South Africa Dairies: Day 12

Today is our last full day in South Africa, and we spent the morning working on our projects. We then drove up to the pub at Thaba Tholo’s main entrance for lunch, collecting the camera traps that we set last week on the way. We stayed in there for a while afterwards working in our groups on our projects. We were giving our presentations on our findings later, so we were preparing for that. After a few more hours, we headed back down to camp.

Later on, we were joined by Alex Braczkowski, who is a leopard biologist and has done work with National Geographic as a cameraman. A few of us went outside and made a camp fire, and then we all sat around it and gave our presentations on our group projects. After that, it was then time for Alex to give his talk on leopard conservation. He has participated in many leopard research projects and his opinion is that, even though leopards are hunted on a large-scale, they will be one of the big cats who will out-live us because they are so very widespread.

He told us about the Zulu tradition of boys having to wear leopard skins to become a man. There are between 5 and 11 million Zulus living in Africa, which shows the amount of leopards killed for this tradition. Taking out this many leopards from the area also has a large affect on the ecosystem. Reducing leopard numbers increases the numbers of mesopredators such as baboons because there is led competition for them, which will then in turn have an effect on herbivore numbers. Foreign trophy hunters will come to South Africa and pay between $16,000 and $30,000 per leopard hunt, and the skins are worth between $350 and $1,000 each. An average of 2,600 leopard skins are auctioned on CITES per year.

Leopard hunting in India doesn’t happen on such a large scale as it does in southern Africa, mainly due to much of the population practicing Buddhism, which teaches them to respect nature. Leopards can take a large range of prey sizes, which often causes confrontation with local farmers when they take their live stock. Only about 20% of land in South Africa is suitable for leopards now due to the large-scale habitat fragmentation caused by farming. This often drives leopards onto farmland in search of food, which causes even more conflict between them and farmers. One of the projects Alex worked on encouraged the use of alpacas and dogs by farmers to deter leopards. The project was quite a success, but only 50% of the farmers still used the alpacas and dogs after Alex and his team left.

A traditional South African braai was prepared for dinner, where we tried some kudu meat. I also took the opportunity to talk to Alex about his work as a cameraman. We also all then checked the camera trap footage from the traps we collected. There were some warthogs and civets, but no leopards unfortunately.

Tomorrow we'll be heading to the airport and flying back to England. I'll definitely be sad about leaving this incredible place. I've seen some stunning wildlife, been in beautiful landscapes, and learnt from some of the very best people in their field. It truly has been the experience of a lifetime!

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Species Of The Day: Impala

The impala, Aepyceros melampus, is a medium-sized antelope native to South Africa. Only the males have horns, which are ‘S’ shaped and can grow between 45cm to 92cm long.

Impala can be distinguished from the similar looking springbok by looking at their colours. Impalas are tri-coloured with a brown body and light brown stripe and a cream belly, whereas springbok are tri-coloured with a brown and dark brown stripe and a white belly. Impala were once a fairly rare sight to see in Kruger National Park , but a dramatic population increase has now made them one of the most common mammal species in Kruger, with the 2011 population estimate being 132,300 to 176,400 individuals.

It has been shown that sub-adult impala have higher quality predator vigilance than adult impala, which is a possible reason why some predators, such as African wild dogs, mostly prey on adult impala.

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