All things come to those who wait…

Hello folks,

We are having rain in the Cederberg at the moment and the temperatures are cooler. So when I went out this morning to check out one of my trap, I was hoping the rain would bring me some caracals… I checked the signal for one of my cage and heard that it had been triggered! I rushed along to see if there was something in the trap. And yes, from far away, I could see something moving, with big ears… But when I arrived to the cage, I discovered it was only a scrub hare! After checking if he was fine, I released him. I was a bit disappointed I must say.

Trapping in general, and in the Cederberg in particular is not an easy task. But with patience, we manage to get what we’re here for. Megan, from the Black Eagle Project is a good example. She has been working very hard for the last few weeks to try to capture an eagle. She invited Victor, a raptor specialist from Spain, to come over to help her. They spent long hours in the field under a hide, no matter the weather: hard sun or cold rain and wind. And two days ago, they finally managed to catch a beautiful black eagle. If you want to know more about this exciting event, go and have a look at the project’s facebook page:

Megan with the black eagle the team caught in the Cederberg Mountains two days ago.

As for me, I’ll just keep setting up more traps. See what way the cat jumps!

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Rocky – eyes of the caracal

Dear readers,

hello from the Cederberg Mountains where some clouds are starting to build up, bringing with them a bit of a cool shade. Good weather to check out the traps and put some cameras along trails.

Today, I just would like to introduce you to Rocky, the adult male caracal we are currently trying to recapture (he only has a VHF collar at the moment and we would like to fit him with a GPS one).

This picture was taken by one of the Cape Leopard Trust’s remote cameras in a late afternoon, around 6pm. Isn’t he handsome? Not so surprising he has such a good hearing with so big ears. And have you seen his feet? Perfect to run and jump!

Let’s look at some of his previous GPS data now (Rocky was equipped with a GPS collar in 2009 but no longer has it because the battery died) . Here is a map of Rocky’s locations between August 2009 and March 2010. Good hiker Rocky! Matjiesrivier is the place I am currently staying at.

We currently have 10 different kinds of traps set up to catch leopards/caracals. May the luck be on our side! I hope to write very soon that we caught another of this elusive feline!

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Playing cat and mouse

Good morning people!

Here are some news about the project: no caracal trapped yet but we’re working on it very hard with Quinton!

At the Cape Leopard Trust, we’re always looking for new methods to catch carnivores without hurting them. Quinton is constantly trying new designs to be more efficient and three days ago, we built a new cage trap for the caracals. Instead of  wire mesh, the walls of this trap are made of very tense rope. The mesh size is small enough so the caracal can’t pass its paw nor its head through and chew on it, avoiding damage to its claws and teeth.

Quinton is building his newly designed caracal cage trap.

When you want to capture felines, it’s better to have some baits. We’re using both remains from the abattoirs (which is not my favorite part) or road kills (avoiding other animals to get killed on the road while feeding on the carcass). When a bird has been killed on the road, we use the feathers that are good stimuli for cats. My truck smells really bad because of all these baits and the dogs at the farm seem to love it. We are optimistic and we should catch a felid very soon (we saw some leopard tracks two nights ago passing close to one of our trap…).

Quinton is putting a bait to attract the cats: cow’s lungs and trachea!

Yesterday, while I was checking a cage trap for caracal, I found a genet scat on the mechanism that triggers the cage, showing that only an animal of a certain weight can get caught (which reduces the by-catches). When the cat’s away, the mice (genets?) will play!

Last important thing: for those of you who are on holidays in the Cederberg, enjoying hiking, biking or birdwatching, if you encounter a sign (like the one on the picture below) saying that there is ongoing trapping in the area, please, avoid the zone. It takes an extremely long time to manage to trap a cat. By walking in the area and approaching the traps, you let your footprints and smell and it can potentially be dangerous. So please, avoid the area and come and meet us if you have any questions about the traps.

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Different areas for different cats?


Just a short post today. As you know now, we are setting up traps to capture Cape leopards and caracals to fit them with GPS collars. The data collected from them will allow us – among others – to compare the spatial ecology of leopards and caracals. The two following pictures show different kinds of habitats. The first one is in the Driehoek area, where we captured the Cape leopard two days ago. The second one, in Matjiesriver Nature Reserve, shows part of the area used by Rocky, one of our studied male caracal.


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First Cape leopard capture!

Hi there!

I told you exciting things will be happening very soon: Quinton Martins, the project manager of the Cape Leopard Trust and my supervisor in the field (on the right side of the picture) has been trapping to collar leopards in the Driehoek area of the Cederberg. Several people (Dawie and Lizette Burger, Jurg Studer) were assisting with the trap monitoring every 2-3hrs (all day/night) using trap transmitters.

The capture crew (from the left to the right): Elizabeth Martins, Dawie Burger, Patrick Lane (Cape Nature), Dr. Mark Walton (the vet) and Quinton Martins.

At 11pm last night, Dawie called Quinton to say one of the foot loop traps had been triggered. Quinton came and woke me up (yeah some people are sleeping while others are working!). I couldn’t believe that after less than a week in the Cederberg, I was fortunate enough to be part of a Cape leopard capture!  Indeed, a leopard was in the trap, nicely caught on the left front paw. Dawie had checked the trap at 10pm, so the leopard had only been in the trap for an hour at most. The vet arrived by 2am, and the darting procedure went very well (I have to say Quinton was extremely happy, like all of us). It was a young male leopard in good condition.

Dr. Quinton Martins is weighing a GPS collar before fitting it to the leopard.

After checking with the vet the claws and teeth of the leopard, we can say that the method of the foot loops traps are safe for the animal, which is very important. We were all impressed with this excellent trapping method for large carnivores. As you can tell from the photos I took, all the most important “tackle” were in perfect condition –  claws, teeth and his paw was absolutely fine.

We eventually went to sleep at about 5:30 am, tired but very pleased with the work done. Would you like to know more about this sub-adult leopard (where his territory is, who are his parents)? Just go and check the Cape Leopard Trust’s website for more exciting news.

It’s time for me to get all my equipment ready for tomorrow: I’m going into the field to look for claw marks (leopard’s and caracal’s) on trees and then find new places to set up some traps. See you soon everyone!

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Welcome to Cederberg Caracal Project blog

Hello everyone,

I arrived in the wild, rough and magical Cederbergs on March, 10th 2012, after spending some days at the University of Cape Town. The place I’m staying at is a remote paradise in the heart of the mountains. At this time of the year, the weather is hot and dry with a lot of dust, but the night skies are so clear that you feel like you can see all the stars of the universe.

I am mainly based at the Cape Leopard Trust office in Matjiesriver Nature Reserve, that was established in 1995 with assistance from WWF South Africa.  But the study area is so big that I am also moving all around to get better access to the traps we’re setting up to catch Cape leopards and caracals. Indeed, it is extremely important to check the traps very often so if a feline (or another animal but bycatches are rare) get caught, we can rapidly take all the measurements we need for the study and release him/her with a GPS collar.

I would like to take the opportunity of this first post for thanking the artist Rexanne Chadwick. Rexanne allowed me to use her beautiful caracal charcoal drawing on my website so you can all see what a caracal look like (I will also add some pictures to this blog later on). Thank you Rexanne and keep it up!!

Charcoal drawing of a caracal by Rexanne Chadwick

For those of you interested in seeing what a caracal and/or a Cape leopard capture looks like, check out this blog very often because the capture season has started! I will also explain why we capture these wild cats and the trapping methods we’re using here in the Cederbergs.

I hope to see you soon on my blog!

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