With the freezing overnight temperatures continuing we decided to deactivate the box traps for a couple of nights. This was to prevent the capture of smaller animals that cannot cope with such low temperatures at times when they are usually in their dens. Thankfully this spell of weather has passed and the nights have warmed up again, so all the traps are fully operative. However, nothing to report in terms of captures. We have tracks of predators walking near the traps, but nothing has gone in as yet…
The elephant teams have been continuing their observations morning and afternoon and getting quite close to the animals now, something that we were unable to do in the first slot. This has meant some interesting feeding observations and also some reversing to maintain our 50 metre distance rule (we should not get closer than this for safety reasons) as the elephants are wandering towards us and have, on occasion, appeared out of the bushes at a closer distance, but always calm and relaxed. It’s amazing that such large animals can be invisible in acacia bushes.
Our waterhole counts have been interesting too – there are a lot of different species here, with everything from giraffe, to cavorting wildebeest and shy oryx, not to mention the donkeys who were a surprise to me. Due to the destructive nature of the elephants here, it is not sensible to build the sort of hides that you can find in Europe – nice wooden boxes for people to sit in with a window slit to look out of. Unfortunately these don’t last long as the elephants can be very inquisitive and when they want to find out about something they investigate with their trunks and objects often don’t survive very long. So we use adapted bushes with enough foliage to keep people covered and just enough room for three people sitting on folding stools. These have worked very well in fooling one species – the elephant team spent 20 minutes in front of the newest hide doing their radio telemetry work and noting cheetah tracks before one of them followed some tracks right to the door of the hide and three laughing people. It has been more difficult to hide from the other species, most animals seem to know that we are there, often staring straight at the hide before drinking and going about their business. This month is known as the month of changing winds and we more than suspect that the animals can smell us (some team members even claimed to have had showers the same day so they don’t understand it). Our evening camp fire discussions over the last couple of nights have included a lot of debate on hide design – a portable, collapsible design seems to be the most favoured at the moment, but I think we will have a proper design competition before the end of the slot.
Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa