The inside story: Land Rovers r Us?

Research team members at BPCT’s field research camp called “Dog Camp” come and go and they all have different experiences and stories to tell about their experiences in the field. There are tales of the challenges to keep up with wild dogs on the hunt, finding their dens in thick mopane forest kilometers from any road or from any body, sitting out for hours in the rain to make sure a collared animal recovers from darting, or heading out on long overnight trips in the bush in the far corners of our study area, the Moremi Game Reserve. But for me one feature of life in Dog Camp that might not receive due appreciation is something critical to life and work here and is more constant than the coming and going of the people involved: our fleet of old Land Rover Defenders.

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Cats vs Dogs

An age-old question. Who wins? Here in the wildlife areas of northern Botswana, the situation is quite different from in homes where it might sometimes be discussed. Here the cats are bigger. And the dogs live in packs. They all look after themselves. Most of the time predators here manage to coexist. Lions live among leopards, African wild dogs, spotted hyaenas, and cheetahs, and all are interested in the same resources; all aiming to survive. Occasionally, despite their efforts to avoid others, some of these top players meet, and that’s when the challenges of coexistence truly begin.

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The walk of life: African wild dog dispersal and what it means for management and conservation

The African wild dog, like few other territorial land species, is characterized by the need for vast semi-pristine and undisturbed areas. This peculiarity makes it particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, deterioration, and fragmentation. This highlights the importance of landscape connectivity between subpopulations in and around protected areas.

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Where the Wild Dogs Are

One of the challenges we have in monitoring a population of endangered African wild dogs is the huge home ranges they cover. An average pack ranges over more than 750km2 in our area, where roads are few and far between. This can result in our searching for a pack for weeks or even months before we might have a glimpse or encounter a set of fresh tracks.

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Life as a Research Assistant

Being a wildlife researcher in a camp in the middle of the bush takes lot of courage, passion and dedication to collect all the necessary data needed. As a research assistant the main job is to collect data in the field which means spending a couple of hours with the animal (mostly African wild dogs) in any given day in the middle of nowhere, taking photos and recording behavioural observations (collecting data).

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Changing of the Guard: Dispersal, Old, and New Wild Dog Packs

Old dogs die, sadly - and, with them, established packs extinguish. But in the intact African wild dog population that we monitor in Northern Botswana, young dogs take over with the passing of the old through the dynamic life history process of dispersal.

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Spoor tracking: Science meets local skills

Knowing predator population sizes is of utmost importance to a diverse array of stakeholders - government wildlife management agencies, concession area managers, local livestock farmers, and the tourism industry. Yet large carnivore populations all over the world are relatively small in number and extremely difficult to get good estimates on.

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Better together: partnering with Botswana’s safari industry to multiply research & conservation results

BPCT is well equipped with battle-hardened field vehicles that have been modified over the years to endure the constant beating of the African bush. In addition, team members learn quickly how to safely and effectively adapt to the off-road driving conditions that our fieldwork demands. But we have one particularly invaluable, and perhaps surprising, tool in our toolbox for studying elusive predators in this area: the safari tourism industry.

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A Needle in a Haystack

The valliant quest to recover a lost leopard collar

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Calls of the Wild

Counting large predators to estimate population numbers is not as easy as it might seem.

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Tracking down a wild dog den

The winter months of June, July, and August mark the coldest period of the year in Northern Botswana. It is this cool period of the year that African wild dogs choose for whelping, as pup rearing is energetically costly for a pack. Typically, the dominant female looks for a suitable den site, such as an abandoned aardvark hole, where she will give birth. As the mother is obliged to stay at the den to nurse and protect the pups, so the survival of both the mother and pups is fully dependent on the other pack members during this critical period. The rest of the pack all leaves the den site once or twice per day to go hunt, and upon returning, they regurgitate part of their freshly caught meal to feed both mother and pups.

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Ad Hoc and Opportunistic: Observations most extraordinary

Sightings and behavioural data collection of predators that can’t be found by the aid of a pinging collar are fairly opportunistic. An uncollared animal might be associated with a collared one, or you can follow tracks in the sand to a potential focal subject. But often you just need the luck of right-place-at-the-right-time. Some days you can drive down every track, bash through numerous tree lines, or drive across flood plains and not encounter a single predator. Some days you stumble into a lazy lion or pack of dogs resting in the road. And some days, just occasionally, they line up for you around every bend.

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A (Sad) Tale of Two Sisters

When you spend your time studying wild dogs, you cannot help but come to know them as individuals. The pack I spent most of my time with was the local Apoka Pack, - in the area since 2013. Darius, an immigrant male of unknown origins and Seronera, a disperser from the extinct Mathews pack were - and still are - the Apoka pack dominants. When I arrived at Dog Camp in mid-2015, they had only 3 surviving yearlings from the previous litter: sisters Trinity and Taryn, and a brother Titan.

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BOTSWANA PREDATOR CONSERVATION TRUST CAMERA TRAP CATCHES WORLD RECORD GROUP OF HONEY BADGERS

BPCT's camera traps recently captured a group of ten honey badgers, double the number ever seen together in southern Africa and the biggest honey badger group ever captured on film.

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ELEPHANTS SABOTAGE !

BPCT uses camera traps to record the behaviour of the elusive predators that our research aims to protect, but for some reason the elephants in northern Botswana cannot resist trashing our carefully set cameras.

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Record Rain

2016-2017 saw exceptionally heavy rainfall in northern Botswana. The rain started on the 14th November. It was the first rain since April and was a blessed relief. October had been brutally hot as usual and the bush was crying out for rain. With the vegetation all died back sight lines extended far further than usual over the dusty, barren land; every trough and hollow that in the rainy season is a trap in the long grass now lay exposed, the bones of the country poking up through the gaunt surface.

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Earthquake!

Earthquakes are rare in Botswana. At least it's rare to feel them. So when a big earthquake hit nobody was quite sure what was happening...

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Protecting Room to Roam

One of the greatest challenges faced by Africa’s impressive wildlife is habitat fragmentation. Not only is this a challenge for lions, cheetahs, and elephants, but it’s one of the most pressing threats to Earth’s biodiversity at large.

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Solving the puzzle

Using ‘olfactory eavesdropping’ as a lens to further understand how hyaenas coexist with their heterospecific competitors.

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Scary-ass cows!

Can painting intimidating eyes onto the hides of cows reduce predation and promote coexistence with lions and other large carnivores?

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A day in the life of a field research assistant

As a field research assistant, I am responsible for primary data collection and database maintenance.

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Creatures that Lurk in the Night

Northern Botswana has an abundance of wildlife and one of the most diverse carnivore guilds in Africa.

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Preying solitaire: Kubu’s story

“Kubu” is a lone African wild dog. On first thought, such a strange state of affairs clearly exonerates her - and any research data collected on her – from contributing usefully to our understanding of wild dog social behaviour.

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African Wild Dogs make their mark

An update on the BioBoundary Project

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A dozen dogs and a big cat; observations of hunting

Despite observing large carnivores on a daily basis, it’s still quite rare to see the entire process of a kill...

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Scouting for girls

One of the most interesting aspects of being a research assistant on the Bioboundary Project is the opportunity to spend nights out in my car to collect data on distant wild dog packs.

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Dog days

A white tail flashes out of the shade, momentarily painting an “S” shape on the dry grass canvas before falling abruptly back to earth. Back to the dust. Invisible again.

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Female lions gave birth to their cubs

Lion cubs are very vulnerable during this early stage of development and mothers hide their cubs to protect them from intruding male lions and other predators.

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