|My first attempt to get a shot of the night sky |
spinning above us
Saturday, 31 March 2012
Thursday, 29 March 2012
As the others blogged previously, Cleo gave birth at the Sour Grass burrow and for one reason or another the pups died and the Gosa Meerkat gang hasn't returned to that burrow since. Obviously it was a sad few days for us as we were really looking forward to seeing the gang expand, and showing you the pups when they first emerged from the burrow. But life is full of perils for such small creatures and danger is lurking everywhere, for us as well.
Part of what we hope to achieve while we are here is to use the LIVE webcast as a way to describe the daily lives and struggles of our little group of meerkats, as we film them as we make a TV series in 3D. I am starting to get the impression that we will see the many happy and playful moments of life the meerkats have, balanced by the hard truth that life is tough here and everyday could be your last.
Our main 3D camera underwent some adjustments this week as the final preparations for broadcasting live, so this gave us a chance to try and collect footage of the other animals and creatures the meerkats share their territory with. first on the list were reptiles that prey on meerkats (rock monitors & snakes).
|Rock monitor in our back garden|
Having never seen a snake in the wild before coming here, and what I reason as a healthy fear of death, just the word gives me a cold feeling up my spine, and in that I am sure I am not alone. They are of course misunderstood and feared and hated in general mostly out of ignorance (10 times more people die from being struck by lightening than snake bites in SA), but it doesn't change the fact the danger is real.
The most common deadly venomous snakes here in this part of the Kalahari are the Cape Cobra and Puff Adder. Puff Adders account for most of the fatal snake bites in South Africa because they lay on tracks and paths waiting to ambush their prey and they bite in defence if people stand on them. Cape Cobra's are described as nervously aggressive snakes and will raise up and open their hood and hiss at a territory invader to warn them off. A warning well heeded as their venom is super potent delivering 100-200mgs per bite 10-15mg is fatal in humans.
From what I have read and seen meerkats will often "mob" a snake that they come across to try and scare it away. The group will surround a snake but leave an open space for it to leave by, the meerkats make aggressive spitting barks while they bob their heads to confuse and scare the snake. We hope to see and film such an event during the course of filming but initially the plan was to film a snake in the open. We hadn't seen a snake while on foot in the last 2 weeks so the chances were slim - which I admit I was very happy about, and then this week happened..
First it started with Rob sighting 2 different cape cobras attacking birds nests, from what I have been told, as winter draws in cape cobras will change in colour from pure yellow to a spotted black on yellow colour, and will start to hunt birds nest more actively before the last chicks leave the nest. Sociable weaver birds are amazing builders constructing huge communal nests in large trees, but this makes them a very attractive target for a snake.
|Snake in the box|
|The cape cobra envenomating a sociable weaver chick|
Saturday, 24 March 2012
Friday, 23 March 2012
Some time in August 2011 Cleo gave birth to four pups, but during their first move, in early September 2011, two of the four pups got lost and were never seen again.
In November 2011 the group became unsettled with the numbers fluctuating from 22 to 18 then back to 20, down to 18 and back to 22. Nick thinks that this could have been due to the fact that some of the males were out 'visiting' other groups, but during this time there was definitely some instability. Also during November Cleo fell pregnant, but so did one of the other females. A subordinate female.
Then in early january 2012 Cleo gave birth in the Northern burrow, and Nick knows this because she suddenly went from very pregnant to very thin and also because her fur was very red as a result of the Kalahari red sand sticking to the fluids on her fur from the birth.
The rest of the gang moved to the Camel Thorn Burrow almost immediately and soon Cleo joined them with no pups!! Its believed that the other pregnant female killed Cleo's pups, although we will never know for sure.
What we do know is that those pups were never seen again and the group split at this time. The 10 meerkats that remain behind led by Cleo are the Gosa gang and the other 12, along with the other pregnant female, have disappeared. They may have joined with two groups to the south (the Rockstars and the Wombles), but we don't know.
