Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Team Mammal's surveys for BioGaps-Zoe Woodgate and Nadine Hassan

It constantly amazes me how time flies. Indeed, our months spent trapesing across the Karoo feel like a lifetime ago- and yet we’ve only been back home for three weeks.

Since October last year, Nadine Hassan and myself have been surveying the Karoo for mammal species as part of SANBIs Karoo BioGaps project. In total we’ve been on five fieldtrips, with each one taking a few weeks due to the great distances we needed to transverse each day. To help us in this end the EWT Drylands programme kindly lent us their vehicle for the duration of the fieldwork. The Mazda (affectionately known as ‘Karoo Bean’) has been both gutsy and reliable.

The two main tools of our trade, so to speak, are camera traps and Sherman small mammal traps. Camera traps stand on an allocated site for a minimum of 30 days, dutifully taking photographs of all that moves past. Interestingly, whilst many photographs were of the usual suspects (steenbok, kudu, black-backed Jackal, scrub hare and the like), there were the occasional novelties. In particular rock monitor lizard, secretary bird and bush pig made cameo appearances. As expected, the sheer amount of data collected has been immense. Approximately 400 gigabytes of photographs lie in wait on my hard-drive. As one can imagine, going through them all is proving to be quite the challenge.

Nadine’s Sherman traps have produced equally important data. At each site she patiently baited and left 120 traps overnight, scattered amongst the various micro-habitats available. Pre-dawn every morning we checked each one, carefully processing and releasing any live captures. What a pleasure to be up close and personal with these fluffy creatures, whom are so often over-looked in mammal surveys. Despite the drought Nadine captured at least 10 micromammal species. The most cosmopolitan species for the drylands, the Namaqua rock mouse (Micaelamys namaquensis) was found around the various rock formations that characterise much of the Karoo landscape.

As winter approaches it becomes too cold to sample for the small mammals. Thus for now we must take a step away from the Karoo and turn our attention back towards our laptops. Fieldwork was only half the story- now begins a rigorous session of data cataloguing and analysis. Nonetheless we are both excited to see the result of our hard work, and eagerly await our next fieldtrip come spring.

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