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Identification of Predators Responsible for Kills

As a wildlife officer, one of the skills I have realised one has to have in his fingertips  is the identification of predators responsible for kills be it in the bush “my office” or while responding to Problematic Animal Control (PAC), these skills come in handy when identifying the predator responsible for the kill so as to come up with the ideal solution for the specific animal.

A basic autopsy of the animals killed i.e shoats or cattle can reveal so much; dies the animal have a bite mark on the neck, was it constricted, which parts have been bitten off and how many of them have been killed can be key to identifying the culprit (predator) of which the most common are; Spotted Hyena, Leopard, Lions and wild dogs among other small carnivores.

 

For understanding the impact of predators on prey species, it is obviously necessary to know about their feeding: what prey species are they killing?  What proportion of them do they take?  What age, sex, and condition are these prey?  And how do they compare in number and agesex distribution with the live prey population?

It must be remembered that most predators are extremely flexible in what they eat.   Their diet certainly varies from place to place, depending partly, of course, on what prey species are present in different areas.  For the samreason, the diet may vary with season as the prey species present change.   Even if the numbers of different prey species in an area do not alter, there may be differences·itheir catchability, due behaviour of the prey.

It is extremely difficult to sawhat proportion of prey animals are truly “available” to the predators.   And there are certainly differences between individual predators in the prey animals they take. 

Kills can be examined by waiting until the predator has finished feeding, or if this is impossible (e.g. because of lack of time, or because a small prey animal is likely to be totally consumed) by temporarily driving it from its kill. Predators can usually be made to withdraw by driving slowly towards them and separating them from their kill which can then be observed from close range.  Although most predators will flee from a human on foot, this method disturbs them considerably, and they may not then return to their kill.

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CANNIBAL LION

Cannibalism in Lions is often displayed when a male lion takes over dormancy and territory of a rival pride, often kills any existing cubs fathered by other males; which brings the lionesses into heat more quickly, enabling the invading to sire his own young.

But my encounter with Sior a lioness of the Schora pride at the Ol Pejeta conservancy feeding on the carcass of a freshly killed lioness by her pride at night made me draw a sharp breath of shock.

I have always known lions as scavengers which happily steal food from other animals, or eat leftovers after a kill, often seen them bullying other predators into giving up their meals. but as you can see in the clip above Sior nibbles away the remains menacingly.

According to Wikipedia Cannibalism involves consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. To consume the same species, or show cannibalistic behaviour, is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom, and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species so it shouldn’t be such a dillema, here’s the real catch I have witnessed lions killing hyenas but never have I seen the lion eating the hyena, wild me in lets keep the conversation flowing

In your opinion, Why do you think Sior fed on the dead lioness?

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Common Carnivore Tracks and Scat identification

Field identification of wildlife tracks and Scats is a rangers speciality, over time one gets acquainted and familiarized with the various animal tracks, this is one unique skill that is quite handy to every ranger because being aware of your surrounding is optimal for survival.

By interpreting tracks and signs in an area, you can piece together a record of recent visitors and events. For instance, if you come across a recent kill site there is so much information on the ground; approach tracks of a predator, jumping sprints, deep tracks left by the antelope in its bid to escape, blood spots on the sand, a drag mark leading to the bushes for concealment.

Fresh Lion tracks

It would be easy to walk straight past the scene, but a careful observer could easily piece together a vivid picture that is as fascinating as witnessing the kill itself, the stories read on the ground are sometimes amusing or dramatic and add greatly to your understanding of the animals’ behaviour of the particular area

I have taken visitors on bush walks in the various conservancies and parks that I have worked in and it’s quite fascinating how astonished they get on realizing how easily we read the footprints on the ground and tell which animals we are on their tracks, categorizing the various scats we come across, and how various animals differ in browse selection and preference of plant species. But that’s a story for another day.

I would like to walk you through how to identify common Carnivore Tracks and Scats, a breakdown that is simple to be comprehended by anyone from an ecologist, hiker, outdoors fan,wildlife/ natural resource student, conservationist, safari guide and if you live close to any conservation area then be very keen to understand how to tell which carnivore visits you farm at night to prey on your livestock in the event you need to fill up a compensation form.

