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Somkhanda Wild Dog Tracking December 2015 Introduction Many on here will know that I had been planning a trip to Ethiopia to see, amongst other things, the Ethiopian wolves. I would still like to get a group together to do this trip at some point, but unfortunately this time it was not to be. So I was left with a lot of leave to take before the end of March scrambling to find something to do in December with not a lot of time left to organise anything. After exploring a range of options I decided that I would for once like to do more than have just another safari and give something back. So with @@Big_Dog's help I identified Wildlife ACT as the perfect organisation to work with. I contacted them and gave them my dates and was offered the following projects: SOMKHANDA GAME RESERVE Somkhanda Game Reserve is a community-owned game reserve managed by “Wildlands Conservation Trust”, in partnership with the Gumbi community. Somkhanda is the first community-owned reserve to be proclaimed under the Protected Areas Management Act, meaning that this community has committed their land to biodiversity conservation for the foreseeable future. Somkhanda is supported by the WWF “Black Rhino Range Expansion Project”, and has a healthy population of both Black Rhinos and White Rhinos, that Wildlife ACT and the Wildlife ACT Fund helps to monitor. Besides breathtaking scenery and pristine bushveld, a number of naturally-occurring game species can be found on Somkhanda, such as Nyala, Impala, Wildebeest, Zebra and Kudu, as well as some rarer species such as Leopard, brown and spotted Hyaena, Aardvark, Honey Badger and Caracal. Wildlands Conservation Trust has assisted with re-introducing a number of different species into the reserve to boost game numbers. African Wild Dogs were introduced to the reserve in 2014 to fulfill the conservation objective of saving endangered species, and reintroducing natural predation into the system. Planned future introductions include Buffalo, Cheetah and eventually, Elephants. Wildlife ACT’s main focus on Somkhanda is to assist with the daily monitoring of African Wild Dog and Rhinos, as well as general biological monitoring of other priority species (Vultures, Hyaenas, Leopards) and the compilation of species lists. This is the bit that got my attention: Somkhanda has a critical need to ensure daily sightings of the Wild Dog pack. The pressing need to track this particular pack of Wild Dogs is due to the fact that Somkhanda Game Reserve suffers from an influx of poachers from local rural communities, who consistently trespass onto the reserve to set snares with the intention of catching bush meat (mostly antelope). Tragically, these snares have a large unintended by-catch, which includes any unsuspecting animal that walks into the snares – including Rhino, Elephant, and very often the Wild Dogs since they cover such large distances daily in search of food. For this reason it is absolutely vital that the monitoring team devotes the majority of their time to locating the Wild Dog pack each morning and evening, to ensure that all the dogs are accounted for and unharmed. This does involve early starts to the day, and getting back late to camp in the evening, but is a crucial part of the work we are doing! SOMKHANDA RESEARCH CAMP ACCOMMODATION: Somkhanda volunteers are housed in a large house within the reserve, and the camp offers twin rooms, an indoor bathroom and toilet, a large kitchen and a braai (barbecue) area. The water is good for drinking, and the house has electricity and hot water. Due to limited cellphone (mobile) signal in the area, the “Cell-C” mobile network receives the best signal. To view images of the accommodation (research camp) please click on the link below: http://wildlifeact.com/about-wildlife-act/reserves-we-work-on/somkhanda-game-reserve/ The other project that was available was: TEMBE ELEPHANT PARK Situated in Northern Zululand, and adjoining the Mozambique border, Tembe Elephant Park is most widely known for having over 200 of the world’s largest Elephants, which are also the last remaining indigenous herd in KwaZulu-Natal and includes the legendary big “Tuskers.” (“Tuskers” are elephants whose enormous tusks weigh more than 45.45kg.) Tembe is comprised of 30,000 hectares – the land was historically owned by the Tembe tribe, the ancestral custodians of the area. Nkosi (Chief) Mzimba Tembe donated the land for the formation of this Game Reserve, and it is still owned by the Tembe tribe community, while its precious bio-diversity is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife; the KwaZulu-Natal conservation service. Tembe is a “Big 5” Reserve (Lion, Leopard, Black and White Rhino, Buffalo and Elephant), but there are no Cheetah on the Reserve. It is home to a rich diversity of other wildlife such as Hippo, Zebra and