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Posted 12 February 2017 - 02:32 PM
Interlude in Hermanus - July 2016
Birkenhead House, on the outskirts of Hermanus, proved to be the perfect place for relaxing and energizing before heading back into the bush: tranquillity, great views, excellent service and seriously outstanding cuisine, with the chefs conjuring dishes after dishes that were a pure joy for the taste (and the wines were no slouch either).
For being the middle of July in the Cape, we were extremely lucky with the weather, which enabled us to enjoy some lovely excursions. The highlight was an awesome flight on a small Cessna, watching the first whales of the season congregating, breaching and even what we were told being the first sighting of the year of a pair of whales mating. A visit to the Jackass Penguin colony at Stony Point was also rewarding (and to our surprise we were practically the only visitors that morning).
We will be back to Birkenhead House in September to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and we look forward to experiencing Hermanus in the peak of the whale season.
Edited by Paolo, 12 February 2017 - 03:06 PM.
Posted 12 February 2017 - 02:41 PM
Going to the Dogs with Michael & Tico - July 2016
I have said in the first post how the time spent with Michael Lorentz and Dr. Tico McNutt has possibly been the most informative of all my safaris to date (besides being very enjoyable and fun). The conversation about different aspects of conservation - and the role that tourism does (not) play - have been particularly enlightening. On our way out, we even stopped at Botswana Predator Conservation Trust's laboratory in Maun, where we were shown the research on the so called "tomcat compound" and other biological barriers which might help to alleviate conflicts between predators and cattle owners (conflicts that most of the times end with the death of the lion, leopards, cheetah, hyena, or wild dogs concerned).
I mention all the above because it formed the constant backdrop - both intellectually and emotionally - of our game viewing.
In retrospect, I cannot believe we have been so fortunate and privileged: having one of Africa's very finest guides and a world-renowned researcher (author of lots of scientific publications as well as of the acclaimed book "Running Wild: Dispelling the Myths of the African Wild Dog") working so tirelessly and synergically to provide me and Anita with the ultimate experience.
Each and every single moment - whether observing five weeks old wild dog pups frolicking or debating around the campfire or negotiating treacherous sandy tracks with our vehicle - has been awesome and unique.
Now, some photos, taken in Tico's study area in Moremi and surrounds.
Edited by Paolo, 12 February 2017 - 03:20 PM.
Posted 12 February 2017 - 03:22 PM
Amazing fotos. Thanks so much cheering this with us.
“All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already."
Posted 12 February 2017 - 09:54 PM
These pictures at golden Light are remarquable, really outstanding!
Hermanus seems really similar to Central Coastal Chile.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 01:45 AM
Edited by Caracal, 13 February 2017 - 01:46 AM.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 09:41 AM
Very interesting observation on the similarity between Hermanus and the coastline of central Chile. Not that it may necessarily be a factor, but I think that the latitude of Cape Town is very similar to Santiago.
The small pups were five weeks old. Another pack had two older, adopted pups roughly eight/nine weeks old. The pups of a third pack with which we also spent time had not yet emerged from the den (according to Tico they were just days away from coming out for the first time). So, whilst the denning season is to an extent predictable, there is still a good deal of variation amongst the various litters, even in the same general area.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 09:48 AM
@Paolo Amazing images - both of the SA coast and the dogs. Can you share any details of the whale photos? Were they taken from the clifftop or from an aircraft? What camera / lens combination were you using? Thanks.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 11:41 AM
The whales photos were taken from a small plane, a Cessna 182, with the window on the front seat open. We flew for a couple of hours or a little more.