One of the best pointers to tell apart a Lion and leopard track from a hyena and cheetah track other than size and location found is that Lions and leopards have retractile claws “the claws only come out when hunting” unlike for the hyenas and cheetas that are always out.

AFRICAN LION

Lion Spoor

  • The hind tracks are narrow than front tracks.
  • Each foot has a single large pad with two indentations on posterior edge.
  • No claw marks show in tracksFront paw: Total length 110-130mmTotal width 90-125mm-Hind paw: Total length 105-125mmTotal width 80-115mmLion Scat

The average diameter of the droppings is usually greater than 40 mm

-May resemble those of spotted hyena though scattered at random and with great variation

-Droppings comprising mainly digested blood and flesh retain their dark colour but those containing a lot of calcium will whiten as they dry.

Spotted Hyena

Hyena Spoor

-Claws are blunt and show on tracks

-The front feet are larger than hind feet

-Main pad is large and its posterior edge

angled.

Front paw: Total length 90-105mm

Total width 90-105mm

Hind paw: Total length 80-95mm

Total width 75-85mm

Hyena Scat

Dropping are greenish when fresh and turns whitish when they dry this is because of considerable quantities of bones fragments that they consume

Jackal

Black-backed Jackal Spoor

-The front foot has a large triangular main pad.

-The two middle toes extend well beyond the outer toes.

-In the hind foot, the main pad is smaller than that of the front foot but the two middle toes also extend forward.

Black-backed Jackal Scat

– Produce sausage shaped droppings
-Droppings are greenish but turns white after several days.

LEOPARD

Leopard Spoor

-The hind track is elongated than the front

-Each foot has a single large pad with two indentations on posterior edge.

– Front paw: Total length 70-90mm.

Total width 70-90mm.

-Hind paw: Total length 80-100mm

Total width 60-80mm

Leopard Scat

-The average diameter of the droppings ranges from 20 to 30 mm.

-They are usually large but never as large as the droppings produced by an adult lion.

-May contain large quantities of hair.

Cheetah

Cheetah Spoor

 

Show claw marks on track

-Single large pad with a double indentation in the posterior edge

-Tracks are more elongated than  those of lion

-Front paw: Total length 70-85mm

Total width 65-75mm

-Hind paw: Total length 75-90mm

Cheetah Scat

-Produce sausage shaped droppings.
-May deposit  loose accumulations at lying-up spots near large kills.

AFRICAN WILD DOG

Wild dog Spoor

-Claws are blunt & thick & show on tracks

-Main pad is roughly triangular and

-posterior edge is straight

-Each foot leaves fours toe imprints.

-Front paw: Total length 76-80mm

Total width 56-65mm

-Hind paw  Total length 68-82mm

Total width 48-55mm

African Wild dog Scat     

-Generally, scatter their droppings throughout their home ranges.

-Droppings can accumulate at dens sites with pups.

BAT-EARED FOX

-The tracks of the fox are much smaller than those of jackal

-The claws may extend up to 18 mm beyond the toe pads and hind track is narrower than front track.

-The claws of the middle two-toes of the front foot are close together in the tracks

-The average diameter of the droppings is 18 mm.

-Droppings consist of chiefly of insects fragment but may contain large quantities of seeds and fruit skins.

 

To learn more about tracking you can write to us for any specific animal that you would like to learn about info.iamjusticeforwildlife.org or alternatively you can purchase a field guide book by Chris & Mathilde Stuart which is quite handy in learning basic tracking skills.

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Carcass identification and ageing skills

Rangers come across carcasses in the wild on almost a daily basis. Be it a predator kill, natural death, poaching among many other causes during their daily patrols. But not just rangers, ecologists, researchers and my targeted persons Tour Guides do as well, it is of critical importance to report any mortality sighting to the authority of the conservation area, be it a Park, Reserve or private conservation area. You might help detect a disease outbreak, typically if its a predator kill there will be clues if not the predator then scavengers: hyenas, jackals or vultures circulating the site from above or already on the ground.

