The team have now settled into the daily routine, which is firstly checking the cat/fox traps and rodent traps that they set up on Sunday followed by surveying three 2 x 2 km quadrants of the reserve on foot with the help of binoculars, spotting scopes and range finders. In the evening the teams enter their data onto the acientist’s computer to be analysed at the end of the expedition.
After two full days of surveying we have sighted most of the study animals – oryx, Arabian gazelles, sand gazelles, Arabian red fox, Mcqueen’s bustard and lappet-faced vulture. The biggest difference we have noted, compared to last year’s expedition, is the presence of lots of oryx calves, some only a couple of weeks old, which is an indicator that the oryx population is thriving. The photo is of one herd’s young on top of a sand dune near one of the tracks we drive on to get around the reserve.
The northern team (Kate, Melanie, Neil and Andre) had a live capture yesterday morning of a black and white ferral cat (see picture). These are the biggest threat to the endangered Gordon’s wildcat due to interbreeding and competition, so this cat has now been taken outside the reserve.
Almost all of the team members have now had a rodent capture in the smaller traps. We are assessing the rodent population, because it is the food source of the Gordon’s wildcat and Pharoah’s eagle owl, but is also being hunted by the Arabian red foxes. In the pictures Jörg is about to handle a Cheesman’s gerbil (yes, that is it’s name) to discover its sex and body measurement and mark it before re-releasing. Well, this was the plan but the gerbil had a different idea and ran up Jörg’s arm and out of the trap before he could get a proper grip!
There are two and a half more days left to complete the survey of the reserve before we retrieve the live and camera traps and get an overview of the data we have collected. In the meantime we are enjoying our long sandy survey walks in the warm sunny weather and it seems too soon to be thinking about the end!