various antelope species, from the majestic Giraffe which stand at 5 metres tall, down to one of the smallest antelope in Africa - the Suni, at only 35 centimetres high! The area now known as Tembe Elephant Park is real wild country. The park is situated within the sand-veld ecological zone and consists mainly of closed woodland and secondary thicket formation. The zone falls within a transition area between tropical and sub-tropical forms and therefore is home to a great diversity of vegetation as well as over 340 bird species, making it a delight for bird lovers. We are proud to partner with and carry out work for "Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife", our provincial park authority, on Tembe Elephant Park. Wildlife ACT’s main focus on Tembe is the monitoring of the Wild Dog, Lion and Elephant populations. There are two monitoring sessions per day, focusing on Lion or Wild Dog. In addition to this, there will be one session of Elephant monitoring, twice a week. TEMBE RESEARCH CAMP ACCOMMODATION: Tembe volunteers are based in a research camp within the natural sand forest. The camp offers three wooden cabins nestled amongst the trees and thickets, with a separate toilet & shower block, and laundry facilities, for Wildlife ACT volunteers. The research camp has a communal kitchen, dining, lounge and braai area that is shared with other scientists and researchers who may be carrying out studies in the park. To view images of the accommodation (research camp) please click on the link below: http://wildlifeact.com/galleries/photo-galleries/tembe-volunteer-camp/ At the time I wasn't really concerned about seeing lions, elephant or buffalo and I understood that the dogs in Tembe had a habit of going AWOL to Mozambique.. So Somkhanda seemed to be the obvious choice for me, I was getting goosebumps just thinking about the project! PC090762 by Jo Dale, on Flickr
Game Warden posted a topic in Safari talkFurther to the previous post from www.wildlifeact.com, Christie has sent me more images of the same cheeky genet riding atop a rhino at night... Questions answered: Dr Simon Morgan (Wildlife ACT) Is it the same genet that was seen at the back of a Buffalo earlier this week? SM: It seems to be the same genet, although we have not been able to verify that yet. Is this a coincidence? SM: It is probably the same genet. The photos were taken at the same camera trap site. We are looking to put a remote video camera trap there to see if we can record this behaviour more accurately. Does this kind of behavior occur often in Game Reserves? SM: As far as we are aware this is the first recorded behaviour like this. We would love to know if anyone else has recorded something similar and the circumstances surrounding it. To read more on this sighting, visit the Wildlife ACT page here. And if you are on Facebook, follow Wildlife ACT on their page here.
Christie Morgan from www.wildlifeact.com sent me details of an interesting sighting one of their cam traps had picked up at Hluhluwe - this cheeky genet hitching a nocturnal ride on the back of a buffalo... it's certainly an interesting mobile lookout point. To see the full series of images and read more about the sighting, click here. Camera trap info: Wildlife ACT uses camera traps as a non-invasive form of wildlife monitoring on a few of the Zululand Game Reserves where we are stationed. The camera traps are placed strategically and usually in hard to navigate areas. They are triggered by movement and use a flash at night that doesn’t irritate the animals as is evident in this series of images. These camera traps are perfect for monitoring generally shy or nocturnal animals or priority species such as rhino, cheetah and leopard. By studying the photographs collected we are able to identify individual animals and plot their territories. This is critical to our ongoing research and makes it easier to monitor them in the future. What is Wildlife ACT? Wildlife ACT info: Wildlife ACT is a one-of-a-kind wildlife-monitoring organisation that focuses on the following key conservation elements: Delivering time and expertise to provide adequate management, capture, transport for the reintroduction of endangered and threatened species to new areas (focus on African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Black Rhino & Vultures). Finding and funding the right equipment needed to effectively monitor endangered and threatened species. Training field rangers to effectively monitor endangered and threatened species, by using the right approaches and technologies to minimise disturbance. Establishing and running sustainable, focussed wildlife monitoring projects. Wildlife ACT allows volunteers to join their team in the field. To find out more about volunteering with Wildlife ACT email, email@example.com. Perhaps some of Safaritalk's South African based members can get involved.
