Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Carnivore Conservation Research Update

Shiba  Recaptured
Last month, the Research Team had to deal with a rather unusual scenario. One of the leopards translocated in early 2009, female Shiba, was captured outside the NamibRand Nature Reserve where she had been released. The farmer involved did not shoot the animal but wanted her removed from his land and handed her over to the reserve’s management who called N/a’an ku sê. Her tracking collar had stopped submitting a signal several months previously so this was a good opportunity to fit her with a new one.

Upon their arrival at NamibRand the volunteers and staff found the leopard female in excellent physical condition, once more showing the success of the release programme. Shiba had survived in the wild for 11 months before she was caught by the farmer.

It was agreed with the reserve that Shiba would again be released on the boundary of NamibRand and adjacent Namib Naukluft Park, some 150km away from where she was captured.

In the sweltering Namib Desert climate the team had their hands full with keeping the leopard’s body temperature at a safe level when Shiba was immobilised late afternoon on 5 February. Her old broken, tracking collar was removed and the new one was fitted. After an hour, the anti-dote was administered and the leopard was left in a safe place near the reserve’s headquarter to recuperate during the night. As the sun set and the team departed from the site, the coalition of 5 male cheetahs that are constantly monitored on the reserve appeared in front of the car, adding to the excitement.

The team spent a well-deserved but short night relaxing at Aandster, the tracking base for all post-release monitoring, and went to pick up the leopard female early the next morning. The research team gave Shiba a lot of water from a hosepipe to ensure her fitness for the next few days and then drove her to her new release site. After setting the transport box at the foot of a suitable mountain range, the team opened the door from the safety of the car using a rope-pulley system. Shiba did not hesitate for long and ran for freedom once more. Everybody was thrilled at this sight and are delighted to report another safe and successful release.

New cheetah and leopard deterrent

In the Windhoek study area, our research team are currently testing the use of lion faeces as a deterrent against cheetahs and leopards preying on young cattle stock. Several cases of livestock predation have occurred in the past few months involving a cheetah mother with 3 cubs as well as an old big leopard male. The team, including some very dedicated and apparently scent-resistant volunteers, dissolves the lion faeces and then paints the stinky liquid onto fence posts around cattle camps.

The assumption is that local carnivores will pick up the strong smell when approaching cattle herds and be deterred by it, believing that are more dominant predator is scent-marking in that particular area. First results look promising as the cheetah female and her cubs immediately moved away from a treated area and no further losses occurred there. It’s certainly an unpleasant job, and we give special thanks to the volunteers that have been involved, but if it gives us an option to safe-guard livestock whilst keeping the carnivores in their natural habitat, then we’ll do it!

Cheetah footprinting initiative

Lots of progress has been made on the development of the footprint ID software for cheetahs. The volunteers and researchers recently carried out footprint work with Ayla and the two young cheetah males that came into N/a’an ku sê’s care last year. The young cheetahs prints will be used as reference animals for the initial footprint database required as the basis of the identification software.

A lot of sand carrying, raking, water logging and meat cutting was necessary to lure the youngsters over a pre-prepared sand patch to obtain clear footprints. In total, every animal delivered more than 20 good prints of their left hind feet which were further enhanced on the computer and are now being used towards the database.

Other news

Since the start of the year, a good number of game counts have been carried out again. One group of volunteers was particularly lucky to closely encounter the normally extremely secretive aardwolf on N/a’an ku sê. The counting team managed to approach the animal up to 40 meters distance. During the same census, the counters also observed an impressive herd of 14 kudus from very close.

Finally, the NamibRand tracking team has resumed its operations too and volunteers can once again head south and experience the very special monitoring activities whilst enjoying the breath-taking Namib Desert environment. Check out our new Carnivore Conservation Volunteer programme