Sunday, 23 March 2014

Volunteer Update - Week Seven

Week Seven volunteers: Sina Dommermuth, Kira Voss, Rebecca Slevin, Inge Corino, Hugh Mckinstry, Caroline Jones, Johanna Jacobsson and Esther van Bergen.

"Thanks for an amazing week! Neuras truly is a little piece of paradise. Loved the trip to Sossusvlei, feeding the cheetahs at the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre (NCCC) and just generally being able to contribute to the conservation research (particularly the big carnivores).  
I also enjoyed the hikes, though some were grueling in the hot Namibian sun. Hope you'll have heaps of game returning to the area and lots of success with the conservation efforts and winery. Thanks for all the good care and I hope to return again. 

PS- The food was great and the pizzas are AMAZING" :)
Esther van Bergen

"To sum up my first week at Neuras I would say an experience I will never forget. Experiences like walking 18km through a beautiful canyon and getting to the end to jump into a natural fountain, feeding the cheetahs at the NCCC and getting to the top of "Big Daddy" at Sossusvlei. 
Matt and Kate have made the week amazing and unforgettable- especially pizza night! :)"

Caroline Jones

Just to mention Kate and I promise that we have not forced our volunteers to big up our pizza, it realy is that good!!! :) Johanna Jacobsson decided to put her feelings about her week into picture form, enjoy:

Monday, 10 March 2014

Volunteer Update - Weeks Five and Six

Week Five volunteers: Sophie van Rossem, Poala Alverez, Dom Howell, Sarah Eggiman, Josefina Karjalainen, Beatrice Muotka, Felicia Breggren, Mao Magnusson, Madelaine Errson, Sean Adams, Antonia Bernau, Sabrina Slovis and Sarah Boyd.

Week Five

"After a week at N/a’an ku se’sWildlife Sanctuary we decided to try a week at Neuras to get involved in the conservation work of the company; from day one we fell in love with the scenic, peaceful surroundings so much that we decided to extend our stay to 3 weeks.Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate is perfect for volunteers looking for an insight into the research role of conservation, keen hikers and those who have an interest in carnivores, especially cheetahs and leopards. The volunteers take a trip to get up close with the ambassador cheetahs in the 500 hectare site at The Namib CarnivoreConservation Centre. We really enjoyed this experience and the chance to help feed the cheetahs and participate in their animal husbandry needs.
During our stay here we helped to set up trap cages and cameras to catch the behaviour and hunting grounds of these amazing mammals.  We also caught sightings of other animals such as jackals, honey badgers and various game through the cameras. We also got involved in the data collection and recording of the camera images, an important part of the research work they undertake to evaluate the wildlife presence in the area.

We were very lucky to be here when the team successfully caught their first wild cheetah, named Einstein; this was such a memorable event and it was fantastic as all the volunteers were involved in helping to set up the trap cage.

We also had the opportunity to track Einstein the following week using the GPS data received from his collar. In this way we were able to track his current position and also found his very first kill since his release, a kudu; this was great news for the team and for Einstein, as it  may help the Neuras team to demonstrate to the neighbouring farmers that he does not predate on livestock  and does not need to be removed from the area.

Other highlights of our stay included the trip to Sossussvlei and the hike up ‘Big Daddy’ in the Namib desert, relaxing by (or in) the peaceful fountain spas on site, the excellent food and service provided by the staff - and of course not forgetting Kate and Matt’s awesome pizza night, mmmm!

We enjoyed the regular walks to check trap cages, tracking the collared cheetahs and leopards, and exploring the canyons of the vast property of Neuras. During these walks we found Kate and Matt’s knowledge of the wildlife and their behaviour very informative and helpful; we learnt how to identify different animal’s spoor (tracks) to determine what wildlife were in the area. Kate and Matt’s dedication to the work and attention to the volunteers at all times is to be praised and definitely helped to make our stay enjoyable.

We would recommend a stay for volunteers at Neuras and we hope to be able to return in the future to continue helping with their great work. For anyone looking to stay at Neuras, make sure you bring good walking boots/shoes, be prepared to get stuck in with all the activities, bring lots of sun cream (factor 40/50) as it gets very hot, and just enjoy the surroundings and opportunities to spot wildlife and help with the conservation work to protect the cheetahs and leopards during your stay."

Sean Adams and Sarah Boyd 

Week Six

Week Six Volunteers: Hugh McKinstry, Veronica Theander, Josefina Karjalainen, Robin Hakenson Beatrice Muotka, Sean Adams and Sarah Boyd.

"During our weeks at Neuras we experienced a lot, but the highlight of these two weeks was the capture of Einstein, the very clever cheetah. After a lot of hard work with the cage, which we moved from the riverbed to his marking tree, we got a pleasant surprise the morning after. Finally he was captured!

A few days later Kate got a call from the neighbours that a cheetah was on their property. Thanks to the collar Kate could see that it was Einstein and that he had made a kill. So we drove there and couldn’t find anything, damn it! But we came back the day after to another GPS point and we found that he, thankfully, had killed a game animal and so far he is not considered as a problem cat. Hopefully he stays that way. We love this place and we have learned a lot! Kate and Matt are wonderful and we hope that we will return soon."

