14 January 2012

No Monkey Business

There was one animal at Suikerbosrand that haunted my dreams. I kept getting the random thought "will my cameras be safe". This animal has huge canine teeth! An inquisitive nature! Omnivorous appetite! Heck, they even have opposable thumbs! How would they react to my poor defenceless cameras (unless you count a powerful flash, or dim red glow, as an offencive advantage)!

Enter, the Chacma Baboon...

Chacma baboon (Kaapse Bobbejaan - Papio ursinus) at Suikerbosrand

Baboons live in groups of 15-100 animals and I feared that if the camera caught the eye of only one of them the whole group might take an interest... Although they can surely do serious damage biting on or beating the camera, my biggest fear was that they might carry it around. Moving the camera by only a short distance can make it almost impossible to find again. But in the end everything went smoothly and they barely payed the cameras any notice.

Sitting down for a family meal

In fact, the only camera trouble I had was with an Eland that pushed a camera over. The Baboons were content to focus on finding food on going by their daily activities.

One of my cameras was positioned up a tree, pointing down, and got a unique view of a Baboon trying to eat some Sunflower seeds I threw on the ground.

Slurping up some seeds? Why use your fingers if you can use your face?

This Baboon was photographed in a heavily wooded area. I'm used to seeing them in more open areas and didn't think they frequented areas like this often enough to show up on this short camera trapping trip. However, thinking back, we have encountered Baboons in some pretty thick forests in the past.

Typical landscape at Suikerbosrand in the Gauteng province of South Africa

There will most likely be many more encounters with Baboons in my camera trapping future and I hope all of them will be this, well, uneventful. And on that note the Baboons exited, stage left...

The rear end of the tale

01 January 2012

The Big Guys

We are back from spending Christmas in Gauteng with the family and I managed to fit in 5 nights of camera trapping at Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve.

First up, the biggest antelope in the world: the Eland.

An Eland (Eland - Tragelaphus oryx) smiling for the camera

Eland are usually found in herds of 20-60 animals, but they sometimes form temporary herds of more than 500 individuals. They have a fairly loose social system with animals freely joining herds. I'm not sure how many animals this nature reserve have, but we did see a herd of at least 150 animals.

A herd of Eland at Suikerbosrand of about 20 animals

These antelope are big. They weigh 450-700kg (up to 900kg) and stand 1.7m tall at the shoulders. A large bull walked past one of the camera traps. Unfortunately it was too close to photograph the entire animal.

A large bull walking past the camera in the rain

I've always found it difficult to see Eland up close. They seem to prefer keeping a safe distance from any possible threat. This is a wise move since they are high on the menu for most top predators and have been extensively hunted by humans for thousands of years.

The Khoisan people revered them greatly. The Eland is a common animal depicted on their rock paintings and formed part of many rituals and believes.

These guys are excellent jumpers

An Eland can easily clear a 2m fence, despite their huge size. They are prone to wander over large areas in search of better feeding grounds. They are primarily browsers (eating leaves, etc.), but they also eat grass, roots and bulbs. Access to water is not required, but they will drink if water is available.

Having a closer look at the camera

Despite their natural tendency to keep a safe distance from danger, they seem to be easily tamed. There has been attempts to domesticate the Eland by farmers in Southern Africa, USA and Russia (of all places) for milk and meat. However, the animals' jumping ability, wondering nature and social structure have proven problematic when trying to farm them in the same way as other domestic livestock.

On the last day of camera trapping this Eland decided to adjust the camera angle

Another interesting things about the Eland is that they make a clicking sound while walking. If you want to find out more I would highly recommend reading about Lynda's Eland encounters on her excellent blog called Mainly Mongoose over here.