Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seasons greetings!

My word it feels like it has been an absolute age since I last wrote! Oh hold on it has been!! I am so sorry not have kept in touch. It is not from lack of wanting to but rather lack of time to. We have so busy at the Black Leopard Wildlife Campus and the Ingwe Leopard Research. Let me fill you in a little while I sit here on leave in Johannesburg! 

I live on the reserve, still in a tent but not as plush as the Black Leopard Camp tents although it is still very comfortable! The camp I run is awesome! OK I might be a little bias, but people are always impressed when they visit! It is so green now after the spectacular thunderstorms you may have read about from Alec, my past assistant on the Ingwe Blog and our choice  vegetation is high up on various antelope's menu! A small family of nyala are becoming accustom to our comings and goings and venture towards the kitchen area. I was talking to the one female who came 2m from where I was sitting! 

A bachelor herd of impala rams also stop by from time to time and we do find kudu and bushbuck quenching their thirst at the small waterhole close by.
Occasionally we do have sighitngs of leopard and I do hope over time they will be become more regular!

You may have gathered from the drives I love birding and it is a huge thrill to hear the illusive Narina Trogan every morning as well as the Purple Crested Turaco. Both of which I have not had chance to capture on film yet!

My first FGASA student has completed her training and passed with flying colours and the leopard research goes from strength to strength. I have a map in the office with colour coded tags which represent individual leoaprds so I can see where they walk and how often they use certain areas! They are already teaching me things which is brilliant!
We also collect information about other carnivores and the prospect of doing a PhD is looking very good for the future! 

I hope to be in touch again soon, but in the meantime if you are interested in keeping up to date with what is happening with Ingwe Leopard Research please support us by reading the blogs. Each time you click on the adverts there we get a little bit of money and believe me every little helps! Here is the address is you are interested:

For now I better sign off, but I hope if you celebrate Christmas you have a wonderful one and I hope you have a fantastic new year ahead!
All the best,


(Also if you are stuck for present ideas this year we have put together a couple of items you can purchase through lulu again. (If anything it goes to show we haven't been lazy!! ;) The information is below):

It is finally here and on sale now! The Ingwe Leopard Research calendar! It contains the best camera trap pictures of various animals taken over the past year by our camera traps in the field. Click on the link below for more details: 

We also have a cook book on sale also on lulu which contains camera trap pictures and recipes donated by past assistants to the Black Leopard Wildlife Campus. The recipes are for an open fire but can be modified for the oven/stove as well! Click on the link below for more details:

Proceeds from both sales will go to PAW and the Ingwe Leopard Research to help raise money to allow the research to continue.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Xivambalana tries his best!

Xivambalana giving a royal walk by!
Hi everyone!
Sorry it has been a while since my last blog! I have been so busy with moving into my new camp where at the moment there is no internet but I hope very soon that will be rectified! The camp itself is amazing! We are surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains, kudu and waterbuck wonder into camp on a regular basis, (they are our early warning system leopard are in the area and they are pretty reliable as well!) 

One of the new conservation assistant tents
There is a chorus of uninterrupted bird song first thing in the morning as the first rays of sunlight paint the already colouring vegetation in a golden glow.  I have a loo with a view and an outdoor shower which is divine in the afternoon sun!   There is also so much going on with the spotted felines at Thaba Tholo, I hope to solve some of the puzzles that are being laid before me over the next couple of months! The mystery cat I posted on facebook a short while ago is actually a female, although she looked large enough to be a male on the first picture we took! We caught her and her cub, which looks to be around 5 months or so, a couple of weeks after the first picture in exactly the same spot! 

Our mystery mother at Thaba Tholo
It is amazing what we have been catching on camera, side striped jackal, civet (one even left it’s mark on my camera; not a pleasant smell I might add!), brown hyena, genet and I am eagerly anticipating the striped weasel tracks I found to materialise into a picture of one as well! I am thoroughly enjoying my new roles and the challenges.  If anyone is interested in joining us or would like to adopt Diamond girl or even just donate to the Ingwe Leopard Research please do, check out our website for further details:

