A couple of months ago, I, a PhD student from the UK, and a new primate assistant arrived at Lajuma to work for the Primate and Predator Project. Starting to work and live in a new place is always nerve-racking, but doing so in “the middle of nowhere” somewhere in South Africa can add a new dimension of nerves to the experience. However, after some delay to our travel, that is probably typical for all African countries, we arrived safely at the camp and were very warmly welcomed. We moved into our rooms and were immediately integrated into the social program that was going on (a pub quiz that evening).

While our arrival was very smooth and people were most welcoming, it was still quite overwhelming. Especially the next morning, when, in the early morning light, we realized that the camp was situated just off the cliff. After the needed inductions, we started our training a few days later. And let me tell you, experience in wandering mountainous regions can only be helpful here! We both grew up in rather flat regions of Europe, so having to climb the first cliffs, sliding off rocks, and trying to figure out how to get back up was quite a task. So, here’s an insider tip: If you don’t have much experience hiking in rocky, very steep environments, or climbing cliffs, it might be a good idea to consider taking a few lessons in a climbing hall, or try out some rock climbing! It might just make your start here a little bit easier.

img_0135Cliffs of the Soutpansberg Mountains.

While I will be working with baboons, most primate assistants work with Samango or vervet monkeys. I can’t say much about that work, other than that they are very fascinating animals, and following them is, while demanding, rather enjoyable from what I hear!

If you would like to work with baboons, however, let me tell you that you are up for a challenge! Only a few people have found the endurance and energy to follow them for more than a few months. It involves a lot of climbing up cliffs, wandering over more savannah like parts without much shade, and keeping up with some fascinating animals who sometimes just seem to have a sudden idea of where they would rather be right now! But, to be honest, I find it quite rewarding. I am slowly learning to distinguish the individuals, get to know their characters, and love seeing how they live their lives in this harsh environment. Most of all, though, I love to just sit with them in the late afternoon in a forest, when things get calmer and they search for food in the leaf litter. Just sitting and watching these intelligent animals, that is my happy moment.”

img_1446Zina’s assistant, Allison, collecting data from our habituated baboon troop.

Sad, sad news… viewer discretion is advised!

On Sunday 16th of October, a team of volunteers organized by the Primate and Predator Project and Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, entered the Medike Mountain Sanctuary to conduct a snare sweep in a forested area near the Sand River. A total of seventy-five active snares were taken from the bush. Amongst the snares we found two bush buck carcasses, the remains of a juvenile baboon, and a jar of poison hidden away in the brush. The dense concentration of snares suggests this is not subsistence poaching, but instead points towards a larger bushmeat-trade syndicate operating in the area.

The following day, a grim discovery was made of a leopard carcass close to the area of the snare sweep. The carcass was still freshly skinned, with numerous dog tracks and footprints surrounding the scene. Coagulated blood around the neck and throat confirms that an illegal snare was the cause of death. LEDET Environmental Compliance and Law Enforcement as well as the South African Police Service are currently investigating this incident.


Freshly skinned leopard carcass found at Medike Mountain Sanctuary.

Wire snaring is a popular harvesting method for bushmeat, given that snares are inexpensive, effective, and easy to obtain, set and conceal. Snares are non-selective and can inflict significant by-catch (i.e. killing animals not intended for consumption). Unfortunately, the impact of snaring on our local wildlife is difficult to quantify due to the secretive nature of bushmeat poaching. Landowners often don’t know about set snares on their land and poachers often move away from an area abandoning active snares. Snaring can especially impact large carnivore populations, such as the leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains. These animals are particularly vulnerable to snaring given that they are wide ranging (have a high probability of running into an abandoned snare), occur in low densities (they have large territories), and are long-lived (only reaching sexual maturity after 2 years of age).

The general public can help by removing snares when found in the field and by reporting incidents of poaching directly to LEDET. In addition, landowners can get their employees to do a monthly snare sweep on their properties to remove any snares. The Primate and Predator Project have conducted several snare sweeps and removed hundreds of snares from the Soutpansberg Mountains. If you would like assistance from them please contact Philip at 071 841 8361 or wildlife.help@durham.ac.uk.



