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The on-going stories from the Wildlife Expedition project team.

Vulture Ringing in Mkhuze
During September, Staff and volunteers accompanied Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff and members of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) as they visited vulture nesting sites within Mkhuze Game Reserve and surrounds, to tag vulture chicks with patagial (wing) tags.

These plastic colour-coded tags each have a letter and number, the combination of which uniquely identifies the bird and the area in which it was originally tagged. These tags can then be read in the field, through binoculars, meaning that there is no need to re-trap the birds. The tags allow for the collection of valuable data including monitoring of breeding success, foraging distances, etc.

A total of 3 Lappet-faced and 4 White-backed vulture chicks were successfully tagged in this year's ringing project. More than 50 vultures have been tagged in Mkhuze, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and Pongola Reserves since 2005.

Vultures truly have an undeserved reputation as being nothing more than "ugly scavengers", when in truth they are magnificent and threatened creatures who play a vital role in the ecosystem. It is our responsibility to preserve the remaining populations of vultures within Southern Africa, and raise awareness about the status and importance of these vulnerable birds.

Exciting new projects in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP)
The staff are currently busy with the second trial camera trap survey in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP). The survey, which began on the 4th of August, had to change camera survey methods in order to gain more data on cheetah (which is the priority species of the survey). Our new method involves placing the cameras on trees that are used by cheetah for either scent marking or as vantage points from which to spot prey. This method is proving to be extremely successful, as we have already recorded 52 camera captures of cheetah from the 10 cameras we have placed in the iMfolozi section of the Park for the second trial survey.

We have also captured photos of leopard, lion, black rhino, elephant and wild dog (as well as 1 photo of the elusive honey badger). The second trial survey has involved 22 cameras (12 in Hluhluwe and 10 in iMfolozi), which have thus far captured a total of 892 photos.

Another aspect of the work being done in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park involves our volunteers assisting HiP's Wild Dog monitor, Zama Zwane, with the monitoring of the 2 packs of wild dogs that frequent the Hluhluwe section of the Park. One of the packs identified for monitoring is denning at the moment, although the puppies have not yet been counted. Our volunteers might be the first ones to witness these pups emerging from the den!

Yet another exciting new project in HiP is a 2-month survey of Black Rhino in the Park, undertaken in conjunction with Jed Bird (the HiP Black Rhino monitor). Volunteers recently assisted with setting up of the cameras for this survey, and got to experience an unforgettable bush walk in the process. 20 of the 30 cameras will be used for this survey, so the volunteers on HiP in the coming months will be involved in setting up, checking and taking down the cameras, as well as with the processing of the data that we collect from them. This promises to be an exciting new project, with many exciting encounters along the way.

Buffalo testing on Thanda Reserve - Sep 2010
Ten buffalo bulls were being held in the boma on Thanda Reserve during September, for a two week quarantine period before being sold to another reserve. Volunteers got to see the 10 Buffalo bulls darted, and observe the veterinarians testing for Tuberculosis (TB).

The Buffalo had all been darted a few days previously and had capsules put into their necks subcutaneously. The vets subsequently checked to see whether there was any excess swelling where the capsule had been placed. (Any swelling would indicate the presence of TB). All of Thanda’s Buffalo passed this test and were declared clean. This was a good learning opportunity for the volunteers, who enjoyed it immensely.

White Rhino capture & Cheetah collaring on Thanda - Sep 2010
Volunteers on Thanda Reserve recently assisted with the relocation of a White Rhino cow. Once the rhino was located, the monitor and volunteers stayed with the animal for 3 hours while waiting for the Game Capture team to arrive and dart the rhino from the helicopter. The rhino was then captured and transported to her new home. Volunteers were able to participate and gain both knowledge and understanding regarding how the whole capture operation works, and the reasons behind the methods used.

Notching of White Rhino also took place on Thanda Game Reserve in September. Notching is an important process whereby identification marks are made in the rhino's ears to allow each individual to be uniquely recognised for the accurate monitoring of these animals. Volunteers assisted the wildlife monitor in searching great distances by vehicle to locate the rhinos, and observed as the vet notched the rhinos' ears, and put microchips into their horns which allow the horn to be identified. One of the braver volunteers was then given the task of collecting dung from the rhino and smearing it onto the rhino's nostrils to mask the scent of humans and make the animal feel more relaxed upon waking.

Once rhino notching was over, volunteers were also fortunate enough to observe the veterinarian tranquilise one of the collared male cheetahs on the reserve, so that the collar could be removed and placed onto a female. Once the collar was removed the volunteers got to move the tranquilised cheetah into a shaded area, and then watch and wait for the immobilising drugs to wear off slowly.

Love is in the air  - ACT News - April 2010
The hard work has paid off! In the last year, the Wild Dog pack at Thanda has more than doubled in size and we are really chuffed that we were able to contribute to this amazing success story.

Recent mating activity between the Alpha pair this month suggests that the pack is to grow in numbers once more! The Alpha male and female have been seen coupling on a number of occasions, most notably right outside the Wildlife ACT volunteer accommodation!

Hold thumbs for a safe gestation period, which could result in puppies being born within a short two and a half months time. This puts the exciting potential birthing (denning) right around the time at which our volunteer group from Chester University arrives (mid May). During their time with Wildlife ACT, these new volunteers will help monitor these highly endangered species on a daily basis, and in doing so hopefully turn 2010 into another success story for the African Wild Dogs on Thanda. The Thanda pack is currently comprised of 3 adults (1 male and 2 female) and 4 sub-adults (2 male and 2 female).

New project on Tembe - ACT News - April 2010
Tembe Elephant Park is to add many exciting new experiences to the work being done by Wildlife ACT. The Park has a group of captive-bred male Wild Dogs who are at present being bonded to a recently captured group of wild females in the Park's boma.

Once bonded, the dogs should be able to hunt successfully and function as a pack, as well as hopefully produce a litter of pups in the months to come. Wildlife ACT starts monitoring the pack from the 1st of April.

In addition to the Wild Dogs, Wildlife ACT volunteers will be monitoring Tembe's lion population as well as their elephant population, which are some of the largest elephant in Africa, and which are the last remaining indigenous herd in KwaZulu-Natal!).


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