Xivambalana all grown up!
Many of you might have heard I am was visiting Djuma for a couple of days and I must admit I haven’t been disappointed! Our favourite lady and her son must have sensed how much I needed to see them! As I was driving over to Vuyatela, her image popped into my head and I wondered if I would be lucky enough to touch base with her over the next couple of days. I was extremely hopeful as it had only been 3 days since she was last seen and the day was overcast which could encourage the spotted felines out from hiding! It has been just over a week or so since Xivindzi has been seen; but it sounds like she is doing well as we expected. Highly independent at only 17 months old it is such a huge contrast to her brother!
 As soon as I announced on the radio I departed for game drive, the call came in Xivambalana was on the western side of Inga’s house on the quarantine open area. Thrilled to hear this news, I immediately became like a child again, a huge grin spread across my face as I bounced down to the sighting!
He couldn’t have been in a better position, lounging on the branch of the old marula tree we have watched ground hornbill foraging for food around and seen the Gowrie gang sitting on countless times in the middle of the quarantine eyeing the impala at least 90m away. Instantly I could see how much he has grown, he is about the same size Mixo was at his age and just as handsome as his elder sibling!

Xivambalana lounging about before his hunt!
He was not in the slightest bit concerned at the vehicles being there either, which was so heart-warming to witness, it is clear he is maturing and it was wonderful to see how he was more sure of himself and his surroundings. I sat with him for a while, but he became restless as he kept looking over at the mobile buffet tantalising him. 

Xivambalana focused on what lies ahead!
Eventually it got too much to handle and he made his descent back to suitable cover, it was at this moment to my amazement Karula suddenly appeared from underneath the fallen tree. She must have been taking a break while Xivambalana made use of the vantage point!Together mother and son crept in unison towards the antelope, focused on the shared goal. 

Xivambalana left, his mother Karula right, focused on the impala
Maybe Xivambalana was a little too eager or the wind turned but they were not even within striking distant before the alarm was raised. 

The royal lady herself - Karula
You could see on Karula’s face she was not impressed, but to her son, the call to tell them it was a waste of time fell on deaf ears as he tried in earnest to get closer. 

Impala ewes on alert
Eventually he realised the females were too alert so shifted his attention towards two males sparing who were not taking notice of the alarm calls. He literally leopard crawled into long grass, but the females became so instant about him approaching, the males took their dispute further away from the danger zone! 

Impala ewes making sure everyone knows Xivambalana is still a threat
This still didn’t dissuade him from approaching; he merely stood up with his white flag in full view and strolled across the open ground to settle next to a bush, still watching for a potential mistake from his quarry. 
Once again Karula appeared to check on her son’s progress and assessing the situation, which became clear she was not in favour of his choice. She gave us a royal walk by in her usual fashion as she moved to get a better look! 
Karula less than 2m from us!
He took a moment to regroup and noticed a lone ram south of where the rest of the herd were. He had lost interest in the commotion and was busy displaying; a perfect opportunity to take advantage of. Unfortunately there was a lot of ground to cover but Xivambalana was not fazed. He took to the cover and made his approach as Karula watched his attempt. The ram was not as clueless as he thought, yet again the alarm call sounded and the score became 3:0 to the impala.

Game well and truly over for Xivambalana ...or is it?!
Light was fading rapidly as he retreated to more comfortable spot while the ram continued to sound the alarm. Even after all this I have to hand it to him he didn’t give up. From his view point he spied another potential meal and headed for the nearest cover. I actually think he could have been in with a chance as another ram came close to where he hid, but his scent gave his presence away. Already on high alert, the ram started to call, but it became clear he didn’t know where Xivambalana was hiding. 

4th time lucky?

I held my breath as he came within a few meters of our young hunter, still looking towards where the last male had been calling from, almost confused at not seeing a cat there. He was within striking distance but Xivambalana hesitated and immediately the ram spun round to stare right at him. With only a few meters between them, Xivambalana still launched into half-hearted pounce and gave chase for all of 2 steps before finally conceding defeat! At 4:0 it looked like enough was enough for our young leopard, at least for the time being! Karula had headed further West, possibly waiting for night fall before she made any attempt at catching dinner, but it had been brilliant to see her and to witness such a change in Xivambalana. I always knew he had it in him!

If this wasn't enough we bumped into Induna the following afternoon as he took a stroll and scent marked close to Gowrie gate on the Eastern side. The following morning we were lucky enough to catch up with him on Buffleshoek cutline where he was voicing his concern for something. He gave a small contact call mixed in with his growling. As we drove around we could hear another leopard who turned out to be Yambilu-Jordaan voicing his opinion that his son was not allowed to share his kill this time! 