Back to my guides who provide vital opportunistic sightings of mortalities its always of much help if you can roughly estimate the period that the animal is presumed to have been dead for, now this is why I have decided to take time and come up with a few leads that can help give a rough estimate of the carcass decomposition stages, from a fresh carcass to a very old one.

If you’re in the field of mammalian research be it carnivores or the herbivores you will definitely find this article quite handy.

1 Day old Elephant Carcass

Determining sex of dead elephant

Patrol teams can determine the sex of a dead elephant by examining the animal’s body, tusks, and/ or skull as follows

Fresh body.

– If you have a complete fresh body, you may be able to determine sex from body shape.

Male; shoulder height above rump and this sloped shape becomes more prominent with age.

Female; Shoulder and rump remains same height but back elongates and shows saddle back, becomes more prominent.

 

Fresh Elephant carcass description (0-3 weeks)

-Complete carcass present.

-Evidence of scavenger activity (droppings of scavengers, e.g. Vultures, hyenas, etc.)

-Round swollen body with decomposition fluids flowing from the carcass.

-The possible presence of maggots.

-Wet intestines within the body or around it.

-Wet skin and visible rot patches.

-A strong smell from the decomposing carcass.

-If tusks are present, they will be firmly secured in the skull, if removed the hack marks are fresh.

Fresh Carcass

 

Carcass Description

-Pool of blood in the carcass.

-Meat still intact in the bones.

-Presence of a predator preying on the carcass.

12 Hour Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Pool of blood around the carcass.

-Flesh beneath skin giving rounded appearance.

– Some internal organs remaining, very minimal damage to bones

1-week Old Carcass

Carcass Description

–  This is a recent kill, with blood still present in the bone.

– Less meat and skin on bones.

-No blood or fluid seen.

– Rot patch dry around carcass.

4 – Month Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Flesh has been totally cleaned and it is turning greyish.

-Less meat on the bones.

-Bare ground around carcass

– Body not rounded or swollen, shrunken.

– No strong smell from the carcass.

– Some bones may still be attached to the skin but easily detachable.

6- Month Old Carcass

– Change of color i.e. whitish-greyish

– Less meat and skin on bones.

– No blood or fluid seen.

– Some bones may be joined to tissues.

– Absence of vegetation within the death spot.

– Death spot dry, absence of body fluids and stomach contents present.

-No fresh or recent signs of scavengers.

-Dry, desiccated skin.

1 Year Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Bones are ‘White and growing’ in sunlight

-Vegetation has regrown around the carcass.

-No signs of body tissues.

– Bones may be scattered away from original death spot.

– Very little tissue noticeable attached to the bones.

– There may be little movement of bones from the original death spot due to scavengers.

Description of very old Carcass (More than 1 year)

– Bones are becoming increasingly grey in colour.

– Bones are cracking and crumbling.

– Bones usually scattered further away from the original point of death.

– Grey and cracked bones

Difficulties in Assigning Carcass Age stages

Old vs. Very Old

– The onset of colouration is dependent on environmental and climatic factors.

– May be difficult to distinguish white from grey bones in certain habitats.

Recent vs. Old

– Rot patch development depending on the size of the animal, the physical conditions of the death spot (rocky conditions, river bed, swamp etc) human and other wildlife interference.

– The lack of any tissue on the bones should indicate’old’ where there are problems in determining the status of a rot patch.

– Using external characteristics such as external genitalia. Soft external genitalia are, however, the first body part consumed by mammalian scavengers thus these may disappear or be modified very quickly after death.