Veronica Theander, Josefina Karjalainen, Robin Hakenson and Beatrice Muotka.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Neuras Guide to Catching a Cheetah

Our core aims here at Neuras are to monitor the resident carnivore populations in the area and work with the local livestock farmers in order to mitigate human/carnivore conflict. An essential part of this process is to trap the resident carnivores and place GPS radio collars on them to enable the intensive study of their movements and behaviour. Identification of kills such as kudu, warthog and zebra can help us demonstrate to the farmers that a particular individual prefers to predate on game species and poses little threat to their livestock. Just this week we used GPS data to find another of Lightning's kills; a female Kudu.
                                                    Lightning the Leopard's latest kill.

However, if an individual is proven to be responsible for regular livestock predation we then work with the farmer on preventative measures such as the painting of an olfactory repellent like lion faeces onto their goat/sheep kraals or by tracking them and making loud noises to turn them away from the livestock area. Remember, this is only possible if the animal is fitted with a GPS collar. 
                     Painting lion faeces onto kraal fence, the not so glamorous side of conservation!

Trapping a wild carnivore is not easy, however we recently successfully caught a male cheetah in a text book manner that ideally demonstrates the process we go through to trap resident carnivores. 

Step 1: Site Investigation
At Neuras we and our volunteers spend a lot of time exploring the Estate and our neighbour's property searching for carnivore activity i.e tracks, scat and marking trees. The Northern part of our property includes an area up to the face of the Naukluft Mountains. Rain flows down this mountain face and has created many small river beds that we have suspected carnivores may use as walkways. During many days of site investigating over the past few months leopard, cheetah and hyena tracks were found in these riverbeds and a potential marking tree was discovered.  We could then move on to Step 2.
                                            Exploring the base of the Naukluft Mountain.

Step 2: Camera Trap Cluster Study
A cluster study is where many camera traps are placed in a small area. In this instance we placed 8 camera traps in an area only spanning 2.7kms at the base of the Naukluft Mountain; 7 in small river beds and 1 at the potential marking tree. This was so we could see exactly where the carnivores were moving and determine the best location for the trap cage.
                                           Locations of the cluster study camera traps.

Step 3: Cluster Study Analysis
The cameras were left in place for four weeks with exciting results.  We discovered that a single male cheetah visited the area on a regular basis. He was caught on camera several times at the marking tree (Site 8) and once at Site 4. In this time no other large carnivore was captured by the cameras.
                                              Pictures of male cheetah at Site 8 (marking tree).

This particular male cheetah was no stranger to us however, as we had seen him before at other camera trap locations (we could determine this by analysis of his spot patterns). In fact we had previously set up trap cages in two other locations in attempts to trap him; both of these traps were also placed at potential marking trees. However, over a two month period he only returned to one of these trees on a single occasion and did not enter the cage. We suspected that the trees were not 'true' marking trees and his impulse to mark his territory on them was not very strong.  
          The same male cheetah caught on camera at a less frequented marking tree and trap cage.

He also visited another trap cage location in a river bed baited with meat, but again refused to enter the cage (see above pic). These failed attempts lead us to nickname him "Einstein". However,  the results from this cluster study gave us confidence as the frequency he visited this newly discovered tree was much higher and he consistently urinated and defecated around the tree. It appeared we had finally found 'Einstein's' preferred tree to mark and communicate with other cheetahs in the area. 

Step 4: Setting up the Trap Cage
Placing a trap cage at a marking tree requires a lot of work as you have to create a thorn bush boma around the tree leaving the cheetah with only one way through to the tree - the cage.  The circumference of the boma has to be quite large as the cheetah needs to be able to see the tree through the cage when he approaches and it also has to be tall enough to discourage the cheetah from jumping over. Our Week Five volunteers worked tirelessly all day chopping down thorn bush and creating the perfect boma. All that was left was to set the cage - a simple trigger plate mechanism located in the middle of the cage that releases the two doors to drop when an animal steps on it.
                          Preparation and final set up of the thorn bush boma with trap cage.

Step 5: Cross your Fingers and check the Cage!
We headed back out out to the cage first thing the next morning. Cages have to be checked every day not only to ensure any carnivore inside is taken care of as soon as possible but other animals like jackals, porcupines and warthog could also get trapped and would have to be set free. Upon our approach we could see that the doors of the trap cage were down. Due to our previous experiences our first thoughts were that a mongoose or rabbit had gone in. But to our amazement as we got closer it was clear there was a big cat inside the cage, it was Einstein! The cage was immediately covered with shade netting and Einstein was provided with water.
                                                          'Einstein' in the trap cage.

Step 6: Collar and Release
The call was made and later that evening Einstein was darted by a veterinarian and fitted with a new GPS radio collar. Because of the late hour Einstein was placed back in the cage to sleep of the drugs with no risk of coming into contact with aggressive Hyenas. We headed out to the cage early the next morning and found a very awake and grumpy Einstein, the cage was open and quick as a flash he was gone. A perfect end to a near perfect process of carnivore capture! We hope our luck continues as we look to trap other resident cheetah, leopard and hyena to further our research and good relationships with livestock farmers.
         N078 ('Einstein') being fitted with his new GPS radio collar and being released.

Huge thanks to our volunteers who's hard work made the collaring of Einstein possible. Volunteer update from this group coming soon.