From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa

The ‘Carnivores of the Cape Floral Kingdom’ expedition continues to evolve and expand, and for the first time we can extend a warm welcome our second group of citizen scientists. It’s great to be able to double our time in the field this year.

The team all arrived safely. With initial introductions, risks assessments and briefings completed, we stretched our legs with a brief orientation around Blue Hill Escape – the team’s new home for the next 12 days.

Alan kicked off the initial scientific training with an overview of the mammal mapping work, where we are trying to build a spatial database of mammal sightings to compliment the results collected by the camera traps. The team were also introduced to a range of equipment that will become their tools of the trade. The day was rounded off with some mammal identification training, and a brief history of the work so far at Blue Hill.

Rested and recuperated from the travel and briefing exertions of the first day, the science training ‘on the job’ began in earnest on day 2 (Monday), with camera trapping deployment and setting up honey bush plots along the south road. This offered a chance for some practical exertions in the form of the off-road 4WD ‘commute to work’, and then a 2 hr hike back to base (for most). Steve was the lucky one, undertaking some 4WD training with the expedition leader, before driving home.

In the afternoon we were introduced to the work of our guest scientist Dr. Margaux Rat, part of the Hot Birds research team. We’ll be helping her project by assisting via video analysis – exploring the effects of temperature on the social networks of sociable weavers. It should give us an insight on how hot and bothered we will all be by climate change!

Tuesday morning brought yet more variety, this time in the form of the weather. Our field visit along the east road was cut to less than hour, by sub-zero temperatures, and the effects of unseasonal wind chill. Highlighting why hypothermia always gets mentioned in the safety briefing. Welcome to South Africa in the Spring!

Margaux was the ultimate beneficiary of the conditions, with all volunteers more than willing to sit in a fire-warmed kitchen, nursing cups of hot coffee whilst undertaking video analysis work on the weavers.

There will be a 20 degrees swing in temperature in the next 24 hr, so will all be out in the field again, and this time hopefully for a little longer…

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