From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/southafrica)

We are here to find predators, as the title of this project may suggest – ‘Carnivores of the Cape Floral Kingdom’. Trying to track down leopards, caracals and even wild cats, would normally involve a combination of hard work, patience and luck.

So no easy task; and only the ‘lucky’ will encounter them face to face. However, we have technology on our side, in the form of camera traps. These clever boxes can be deployed to a range of locations and left to merrily take images of whatever happens to walk by them. That way, we can have ‘eyes’ in the field in multiple locations, over a huge area and every hour of the day or night.

One of the jobs of the team has been to deploy yet more camera traps to add to the existing network, collect in others, and begin to analyse several thousand photos already taken. This digital imagery is a gold mine of data.

Once species in images have been identified, and hopefully sexed and aged, we begin to open a new window on the fynbos world. We can begin to deduce what species occur where, their relative numbers and how this changes over time. A large catalogue of images can enable us to deduce patterns of activity over 24 hour periods, and distributions over wider spatial and temporal scales.

Our team have already analysed over 2500 images in the first few days. All providing vital data and insight into the ecology of this unique environment. Yes, the cameras have recorded many of our target species, including grysbok, rhebok and duiker, but they have also revealed lesser known species such as aardvark, honey badger and porcupine.

And one of the recently collected cameras has already documented one of our target predators – African wildcat, whilst we’ve been on expedition. Our knowledge will only advance as we capture and process more images between now and the end of the expedition.

Camera traps are a great tool for conservation, but there is still no escaping the need for fieldwork (fortunately), and the need for hard work, patience and luck.

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa.

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