RSPhorses posted a topic in South AfricaI posted this review on Trip Advisor and was encouraged by several readers to post it here also. So here goes my first Safaritalk post. I hope it provides some good info for anyone thinking of doing some conservation volunteer work in Africa. I'm not a writer or photographer, just a wildlife enthusiast and amateur conservationist, so please excuse the informal nature of this review. Just wanted to get some thoughts and photos out there from my experience. Thanks for reading! Review of Wildlife ACT - Volunteer in South Africa, Mkhuze Reserve – Feb 2013 My friend and I (both female, mid 40’s and mid 30’s respectively) spent two weeks volunteering with Wildlife ACT in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. What an amazing adventure we had! We were on a very tight budget, hoping to spend under $2,000 (USD) per person, for the project placement and all of our time on the ground (not including flight cost), which we accomplished easily. I spent no less than 40 hours researching many different groups that offer wildlife and conservation volunteer trips, over the three months prior. I considered their ethics and motives, their research validity, conservation plans, past accomplishments, focus species, safety and support system, reviews from past volunteers on Travel Advisor, Lonely Planet and other places, and of course, cost, among other things. After sorting through a mountain of info, and discounting many programs that had questionable or non-sustainable objectives, places that could (or would) not provide information on their research/accomplishments, and places that seemed to invent things for their “voluntourists” to do, I came up with a short list, and finally decided on Wildlife ACT. Over the course of 2 weeks, I learned so much and was truly inspired by the work they’re doing. The focus at their Mkhuze Reserve program is the critically endangered African Wild Dog (Painted Hunting Dog/Lycaon Pictus), the Cheetah, Black Rhino, Lappet Faced Vulture and Elephant. I’m so grateful to have been able to make a tangible contribution and share so much valuable time with the Wild Dogs, Cheetahs, and other wildlife at Mkhuze. The team at Wildlife ACT is a truly dedicated, passionate group of conservationists. They run a well-organized volunteer program that is broken into small groups so each volunteer gets to experience as much as they want to, and make a real contribution to the work. They only take 4 volunteers per reserve at a time, so you can choose to get involved and get your hands dirty in each task, or choose those tasks that you most enjoy. Of course, some things require the help of all volunteers available, like when we built a “rhino-guard” fence around the vulture hide, since the local rhinos had way too much fun playing with our man-made structure! Normally, you can choose the level of physical activity you participate in, and there’s not a lot of hiking or manual labor required, so people of reasonable fitness of any age can contribute to various aspects of the work. Whether it’s getting out of the truck and doing the dirty work, maintaining the camp, cooking/preparing food, or helping with gathering and logging data, there’s a task suitable for everyone. Orientation is a short presentation, as is safety protocol, and everything else is learn-as-you-go. So there’s not a bunch of time spent sitting around listening to someone talk. You’re out driving and working from day-one. Volunteer groups are hand-picked by the Volunteer Coordinator whenever possible, and our group was awesome and worked very well together. Some of us became great friends and still keep in touch. Some exciting things we were involved in include: bringing food to, and cleaning the water for the cheetah that was awaiting release in the boma, learning the use of Radio Telemetry for tracking collared animals, learning the use of GPS location of collared animals using Triangulation, spoor (footprint) tracking, the use of camera traps for capturing data on elusive animals, spending each amazing dawn and dusk locating and checking on the health of the critically endangered Wild Dog pack on the reserve, putting out carcasses at the newly constructed Vulture Hide, and probably the most awesome experience was being involved in the darting and removal of a poacher’s snare from one of the Wild Dogs. I was also very interested in the research side of things and was able to learn to take useful data on focus species each day, and enter that data into a computer program for current and future research studies. It’s not like a luxury photo safari, but you’ll see lots of different species and landscapes as you go about your work. Every day was different and always held a surprise. We got to see so many important species, including tracking and getting to see the resident Elephant herd with a new calf, a couple endangered Black Rhino, several White Rhino, many Giraffe including a few babies, lots of Zebra, Baboons and Vervet monkeys, Kudu, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Hyena, a Black Mamba, a Hippo, Duikers, so many Impala and Nyala we practically had them coming out our ears, and we even got to see a pride of Lions feeding on the other side of the South fence. There were also some awesome birds like a Bateleur, a Secretary Bird, a Steppe Buzzard, lots of interesting smaller species, and many huge vultures like Whitebacks and the endangered Lappet Faced Vulture. The camp at Mkhuze is comfortable and basic. Food available is simple but adequate, so if you want or need something special, you should get it before you get to camp, or you can request it or go on the weekly shopping trip. There’s also a little shop a couple minutes walk from camp that has a few supplies like some food staples, bottled water, sodas, batteries, post cards, tee-shirts, maps, beer/wine, and of course a selection of ice-creams. There’s a small bird hide there, and a bit further down the path there’s a pool with a nice sitting area that was very relaxing. There’s also a little café in the area that serves lunch and dinner. We got to experience a South African braai (barbeque) at camp one evening, and sample some of the local foods, which was a real treat. Be prepared to deal with a good many bugs and a few other interesting visitors like