Tag Archives: bush pig

Tracks and Scats

‘We will follow the animals’ read the invitation to the Dargle Conservancy’s Track and Scat ID workshop held recently. This is exactly what we did, although we didn’t have to venture far from the farm tracks to see all sorts of interesting things. “Well, the animals like a road to walk along too” laughed Hayley van Leylyveld, who led the excursion along with her husband, Neville.

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We learnt so many fascinating facts from the couple who spend one weekend a month observing wild animals in Dargle. They have been witness to some remarkable things – like a duiker giving birth right in front of them. If you are respectful and quiet and wear camouflage colours, reckons Neville, you’ll be amazed at how close you can get.

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First find was Reedbuck droppings and prints. Apparently Reedbuck mate for life. Unlike Bushbuck, who are solitary and have different partners, whom they meet by chance.

reedbuck_spoor

The scat of the bushbuck was quite different to reedbuck (below) – compressed rather than pellets.

reedbuck_scat_WS

Neville told us “If one comes across a bush buck male, it is best to treat him with great respect as they are known to be very aggressive. They are the only antelope that have been known to attack rather than flee from danger. It is best not to do anything that they might conceive as a threat such as sudden movement, shouting or approaching them without regard to the safe zone they have around them. For example when he is feeding and he raises his head and looks at you, you are too close and you are presenting a threat to him. In such a situation it is best not to make eye to eye contact with him but rather keep a wary eye on him and move backwards until he starts feeding again and them make your way out of his domain into safety. They can very easily kill a human. It is always best to remember that you are invading their home and therefore you must always give the wildlife the respect that they deserve. Bush buck are particularly dangerous when wounded.”

bushbuck

Another fascinating fact is that Bushbuck are dependent on monkeys as they can only reach the fruit on trees to a certain height.  It is the task of the monkeys to drop the fruit that is out of their reach which then falls to the ground for them to eat.  So killing all the monkeys in an area will negatively affect the bush buck population.

We came across quite a few ‘nests’ in the long grass where animals had been lying – this one was just perfect for Kei to curl up in out of the cold.

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There was plenty of duiker activity including a few carrots on the edges of the fields that had been nibbled. “I often get farmers bemoaning the fact that they lose so much of their crop to wildlife but in reality it is seldom much.”

duiker_carrot

Unless a sounder of bush pigs discover your mielie field, that is. Neville told us that bush pig don’t like the smell of cabbages so an easy (eco-friendly) deterrent is to plant rows of cabbages all around your fields.

Neville adds: “Bush pigs, although mainly nocturnal, must be treated with great respect. They are powerful and aggressive creatures, particularly the boars when they have piglets around them.  They are the sounder protectors. A bush pig can very easily kill a human and is regarded by those in the know as dangerous game. It is always good policy to avoid known bush pig areas at night. They are masters of stealth and can suddenly appear without any warning. This is one reason why being able to identify animal track and scat is so important as it can often save you from a dangerous encounter with wildlife. It makes you much more aware of what potentially is in which area.”

bushpig

We could see areas where bush pigs had made messy paths through the reeds.

bushpig_02

We learnt how to tell how big the animal is from the distance between the back and front prints, ie the length of the animals stride in relation to his size.

jackal_02

How to judge how fresh the print was and in which direction the animal was moving.

reedbuck

We saw evidence of jackal including one obviously following closely behind a duiker. “Jackals always tend to follow the pregnant doe’s when they are due to give birth. Somehow they know when the duiker doe is due.” Neville told us. This is something that they have observed over a long period of time during their work on this farm. Sifting through the jackal scats, we could see exactly what they had been eating – mostly scrub hares, with no evidence at all of lambs or calves of which they are so often accused of eating.

jackal

We learnt that the indiscriminate shooting of Jackals in large numbers actually does not work as a method to protect livestock.  In fact it can actually make the problem worse, as Jackals will merely increase their breeding to fill in the missing animals. This is done by the pack leader male breeding with the ‘reserve’ females that normally he would not breed with. In such cases it has been known for Jackal females that are not pregnant to bring in milk and to help feed the newborn litter so that instead of only some of the pups surviving they will all survive!  It is normal for only four out of a litter of six to survive under usual circumstances. As in all natural ecosystems only the strongest survive, however when their numbers are threatened they ensure their own survival by increasing the survival rate of the pups.

Neville: “A well-documented way of controlling Jackals is to shoot only the communicator – that is the one who finds the food source. By doing so the communication link is broken back to the rest of the pack. This also prevents the attempted wiping out of the Jackals as only one individual been destroyed rather than trying destroy them all. This is a much more conservation minded method, and  more effective than just indiscriminate slaughter.  In actual fact,  Jackals are scavengers who clean up bush rather than hunters of domestic stock. On this farm they are currently only feeding on vlei rats and scrub hare which form part of their normal diet. This can clearly be seen from the scat they leave behind. Looking at old scat as well as fresh scat gives you an indication of what the jackals have been eating over a long period.”