 

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WILDERNESS HARDCORE SURVIVAL SKILLS

When it comes to selecting a camping site, ensure its a safe location: no dead logs hanging above, it’s not on a valley, and not too close to a river

Bushcraft is the name we give a collection of skills that all involve thriving in the wilderness. These set of skills are essential and I strongly believe we ought to all have them at our fingertips, I was recently watching the movie series ” I shouldn’t be alive” which reminded me of the numerous life-threatening incidences I went through and persevered at KWS Law enforcement Academy a while back at the Tsavo wilderness, the training by Asher and Munai at KWSTI was quite handy, the two day solo nights spending 48 hours all alone among buffaloes and Hyena at Hells gate survival with my comrades at UOE seemed like it was torture but I really got to learn a lot. imagine this you’re lost in the wilderness, definitely, no network coverage so don’t even think of calling anyone, you’re in the middle of a vast area with minimal supplies.
I always feel privileged whenever asked to pass this skills to the young generation. There’s no better place to learn about survival skills than out in the wild

This is where your natural instincts come handy, but if you’re not aware of your environment it’s of no help to you, a group of 60 university students went for a hike at the Aberdare forest back in October 2016 where three of the students and a guide got lost in the dense forest, lets put ourselves in their shoes and see how long we can survive before the search and rescue team finds us.
First things first what’s this SURVIVAL all about let’s start by understanding the basics

S -Size Up the Situation
Remember, security takes priority. Use your senses of hearing, smell, and sight to get a feel for the situation at hand.
Size Up Your Surroundings
Every environment, whether forest, jungle, or desert, has a rhythm or pattern. This rhythm or pattern includes animal and bird noises and movements and insect sounds.
Size Up Your Physical Condition
Check your wounds and give yourself first aid. Take care to prevent further bodily harm. For instance, in any climate, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. If you are in a cold or wet climate, put on additional clothing to prevent hypothermia.
Size Up Your Equipment
Perhaps in the heat of a long trek, you lost or damaged some of your equipment. Check to see what equipment you have and what condition it is in.
Now that you have sized up your situation, surroundings, physical condition, and equipment, you are ready to make your survival plan. In doing so, keep in mind your basic physical needs:
1. Water.
2. Food.
3. Shelter.

U -Use All Your Senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste
You may make a wrong move when you react quickly without thinking or planning. That move may result in your death. Use all your senses to evaluate the situation. Note sounds and smells. Be sensitive to temperature changes. Be observant.
R -Remember Where You Are
Spot your location on your map and relate it to the surrounding terrain. If there are other persons with you, make sure they also know their location. Always know who in your group. If something happens to them, you will have to get the map and compass from him/her. Pay close attention to where you are and to where you are going. Do not rely on others in the group to keep track of the route. Constantly orient yourself. Always try to determine, as a minimum, how your location relates to
The location of local water sources (especially important in the dry area’s desert).
Areas that will provide good cover and concealment.
This information will allow you to make intelligent decisions when you are in a survival and evasion situation.

You cannot afford to panic while lost in the wild

V -Vanquish Fear and Panic (keep calm)
The greatest enemies in a survival and evasion situation are fear and panic. If uncontrolled, they can destroy your ability to make an intelligent decision. They may cause you to react to your feelings and imagination rather than to your situation self-confidence will enable you to vanquish fear and panic.
I -Improvise
We have items available for all our needs. Many of these items are cheap to replace when damaged. Our easy come, easy go, easy-to-replace culture makes it unnecessary for us to improvise. This inexperience in improvisation can be an enemy in a survival situation. Learn to improvise. Take a tool designed for a specific purpose and see how many other uses you can make of it.
Learn to use natural objects around you for different needs. An example is using a rock for a hammer. No matter how complete a survival kit you have with you, it will run out or wear out after a while. Your imagination must take over when your kit wears out.
V -Value Living
All of us were born kicking and fighting to live, but we have become used to the soft life:
1. We have become creatures of comfort. We dislike inconveniences and discomforts.
2. What happens when we are faced with a survival situation with its stresses, inconveniences, and discomforts?
3. This is when the will to live- placing a high value on living-is vital.
4. The experience and knowledge you have gained through life and your training will have a bearing on your will to live.
5. Stubbornness, a refusal to give in to problems and obstacles that face you, will give you the mental and physical strength to endure.
A -Act Like the Natives
The natives and animals of a region have adapted to their environment: we are in the wild so get acclimatized don’t, for crying out loud we are believed to have evolved from primates switch to that mode.

Animal life in the area can also give you clues on how to survive. Animals also require food, water, and shelter. By watching them, you can find sources of water and food.

