11.12.10

Mapping Pangolin Feeding Sites in Mundulea

A latitude and longitude-gridded GPS map of the Mundulea Reserve, incorporating accurate boundaries, roads and feature coordinates, both from GoogleEarth and from another ongoing study on acacia species was prepared by Paul before the preparatory work in Sept 2010. This is very useful for planning activities on the pangolin and other research projects.

Using Bruno's bushcamp near the hill in the centre of the southern part of the Reserve as a base, walking surveys of likely pangolin habitats were planned. We of course hoped to track down an animal for RF tagging, but also to map out the territories where pangolin ant and termite feeding traces could be found, assessing their recency and activity levels. Four sandy zones or 'islands' between more rocky country were outlined for the survey.

The tracking team: Tim, Paul and John
 










The tracking team - John, Tim (Timotheus Andreas, an assistant on the Reserve) and Paul then spent several days systematically walking back and forth either along N-S or E-W paths to sample these zones. If John identified the pangolin markings as very recently-made, then a localized search in a spiral fashion around the site for other new feeding sites was made.

Markings two days old, showing 2 small paw prints and the tail trace
















Whenever a pangolin feeding site could be definitely identified from the marks made by other animals, its recency was assessed and its position logged using a Garmin GPS. Fresh marking were also photographed. More than 200 such sites were logged in total, walking about 65km for the survey. Some pangolin activity estimates to compare the zones were calculated in terms of the average number of feeding sites found per km sampled within the zone.

 









Pangolins often sleep during the day in the deep burrows or warrens made by big aardvark 'excavators'. So these dens were also investigated for signs of recent pangolin residency.


One aardvark hole seemed to have pangolin tracks less than a day old in its entrance. After photographs, the entry ground was cleaned and smoothed out, so that any new tracks would be clearly revealed. John and Paul returned to this spot at 4pm hoping to capture the pangolin when it emerged at night to sniff out termites and ants. They kept a silent vigil nearby through the end of the day until about 11pm, using a infrared night sight to monitor the hole, but unfortunately without success. No fresh tracks were found a day later at the entrance, so the pangolin responsible must have already left, or mischievously found another exit burrow from the aardvark warren.

Aardvark hole with recent markings
Starting the vigil











Despite evidence of much pangolin activity and even several feeding sites discovered in two of the sandy zones which were only 1 or 2 days old, sadly the pangolins remained elusive- to the disappointment especially of John, an expert bush tracker. As a pangolin probably browses over a few km in a day (night) and their territory is likely to be several sqr. km, locating one is certainly like finding a needle in a haystack! If disturbed above ground, they would keep very still in the undergrowth and be difficult to spot. Perhaps there were times when a pangolin was only tens of metres away, watching the survey team! Pangolins are notoriously difficult to find, even bush-hardened rangers go years without seeing one. Most human encounters seem to be by chance when they have been spotted crossing a path or road.

Eventually, time ran out to find a pangolin during this ~3 week preparatory field trip. Paul took John back home, parting as good friends, both hoping that his skills can help our project again. The round trip to Tsumkwe was made this time in a single very long day of driving. Arriving at Tsumkwe to find that the pumps were empty, no petrol having been delivered to the fuelling station there since the last visit, it was very fortunate that the Nyae Nyae Conservancy Office kindly spared some for the return leg! Mundulea was reached just in time to drive the last rough kms up to the Mundulea farmhouse, spotting a herd of wildebeast at sunset.

 

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