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Jackal activity is greatest during the first quarter of the moon. There is little about on full moon nights as it is too bright making it difficult for predators to stay out of sight. The wind also has a major effect on wildlife. If the wind is below about 3km/hr the prey animals battle to pick up the scent of the predators and if the wind is too strong, say over 10km/hr the prey animals once again battle hear and smell the predators. The lack of prey animals therefore also affects the presence of the predators. They all lie low until the weather conditions become more favourable. This has been noticed every time by Neville and Hayley when they are out in the Dargle area on their monthly visits.

jackal_spoor

It was fun to find that porcupine had been around the evening before. Their scat revealing the very varied diets they have – seeds and crabs and all sorts of things. Porcupine feed on a very similar diet to that of Bush pigs,  including carrion, vegetable, rhizomes and tubers – basically almost anything that they can find.porcupineTheir only defence mechanism is their quills which they will ram into whatever tries to attack them. They always go into their hole forward so that they cannot be removed easily. We were amazed to learn that porcupine can weigh up to 24 kgs!

porcie

We spotted quite a few caracal tracks. Once again Neville was a mine of interesting information.  Caracal can kill animals of Reedbuck size easily. After they have made the kill they will only eat about 1kg of meat from the rump and the rest of the carcass is left. Sometimes they will drag it into cover, but rarely come back to feed on it the next night. Feeding on an old kill is normally only done when food is very scarce. Jackals are normally found on these kills doing what they do best as scavengers. Often they are spotted at the old kill and are wrongly accused for being response able for the kill. Caracal is strictly nocturnal and lives in a wide variety of habitats, except desert type regions. They prefer open plains and areas around vleis. They can sometimes be seen just before day break or shortly after dark. Although a good tree climber, Caracal mainly hunts on the ground. It has the ability to hide its self very well whilst resting during the day and if startled it can become very aggressive and very dangerous as it will instantly go into defence mode. Its natural reaction will be to protect its self, so they are not to be under estimated. Common prey animals are duiker, steenbok, grysbok, bushbuck does, sheep lambs, dassies, monkeys, spring hares, guinea fowl, francolin and other ground living birds. Caracal are not dependent on water.

caracal

Its tracks are absent of claw marks if walking. When it is running or walking on soft or slippery ground such as mud the claw marks are visible as its claws are retractable as are most cats.

The edges of the farmland were seriously transformed with invasive alien plants lining the river banks. The indigenous pioneer Senecio madagascariensis took advantage of the disturbed earth creating a pretty picture with Oriah in the middle.

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Some brave Kniphofias and Hebenstretia were flowering in the mess of invasives.

hebenstretia

On our way back through the wetland area we came across mongoose prints, clearly made since we had passed earlier.

porcupine_spoor

Although we didn’t see any animals, there are likely plenty just lying low while the humans potter about noisily.

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The next Track and Scat workshop takes place on 14 June in Dargle. Once again a donation of R20 for the SA CAN Anti-Poaching programme will be requested.

A night walk planned is around the 6th or 13th September depending on animal numbers. Call Neville to book your spot – 0829737052. Neville and Hayley are also available to conduct wildlife surveys on your property, chat to them about rates if you are interested. valleyview@telkomsa.net

midlands_view

A sincere thank you to the landowner Iain Sinclair for allowing us to use his farm. Photos by Nicole Schafer and Nikki Brighton

Dargle Wildlife Sightings for July

Nigel Anderson – Lane’s End

I have two interesting sightings: a Rainforest Brown butterfly

Rainforest Brown Cassionympha cassius (11) res

and a common reedbuck.

Reedbuck resized 1

Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

Not too much this month, I was up in the Kruger Park last week (great sightings there!) and before that I had relatives Kynan (14) and Nicky (10) visit the farm for two weeks. Nicky played with his first frog, at 10 years old I was quite stunned he’d never played with one before!

Nicky holding his first frog.res

They helped me clean up the side of the road between the Boston turnoff and our farm entrance which is about 500m long. We managed to collect a full feed bag worth of rubbish, mainly comprised of beer bottles, coke cans etc. As you can see they weren’t too impressed with the way that people treat their country. Sadly we already had a coke can that managed to find its way onto the side of the road the next day.

Rubbish in Dargle

We also had a young Fish Eagle terrorizing the rest of the birds, ducks and geese the one day. It tried to catch a coot off the dam before dropping it, and then proceeded to fly around the area causing all the other birds to take off. One old crow obviously got tired of the ruckus and actually chased it away!

Sunset over Mavela Dam.res. JPG

Rose and Barry Downard – Oak Tree Cottage

After much resistance, the crows have been evicted from their nest at the top of one of our plane trees by a pair of Egyptian geese who have taken over the nest.