Induna took the hint and melted back into the bush with out so much as a goodbye. Could this be the turning point in their relationship? He is 3 and a half years old now, time to stand on his own 4 feet! But who knows, maybe his father was just in a bad mood!! All I know was it was great the royal family of Djuma graced us with a snap shot of how they are doing! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leopards, badgers and porcupine oh my!

Our porcupine a few days after our first camera capture! 

HI everyone!

It has been full on here, but I am having a great time with it for sure! We currently have about 10 working cameras which we are trying to get out to places we have been finding spoor or areas leopard have been heard calling! The terrain is a little more mountainous than the sands but I must admit I am enjoying the exercise immensely! (That is walking and driving!)

View from one of the Thaba Tholo roads! 
At this point I must introduce you to a very important team member who has been helping us with this task!

Meet Talula! Her name comes from a song about a tortoise called Talula, not the film cool running’s’ so I am told by Alan, her owner! She is extremely strong and so far been up for any challenge we have put her through! I keep meaning to find out what model of Land Cruiser she is, so when I do, I will let you know! She is a huge character that is for sure!

Talula with Caralyn enjoying the view from the back!  
The first week of Caralyn being here we had leopard calling down at the new volunteer camp over a couple of nights which was reported by Alan (who is busy overseeing the construction of the camp.) A honey badger also decided the following week to kindly remove the bee’s nest which was a couple of meters from where my tent will be erected and consequently the hive have vacated the area. I hope it won’t be the last time this understated creature visits camp! They are so inquisitive and are a wonder of nature for sure! Famed for having the ability to survive a lethal snake bite and make even the bravest of lions turn tail and cower from this tenacious character! We even caught a quick glimpse of one last week, but it had gone before the camera came to hand!

Kudu not sure about our camera!
Caralyn and I even went to camp out at the new base in the hope of hearing the spotted cat and try and work out where best to put a camera. Although the night was full of drama, it was from above rather than below. We had a spectacular lighting show, with sections of the surrounding mountains being highlighted all around us. The thunder became the percussion to accompany the  dance, sadly there was still no vocals from the side line, but at least the show remained above us. There was no rain that night, only after we left the valley!  

Wildebeest having a closer look!
I must admit it has been such a thrill to check the cameras each day to see who has strolled by overnight! There is a knack to placing the cameras and it has been a lot of fun learning where best to place the different cameras in order to get the good shots!

Warthog family posing for the camera!
For days we had been seeing porcupine tracks, but it had kept avoiding the camera; until a few days ago when we finally got our rodent!

First porcupine caught on camera!
What was even more exciting was the fact we also caught a leopard on the same night! You should have seen Caralyn and I jumping up and down with glee!

Our first leopard
I had looked for tracks but found nothing. It was only after we saw where the leopard walked did I find 2 toes on the edge of the stream! We believe the leopard is the one of the females called long legs! Through these pictures and the spoor measurements of each track we can build id kits for each leopard in the area and it is this database which we used to match the spot pattern with on the leopard we caught on camera.

Bushbuck in conference with the baboon!
There has also been activity by a big male over on Kudu, a neighbouring reserve. We heard about a kudu that had been killed one morning and a leopard was seen close to the carcass. Luckily Andres, one of the WildEarth viewers, was visiting through On Track Safaris so he was also able to come with us to check out the activity. We went late afternoon in the hope the leopard would be feeding.

Mountain Reedbuck
Unable to trace the carcass or the cat, we started looking for evidence left by the feline on the road to at least point us in the right direction of where to look. Our concentration was suddenly interrupted by the unmistakable sawing call which came from a few meters behind us; the spotted cat’s body was still concealed by the curtain of vegetation, unwilling to make an appearance! Adrenaline charged bodies sprung back onto the vehicle and so we sat, waiting in silence, hoping the leopard would emerge and show us where the kill was.

Kudu walked past the camera to set it off, the gerbil appeared moments after it!   
Sporadically the peace was punctuated by the low raspy voice of the apex predator of this area. After the 3rd call, I could hear another leopard responding faintly on the breeze. Maybe our leopard was making sure any would be thieves knew to keep away from the area!

Nyala pair!
Seeing the storm clouds building rapidly we realized it was game over. We did however meet some people further down the road who pointed out the carcass to us which ended up being quite far from the road and well hidden. We were a good few hundred meters from where the leopard had last called, so Will and I decided it was a great opportunity to put up a couple of camera traps by the carcass and hopefully see who was feeding on it.

