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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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:
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Charith Pelpola for First Place
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Virginnia Potter for Second Place
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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.

Snare sweeping at Medike

Last Sunday (16 Oct 2016), Philip took our latest Earthwatch team to Medike Nature Reserve to conduct a snare sweep. What we found was not at all what we expected…

We left early in the morning for Medike (on what was possibly one of the hottest days this month) to meet up with Ryan van Huyssteen and his team. A two hour hike got us to a very beautiful waterfall and a forested riverine area where we started our snare sweep. The area is occasionally used by a local religious group for ceremonies and the waterfall is considered sacred by the Venda community in Kutama. When we started making our way down along the river line there was collective feeling among all of us that we will not find any snares and will have just exhausted ourselves. We then found two. Then another, and after three hours of searching for snares we ended up with several. By the time we finished and had to make our way back to reception we had lost track of how many we removed. We took turns to carry the snares on the two hour hike back. When we got back to reception we were welcomed with ice cold, homemade lemonade and peppermint-crisp tart. Lemonade has never tasted so good! We were anxious to know how many snares we had removed in such a short period so we counted them.

We had removed a total of 75 snares in just three hours!

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The amazing snare sweeping team.

People put out snares in order to catch animals mostly for food. However, snares are not target-specific and any animal can get caught and killed by a snare. Snares are also often forgotten about when people get a job or move to another area and can be left there for years before an animal gets trapped in it. It is an extremely horrible death for the animal and a very inhumane method of killing. However, social-ecological systems are highly complex as previous blog posts have described. The problem is not the people putting snares in the bush but the high unemployment rate and poverty of the neighbouring areas. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have shown, people are inclined to meet their own basic needs before the needs of others (whether human or non-human). When you don’t have food, conservation of wildlife is not your first priority. This is complicated even more by the idea that animals belong to humans and by the political tensions created years ago. However, this is not a topic we will elaborate on in this blog.

In addition to 75 snares, we also found a bottle of Temic poison! We scooped up all the poison from the ground and placed it in a plastic bag. Temic has been used by people in the past for various reasons. Some use it to kill predators as a form of retaliation against livestock depredation, house burglars use it to silence their canine victims, poachers have used it to kill rhinos in the past and may also use it to kill leopards and lions for their valuable skins and body parts, and so forth. Temic comprises of the chemical Aldicarb and falls in the super-toxin class, which means that it is highly toxic. It is used in the agricultural sectors as a pesticide. One teaspoon of temic can kill an adult rhino and 1 mg is enough to kill a rodent. What it was doing in the bush, we can only speculate…

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Enough temic was found to fill a jar – how many animals could this have killed?

So after a full day of Kalahari heat, near dehydration, and Jeff’s rolling boulders, we removed 75 snares and a jar of temic poison. The PPP team in collaboration with Medike will be doing a follow-up snare sweep in the near future to double check the area.

If wildlife could speak, they would be giving thanks to everyone involved.

Kutama Eco-Weekend October 2016

Philip Faure, the Primate and Predator Project’s Community Engagement Officer, held another Eco-Weekend for a local school this past weekend. We had the Wilmary Christian School from Kutama village up at Lajuma for two days, to teach them about various environmental topics. We had 13 learners and 3 teachers who were able to attend.

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The school group with Philip on the day of arrival.

On Friday the students and teachers arrived in the morning and we immediately started with presentations and activities. First on the agenda were the introductory presentation and a health and safety talks. We had our lunch and then straight after the group was split up into to two groups. One group went with two of the Primate Research Assistants, Alice and James, to follow the Samango monkeys. They were taught about the research that Andy and his team of assistants do, about data collection, and about general knowledge on primates. Alice and James certainly made for great educators and the students came back after half a day of field work with a lot of knowledge on Samango monkeys.