Also seen: Long-crested Eagle, hoopoes, cape robin, house sparrows, cape sparrows, fiscal shrike, mousebirds, southern boubou, olive thrush, weavers, redeyed doves, cape turtle doves, egrets, cardinal woodpecker, bulbuls, flocks of red-billed quelea, white-eyes, storks, grey herons, black kites. Bees, carpenter bees, butterflies, caterpillars, dwarf chameleon, slender mongoose. Heard: Jackals, Fish Eagles.

Sandra and Pat Merrick – Albury

With July being so warm have had a number of butterflies. So strange for this time of year. Saw an otter in the dam and it bit the nose of our rottie. Our dogs killed a samango monkey yesterday. Our rottie was savaged by one earlier this year. Thank goodness we weren’t here to see this. I guess they are coming into the garden looking for food. Saw a fish eagle sitting on the top of one of our pine trees overlooking the dam. We have been inundated with thousands of grasshoppers eating our azaleas and anything else that is turning green. This is crazy weather. Our oak trees started leafing 10 days ago – a month early. We have had plenty reed buck and oribi eating the green shoots on the fire breaks.

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In the past week we have seen a female oribi on our one boundary fence, and a male on the other boundary fence. On the 26th july took a photo of 3 oribi (2 females and one male) and 5 reed buck grazing on the hill – all in one photo!! So blessed to get that photo.

The 5 reed buck are so well camouflaged in between the rocks that they are hard to see.  The 3 oribi below..

On Saturday had the bizarre experience of watching 5 blue crane landing at the dam. There were 4 adult ones and a youngster. I watched for 2 hrs until it got dark. The 4 large ones kept running up and down the edge of the dam and then would stop and look back at the youngster. There was a lot of “craaking”.

4 cranes running along dam

The youngster would slowly follow them and then stop. I thought they were trying to wean him/her and kept expecting them to fly away and leave him behind. Could not understand why there were 4 adults involved in this behaviour. At no time did the youngster run to meet up with them. They would always run back to him and have a “craaking” session. After the sun set and it was getting dark, the 2 adults moved slightly away and the other 2 went and had a “chat” with baby

chatting to the youngster

The next morning the 3 had flown off and only 2 remained. They have been walking around the dam for 4 days now. Not sure if its our original pair or not. Sometimes one of them sits down (photo) and sometimes walks around the island area where she laid last year and lost the egg she laid there, due to water flowing into the dam and washing it away. So I have another pair to watch. Very exciting.

The pair that were left next morning.  She kept sitting down

Neville van Lelyveld – Benn Meadhon

Oribi It is very pleasing to report that baby and mother where once again sighted this last weekend. Baby and mother both appear to be doing well. Baby has increased in size relevant to month’s gap since the last count was done.

Bush Buck One male and one female where observed by the bottom carrot field in the natural forest near the Dargle river. Both appeared to be in good health. It is very unusual to see a male and a female together as they are solitary animals and only meet up to mate and then go their separate ways once the act of mating has taken place. One sincerely hopes that this pair where in the process of mating, time will tell as we will continue to monitor these two bush buck in this area to see the outcome of this observation.

Reedbuck A total of 20 sighting where made with a similar result as last month. All the youngsters seemed to fine and health. It is pleasing that they don’ seem to mind us observing them from a fairly close range and in some cases only metres away. They are obviously feeling safe. Most of the females are accompanied by a youngster of various ages. Breed ing is therefore going well. It is interesting to note that the reedbuck are now coming out as early as 16h00 in the afternoon and the odd animal can be seen during the day. This is probably due to the colder weather currently been experienced as well as that they feel safe enough to come out during these times. What is really interesting that they are coming out very shortly after the farm activity ceases.

Grey duiker Once again several grey duikers were sighted during the weekend. One thing that was very different on this weekend was that a male together with a pregnant female was sighted just off the road behind the old quarry at about 08h00 on Sunday morning. Another doe was also sighted by your cross roads forest at about 09h00. This is the first time that we have observed duiker that time of the morning. Although duiker are usually diurnal animals the ones on the farm have resorted to been nocturnal. It is well documented that this happen when they feel threatened. I assume that the ones on the farm have resorted to nocturnal feeding due to the normal farm activities. However with the diurnal sighting made his last weekend it appears as though this is changing once again. The other possibility is that Sunday morning was abnormally cold and it might just be a case of the duiker were moving back to their sleeping areas a lot later as a result of the cold weather. Antelope have been known to do this. These various theories will have to be proven out over the next few visits.

Bush pigs No bush pigs were observed this weekend. This seemed unusual as all conditions seemed ideal for them, but from my experience with these creatures is that they appear to have a mind of their own and just once you think you understand them they do something strange like not coming out on a perfect night like on this occasion. Well that is bush pigs. I love them for their intellectual brain. Doing anything with them is always a battle of wills and a case of trying to out whit them. Truly an intelligent animal.

