28 May 2010

A Small Visitor

The small visitors to the cameras are sometimes the most welcome. I haven't really started to target the small mammals at Tygerberg yet, but I keep them in the back of my mind when I setup at a new location. Sometimes they just happen to trigger a camera, and if it is close enough you can get a decent enough image.

Pygmy Mouse (Dwergmuis) sitting really close to the camera

Unfortunately when a mouse is this close to the camera the image tends to be out of focus. Regardless, with some detective work you might be able to be reasonably sure of the species. This looks like a Pygmy Mouse (Dwergmuis) to me.

The photo was taken a few weeks ago at the same spot as the Honey Badger. People sometimes look at images like these (and much better ones on other websites) and think that it is easy to do camera trapping. Now I can't speak for everybody, for me it definitely is not easy and requires a lot of hard work, patience and "thinking". People also underestimate how frustrating it can be. However, if you can handle the cons, then the pros are well worth it. If you stay positive and enjoy it for what it is the experience as a whole is a lot of fun :)

21 May 2010

Sleep Walking?

I had the flu last weekend and couldn't checkup on my cameras. I'm starting to feel myself again and managed to make the best of the son that came out during the week to go check the cameras today. It seems nothing much happened while I was sick.

The most interesting photos where of the Bontebok at night. It is the same (and only) small herd that hangs around at the pond. The current camera position and the pond is at least 2.5 km apart. These antelope seem to move through this area regularly either late in the afternoon or at night (as late as 10:30 pm). I'm not sure where they are going, or why they are doing it so late...

The small herd of Bontebok passed the camera at 10:41 pm

This post is not much of an update, but not much happened during the last week. It might have been the rain that slowed things down. According to the weather forecast (which doesn't really mean much over here) it should be sunny tomorrow, so I'm planning to go back and move both cameras to new locations. I'm on the lookout for some locations that might have Duiker and I want to spend some time at the recently burned grassy area that is now turning bright green from the rain.

Mmmm, the grass appears to be greener on the other side (of the hill)...

10 May 2010

Honey Badger At Tygerberg

I was very excited to find these images of a Honey Badger (Ratel) on my "recovered" Bushnell camera. I saw evidence of a lot of digging near the spot I selected for the camera, but I wasn't sure what animal was doing all the work and hoped it would show itself. And show itself it did! I got some great shots of the Honey Badger grooming itself in front of the camera. The infrared images from the Bushnell aren't that great, but it makes up for it by having a quick reset time between photos and it can even record video at night.

Honey Badger (Ratel) arriving at the spot and checking out the camera

Honey Badgers have a silver-grey back which extends to the top of their heads. The lower half of their bodies are black. They often carry their short bushy tail upright when walking. Their tracks can be identified by the long and strong claws of the front feet. The thumb is clearly visible in the print (the track shows all five digits clearly). They are about 30cm in height and 95cm in length. Males are on average a third larger than larger than females.

They have a wide habitat tolerance and are widespread across Southern Africa. Honey Badgers can be found throughout Africa, Arabia and Western Asia, including India. Even though they are widely distributed they are not common anywhere and are even considered rare in some areas.

Relaxing a bit in front of the camera

They spend most of their time on the ground, but are good climbers when the need arises. They will use rock crevices for shelter, but are powerful diggers and will dig refuges for themselves. They dig up a lot of their prey, such as rodents and scorpions. They can dig up to 60 holes per night while looking for food. They eat a wide variety of food, but invertebrates and rodents are the most important part of their diet. They are not dependant on water. They often feed together with some species of birds or Black Backed Jackal.

Honey Badgers are usually found alone, but they also walk in pairs or small family groups. They often move along tracks and roads. They are mostly active at night (nocturnal), but can also sometimes be found active during anytime of the day. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park they change from being nocturnal in summer to being diurnal in winter. This is done to cope with the very high temperature on summer days and very low temperatures on winter nights.

Nothing better than a good scratch...

