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Sunday
Oct122014

Day 1: We've caught a caracal! 

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to leave for the Karoo a little earlier. We’ve caught a caracal!”, Marine explained happily in her bubbly French accent. From that short call I immediately caught on to how wonderfully passionate she was about getting back into the field.

Early the next day, Marine and I left Cape Town’s drizzly gloom for the heat of the Karoo. We were packed and ready; however knowing that we had a predator with pointy ears spawned an excitement which I didn’t expect.

“Understanding predators ecology to mitigate conflict with farmers”. Quite the mouthful, but that explains exactly what Marine and I are here for. However, even with that slightly sterile description I was given I’m pretty sure it’s going to be anything but that.

After some time we turned off the smooth asphalt of the N1 and onto a dusty and dirty country track which took us deep into the dry velt of Pete and Marijka’s 5,000 hectare farm. Obviously, we drove inland for some time before we found their homestead. It was picture perfect. With its white corrugated iron roof, creamy walls, a paddock, two greeting hounds, a lone patch of lush grass, a heroic fountain and to top it all off, a brute of a windmill spinning at its gentle pace.

We had no time to rest. We quickly unpacked the cars grabbed a bite for the road and took off for a farm outside Beaufort West, almost 3 hours away.
Eventually, we arrived in the sleepy retirement town which is Beaufort West. It’s a place which is rarely visited on purpose, but we were there to meet and pick up Andre Lund. A man who proved to be far wiser than I would have expected. Mr Lund, now elderly, owned the farm which we’d be heading to, to find the caracal. Prior to 1994, when he passed the farm over to his son, he experimented in “Ultra High Density Grazing”. Yes, I’m going to be blabbering on about farming, but don’t worry I shall leave that for the next post. None-the-less, it has proved to have some impressive results. Even though Andre is no longer an active farmer, the passion he has for this “controversial” type of farming and his land is still immense.

Again we left the smooth N1 for another bumpy track into the middle of nowhere.

As soon as we arrived, the blankets and GPS tracking pieces were laid out. The cat was injected with serum to fall into a deep slumber and we got ready. Once the drugs had taken over, we carefully hauled the cat from the cage. I’d never been so close to a caracal. Its delicate physic, its surprisingly soft rich red fur, was all but dwarfed by its strikingly pointy ear and dramatic tear lines. As I scribbled down all the characteristics of the predator, Marine did what she does best. The collar was on and we were off to release it back into the wild.

Tuesday
Sep302014

Saving the Jackal...Well, we'll give it a go

It seems like I have a tenacious tendency not to  be grounded for too long. I arrived back from South America, a 6-month expedition that revamped my life in the most magnificent, yet tiring way. I had no intention to head off so quickly, however when I was asked to assist on a jackal tag-and-release conservation project in one of the most unspoilt and pristine places in South Africa, I could hardly resist. 

The Karoo, characterized by vast open spaces, few people, rough vegetation, crisp mornings and sweltering afternoons. It’s a trying place to live and those who do are pretty damn tough.

Nonetheless, no matter how desolate a place is, if there are people the environment is generally in a pickle. Currently, the headlines are preoccupied with the ever-growing concern that this beautiful land may become a dreary polluted dust cloud if the fracking industry bribes its way in.     

Yet, there is another controversial problem going down which needs a large amount of attention. For a while, now the jackal and farming community of the Karoo haven’t been getting along, to put it lightly. Farmers throughout the Karoo have been blindly massacring a terrifying amount of jackals, lynx, caracals, and baboons. The justification is the loss of sheep, however at this rate the consequences of their actions are not looking very good for this exceptional ecosystem.

There has been an outcry from a number of animal protection agencies wagging their fingers at the farmers, which has only made the farming community less inclined to change.

It’s quite simply, a very difficult subject.  

Our job is quite different. We’re not there to judge nor tell anyone off. We’re there to show, through the data collected, that the jackals are not the biggest problem and if this carries on, there’ll be a lot more problems in their future.

So, for the next 2 months I’ll be sharing our findings, meeting interesting individuals, capturing rocking photos, and hopefully contributing to more sustainable Africa.

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