Animal life in the area can also give you clues on how to survive. Animals also require food, water, and shelter. By watching them, you can find sources of water and food.

WARNING

Animals cannot serve as an absolute guide to what you can eat and drink. Many animals eat plants that are toxic to humans.

L -Live by Your Wits, But for Now, Learn Basic Skills

Without training in basic skills for surviving, your chances of living through a survival and evasion situation are slight. 

The Psychology of survival in the Wilderness

It takes much more than the knowledge and skills to build shelters, get food, make fires, and travel without the aid of standard navigational devices to live successfully through a survival situation.

A key ingredient in any survival situation is the:

1-  The mental attitude of the individual(s) involved.

2-  Having survival skills is important.

3- Having the will to survive is essential.

4-Without a desk to survive, acquired skills serve little purpose and invaluable knowledge goes to waste.

Take action, be quick to assist a casualty

  •    There is a psychology to survival. A person in a survival environment faces many stresses that ultimately impact on his mind.
  • These stresses can produce thoughts and emotions that, if poorly understood, can transform a confident, well-trained person into an indecisive, ineffective individual with questionable ability to survive.
  • Thus, every person must be aware of and be able to recognize those stresses commonly associated with survival.
  •    The psychology of survival will identify and explains the nature of stress, the stresses of survival, and those internal reactions survivor will naturally experience when faced with the stresses of a real-world survival situation. 

Animal psychology 

How do animals behave and how we can relate to them so that we least bother them is important. Some ground rules include:

1) This is the natural home of animals. There interests and safety comes first.

2) Animals do not have the natural ability to think beyond their immediate environment, so do not expect them to make any rational decisions.

3) You are not the first choice of animal food(keep this in mind at all times), to a large extent they will keep away from you.

4) However when an animal feels cornered even if it’s a rat the animal can be very dangerous.

5) Mothers have a natural instinct to protect their offspring’s. Be extra wary with any lactating animal.

6) The onus is on you to avoid conflict with the wild animals. Making sure you pass unnoticed, or you alert the animals before you get to them can do this.

7) Take a non-aggressive pause and most animals will leave you alone.

8) The lone buffalo is still considered the most dangerous animal in the bush.

9) Do not get between a hippo and water, you will not believe what damage it can do.

Positive Aspects of Animal Behaviour

Some positive aspects of animals that we can all benefit from include:

1) Animals such as the baboon alerts one about prowlers in the night. 

      This makes them a safe group of animals to stay near especially in the night if caught up alone. Baboons also are extra cautious about the presence of crocodile and will alert you about this danger.

2) Some animals and birds operate near water ie. the African fish eagle, Egyptian goose, their sight indicates the presence of water.

3) Presences of some animals ie jackals and vultures circulating the skies can indicate the presence of carnivores or a kill hence need to be cautious.

4) The croaking of frogs suggests the presence of water. But its also an indicator that snakes are not very common.

5) An abundance of rats or mice is also an indicator that snakes may not be around.

A large group of herbivores scattering could mean that they are being hunted down or have been spooked.

Diarrhoea (a very common setback)

This is a common debilitating ailment that may be caused by such things as a change of water and food. Drinking contaminated water, eating spoiled food, becoming fatigued and using dirty dishes. You can avoid most of these causes by practising preventive medicine. If you get diarrhoea, however, and do no have anti-diarrhoea medicine with you. You may find one of the following treatments effective:

  •  Limit your intake to fluid for 24 hours.
  •  Drink 1 cup of strong tea every 2 hours until diarrhoea stops. The tannic acid in the tea helps to control diarrhoea. (This can be helpful at home, don’t get too used to meds)
  •    Tannic acid is also found in the bark of hardwood trees. Can be extricated from these trees by boiling bark for two hours and drinking the solution cold. 
  •   Make s solution of one handful of charcoal and treated water. Take 2 tablespoons of the solution every two hours until diarrhoea stops. 

