De Hoop

 De Hoop Nature Reserve

De Hoop, or “The Hope”, is a small and remote nature reserve on the coast of Western Cape.  Aside from being stunningly beautiful, it is one of the last, and the largest, strongholds for the  Bontebok antelope.  With one thousand left and only in reserves and national parks it was a real privilege to see so many of them.   

In De Hoop we also have seen Cape Mountain Zebras, Eland, Bat Eared Foxes, Baboons, Yellow and Grey Mongooses, Cape Clawless Otter, Baboon Spiders, Double Collared Sunbirds, Cape Eagle Owls, Flamingos, and Cape Vultures among many others.

The vultures live in a colony in the reserve and are endangered.  Vulture numbers all over the Old World have plummeted in the last decade, due to a combination of poaching, being unable to digest diclofenac, a drug commonly found in cattle, and the construction of powerlines.  In Southern Africa vultures are poached for their feathers and eyes; the latter are consumed as part of shamanism as they are believed to bestow the power of foresight, on account of the vultures flying so high they can see into the future.  Southern Africa’s rapid economic development has brought many more people electricity.  However, in the areas where powerlines are being constructed, even if vulture populations increase at the maximum rate of 2% a year, current models show that they will become extinct within fifty years.  The vultures low rate of reproduction is down to how long they take to become sexually mature, and then laying a maximum of one egg per year.  We were treated to a classic ‘stack’ of at least five circling vultures.

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While at De Hoop we undertook mini projects, such as studying Bontebok vigilance, the distribution of plant adaptations against herbivores, the distribution of invertebrates under rocks, Grebe diving and resting patterns, and flightiness in birds.  The purpose of these projects is to give a sense of the complexity of field research, and to learn the various field-craft techniques to overcome this.  For example, when studying a group of bontebok, is it better to study a sample of individuals within the group (focal sampling) or the whole group (scan sampling)?  Observing the whole group may be easy if they are in open view but if they move into scrubland then any kind of count or timed measurement may lose a few individuals.   Looking at individuals within a group may be more straightforward, but individuals moving around inside a herd are hard to keep track of.  An effective way to deal with this problem is by combing focal and scan sampling.  For example, in a herd of fifteen bontebok choosing all the appropriate animals, observing them every thirty seconds in a ten minute window will give a better indication of what the animals average behaviours are.  Repeating this three times gives more accuracy.  In reality this means lying down on the baking ground staring through binoculars for thirty minutes.

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It wasn’t all hard work though.  We were treated with braiis (BBQs), potjies (log fire stews), and a wine and cheese tasting.  See our Facebook page for more photos soon:

https://www.facebook.com/SouthAfricaFieldCourse

rak208    January 23rd, 2017    South Africa

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