Porcupine No Porcupine were observed, however there is a lot of evidence in the forms of scat, tracks and quills to suggest that there is porcupine activity were seen. A fair amount of new porcupine diggings were also observed.

Jackals No jackals were sighted, however based on the sheer numbers of jackals calling on the farm on Saturday night at varying times all through the night. There appears to be an increase in jackal activity on the farm. This will make sense based on the increase of calving by the antelope happening at the moment. It could also be attributed to the burning that has taken place as they are now able to see their prey such as vlei rat’s a lot easier. There also appears to be lot of cattle calving at the moment on the farm, this too will increase the jackal activity on the farm.

Blue Crane Several blue cranes were observed by the by the bottom boundary near Handbury where we spent most of Saturday.

Spurwing Geese A flock of five Spurwing geese where sighted flying overhead towards Howard Long’s by the boundary near Handbury at around 09h00 on Saturday morning. These are the only ones sighted this visit as this where we concentrated our observations this month.

Egyptian Geese A flock of eight Egyptian geese were sighted flying over head towards Howard Long’s by the boundary near Hanbury on Saturday morning around 10h00.

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

Lots of interesting paw and claw prints in the mud on the edges of dam and pools. Definitely water mongoose and jackal, but some biggish “cat” ones too – about the size of the palm of my hand – Caracal I expect.

Sombre bulbul, brown headed kingfisher, Fish Eagle, weavers, collared sunbird, 50 Cape Parrots, double collared sunbird, amethyst sunbird, bulbuls, chorister robin, thrush, cape robin chat, stone chat, fiscal shrike, white eyes, mouse birds, bush black cap, crows, thick billed weavers, purple heron, yellow billed ducks, Jackal Buzzard, Egyptian geese, Cardinal woodpecker, southern boubou.

Duiker, reedbuck, bushbuck, heard bush pig, scrub hare, Samangos.

Halleria, Buddleja dysophylla, Buddleja salvifolia, Jamesbritennia kraussiana, Apodolirion buchananii (pic), Cyrtanthus breviflorus, Ursinia tenuiloba

Apodolirion.res

Cranes at Dargle School

As part of the Dargle Conservancy 10 Anniversary celebrations, we sponsored a lesson on Cranes – (our logo) at Corrie Lynn School. Only three of the learners had seen cranes in the wild. After learning about the three types of cranes found in South Africa: their habitats and eating habits, how they mate for life and love to dance, they made two crowned cranes puppets. Using recycled cardboard tubing, old posters, bags and local gathered dry grass, two beautiful cranes were created and everybody went outside to try and make their cranes dance with some grace.

Crane Puppet at Dargle School

Read about the fun Corrie Lynn School children had during the holidays photographing the uMngeni River (also a Dargle Conservancy sponsored activity): http://darglelocalliving.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/budding-dargle-photographers/

Howick Falls Gorge Walk

Thursday 28th June dawned a beautiful day, one that reminded me of spring. What a relief – I had been thinking it would be very cold down in the gorge below the Howick Falls for the regular walk on the last Thursday of every month.

A group of seven met at Bush Golf not far from the Howick Falls parking, and we proceeded to descend the winding path into the gorge. The voluminous quantities of balloon vine that smother the forest have been cleared along the path by Michael, son of Jenny who manages Bush Golf. What an impossible task he has, and it was with gratitude that we did not have to duck under all the growth – the clearing has created tunnels in places, but it makes it so much easier to walk.

On the look out for the resident dassies, I noted that their almost house sized boulders were in very heavy shade, with a lot of vegetation on the boulders, and wondered how these sun loving creatures cope down here in the winter with all the shade. The forest floor is a green carpet of wandering jew, dug out in many places the night before by bush pig. Their excavations where everywhere, nice to know they are still around, as are bushbuck whose fresh tracks we saw – and we heard the warning bark of a bushbuck later as we were climbing back up to the top.

The falls were looking beautiful, and so perfect – a beautiful rainbow in the spray was a wonderful gift from the River Goddess. Everyone voted to just sit and enjoy the surroundings for a while, and so we did – some chatting, some finding a sunny spot by the waters edge to absorb the peace and tranquility. As we were leaving, two women standing atop the falls waved gaily to us – gave me the shivers, they were standing so close to the edge! What a wonderful routine for me to be able to share this special place with people who otherwise would not get down there – and once a month to boot!

The next two walks on the 19 July & 23 August will be taken by Penelope (Penz) Malinga, one of the team members from the source to sea uMngeni River Walk. Penz is very familiar with the area. I (Penny Rees) will be away in the Northern  Province assisting with Brown Hyaena research. See you in September – and take care.

uMngeni River Walk blog: http://umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com/ or facebook : Mayday for Rivers