Friday, 16 March 2012
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
While others are working hard in the Kalahari heat to get the meerkat broadcast up and running, I will be leaving (on a jet plane) to a much cooler US of A this weekend. Why, you ask?
Well, there's another project WE've been working on for quite some time now... LIVE broadcasts from inside wolf dens! And the USA, in this case the state of New York, is where those wolves are!
We will be working together with the Wolf Conservation Center, located a couple of hours drive north of the Big Apple, to install cameras in no less than 4 wolf dens. And, while nothing in nature is ever guaranteed, we hope and expect that at least one of these (hopefully more than one) will allow you and others around the globe to first follow the build-up to and then to witness the birth of a litter of wolf pups. And of course to keep following their progress. To make this possible we'll also be installing cameras outside the dens that can be remotely controlled to follow them around as they bravely venture out to explore their surroundings. (And yes, we will be looking for zoomies for this! More on that in a future blog.)
The people at the WCC are already working on the preparations so that next week we can complete and test the full installation. If all goes as planned we should be ready to go LIVE towards the end of next week. With pups expected to be born sometime in May this should give us all enough time follow the pregnancies and become arm-chair wolf experts well before the pups are born.
I'm very excited about seeing wolves and eager to learn more about these iconic animals. Wolves, probably more than any other species, have long been an important part of (Native) American history and culture (from well before the day Leif Erikson and his band of Norsemen landed on what is now Newfoundland) but have in the last couple of centuries unfortunately been hunted (some would say persecuted) to the point of extinction.
The Wolf Conservation Center breeds red wolves as well as Mexican gray wolves, both of which were declared extinct in the wild in the 1980s. It is only through the careful breeding and re-introduction from small captive populations at centers like the WCC that wolf numbers are slowly growing again, and that current and future generations have regained the chance of seeing these wonderful creatures in the wild.
WE hope that by working with the WCC, through these LIVE broadcasts, we can do our bit towards creating more awareness about wolves and their plight. And that, by countering the many misconceptions that still exist, we can help make people see and appreciate the wolves' true nature.
More information will follow over the next days and we'll keep everyone updated on how things go once I'm out there. Until then please like the Wolf Conservation Center's Facebook page and check out their website which has tons of information on wolves and the Center's activities.
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Monday, 12 March 2012
Sunday, 11 March 2012
Friday, 9 March 2012
I grew up on a coastal farm in Central Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, so a love of the outdoors was in my blood from birth. I have joined the WE team coming from a media and television post production background recently working in London.
Arriving into the Tswalu game reserve on the first day was worth the trip from Europe alone. Flying from Johannesburg to the Kalahari the land looked to be mostly flat farmland, but suddenly as we neared Tswalu the beautiful ranges came into view, and I was surprised to see so much green. There had been recent heavy rains which is a blessing for the animals and will be a bit of a curse for us trying to find 12 inch Meerkats amongst the long grass.
|Me watching the lovely and very round Cleo|
|A king cricket in our room|
Working at ground level with the Meerkats is giving me an appreciation for life in the shadow of giants, and in a place like Africa it is very easy to feel pretty small. Each day in the bush there always seems to be a new surprise or memorable experience if you keep your eyes out for the little things - from adorable bat eared foxes at night time, to a desert tortoise making its way from shade to shade, even the insects are full of colour and character.
Having come from living in the Spanish island of Fuerteventura for a year, I am very familiar with a siesta way of life, and the Meerkats here are no different. Regular breaks are taken during the heat of the day, and when they head for their burrows we head for the nearest shade. If you can stay awake despite the heat, it is a great way to have unique close encounters where both man and beast share a few moments each with a surprised stare. Luckily for us Tswalu has 2 separate areas of the reserve and we are not in the lion section - as I hope to avoid close encounters with large fangs of any kind :)
|Some of the Gosa Meerkat gang sunning themselves|
I will try and blog again soon, - Paul
|Young Wildebeest at play|
|Not too long ago I had thick long hair! Taken in Namaqualand|
Wednesday, 7 March 2012