Natalie and Morgan, the PPP’s two Predator Research Assistants, took the other half of the school group out on a camera run. They were taken on a very scenic route to go and change the batteries and SD cards from our cameras and bring the camera data back to the office. Natalie and Morgan taught them all about how the cameras are used in the Soutpansberg over a 60 km2 grid, which monitor our leopard population abundance and the population trends. The students said they really enjoyed the hike. That evening, the students and Philip did all the cooking and spent some time making jokes and socialising around the fire. After dinner, Philip gave them a talk on primates of the Soutpansberg Mountain.

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Alice, some of the learners, and Wilmary Christian School’s headmaster.

The following morning the two groups swapped activities and had a chance to learn the skills and knowledge that the other group did the previous day. They came back to the camp for lunch and afterwards were given a lecture on the different kinds of renewable energy sources used on Lajuma. They were taught how the solar energy and hydro-electricity generates power for the researchers and workers living on Lajuma. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of these and some other sources of energy. When they were done with learning about energy, we moved on to a completely different topic, geographical information systems (GIS). As part of the grade 11 curriculum learners are taught about GIS in geography. Philip gave the learners a crash course on the basics of using the open-source software, QGIS, and how it can be applied in various sectors. The learners were quite captivated by QGIS and the headmaster asked Philip to come to their school to give a two day course on using QGIS.

Living in Harmony Competition – Vote Now!

Our Living in Harmony Exhibition is coming up and we have had so many pieces of art entered for this competition – thank you to everyone who has sent something in. We now need your help. We have posted some of our favourite pieces on our Facebook page, but we are finding it just too difficult to pick a top three – this is where you come in. Have a careful look through all 15 pieces and click ‘Like’ on the photo that is your favourite. Remember to keep in mind the theme of our exhibition – that is, local people living in harmony with their local wildlife. For example, part of PPP’s remit is to reduce conflict between people, especially livestock farmers, and wildlife through various mitigation techniques – such as the placing of livestock guardian dogs on cattle farms to reduce conflict with leopards. This is just one way that people can learn to live in harmony with local wildlife, there are many more. I think some of these pieces really reflect this – let us know on Facebook which artworks you feel should win.

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https://www.facebook.com/Primate-and-Predator-Project-168026853274442/?pnref=story

Bainbridge Spartans

Not long after the Earthwatch group left Lajuma we were joined by 14 students and 2 teachers from Bainbridge High School, Seattle. After a long old flight from America they arrived at Lajuma in time for dinner on the 30th July. This was the first of many meals which lead to our resident chef, Kyle, to become known as a wizard – needless to say everyone enjoyed the food.

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Dinner time with Bainbridge High School

Another busy schedule saw the students taking part in many activities at Lajuma Nature Reserve. The group did all the hiking for the predator team, and checked all 15 of the camera stations we hike to. They also tagged the photos they collected – all 19,610 of them! In fact, they did such a good job that they finished early and helped out with some of Phil’s tagging, as well as photographs collected during my PhD that still need to be sorted. What a great job! The students also collected data on phenology, vegetation plots, and samango monkey behaviour for our primate team. A day was spent visiting one of the local schools off the mountain, and the students taught a class of 80 children all about wildlife in their local area. Everyone was very excited…

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Students from Bainbridge High School leading the cheering for the Herbivore Team

The Bainbridge students never seemed to tire, even after we had them conducting snare sweeps, clearing and re-marking one of our hiking trails, removing invasive plant species from the mountain, and hiking to the top of the Mount Lajuma. Some of the boys even went for an extra run at the end of the day – I wish Kyle’s food gave me that much energy! As if this wasn’t enough, being a school trip the students also learnt a lot from the many presentations given by our staff and assistants – from biodiversity on the mountain, and primate and predator behaviour, through to invasive species ecology.

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Students listening to a presentation

Towards the end of their stay, the group enjoyed a visit to nearby nature reserve Leshiba and a trip to Kruger National Park. However, they always returned to Lajuma, and so it was our job to take them back into town to catch the bus back to Johannesburg on the 16th August. With a few tears we waved them off as the bus pulled away, and we sure have missed them at Lajuma since – it has been way too quiet. Come back next year!

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The group of students from Bainbridge High School