The Leopard’s Paw
by Christy Ihlo -- June 26th, 2012
“Sesame, Sesame.” Sitoti, one of the Hadza trackers, was perched above the headlights of “Old Sally,” one of APW’s Land Rovers. He held up his hand and said those fateful words we had been hoping for. Sesame is Hadza for lion. We had finally come across lion tracks. I couldn’t believe it as the spoor tracking surveys have been less than fruitful over the last several months! Laly thinks that although lion numbers have declined, they are also frequenting different areas without roads, so spoor tracking is less likely to pick them up. Honestly, I have no idea how the Hadza even see these prints. The lion prints were relatively clear (not that I could ID them as lion per se, but at least they look like carnivore prints), but the leopard print we saw a few days later was a bit more obscure. I believe the conversation went something like this: (Me) “Dennis, what do we have?” (Dennis) “Leopard.” (Me) “Excellent!…Where?” (Dennis) Laughing….he drew a circle around it for me. Check out the photo – can you see the print?
This past week has been great! I’ve been out in the field daily, tagging along on this month’s spoor tracking and wildlife count surveys. APW has a total of six transects for spoor tracking and four for wildlife counts. Spoor tracking occurs over six days, with one transect covered per day. The night before, Dennis heads out to the transect and drags a thorn bush behind the Land Rover to wipe the road clear of all prints. Then, we would head out before sunrise on the following morning, reaching the start of the transect just before daybreak. The Hadza trackers (these guys are amazing!) sit on the hood of the car, just above the headlights and scan the road for prints. When they find any carnivore prints, we stop and take a GPS position. The trackers decide on the species, sex, and age of the animal that left the print. Again, like I said, they are amazing. Laly first relied on the help of the Hadza during her PhD research and determined that they are over 90% accurate on the age and sex of individual prints. After the survey, if we were lucky, Dennis would decide to stop in the village for chapatis – a type of flatbread that is delicious – on our way back to Noloholo!
Wildlife counts are a bit different. Two teams head out over two days, covering the two north transects one day and the two south the other. Animal movements are in an east-west direction here, so they are unlikely to double count by spanning two days. APW has three Village Game Scouts with a variety of duties that include the wildlife count surveys. We would be at the start of the transect just before daybreak and slowly roll along, taking note of any mammals – location, species, distance from the transect, and sex/age of individuals. APW hopes to be able to determine species density changes over time through distance sampling, which is one of the projects I am working on. My primary job this week was of photographer, documenting the staff engaged in tracking activities!