There is something magical about the Kalahari. This vast 'green' desert with its red dunes, ephemeral and fossil rivers is a very special place. I don't know if it's the colour of the sand dunes or the soft light of dawn and dusk but, whatever it is, I'm drawn to it.
Its also a great place for camera-trapping. This is because animal life is attracted to the few water sources (artificial or natural) that exist on the sprawling farms and wildlife reserves that cover the region. So, even though its a 10 hour drive from where I live - I do it happily and always with great anticipation.
This time the anticipation was even greater than usual because there was a suggestion that there might be Pangolin (Manis temminckii) and Small Spotted Cat (Felis nigripes) on the property I was visiting. Now you must understand that to an African camera-trapper these are mega-ticks! Trips like this are not frivolous affairs.
But sadly, by the end of our time there, the above two species hadn't graced my cameras with their presence. Nevertheless, it was great fun and we collected some images that I enjoyed:
Gemsbok / Oryx
So if YOU like the idea of getting images of Pangolins and Small Spotted Cats then give me a shout and I'll organise a camera-trapping safari to the property. It won't take much to persuade me!
Regular readers of my blog will know that I have a distinct preference for installing my camera-traps as low as possible. This is not always easy in areas with long grass or advisable in areas with an abundance of hyenas. That's not to say that they should always be set up below knee-height but, given the choice, its what I prefer. I simply enjoy the quirky images that I often get from this kind of set-up.
I had the option to make this choice recently when I was giving camera-trapping instruction to field-guide students (see also my previous blog post). We came across a muddy and smelly water-hole that looked interesting to me and so I suggested to the students that we set up a camera there. They were, not surprisingly, a bit sceptical (as all good students should be) about my choice since there was a clean and attractive water source in the immediate vicinity. In the absence of a convenient tree we tied the camera to a rock and disguised it somewhat with other muddy rocks. By the end of this exercise a number of us were suitably covered with mud.
My expectation for this site was to catch some of the usual 'wallowers' and some of the early visitors to the area were exactly that, a couple of Warthog:
However, during the next few days we recorded some other images that I really enjoyed:
While none of the above would be considered good photos, photographically, they do give real 'bugs-eye' view of the variety of animals that frequent the water-hole.
In contrast, the students way preferred another site which gave an elevated view of a drinking spot and resulted in a number of attractive images, including these:
They're attractive images but, in my opinion, are the kind of photos that could be taken from a vehicle using a camera with a telephoto lens. And you won't get your hands dirty - but, for me, that's half the fun of camera-trapping!
I've always been amused by some of the collective nouns given to African mammals. Apart from the above, some that make me smile are: a Dazzle of Zebras, a Crash of Rhinocerous, an Obstinancy of Buffalos, and a Skulk of Jackals. But my favourite has to be an Implausibility of Wildebeest - who the heck thought of that?
But lets return to the humble Hippo.Well perhaps not so humble because these beasts are reputed to be the most dangerous mammal in Africa as measured by the number of humans killed. However that dubious honour is clearly not appropriate because man himself beats the hippo hands down - with the malaria-carrying mosquito certainly the most dangerous animal.
But let me get to the point here. I've recently returned from the north-eastern part of South Africa where I spent a few days giving camera-trapping advice to a lively group of trainee field guides. We left the cameras-traps out for a week and, fortunately, none got eaten by hyenas (a Clan of...) or smashed by elephant (you must know that one). We got some pretty cool photos, which I will show in another post, but what was interesting for me was how many hippo (him of the Raft) photos we got.
The first few simply recorded the comings and goings of an individual along a game trail not far from a small river:
However the next few were, for me, more interesting. The camera had been set up on a rocky outcrop where the students had hoped to record images of a leopard reportedly living in the vicinity:
I'd love to know whether this hippo was a regular stroller on these rocks or whether this was a one-time event. It took me a couple of years to record my first hippo photo on a camera-trap and suddenly I get a load of them in a few days. Could one call that an Implausibility of Hippo Photos?
For some months now I have had a memory card from one of my cameras sitting on my desk. It is effectively full and contains 3984 images of mammals recorded at a salt lick in the Tswalu Kalahari reserve in the Northern Cape province
of South Africa. These 3984 images were recorded over just a 48hour period. I've been reluctant to write a new post about these images because, well, I just couldn't think of a good story to go with the images. However I now need to use
the card and am reluctant to add another 4GB of images to the hard drive on my ageing laptop. So its a case of use-them-or-lose-them - and I've decided to use them.
Salt licks (possibly better described as mineral licks) are commonly used in wildlife reserves in Southern Africa. They're particularly used in the dry winter months when the quality of the grass is often poor. I don't know to what extent the mammals really need the additional minerals or whether they just like them. But that is immaterial because mammals arrive at the lick in droves, especially if there is also water in the vicinity. So its an interesting site for a camera-trap.
These mineral supplements usually begin as a sold rectangular block. But it doesn't take long before they get licked down
into an amorphous blob, like the one at Tswalu, shown below:
So what's the story here?
Well, for many wildlife professionals working in reserves like Tswalu these scenes are a daily occurence. But for the rest of us these camera-trap images represent an extraordinary view into the daily life of mammals in Africa. 3984 images in two days! Its a story that I hope our grand-children will still get to see.
When we set up the camera-trap it was a leopard that I was after. One was known to live in this part of Welgevonden Game Reserve and I thought my chances of photographing it were slight - but possible. My guests on the camera-trapping safari (see previous post) were optimistic.
I swopped out the memory card a few days later and the only images were those of a game-viewing vehicle cruising past.
However when we went to collect the camera shortly before leaving the reserve we knew we might have a problem. A large breeding herd of elephants had spent time in the area - the signs were everywhere.
And sure enough........the camera was gone. The webbing strap remained on the tree which now sported some fresh damage to its bark:
So we started looking for the camera and, miraculously, eventually found it some distance away. It wasn't in a good state but the SD card looked unscathed. This is what it showed:
The first sign of trouble........ very big trouble! Note the time at bottom right.
The elephant gets up close.......
.....but then appears to lose interest...........
......only to return again. I am making an assumption that this is the same animal.
........and spent more time examining the camera, very closely.
The camera and strap/tree then parted company (note to Bushnell...you need to strengthen the strap brackets on the back of the camera!).The camera obviously took a traumatic, but not lethal, blow because the date/time got reset. This was the image that followed that clearly showed the camera being carried by the ellie. It's being held in the elephants trunk while aimed upwards at its mouth, tusks and ears......
The elephant appears to have carried the camera for about a minute before dropping it - which caused it to trigger one final time. Then it was all over!
I don't know whether the same elephant delivered the coup de grace or another one that was following. But that's fairly academic because this is what we found the following morning: