Chances are, you’ve never heard of Neuras. The Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate is a large, picturesque wildlife conservancy in west –central Namibia, but perhaps its biggest claim to fame is being the driest vineyard in the world. But we’re not here for the wine—well not primarily for the wine, anyway. We’re here because Neuras is home to some incredible but threatened carnivores, such as leopards. It’s also critical habitat because it’s part of a corridor linking several different conservation areas, and in an era of rapid habitat destruction and declining wildlife populations, connectivity is key.
In March 2012, the estate became a satellite research project of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, with a plan to manage it to conserve Namibia’s carnivores and other wildlife species. The N/a’an ku sê researchers are leading conservationists in Namibia who work with the government and private landowners to expand conservation across the country. Neuras fits right in with their plans. However, no one has verified the animal populations that live on Neuras. We know that leopards live there, and the foundation has tracked cheetahs passing through. Matt and Kate, two researchers on the estate, have observed caracals, spotted and brown hyenas, and other carnivores with some preliminary camera trapping. There’s a plethora of oryx, mountain zebra, cats, and other animals (and if you don’t know what some of those animals are, stay tuned and you’re sure to find out). The important questions now are how many and where do they live? How can we monitor them effectively? That’s why I’m here.
I will spend the next three months working with Matt, Kate, and the whole N/a’an ku sê team of researchers to start answering these questions. We will use camera traps (cameras with motion detectors triggered by animal movements) to sample wildlife and identify individual carnivores. We’ll sample land cover types and canopy cover across the estate so that we have a better picture of what types of habitat exist where on the estate. Simultaneously, Matt and Kate will conduct game counts and other research projects while Florian “Flo” Weise, the Research Director at N/a’an ku sê, tracks collared cheetahs and leopards as they roam about the country. All of this information will build a foundation of knowledge that will guide conservation at Neuras and elsewhere for years to come.
In the following weeks and months, I will use this blog to describe the Neuras estate and explain the work we’re doing. I’ll describe how we’re using the camera traps and how we can identify individual animals by their unique spot patterns. I’ll share the best (and worst) pictures from the cameras, as well as all the other interesting places and creatures I come across while I’m at Neuras.