Category Archives: South Africa

New Kids on the Block

Some exciting news on the lion front! We have some newcomers in the area and they are looking in fabulous condition. Mungojerrie was found on our northern fenceline late in the afternoon, pacing up and down and obviously extremely agitated. Wendy was out tracking the Wild Dogs at the time and left him, only to cross over into Mapungubwe National Park later on opposite where Mungojerrie had been. The park lies directly to the north of Venetia with a tar road in between. Not far inside the park and close to the fence, Wendy found a wildebeest kill with a very large lioness on it, accompanied by two sub-adult lions. The lions were all in great condition and were very relaxed. A visit later on that night showed up a total of four sub-adult lions with the lioness. This is great news for the lion population in Venetia as well as the park, as the fences between the two are due to be removed in early 2009. This will allow free movement of animals and effectively double the size of the conservation area. Healthy breeding lions in Mapungubwe National Park will add very welcome new blood to the Venetia lions, and will allow all of them to disperse in a more natural fashion.  The removal of the fences will be fantastic news for all the species and is definitely a move in the right direction. I am off to Zimbabwe for a few days for the annual meeting of the Shashe Limpopo Predator Research Group, a group of scientists and land managers in the area of the new Transfrontier Conservation Area. It promises to be a very productive meeting so I will keep you posted on my return.

Photos for Theresa

Here is the beautiful Rumpleteaser. What a cat! 

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This Caracal was photographed walking down a fence late last year. It is the angle and perspective of the photo that makes it look so out of proportion.caracal.JPG

Cheetah family split

I am in the lucky position that my husband’s farm lies directly adjacent to the De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve and falls within the greater boundaries of the Limpopo-Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area. We have myriad wildlife species on the farm, but also farm on a modest scale with goats. Obviously there can be conflict where predators and livestock, particularly small stock like sheep and goats, are concerned but we try our best to mitigate these issues with responsible farming practices. All our livestock comes into pens at night where it is safe from nocturnal predators, and during the day when the flock is foraging, they do so under the watchful eye of Pego, our Anatolian Shepherd Dog. This is a breed that was specifically developed in Turkey to guard sheep and goats from wolves and bears, and is being successfully used in Southern Africa to guard against predators. Pego’s job is not to attack predators, but rather to scare them off and send them in search of unprotected natural prey species. Since Pego came to live with us, we have not lost a single goat to predation. Pego does not live with Snoopy and Barclay at our house, but lives his entire life with the goats. He was put with them as a young puppy, and so associates himself with goats more than dogs, which makes him good at his job.

Pego

Pego’s skills may be put to good use in the next few weeks, as a female cheetah with cubs (as yet unidentified) on Venetia has been pacing our mutual fence line with two of her cubs. We watched them in the dwindling light this evening as she called onto our farm continually. Looking in the sand, we saw a clear set of small cheetah prints on our side of the fence, so one of them has come through. Further searching turned up the spot in the fence where the animal breached the boundary. A hole in the fence showed the pawprints on both sides, and the tuft of hair snagged in the barbed wire of the fence showed that the animal had come from Venetia onto our farm, but the high grass following this years good rain means that we could not follow his or her track for far. We agreed with reserve management to leave the hole in the fence for now, to allow the cheetah family to try to reunite. I estimate the cubs to be no more than nine months old, if that, and as such to be fully dependent on the mother for food. We have never lost a domestic animal to cheetahs, and we do not mind our predators eating the wild animals as it is what they are here to do, so if the whole family moves onto our farm, they will be welcome.

A significant part of our work here is to look at the difference in the success and survival of our subject species on protected land and on farmland, and to this end we plan to fit radio and GPS collars to a number of cheetahs to gain a better understanding of their movements across different land uses. Radio-collars are by far the cheapest option, but regular tracking quickly habituates cheetahs to vehicles, which is wonderful on protected land, but may well sign the animals death warrant on private farmland where some farmers do not tolerate the presence of cheetahs. A cheetah that has become relaxed enough around vehicles not to run off at the sound of an approaching motor vehicle, may well give a less tolerant land owner time to load and fire a gun, that he would not have if the cheetahs remained more shy. The small farm size in the area of an average of approximately 2000 hectares means that the cheetahs will cross many peoples’ land in the course of their lives, and tracking them becomes very difficult when you have to get each landowners permission.

This work with the cheetahs in South Africa is extremely important as it is thought that more of them live on private farmland than on protected areas, and so a full understanding of how they operate here is essential to devising long term conservation strategies for cheetahs in this country. We desperately need GPS collars. We have a permit to fit collars to five cheetahs, but only have funding for two GPS collars. We will be putting all donations, unless otherwise specified, towards these collars which are so essential to this work which I believe is it at the heart of cheetah conservation in the world in which we live today.

I would like to sincerely thank Andrew F for his generous donation, which we will be putting into our fund for GPS collars.