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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.

“MY PART IN HEALING THIS FRAGILE PLANET” JAGI GAKUNJU

What force drives a man to be successful in business, an intrepid adventurer and a renowned conservationist?

Sit back relaxed, into your comfort zone because am about to narrate a  remarkable story about  Jagi Gakunju, but before we get to that lemme break the ice by a brief introduction.

Jagi Gakunju was born into a pioneering Christian family, his father having been ordained a pastor in 1935. His first memories are of the concentration camp where his family members and other Nyeri residents were interned during the Emergency. After independence, he graduated from the University of Nairobi and joined ALICO, an insurance company. A couple of months later, he unearthed a sophisticated fraud. After training overseas, he had mastered the new computer technology and was sent to train ALICO employees in the Caribbean. Developed to West Africa as the Regional Claims Manager, he was in charge of five countries. Back in Kenya, he left ALICO and joined Africa Air Rescue where his innovative sales strategy saw the company’s turnover grow by leaps and bounds. In 2003, he became the CEO of AAR.

Success in business is only half the story. Jagi has always loved nature. He has climbed Mt. Kenya 14 times and was the founding president of the Uvumbuzi club, an organization devoted to discovering the wild places of Africa. The club’s most famous achievement was in 1989 when Jagi lead members overland to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. A keen ornithologist, Jagi turned the piece of land he inherited from his parents into a nature reserve known as the Wajee Nature Park. About 120 species of birds have been recorded there and the Park has been registered as one of the official Important Bird Areas  (IBA) of the world.

Now retired, Jagi is “busier than ever” devoting his time to the Wjee Park and to many other conservation organizations of which he is a member: Friends of Karura forest, Soysambu Conservancy, Friends of Conservation, Friends of Nairobi National Park, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, African Fund For Endangered Wildlife, Uvumbuzi, Friends of City Park, Cycling out of Poverty- Coop Kenya, African Network for Animal Welfare, Riverline Nature Reserve Trust, and Wajee Mara Camp.

He begins with the story of his father, a World War II veteran who survived being murdered because of witchcraft. Born in Nyeri in 1948, Gakunju is a child of traditional and modern crossroads during the Mau Mau era, then walks us through his school life in a new environment far from home, the numerous by road on foot adventures to various destinations in Africa which will give you chills and keep you at the edge of your seat.

Living on the Edge brings new personal experiences such as Gakunju’s life in the concentration villages during the State of Emergency. This book is a “Must read” Living on the edge is available at various bookshops including; Textbook centre-Sarit, Hub, Galleria, Yaya, Prestige, Nature Kenya Bookshop and Museums of Kenya.

What really strikes me in this book is his sheer daring attitude for adventure and exploration, His reflections and perceptions are well portrayed in his book I quote ” As regards to my main passion, the environment, the most positive development I have noticed recently is the creation of community conservancies. Unlike in the past when the government looked after wildlife for the benefit of outside tourists, today communities are starting to feel that they “own” the natural resources. In a similar connection. I am happy that many Kenyans are becoming increasingly health-conscious, and that traditional African foods are making a comeback.

Then, of course, there are things which are getting worse. Corruption has become like cancer in our society. In my opinion, those who steal drugs from the poor should be charged with murder. The gap between the rich and the poor also appears to be widening whereas, after independence, we thought that it would diminish.

The number of unemployed youth is truly worrying. Our education system should be training for self-employment but currently, it is geared more towards the regurgitation of information, much of which is in fact quite useless in later life.

Despite the increasing number of Kenyans intermarrying, our leaders carry on propagating negative ethnicity. Instead of creating a nation, we have consolidated tribal empires. During elections, citizens vote for their tribal kings while issues are largely ignored. Due to their lack of vision, our leaders make poor use of the many resources we have. We ought to follow the example of a tiny Singapore, at one time a very poor country, but which has used its only resource, its port, to become many times richer than Kenya.

I believe that each of us should do the little we can to protect the environment. When I inherited Wajee Nature Park from my parents and opted to leave it for the trees and the birds, many of my neighbours thought I was crazy. According to them, I should have used it to grow crops and make money. For me, I felt that creating the Park was the only small contribution that I as an individual could make to safeguard mother earth.

While individuals can play an important part, I also hope that Kenya will in future come up with an overall integrated land policy, something that is missing at present. I feel it is not too late to achieve this.

Getting numerous degrees is all the rage these days but no matter how many you are awarded, one will be missing. That is called travel: travelling with an open mind and interacting with the local people. If you fail to travel, your thinking will be confined to what you have seen in your home area. When you travel, you will see how little you know and how much you have to learn. I had an ambition to go to all the continents and interact with the locals and can now say that I have visited all of them, including Australia. The exception was Antarctica. This travel was one of my best life investments.

When I am at times requested to give motivational talks to the youth, I stress some of the points outlined above. I advise them to invest in hard work, integrity and honesty rather than taking short cuts. I tell them that education is only which is relevant today can be obsolete in five years. They are fortunate that a massive amount of information is available today so there is no excuse for them not to carry on learning. They should invest in several skills since most jobs today require people to multitask. It may not be easy for them to be employed, but the opportunities for self-employment have never been better, thanks to the internet. I am convinced that if a good number of young people take these lessons seriously, our future as a country will be bright.

Passion is the best medicine in succeeding in whatever you are doing. Conservation to me is like a “religion” because I have come to appreciate that human beings, animals, insects, trees and plants and indeed all living things are all interconnected. If one of them becomes extinct because of our reckless use of finite resources in this fragile planet, we shall all become extinct. 80% of all the food we eat is pollinated by insects. Without pollinators, we cannot survive. I have also come to realise that the survival of this fragile planet is in the hands of ‘man’-Human beings, for the first time in this Century. We have the power to destroy or to heal mother earth. If we destroy this planet, there is no plan B”.

If you’ve been inspired, guess what! That’s just in a nutshell of what the book is all about. To order for your own copy of Living on the edge call +254 722 759 515

 

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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.