Fieldwork in the Namaqua National Park and surrounding farmlands has gotten off to a good start!
The CLT Predator Ecology and Coexistence project (PEACE) team were busy in December and January setting over 75 trail cameras in caracal, black-backed jackal and leopard habitat to scout the best sites for trapping these predators. After discovering a travel route routinely frequented by an adult leopard, Quinton Martins made his way up to the study area for a few nights to lend his expertise on leopard capture techniques. The second night of trapping we received a signal that the trap had been triggered and, sure enough, a massive adult male leopard was caught! Since then we have been focusing our efforts on capturing caracal and jackal and they are both proving to be extremely trap savvy - jackal more so than caracal. On March 8, 2014 we captured our first caracal! He is a healthy and fit sub-adult male weighing 8.9 kg and has been on the move, mostly in Namaqua National Park. We are monitoring the leopard’s and caracal’s movement patterns and behaviour via the GPS collar data to identify their territories, as well as looking at where and what they eat. This is the first time that these predator species are being monitored with GPS tracking devices in the study region located in the Northern Cape.
We have been fortunate to be exposed to expert training from two professional trappers, Justin Brown and Thys de Wet. Justin joined us in February from his home in California, USA, and has vast experience capturing coyote and bobcat. He shared his knowledge on the various safe and humane capture techniques, as well as the best lures and baits for mesopredator capture. We finally got the trapping season off the ground during his time here and set two large trap lines in jackal and caracal country. Thys de Wet assisted the CLT team in March with jackal and caracal captures. With over 30 years of trapping experience and a vast knowledge of jackal behaviour, he proved to be a very important asset. In the Namaqua region, black-backed jackal and caracal are persona non-grata on farmland due to livestock losses. Therefore, mesopredators in this area have become highly sensitive of any change in their environment, which makes trapping them very difficult for the CLT researchers. However, under the guidance of Justin and Thys the team has made some key improvements to their trapping techniques, particularly where jackals are concerned. Although no jackal has yet been caught, the CLT team remains positive that they will find a way to outsmart these canny predators and collar a few of them thanks to some new tricks up our sleeves. Our work will contribute important data towards improving human-wildlife coexistence in the region.