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!