Intestinal Parasites 

  • You can always avoid worm infestations and other intestinal parasites if you take preventive measures. For example, never go barefoot.
  • The most effective way to prevent intestinal parasites is to avoid uncooked meat and raw vegetables contaminated by raw sewage or human waste used as a fertilizer. • The following are home remedies you could use:
  • Saltwater. Dissolve 4 tablespoons of salt in 1 liter of water and drink. Do not repeat this treatment. • Tobacco. Eat 1 to 1.5 cigarettes. The nicotine in the cigarette will kill or stun the worms long enough for your system to pass them. If the infestation is severe, repeat the treatment in 24 to 48 hours, but no sooner.
  • Kerosene. Drink 2 tablespoons of kerosene but no more. If necessary, you can repeat this treatment in 24 to 48 hours. Be careful not to inhale the fumes. They may cause lung irritation.
  • Hotpeppers. Peppers are effective only if they are a steady part of your diet. You can eat them raw or put them in soups or rice and meat dishes. They create an environment that is prohibitive to parasitic attachment.

Bees and wasps.

  • If you get bitten or stung, do not scratch the bite as it may become infected.
  • If you are stung by a bee or wasp. Immediately remove the stinger and venom sac if attached by scraping with fingernails or a knife blade.
  • Wash the sting site thoroughly and apply an ice-park. If you find ticks attached to your body, cover them with a substance such as Vaseline. This will cause the tick to release its hold and you can remove it. Wash your hands after touching the tick since infective fluids from it can cause disease.
  • Other pests whose bites or stings can be dangerous are spiders, centipedes, scorpions, and ants. A few spiders have venomous bites that may be as painful as a wasp’s sting. A centipede’s sting is like a wasp. A scorpion’s sting can make you sick or kill you, depending on the species. Biting ants can cause a lot of discomforts and serious allergic reactions in some people. To treat a spiders or scorpions bite, clean the wounds extremely well and try to remove the toxin by suction or by squeezing the bite site.  Treat the bite as you would an open wound.

Snakebite.

A bite wound, regardless of the type of animals that inflict it, can become infected with the bacteria in the animal’s mouth. With non-venomous as well as venomous snakebites, this local infection is responsible for a large part of the residual damage that results. Excited, hysterical, and panicky reactions can speed up the circulatory system, causing the body to absorb the toxin quickly.  Before being treated for snakebite, you should determine if the bite was made by a venomous or non-venomous snake, you should be able to clearly describe the snake from its size, scale patterns, and head shape ( just so you know, all snakes bite) whether venomous or not it’s their defence strategy so before you start panicking thinking you’re about to die in the next 5 minutes remember you’re not in its food chain.

  • Fang punctures at the site generally indicate a venomous snake, especially if one or more of the following accompanies this:  Pain at the site of the bite, Swelling at the site of the bite within a few minutes to hours. Paralysis, weakness. Twitching and numbness. 

 If you suspect you have been bitten by a snake do the following;

  1.  Lie down with head slightly higher than the rest of the body. Make an incision no deeper than the two layers of the skin.
  2.  Remove toxin as soon as possible by using a mechanical suction device or squeezing.
  3.  Clean the bite site and hands extremely well.
  4.  Drink small amounts of fluids preferably water.
  5.  Don’t move around because activity makes the blood circulate faster thereby speeding up the spread of the venom.
  6.  Do not use your mouth to suck out the venom

Get medical attention as soon as possible

Improvise be creative to help save a life

All that said let’s resume back to surviving in the wilderness, how about we come up with an inventory of our to-do list.

  1. The sun will always rise and set from the East to the West (whether you’re lost or not)
  2. Use your shadow to tell where you are going to and heading from.
  3. Always keep warm, your feet should be dry at all times.
  4. Have a fire on at night.
  5. The location and size of your shadow will help you tell the time.
  6. Stop from time to time to look for landmarks so that you don’t end up walking in circles.
  7. If you’re in a group you need to delegate duties among yourselves: food, water, firewood etc
  8. Be alert at all times.
  9. Walk in a single file if you’re in a group, especially in a forest.
  10. Come up with signs and signals
  11. Personal hygiene should never be compromised.
  12. In the event you have a casualty, don’t leave anyone behind.
  13. Be your brother’s keeper

Feel free to chip in, let’s make the list as long as we can, please post  your experiences and how you survived