Special Feature: Lajuma Life as a Research Assistant

What a great opportunity this blog could be to let all of you out there know what it’s like to be a Research Assistant for the PPP. Well now we want to do just that! Here is the first of what will hopefully be many blogs from our hardworking assistants.

Alice’s Blog on Lajuma

“Sitting in my University library on a cold January evening an advert appeared in my inbox, ‘Opportunity to follow and study primates in South Africa.’ I remember reading it, dreaming that such a job could be a reality, almost not believing it. I instantly sent the research centre my CV and now, nine months later, here I am in the picturesque South African mountains living that dream, far, far away from any library!

My name is Alice Newton and I am a Biology undergraduate student at Cardiff University. Part of this course is to carry out a Professional Training Year before graduation, to gain invaluable skills that prepare us for the wider world of work. Animal behaviour has always interested me and I do anything to spend time outdoors, so the job sounded perfect for me. On September 15th I arrived in South Africa’s Soutpansberg Mountains, where I intend to stay for 10 months. Although I have travelled far from home to an exotic place, it is definitely not a holiday! It is a challenging, but equally rewarding placement, which I feel so lucky to be a part of. Not only because it is such an exciting placement, but also because there are so many amazing discoveries that are currently occurring at the research centre.


A photo of me in ‘my office’, overlooking Lajuma, South Africa.

My usual week involves following samango and vervet monkeys, alongside phenology and my own personal research time. Following a primate troop for the day means leaving camp at 4am and watching the monkeys awaken, then recording their behaviour throughout the day until sunset at 6pm. I consider it such an honour seeing the monkeys wake, as I know very few people have seen this. Only last week I arrived at dawn to discover one of the vervet monkeys had had an infant overnight, so I got to name him. I chose Vespa, and I may be a bit biased but he is definitely the best monkey on the mountain!


Infant Vespa, with mother Victory.

Like all animals you cannot plan a monkey follow; everyday is always very different. One moment the troop will be feeding pleasantly, the next they are tearing through thick acacia thorns on an unstoppable mission. It definitely keeps you on your toes! The primates are wild and so subject to many threats and predators. Whilst on one of my follows a crowned eagle landed a metre in front of me on a bush where the vervets were feeding, and nearly took a monkey for its own dinner. Even I found it terrifying, I cannot begin to imagine how the vervets must have felt.

After studying the vervets for the past month, I find them particularly interesting – because there are only nine individuals in the troop you can begin to learn their characters and personalities. I especially enjoy watching the juveniles play, and the way their unique ranking system means that a juvenile can be seen being groomed by a lower ranking adult male. I have become interested in conducting a research project on the social network of this vervet troop, with the ultimate goal of working out what the ranks within the troop really are. Alongside faecal sample DNA and intense behaviour observation, I believe I will be able to do this and am excited to begin the research.

When I was young I always thought ‘adult jobs’ looked boring and monotonal, but I can guarantee that working as a primate research assistant is far from that. It is exhilarating, varied and rewarding… and I cannot wait for all the adventures and surprises just round the corner.

And the winners are…


Our Living in Harmony Exhibition has been running for the last month, and is currently on display at the Makhado Crossing Mall in Louis Trichardt. We’ve had numerous people viewing the exhibition, and letting us know what they think through our guest book. Now it is finally time to reveal the winners of the competition! Based on the PPP judges’ decision and in combination with Facebook votes we have finally picked the top three artworks – it was a tough decision!
Congratulations go to:
Charith Pelpola for First Place
Virginnia Potter for Second Place
Marion Schon for Third Place
And a big well done to everybody who entered. Unfortunately, due to the lack of entries for the younger category relevant to the exhibitions’ theme, we did not pick any winners for this category, and consequently didn’t use any of these artworks.
We would like to thank all the participants, especially the ABUN group, as well as Elma Marais from SAWMA, for allowing us to exhibit at their annual symposium, Delicious Cafe in Alldays, where the exhibition will move to next, and the Makhado Crossing Mall for kindly allowing us to use one of their vacant shops. Lastly, we would like to say a big thank you to the Earthwatch Institute for funding this project, which has enabled us to raise awareness about human-wildlife conflict and display these amazing pieces of art.