Leopard not playing fair!
A couple of days later Caralyn and I went back to collect the pictures. The carcass had gone and would you believe the only picture of the leopard we got was the cheek as it brushed right past the camera knocking it through 90 degrees so it pointed away from the kudu! I even got a few hairs left on the camera strap that held it to the post! It was either dragging the carcass past the camera or using it as a rubbing post to scent mark! Since that day we have heard the male black tip was seen in that same area, so it could well have been him calling that day!
Every day I am learning more about the residents of Thaba Tholo and I can’t wait to see our next leopard caught on camera!

Baboons playing!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

School visit!

Zebra posing at Thaba Tholo
HI everyone!

I have taken over from Emma Loader as the head researcher for the Ingwe Leopard Research and team leader for the new Black Leopard Campus volunteer scheme.We are busy rebuilding our research camp, which is due to be finished at the end of March! Until then I will be based at Black leopard Camp and will move down to my new accommodation in April

Volunteer camp building so far
The time between now and then will be spent finding my feet in these roles and working with our volunteers who will be staying with me at Black Leopard Camp. I am extremely excited to be involved with this and helping to continue what the project started in 1999.

School buildings at Sizo
Apart from assisting with the research on Thaba Tholo, we would like the volunteers to contribute a bit of their time to the community, in particular the local schools. Involving the community is one of the most important parts of conservation and I believe a key in making a project a success.

Building needing renovation
The Sizo primary school situated between Lydenburg and Thaba Tholo was visited by 2 On Track Safari Guests Karen and John to help us distribute some much needed gifts for the children donated by previous guests.

On Track safari Guests meet the children and teachers
Sizo was one of 5 schools that Carol and I had visited a last week. Each school needs help in different ways. None of the schools have computers for the children or even a TV to show educational dvd's etc. Sizo has a couple of nice classrooms and a library. But like many schools in rural areas, 2 or even 3 grades are taught together because of the lack of teachers.

Organizing the gifts for the children
All of the schools we visited teach in English, but one thing that struck me was how shy the children were. As the gifts of socks, pencils, rubbers etc were handed out they began to smile, but when I told one of the girls she had a very pretty smile and she went all shy again!

The principal told us they teach in English to give the students more confidence for when they reach high school and the work place. I could see already just visiting the school with the volunteers would be a huge benefit to the children to practice their English with us and to hear different accents!

The school principal showing us around.
It reminds me of a visit to I made to Sumatra when I was in my early 20's. I was sitting in a building, in a small village close to Way Kambas National Park, where I had been staying. The building housed a number of phones and this was how the local people could communicate with the outside world. I was sitting minding my own business waiting for my friend to finish his phone conversation when a little old lady who was sitting next to me, turned to me and spoke in Indonesian or her local language. I replied “I am sorry, I don’t understand, I’m English”. At this she turned to her children, pointed animatedly at me and shouted “English”. Suddenly I was surrounded by 4 or 5 children all giggling. One asked me “How are you?” I replied “I am fine thank you and you?” They went into a fit of laughter as the next one asked me a question. The penny dropped, they were so excited to practice their English on a real English person and they were beside themselves! Their mother was touching my hair and saying “beautiful, I love you, please come home with us!” Quite a surreal but heartwarming experience!

School drinking water.
Written by Tara

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A week to remember!

HI everyone!
I can't believe what a week it has been. I feel like a human pinball but it has been fun for sure! I arrived at the Black Leopard Camp on the 1st Feb after quite an eventful drive from the sands. I met Patrick Gumede on the road at Hluvukani. He is looking well and is enjoying life at the Manyeleti! For those of you who haven't met him, he was a guide on WildEarth when I started! After a quick catch up I hit the road again, saying goodbye to other friends along the way and filling them in on developments! As I headed towards the Blyde River area,  parts of the road were undergoing repairs after the flood and it is clear to see how serious it had had been. 
The tar road completely fell away.
The dirt is the only way through!
The road to the luxury tented camp is about an hour of spectacular scenery and vegetation that I remember from my Waterberg days. Trees who are like old friends made me feel like I was returning home! What made it even more poignant was driving past the spot I remember congregating at before walking up to see the leopard Lucky, who was caught last time I came to visit Inqwe Leopard research! A cat in his prime, one of the largest leopards I have seen! He would give the sands boys a run for their money any day of the week! The camp it self is nestled in the picturesque mountains surrounding Lydenburg, at height of around 1,500m high. (I really have to adjust to the altitude again and the free exercise!)

