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Excerpts from a volunteer's diary

By 5 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN

These are a few snippets kindly shared by a recent volunteer, Leah Hochberg. We hope you enjoy them!

An amazing experience with the Cheetahs

On our morning drive we were lucky enough to locate the two focus cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) tearing at a large male impala (Aepyceros Melampus) carcass right next to the road.  We watched in awe as they took turns eating – one ate while the other watched for other predators that might try to steal the kill.  The sounds of ripping flesh and crunching bones filled our ears as the cheetahs used their powerful jaws to systematically devour their kill.  Once they left the site, we were able to walk into the area and examine what was left of the impala.  I learnt that cheetahs often avoid the stomachs of their prey because they only contain plant material and once opened they emit a pungent smell that is likely to attract unwanted attention.  The stomach was just about the only part of the impala that remained intact, as the cheetahs had quickly and efficiently stripped the animal of meat before leaving the carcass to scavengers.  It was a wonderful opportunity to witness both the power and the teamwork of the cheetah coalition.

On Tracking…

Today we went for a bushwalk instead of going on drive.  Bushwalks are a nice change of pace because we get to identify animal tracks and plant life that we don’t see as often on drive.  I am very intrigued at the prospect of tracking because it is like there is a map of the entyre reserve’s activities on the ground and if you know how to read it, it tells a story.  There is so much to look at to identify a single track, whether it is the size of the toes (or whether there are any!), the number of lobes on the pad, or the shape of the hooves.  Because of the complexity of each track, it is especially exciting to identify one and be able to tell which direction the animal went through the area.  Today, I identified my first jackal (Canis mesomeas) track by the distinct X that is formed by the ridge of sand between the pad and toes of its paw.  I have also identified civet (Civetticus civetta) tracks by their circular shape and hyena (Crocuta crocuta) tracks by their size and kidney bean shaped toes.  I am working on distinguishing between antelope tracks, which are more difficult because of they are incredibly similar (at least to my untrained eyes), but hopefully I should master those soon!

Mountain Satellite project

This week, six of us drove up to the mountains to conduct small mammal research on Mariepskop, an immensely diverse ecosystem in the Drakensburg mountain range.  We set up 60 Sherman traps in three different locations on the mountain, with 20 in each location.  Two of the trapping spots are in natural growth areas where the mountain’s ecosystem has remained untouched.  The third is in a logging area where logging companies have cut down the natural growth and planted cheap, quick growing eucalyptus trees instead.  In the small rectangular traps we put a raspberry/peanut butter/oat mix of bait (and licked our fingers afterwards) along with a small blanket to keep the mammals warm.  We check the traps twice each day.  When we catch a small mammal, we determine the species, measure it, weigh it, mark it with a small fur clipping, and take photos to identify it later.  The fur clippings help us identify the greedy small mammals that return to the traps every day for a free snack and a warm bed.  After checking our traps today we went for a guided hike along the Bush Pig Trail.  The forest was dense around us and vines tumbled down on either side of the path.  The air was thick with the smells of fresh rain and moss, and florescent birds like the bright red Knysna Turaco (Tauraco corythaix) and the Orange Bush Shrike (Telophorus sulfureopectus) flitted between branches.  Although we focus largely on small mammals when we visit the mountains, it became clear throughout the hike that the Mariepskop ecosystem contains many other remarkable plant and animal species.

Thank you, Leah, for sharing these excerpts. We hope to see you again soon and that you’re enjoying your next adventure.