There is a beautiful wilderness area in southern Africa where three countries and two rivers meet. It is becoming the new Limpopo-Shashe Trans Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) one of Africa’s most important Peace Parks. This blog is about conservation in this spectacular corner of Africa.
South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, which is important for large carnivore conservation including cheetahs, lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards because it is one of the few areas of Africa where large predators still roam freely across land outside of formally protected areas.
The aim of the Limpopo Valley Carnivore project is twofold. Firstly we plan to test a number of different carnivore census techniques against each other to determine the most efficient way to census a variety of carnivore species, and secondly to actually census the predator populations and get an idea of population sizes in the area of the proposed TFCA. By collecting benchmark data with repeatable techniques, we will be able to track the progress of these populations in the years to come, and determine the benefit of the TFCA, and identify any urgent conservation needs.
Camera traps allow us to ‘capture’ records of rare and secretive carnivores
The South African side of the Conservation Area is made up of Mapungubwe National Park, a number of private reserves, including De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve where my initial work is based, and privately owned game and stock farms. The potential for conflict with humans is therefore highly variable across the area, and the study hopes to examine the effects this has on the population structure of the carnivore guild as a whole.
The Lion King gave hyenas a bad reputation, these carnivores may be critical to balanced ecosystem functioning
We are testing a number of different methods: from camera-traps to driving long transects and counting spoor, and even training dogs specifically to sniff out cheetah droppings so that we can take DNA samples. It may be the less glamorous side of carnivore conservation, but it is important work that will have important results that are widely applicable. Our team on the ground is headed by me, Rox, and I am ably assisted by Wendy; she is a volunteer at the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve where I am currently based, and is a huge help with her endless enthusiasm.
Last week Aswifarwi, my new assistant from the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Leadership Group came up to Venetia to join me. I will keep you posted on his progress over the next few months.
An introduction to the project wouldn’t be complete without meeting Snoopy and Barclay, my canine assistants. Snoopy is a two year old Weimaraner cross who began life with me on a previous project I worked on, sniffing out cheetah kills in dense cover before the hyaenas could come in and clean them up and thereby remove my data! My husband jokes that he is a nose with a dog attached behind it. He is taking to his new task very well and will hopefully be ready to work on the cheetah scat rather than prey carcasses very soon. At only five months old, Barclay is the baby of the team. He is a German Shorthaired Pointer, very kindly donated to the project by Jaegersteig GSPs in Pretoria. He is currently still getting his basic training in obedience and how to behave in the bush, but is showing plenty of potential so far. He has a love of tortoises and sniffs them out all over the place and often comes back to me carrying or dragging one with him. All we need is to transfer that enthusiasm onto cheetah scats!”