The first volunteers of the inaugural ‘Carnivores of the Cape Floral Kingdom’ expedition all arrived on Sunday with only a minor glitch of getting one vehicle stuck just a couple of miles from the expedition base. Welcome to expedition life!
With initial introductions, risks assessments and briefings completed by Sunday afternoon, we stretched our legs with a brief orientation walk around Blue Hill Nature Reserve – our base for the next 12 days. We passed by (and checked) the leopard trap, which will form a key part of the survey work, and enjoyed some of the local wildlife whilst on route. Sightings included klipspringer, jackal buzzards and an ancient relative of the elephant – the dassie or rock hyrax. This was followed by another orientation walk up a ridge behind our base. The climb rewards you not only with a great view over the fynbos landscape, but also with a mobile phone signal. I have a feeling the path will be well–trodden by some!
Rested and recuperated from Sunday’s travel and briefing exertions, the science training than began in earnest on Monday, with camera trapping analysis and mammal ID work. Practical session came in the form of off-road 4WD training. Our three transport options on the project are either by foot, by 4WD or by mountain bike. All vehicles and drivers returned to base in one piece. So far there have been no riders.
With equipment briefings completed and after-dinner lectures from our project scientist (Dr. Alan Lee) digested, we put things into action on Tuesday. The sunrise activity of trap checking yielded a klipspringer in the trap, which was promptly released. Unfortunately it broke a horn in the box trap, something that happens very rarely, but did this time. Alan was worried, but the klipspringer seems to have been fine. Later in the morning we practised setting 50 small mammal traps in a big group. It took us about three hours, so a couple of people should manage in an afternoon, especially because we have already marked and recorded the fifty locations now, covering a big rectangle of 250 x 1000 m. In the afternoon we conducted our first ‘flush survey’ in a group of seven walking all abreast and 2 m apart, recording vegetation and any animals that are disturbed and ‘flushed’ out of the undergrowth. Christine, who had twisted her ankle just before the expedition, and her husband Prasadu stayed back to go through camera trap pictures collected by Alan in the past. This will be another key activity where we can help Alan do things that he would not be able to do without willing volunteers, in this case because he simply lacks the time to go through 3000-odd camera trap photographs. But split over two weeks amongst seven volunteers working in shifting pairs this task become manageable and the end result, Alan hopes, will be a peer-reviewed scientific publication on “temporal patterns of abundance of medium to large-size mammals from camera trap records” (that already sounds very scientific, doesn’t it ;).