On the Expedition
Study the perceptions and reality of human vs. wildlife conflict in the mountains of South Africa while living side-by-side along leopards, monkeys, baboons and other mammals under growing threat. Volunteer to travel on this Earthwatch Expedition today.
You’ll help researchers assess the role of the Soutpansberg Mountains in biodiversity conservation. This area is believed to have one of the highest densities of leopards anywhere in the world. You’ll be assisting with camera-trapping, GPS data collection and scat analysis, and conducting observations of mammalian behavior. The data you help collect will provide detailed information on the potential for managing human-wildlife conflict in this important region, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. You'll help determine the actual extent of livestock depredation, a chief source of community concerns over animals like leopards, hyaenas, and other predators. You'll also help study the actual rate of crop destruction by primate species, another key source of human/wildlife tension in the region.
When working with the chacma baboon, vervet monkey, and samango monkey aspects of the project, you'll orient your activities around the timing of dusk and dawn at the time of year you're in the field, generally conducting full day "follows" of the animals by arriving at their sleeping-sites before they stir and monitoring them until they return in the evenings. (You'll have time to rest at camp after these full-day activities.)
Pre-dawn activities could include checking on leopard camera-traps that have been set the night before, and some evening activities could include visiting monkey sites to help remotely download data from tracking collars. Although many activities will be conducted with the aid of a vehicle that will be used to transport equipment and volunteers over longer distances, many activities will allow you to work on foot in this beautiful ecosystem. For example, you may walk 5-10km carrying a day pack, GPS, batteries and notebook computers to some camera trap sites. Day-follows of primates may require similar distances and packs, though at a slower pace, sometimes over rugged terrain and through some vegetation.
Your typical day when working with camera traps and scat analysis will start with breakfast at 7 a.m. followed by a briefing on the day's activities, and then deploying either on foot or by vehicle to visit a number of camera trap stations to check for images and scan roads and tracks for scat. Teams will either return for lunch or bring packed lunched into the field depending on the day's assignments. You'll spend your afternoons at the wilderness camp, either downloading and processing the information from the cameras or filtering and processing scat at the research center.
Meals and Accommodations
You'll be staying in the Wilderness Camp at the Lajuma Research Station, under a thatched living area with a series of camp units containing shared rooms and bathroom facilities. Sheets and blankets will be provided and mosquito nets are not required. The camp has electricity from a generator and gas refrigeration is used in the kitchen. (Single rooms and couples' rooms may be available, depending on team size and composition.) Hot water and showers are available in each accommodation block along with sinks and conventional flush toilets.
Your team will be provided with a resident cook who will take primary responsibility for overseeing the kitchen arrangements and most of the cooking, but who will require some assistance from you, especially on larger teams, in preparing the food and in clearing up after meals. Most foods familiar to volunteers from Europe and North America are available in South Africa; the Soutpansberg Mountains are in a sub-tropical area and meals will also include delicious in-season fruit. Vegetarian, vegan, and most other special diets can be accommodated with sufficient notice.
About the Research Area
The Lajuma Research Centre is in the northern part of South Africa, high in the Soutpansberg Mountain Range; the elevations you'll experience range from 1150m to 1748m at the peak of Mount Letjume, the highest point in the Soutpansberg. The climate is temperate, with cool dry winters (April - September) and warm-to -hot, humid summers (October - March). Lajuma sits within the Soutpansberg mist-belt zone where intense mists at certain times of year increase the rainfall.
The Research Centre area is famous for its breathtaking mountain vistas, pristine wilderness, and a remarkable diversity of plants and animals. Vegetation varies from grasslands, to woodlands, to thickets, to mist belt forests, resulting in tremendous plant diversity including a large number of endemic, and rare and endangered, species. All five South African non-human primate species (chacma baboons, vervet monkeys, samango monkeys, and two species of nocturnal bush babies) occur in abundance, along with a variety of antelope species, and the area supports a number of predators including mongoose, honey badger, caracal, brown hyaena and leopard, although the latter remain elusive despite their high abundance. Several breeding pairs of Crowned and Vereaux's eagles occur in the region, and the rare Bat Eagle, Nerina Trogon, Blue Spotted Wood Dove and Lanner Falcon may also be spotted. Lajuma also boasts a range of interesting archaeological sites, and is significant as one of only two locations in the Soutpansberg to contain rock art handprints left by the San people, who occupied this area for possibly 25, 000 years or longer.