Field Reports

Professional Internship in Botswana – Species Conservation

Internship: Species Conservation Botswana

(04.01. – 28.02.2017)

The local team is active in species conservation since 2014. In north-eastern parts of Botswana, the three-headed organization is able to use a Concession for its research projects. The Khwai Concession has 180.000 ha of land and only the southern part is equipped with roads. During the internship monitoring data is collected in cooperation with “Wildtrax explorations” and the “University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute (ORI)”, which later will be provided for free usage to the ‘Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP)’. The foundation of the different monitoring methods is the “Standardized Wildlife Monitoring Protocol (SNRMP)”, which was introduced by the “Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP)” in Southern Africa. Seven hours per day and six days per week, data is collected with the SRNMP method.

 

Due to an assumed decline in numbers of herbivore populations in the Okavango delta the transects for herbivores gain in importance. Chosen transect routes are patrolled at least once during dry season, rain season and in between these periods. The routes are around 18 km long and if possible include all habitats. All sightings of herbivores within 50 m of the road will be noted including a description of the surrounding and the activity of the animal, next to gender and age. This method needs to be repeated over a time of 6 years to register changes in population or movement structure. Interesting to see is the result of comparing the collected data over the different seasons over the years.

 

The „spot-count method” is used to collect data about the bird population. Within a chosen transect of 2 km, a point counting is executed every 200 m. Every visible bird and sound of not visible birds is noted and the species is identified. One of the difficulties is not to count the same bird twice! This method is used separately for water birds and terrestrial birds; accordingly, the adequate habitat is chosen.

A different transect monitoring method is the tracking transect. This method is used to find tracks of e.g. predators along a defined distance of 18 km. There can be a lot of tracks, especially along the roads, as most animals like to use the roads to move around easily. The number of tracks during a transect drive highly depends upon the weather. To be able to identify a species, it should not rain heavily before a transect drive. Also, the identification of gender and age are depending on surrounding vegetation and soil structure. If the road surface is hard or covered with grass, the collecting of tracks is almost impossible. The greatest disturbance are fresh car tracks, which cover the tracks of animals. To be able to make an explicit statement about the species and size of the animal, a combination of different characteristics is important. The specific structure, the existence of claws and or thumbs, and as well the size of the foot print is studied. To analyze the activity of the animal, the distance between two following foot prints is measured. The wider the distance between the two foot prints the faster the animal was moving.

 

A growing importance comes to the monitoring method via camera traps. There are 25 camera traps within the by car accessible part of the Khwai Concession. The cameras are run by batteries and have a built-in movement sensor and flash light, which makes a continuous recording of day and night activities of various animals possible. The position of the animals is marked on a digital map, this enables an efficient planning of the drives and a precise navigation via GPS. The cameras are attached to trees at knee height, which is similar to eye height of most animals. Ideally the trees are situated along roads or close to a regular used animal path ways (game trail). To gain a representative survey of the fauna, the camera traps are spread equally over the different habitats. Every two weeks the battery and memory cards are replaced and the camera settings need to be controlled.

 

To avoid a hundred pictures of flying geese the vegetation around the camera must be trimmed on a regular basis to a certain level. The memory cards are connected to a computer for the following analyses. All photos are organized by their camera number. The second step is the analysis of every photo. A photo with a certain species which can be identified is sorted to the equivalent folder. Endangered herbivore species are handled with particular attention and are marked in an extra excel sheet. The carnivores are listed as well and the photos are used for the identification of individuals. Specific gender and age characteristics (adult, sub-adult and juvenile) help to distribute the individual to a certain group. To check if two photos of the same species show the same individual it is helpful to compare the fur patterns. When an individual can be clearly identified to a certain species it is marked with an identification number.


 

The method “focal animal sampling” is used to examine what an individual I doing in a certain period of time, like for example of 10 min. With the help of binoculars every change in behaviour of the animal is observed and noted. For every change in activity the specific time unit is stated in seconds. Next to the activities as eating, moving, etc. scratching or tail swinging are noted as punctual activities. The difficulty is to make a reasonable listing of the activities of the individual and to note these down in a specific way, so that it is clearly understandable for other people as well. While doing this it is important to avoid marking overlapping activates such as walking and chewing. This should be marked as “chewing while walking”, to be clearly separated from “walking without chewing”.

 

To answer the question how many animals are doing the same activity at the same time, the “Scan sampling method” is applied as a relative sampling method. For this method, the activity between the defined timing and the behaviour pattern of individuals are not noted, just the activities of one visible species. With the method “Spacing Behaviour “ the distance (in meters) to the next neighboring animal of the same species is estimated at a given time (e.g. every 3 min.) and noted accordingly. Like the “Scan sampeling” this is a relative observation of behavioural patterns.

 

These methods are constantly adjusted to simplify the collection of data and to maximize the information input. To be able to participate at the research it is necessary to have some background information of the biodiversity of the Okavango Delta. Especially knowledge about the outer appearance, characteristics of gender and age, sounds and calls of the different animal species are very useful and will be improved during the internship. Also details about the different types of habitats are learned. Very important are also the contacts to communities and other trackers within and outside of the concession, to exchange details and new knowledge about the research project.

Got questions? — We'll call you back