View from the main deck!
Mike and Karen, the managers, have been so welcoming, showing me round their peaceful oasis and helping me to find my feet! Although this is not going to be my last stop, my life is still in boxes, but I hope to put my mum’s mind at rest with the pictures of the tent I am calling home for the time being, so I hope you enjoy them as well! 

One of the tents at the black leopard camp
They are spacious and cozy! (The beds are dangerous though! They are so comfortable you can fall asleep and not want to leave it in the morning! ) 

Inside the tent looking towards the on-suite! 
There is even an on-suite bath room and outside private bush bath! Now this is an experience you have to try once in your life! Believe me you can get lost under the gaze of the African night sky listening to the enchanting bush vespers!

The bush bath and shower!
No sooner had I arrived, it was time to leave again. Heading back to the Kruger for Vona and Ron’s wedding! I ended up over nighting in the sands and was able to join the morning drive. For the first hour and half I think everyone was a bit bleak from the constant showers, but as we entered Djuma to catch up with giraffe, which the guests were dying to see, it started to clear. 

A cup of tea and a rusk had everyone warmed through and eager to get on the road again just in time to join a wild dog sighting! 

They were found at Sydney’s dam but our view was a pair of ears and a white tail disappearing into the bush. If hearts sank it was for only a moment as the dogs came bounding back out towards the road where we were!

They stopped to test the ground for anything interesting, milling around the vehicles for a few minutes before trotting off towards sandy patch! We had to leave them at this stage but the sighting was brilliant and at least for me the day’s excitement wasn’t over yet!

Once again Penny and Bobby were wonderful hosts as soon as I arrived at Satara in Kruger. I was even allowed to meet the rest of the family, so at least my cooking didn’t have a long lasting impact from last time! (Although I wasn't allowed near the sausages when they wee being cooked!) I arrived in the thick of it, but managed to have a quick chat with Claire and Vona, the bride, before getting ready for the ceremony as well!

Claire, Penny and the bride Vona!
I am so glad to have made it. It was such a great day, the showers had cleared up, the sun was shining and even the temperature was great as we drove to the chosen venue which over looked the park. It was clear from the couple’s faces this was the perfect place for them and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. 

Ron and Vona
Thank you so much for the invite and many Congratulations Ron and Vona!

Kudu cow on Thaba Tholo
Apart from the quick sighting of cheetah on the way back to camp after the ceremony, which   brought huge smiles to the wedding party, we also saw a few elephant, drenched lion and some lucky fishes in the big silver bus got to see a female leopard climb a tree before melting into her sanctuary! I was busy conversing with my new little friend Gabby to see, but I did catch a glimpse of the 6-8 month old cub who also disappeared into the undergrowth as soon as we saw it, although it was a few meters further up the road from where mum had been seen. We were hoping if we sat quietly, it would be brave enough to return to her, but there was soon a number of cars that joined us so the cub remained hidden or it sneaked away undetected! Either is a good bet!

Where the volunteer camp is based!
Back at the black leopard camp, I have to check the 3 camera traps we have put out with the last guests, I hope to do that over the next couple of days. One is by a gemsbok carcass, which I hope will show up a lot of activity! I have also been down to visit what will be my new home. The foundation for the tents have been laid and things seem to be moving on well! I am getting very excited at the prospect of moving there. I will share pictures of the camp once it has been finished but you can at least see where it is situated!

Foundations for the volunteer tents
If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer here is the web site you will need to look at. It answers all the questions you might have about it and the costs involved.

View from the volunteer tents,
which will have a small pan to the left of the shot!
The Ingwe leopard research site, will provide you with information about the research that will be done and who it is collected. There is a link to the volunteer scheme from this site as well.

Kitchen and behind it will be the lounge/office tent.
The braai pit is where the poles are
and my tent will be further back!
I will keep you posted as much as possible as the camp and research progresses and of course if I see any leopards or other interesting wildlife! 

I have also heard Karula was seen with both of her children on the quarantine open area a couple of days ago. They were busy eating their evening meal of impala in the light of the full moon! 

Until next time, have fun!