frogs, scorpions, geckos, bush babies, baboons, impala and nyala at camp. Most of which are harmless, and keeping your room door closed will keep most everyone out. You’ll probably get bitten by some mosquitos while there, but bug spray helps that a great deal and it’s a low-risk malarial area. Most of the volunteers didn’t take malaria drugs, got bitten a good amount, but had no ill effects. (I’m not advocating you forgo those or any other medication – follow the advice of your physician, I’m just relaying our experience). We also got a few tick bites, none of which caused any issues. Speaking as a person with a *strong* desire to avoid bugs/spiders touching me (I admit to being fairly arachnophobic) I found that I actually got used to most of the bugs and got better about the spiders. I brought a mosquito net for over my bed, though! All the volunteers got a number of assorted bug bites, but no one had any real problems with them. Be sure you have one, preferably 2, good torches for walking around camp at night, as you wouldn’t want to step on any little creatures roaming around, and it will help to scare off any unwanted animal visitors. We had no issues with even the scary baboons that hung around beyond the camp yard, and the monkeys that came in the kitchen when no one was around were easily shoo’d away. It seems that Trip Advisor wants reviews to contain “what you disliked” so I will strain to give you examples of the only minor issues we found. Our only complaints about the camp would be that my friend said her bed was a bit uncomfortable but we folded a comforter in the low spot and she said it was fine from then on, and my bed was great. Also the coffee is powdered, as is normal in much of Africa, and although we whined at first, we got quite used to it and even liked it by the end. One of the other volunteers eventually found a coffee press hidden away in a cupboard and used it to make coffee that she had brought. And finally, my friend and I are Horse Trainers and very active in our normal life, and found it a bit difficult to adapt to a less physically active schedule. There are, of course, periods of potential hard work and activity spaced irregularly throughout the days, but we found taking a daily walk (sometimes two) to be the only other form of regular exercise. We actually resorted to silly push-up and pull-up contests, but that was short-lived, as the other volunteers were fine with the level of activity. All very minor points, but they may help someone figure what extras to pack. The work schedule at Mkhuze revolves around checking on the Wild Dogs each dawn and dusk as a primary objective, so we were up early and consequently got to bed fairly early. There’s usually a midday time for lunch and relaxation/nap/socializing/pool or catching up with camp duties. They do have a maid that comes every week and she can do your laundry, with the exception of intimates which you can hand-wash yourself. There’s no washing machine. The shower has hot water, but we found it to be not quite enough for all of us. Most of the time it is very warm out and taking a cool shower was no problem for any of us. The internet is slow and not terribly reliable, being out in the bush, but we were all able to check our emails at least every few days, which was just enough to stay in touch but leave civilization blissfully behind. Most of our cell phones had fair service at camp and around the reserve and I was able to send and receive texts every day. The Wildlife ACT team is a close-knit group and key members were always there to help with anything out of the ordinary we encountered. Our Mkhuze Wildlife Monitor, Cole, was a wealth of knowledge, dedicated, passionate and adaptable. Safety protocols are taught to volunteers, but our Wildlife Monitor was always watching out for us. On several occasions we were involved in projects that required the help of other staff members and in each case, we were impressed by their professional, yet friendly attitude and by their dedication and expertise. Bronwen, the Volunteer Coordinator was amazingly helpful for everything pre-departure and even when we got to SA and Delta lost our luggage, she completely took care of getting it back to us, on the reserve. The monitoring done by Wildlife ACT, and similar groups, is an essential conservation and protection measure, as poaching is rampant in many areas, and wildlife and humans are coming into greater conflict all the time. The tracking, monitoring and observation of critical species provides physical security to the animals, as the sheer presence of monitors deters poachers. Animals that roam outside the protected areas can be tracked, identified and brought back safely. Additionally, each individual animal’s well-being is also monitored, and vet assistance and relocation services are provided or assisted by Wildlife ACT, at no cost to the reserve. The data collected by Wildlife ACT helps to inform conservation decisions in the region and contributes to important research, in order to protect critical species and their future in Africa. Overall, I feel I was able to make a real contribution to the program through the physical work I put in and the small volunteer fee. Also, with the skills I was able to learn and practice, I will be more of an asset to conservation work in the future. There are also some specific projects that need to be done around camp and in the field, where volunteers with special skills may be utilized to assist with planning and execution. This is a small, but passionate group and there’s a lot of work to be done and many projects slated for the future of conservation in each of the reserves they work on. Being able to experience the bush and South Africa’s amazing wildlife with such a great team, doing real, front-line conservation was truly inspirational. With all the heartbreaking atrocities going on with our wildlife and ecosystems today, this program is a bright light in the fight to save them. Please feel free to contact me or ask any other questions you may have regarding our trip or Wildlife ACT in general, as you may have noticed, I love talking about it. I can’t wait to go back and would highly recommend this program to anyone interested in contributing to real conservation while having a great bush adventure at the same time!