The badgers have been named the most fearless animal in the Guinness Book of World Records. It is also believed that Cheetah cubs mimic the appearance of a Honey Badger as part of their survival strategy.

Honey Badgers are courageous animals. They usually keep to themselves and are shy and retiring in nature, but they can occasionally become extremely aggressive (without provoking them). These animals are very tough and and can become very aggressive. They will even attack an Elephant if they feel threatened. They can produce a foul-smelling excretion from a pair of anal glads. However the Honey Badger is not as prone as the Striped Polecat to use this defence mechanism and will much more likely attack its aggressor. Their skin is very thick and loose. It is said that if a dog bites any part of it the animal can turn around inside its skin and bite back (this is regarded to be true within certain limits). They always come of best when attacked by dog and the dog's teeth seldom penetrate their skin.

Honey Badgers appear to have some level of resistance against scorpion and bee stings. They also appear to have a remarkable resistance against many extremely venomous snakes. After being bitten by a snake that would kill most large animals they appear to only experience some degree of pain and then just sleep it off. Waking up after a few hours without any serious side effects.

During intraspecific fighting each individual tries to invite the other to bite first, because which ever one bites first is at a disadvantage. The second individual will lunge at the first one to bite and aim for the softer skin of the abdomen. It has been recorded that in captivity normally docile individuals will develop "fury moods" and become dangerous, but will just as suddenly return to being calm and docile.

After the grooming session this badger is probably on his way to add some more holes to the slope 

The name Honey Badger comes from their habit of plundering bee hives for the honey and bee larvae. Their other common name is “Ratel” which is Afrikaans for rattle or honeycomb.

Chris & Tilde Stuart (2008). Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-Afrika. Kaapstad: Struik Uitgewers. 142.
John D. Skinner & Christian T. Chimimba (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press. 501-504.

08 May 2010

Missing Camera

Winter has finally arrived down here in the Western Cape province. The rainy weather cleared up a little yesterday and I managed to go check the cameras at Tygerberg. I checked the Moultrie trail camera first. It had some more nice images of the Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond).

I headed over to the spot where the Bushnell was set up, but as I got closer I became worried. I could not see it... I started looking around and finally arrived at the spot itself, but there was no sign of it! I pulled out the GPS and double checked my location. I was right on top of it, but there was no sign of it anywhere. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this and suspected that I might have lost my first camera... Maybe the heavy rains somehow dislodged it and washed it a bit down hill? I spent some time searching the area and then head down hill, praying hard to find it.

You might notice that there is no camera in this photograph... It used to stand in the dark spot next to the little green shrub on the right

Finally I gave up. It felt terrible to think that somebody would actually crawl down the slope and steal my camera... Finally giving up, I turn around and started heading back up the slope. Then, in the corner of my eye I spotted something. It wasn't the camera but at least it was the stake I strapped it against. So, at least the thief had the "decency" to leave the pole behind...

A glimmer of hope...

Then I saw it, my camera!! Tucked away underneath a bush, about 4 meters away from where I set it up, I saw my camera. I was so relieved :)

Battered, beaten and full of mud but still working

At closer inspection of the pole I noticed some teeth marks on it... I can't preview the images from the Bushnell on my digital camera and I don't have the Bushnell Trophy Cam model with a built in viewer, so I rushed home to download the images to my computer. The SD card was full and I thought maybe I had some pictures of the culprit, but it might have filled up with warm leaves before the terrifying event.

I got home and scanned through the pictures. I was surprised to find a new species, but more about that next time. And then, the culprits showed themselves: two porcupines!

Two Porcupines (Ystervarke) still unaware of the camera...

The infrared flash of the camera is invisible to the naked eye, but the LED lights on the camera itself do glow faint red and this possibly caught the attention of the porcupine

You can see part of the porcupine in the right half of the image while it was carrying the camera away

I have photographed a lot of porcupines since I have been camera trapping and they usually just ignore the camera. Sometimes they will come check it out and maybe give it a sniff or two, but this is the first time any of them ever moved the camera.