The equipment used for those whale photos was a Canon 1DX Mark II with a 70 - 200 mm.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 12:14 PM
I was very interested to learn that you had been learning about "tomcat compound" while in Botswana. I would be very grateful if you could elaborate further. My personal view, which may be totally wrong, is that biobarriers are most unlikely to offer any realistic answer to human/wildlife conflict and are merely a fashionable academic idea that will divert resources from more practical conservation strategies. I have two reasons for thinking this way: 1) If territorial boundaries act like invisible fences, how often and at what cost would one need to apply the "tomcat compound" to maintain efficacy? 2) Certainly in European badgers, boundary lines are not defended and seem to act as information bands which allow contiguous groups to learn what's happening in adjacent territories. (Invisible fences would lead to inbreeding). The situation may be different in wild dogs, but I doubt it, given the typically enormous size of their territories and if the compound is designed to fool animals into thinking that the adjacent territory is occupied by another pack. I suppose, if the compound is designed to signal "lion", it might be more effective. However, I am expressing a theoretician's view and totally lack necessary facts. Thus, I would love to know what you discovered.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 12:56 PM
I am a lawyer, not a scientist, so I doubt I can properly address your questions.
However an question 1), whilst I have no clue on the precise idea of maintainance costs, the impression I had visiting the laboratory is that production costs might not be that steep, and in reality a biological fence might be less costly to maintain that a proper, classical physical fence.
Re question 2), in terms of effectiveness, there is actual footage taken from from camera traps placed by BPCT's researchers showing the "tomcat compound" to be incredibly effective on leopards. Definitely, lots of progress still need to be made, but I do not share your view that these reasearches are distracting funds from developing other means of preventing human/wildlife conflict, particularly in Botswana.
I think Tico had sent us, on the wake of our visit, a very recent scientific paper on this "tomcat compound" (besides several other extremely interesting publications), but I cannot find it at the moment. I will forward to you privately once I will be able to retrieve it from my inbox.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 01:56 PM
"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." -- Unknown
Posted 13 February 2017 - 03:16 PM
@Paulo Thank-you for your reply. I have read suggestions that it is possible to get good viewing of whales from the cliffs around Hermanus. Did you have any experience of this or do you have a opinion? Thanks again.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 03:32 PM
Sorry, I have no experience about viewing from cliffsaround Hermanus. You can spot whales even from your terrace or room at Birkenhead House - whilst very nice to have a glimpse of whales whilst dining, I would not call it great viewing though, at least in our experience.
We did a boat trip as well, but it was in no way comparable to the flight in terms of quality and number of sightings. Really wordls apart.
Edited by Paolo, 13 February 2017 - 03:34 PM.
Posted 13 February 2017 - 04:12 PM
Many thanks for your reply (post #54).
I did find one paper on the "tomcat compound" that related to its chemistry, but not to its durability or its effects on different species. Apparently, it is the sulphur-containing compound, 3-mercapto-3-methylbutanol. The researchers isolated it from some leopard urine samples, but not from those of lions or cheetahs. Its potential for repelling wild dogs was not discussed. However, given that leopards tend to be solitary and given that the compound's potency is apparently linked to testosterone levels, it would not be surprising if "junior" male leopards were to avoid staying in an area where they detected fresh urine containing high levels of 3-mercapto-3-methylbutanol.
Posted 14 February 2017 - 01:53 PM
We did a boat trip as well, but it was in no way comparable to the flight in terms of quality and number of sightings. Really worlds apart.
Just to clarify. The above statement refers to our experience in mid-July, which is early whale season. It might well be that in "peak" season (say, September), a boat trip is more productive than what was the case for us and may give some really nice close-up views..
Having said that, the freedom afforded by a plane in scouting much larger areas, choosing which pod to follow, going from one groupof whales to the other etc... is unmatched.
Hopefully we will be able to have a better grasp of the seasonal differences after our next visit this coming September.
Posted 14 February 2017 - 02:31 PM
@Paolo Thank-you for the clarification. I think that the experience of whale watching from a boat will always be very different from that of watching from a high viewpoint (such as a plane or cliff). My experience from a boat is that there is the benefit of being close to the whale (hearing and smelling) but that the ability to really see the animal is lacking. The opposite is true from a high vantage point. I was interested in whether the experience from land was in any way comparable to that from an aircraft.