Caracal Project Update from Aletris
So much has happened in the last few weeks! Brett, the field assistant helping me on the Caracal Project returned to the US. This was a great loss, as Brett was a very valuable part of the project, but he will continue to stay involved from afar. Luckily, that same week Chris arrived and will help for the next few weeks, it is so wonderful to have him here! Trapping has been going well, although I have not been able to do as much as I would like. I’ve been catching a lot of honey badgers, and have found that recapturing them is not a problem… at least for males. I recaptured two adult males in the same trap at the same time! This is very interesting, since males were believed to be solitary. One badger, MC03, has been recaptured 5 times this month, but I still always love seeing him. I have also recently captured a beautiful female brown hyaena. She looked very large, so we performed an ultrasound and discovered that she was pregnant. Brown hyaenas are almost as rare as caracals here.
About a week ago, I started using a new lure, and the very next day when I pulled up to the traps there was a large male caracal near one trap. He ran, and I stalked him in the bush for about 15 minutes and even got a picture of him (it will be posted on Cheetahkids.com). He came back to that trap later that night to investigate the new lure but did not go into the trap, so we are getting a lot closer. The camera trap video is exciting!
On the 16th, we went to my friend Preskilla’s wedding in the far North, almost on the Angola border. This was a traditional Otjiwambo wedding and it lasted several days. On the first day, the groom-to-be’s father and uncles brought livestock (cattle, goats, and chickens) to her family and they determine if it is sufficient for the wedding to proceed. It was, so there was a big celebration that night with lots of traditional dancing (which is so much fun!) and consumption of a traditional drink made by the women using sorghum. The next day we went to the small village church, but it was already in use for a funeral! We just waited around for a few hours, as nothing is rushed in Namibia. After the funeral, two couples wanted to get married, so there was a dual wedding. Then the bride and groom come out and all female friends and relatives dance in front of them chanting (think Xena style) and singing everywhere they go….they only move forward about a foot per minute or so for a long time… Back at the bride’s family homestead, there is a huge party and the animals that were sacrificed the previous day are eaten. The couple each take a bite of the hoof from the largest bull (it’s prepared especially for them) and everyone feasts and dances into the night. We were treated with such kindheartedness, and welcomed as the only non-Otjiwambo guests. It was the most extraordinary wedding I have ever been to.
After the wedding we spent my birthday in Etosha National Park. Immediately after entering, we spotted a herd of 16 elephants with the largest matriarch I have ever seen, and between her legs was a tiny calf. We watched the family group play in the water and coat themselves with mud. Etosha was filled with butterflies seeking water and nutrients in the muddy puddles on the roads, and when driving through them thousands would swarm around the vehicle like it was snowing from below. It was so beautiful my pictures just couldn’t capture it. We also saw 14 spotted hyaena, 5 dik-dik, at least 17 black rhino, and over 100 giraffe and ostrich (more than I have ever seen), thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and springbok. But for my birthday present, I came around a corner and at the base of a tree was a huge male lion. We stopped the car and watched him from only a few meters away. He became very used to our presence and after about 15 minutes two females came out and greeted him. Then they began calling and 6 small spotted cubs came out and began nursing. It was unreal! We watched the group for hours and saw so many great interactions. One spunky young male cub kept aggravating his dad while he tried to sleep and kept getting reprimanded, but never enough that it prevented him from trying again. It was hilarious. The next day we came back, found the group, and continued watching them. Upon closer investigation, the male had an injured back right leg, possibly from being kicked by a zebra or such. I am worried about him being able to defend his family from another male, and if he can’t, both he and the cubs don’t have much of a future. But he stayed close and still had tremendous fight in his eyes, so I am hopeful he will pull through. That night two honey badgers raided our camp and climbed into our trash can…they behave like miniature African bears!
Unfortunately I got laryngitis, most likely from hanging out with coughing kids at the wedding that always wanted to hold my hand. So we had to cut our trip short and I spent a few days incapacitated in bed. Christmas was mellow; we went on a hay-ride pulled by a CCF tractor for Christmas Eve. On Christmas day we had a braii (barbeque) at Laurie’s house, complete with a decorated acacia branch. It is difficult for me to get into the holiday spirit in the summer, but I had a great time. That evening, we went out and hiked around the base of the Waterberg plateau looking for caracal spoor. We found a sub-adult male leopard that we watched for a while. Wildlife sighting at CCF have been great this month, on one game drive we saw: 5 aardwolves (2 small cubs coming out of a den), a wild cheetah, 4 African wildcats, 3 bushbabies, 3 leopards, 6 springhares, 3 porcupines, and 3 jackals……unfortunately no caracal. Every cat appears to be more abundant here than caracals, there is nothing at CCF that is seen less.
The hornbill chicks are growing, I listen to them in their nest box every day and they are getting loud. The female has decided that she will no longer eat skinks, frogs, or chameleons…but I watch the male try anyway and she just tosses them out of the box. He is working overtime trying to catch bugs and small mammals to fulfill the picky family’s tastes.
I am preparing to go down to the south next week. The south is very rural and arid with huge sheep farms. The people living in this area removed lions, spotted hyaena, and wild dogs close to 80 years ago, while cheetahs and leopards were effectively removed around 45 years ago. The people are notoriously anti-carnivore and have a track record of eradication. Due to this, almost no conservation efforts have been directed in this region since the large charismatic carnivores that everyone focuses on are gone. In this area, caracals are the top carnivore and the farmers claim to have tremendous problems with them. I have arranged to meet with several of farmers’ associations and will stay with a few farmers that are willing to work with me. I am certain that if I can work with them we can develop solutions that benefit both farmers and caracals before caracals too are wiped out. Wish me luck…I have been warned I will need it!
I hope your holidays were wonderful and happy New Year!