Where are the Aardvarks?
Guest blog by Zooniverse volunteer, Lee Reiswig:
I’ve spent the last couple of days exploring WildCam Gorongosa data looking for insights into the Gorongosa aardvarks. I was motivated by numerous comments in Wildcam Talk about how rare aardvark sightings are.
I started with the Wildcam Lab as an Explorer. The Lab houses a downloadable database of over 40,000 classified trail cam images. The download data includes links to the images and date, time, location, and other classification data. The image downloads can be filtered by many characteristics like species, habitat, seasons, etc. The downloaded data is in .csv format and can be processed by many programs like Microsoft Excel.
My initial “aardvark only” download from the Wildcam Lab produced only 16 images and three of those were not Aardvarks. So I decided to do a hashtag search for Aardvarks and the search returned about 100 more images classified as Aardvarks. I weeded out the incorrect classifications (white tailed mongoose, bushbuck and porcupine plus others). Here’s an example of a white tailed mongoose that was hashtagged aardvark:
Then I added to the download worksheet the images before and after those in the lab and search data. I used Nor’s widget ( http://njstargazer.org/gorongosa.asp) to move through the image sequences to include all the images that contained Aardvarks. I ended up with only 126 images over the 3 years. Not many!
Those 126 images were from only 27 unique sightings or sequences based on the date and time stamps. All were of single individuals foraging at night.
That likely means there are less than 27 total Aardvarks in the area monitored by these cameras! No young appeared in the images.
Only 10 cameras had images of Aardvarks. I divided them into three geographic areas: Southwest – C06, C08 & D10; Southcentral – C15, D14, D35, D61 & D73; and Northeast – D56 &D57. There was a significant shift in sightings in these areas from 2013 to 2014 (only two sightings in 2015 so I excluded them).
There was roughly a 25% increase in sightings in 2014 (14) from 2013 (11) but there were only two sightings in 2015?
In 2013, there were five sightings in the Southwest and six in the Southcentral and none in the Northeast. In 2014 that changed. There was only one sighting in the Southwest and four sightings in the Southcentral and remarkably nine unique sightings in the Northeast. Of course, there could be many explanations for this including when the cameras were running and where as well as many other factors.
I also looked at the sightings by season. There are twice as many (16) in the Dry (July – Sep) season as there are in the transition to Wet (Oct – Dec) season. There were no sightings in the Wet (Jan-Mar) season and only three in the transition to Dry (Apr-Jun) season.
Wildcam is such an amazing project that we lay persons can explore and learn to our hearts delight. I’m happy to share my Excel worksheet with any of you that would like to see and use it. Send me @LeeReiswig a message and I can email or put it in the cloud for access. Enjoy exploring Gorongosa with these wonderful tools!
Guest blog from a special WildCam volunteer
Hello! I’m Esme, I’m 11 years old, and this video shows how being at Gorongosa changed my life. I had the opportunity to watch some of the expert biologists at work, and it influenced me incredibly. When I had to leave the park, I was very sad, but I loved having the idea that I could help without really being there– WildCam Gorongosa. I have completed 3,000 identifications, and I am determined to help Gorongosa’s goal. I hope you are just as determined, and remember that seeing a magnificent animal is not as rare as you may think!
Amelia’s new cubs
The lioness, Amelia, has just given birth. Now that the rainy season is beginning, we had to dig and winch ourselves out of a good share of mud on our journey to find her. We finally found her under this palm tree with her newborn cubs. We could only briefly hear the cubs today but we hope to report back soon on these exciting new additions to the Gorongosa family.
A New Lion Family
We’ve been tracking an elusive lioness who has been rearing cubs amidst the thick palm forests along the Pungue River (and just behind the Chitengo tourist camp). A patrol sighting earlier in the day followed by smart thinking by our scout, Chintsomba, led us to her in no time. As night fell and the moon rose in the sky, we quietly tracked her as she led us on her hunt. She quickly captured a warthog for her hungry cubs. We even got to hear the little cubs roar. What a night!
We took photos to identify her and fitted her with a GPS collar so we can continue monitoring her family. With two beautiful 5 month old cubs in tow, this is such a gift for us all!
Tracking Elusive Lions
This is the quintessential face of Gorongosa lions…highly elusive, wild animals that are very difficult to locate. The GPS collars we deploy go far beyond just being a research tool… they are our “conservation anchors,” and they help us save lives. Tracking groups weekly, keeping them out of snares and hands of poachers, deploying our rapid-response vet unit effectively, and of course keeping track of precious young cubs. Trail camera photos also help us capture candid photos of lions in their habitats. You can learn more about how we use these tools by watching this video.
My Driver’s License
I am proud to say that I just passed my driver’s test! Getting a driver’s license is something that not many Mozambicans have an opportunity to do. I feel very fortunate that the Gorongosa science team has supported me in taking driving lessons and passing the test! This is not just a great personal achievement for me, but it is also so important for the work that I do. Paola Bouley usually drives all of us on her team to do field work, but now that the team is growing and the area to cover is so large, we can divide and conquer! With this new skill, I look forward to helping lead the Gorongosa Lion Project researchers for years to come.
New Scouts Graduate
Forty new scouts graduated in Gorongosa National Park this week. Young men from communities surrounding the Park that passed a rigorous selection and training and will now go on to endure unimaginable hardships in the field to defend the wildlife and ecosystems of the Park. They are on the frontlines of lion conservation and we are so proud of their achievement. Congratulations!
A Family Moment
We just had to post this sweet family moment from WildCam. Elephants are such amazing creatures with strong family bonds. As the holidays approach we are thankful for our own families, Gorongosa’s animal families, and our WildCam Gorongosa family! Thank you for all of your help to make this research possible!
Extreme Lion Close Up
These trail cameras capture some of the coolest photos I’ve ever seen – like this close up of a male lion. It’s also great for identifying individuals by looking at the pattern of their whisker spots.
This batch of photos on WildCam is over 60% complete and we couldn’t be more excited and grateful for the data that you all are gathering. The next batch of photos will be ready to upload soon, so here is a sneak peek!
Scavengers – a sign of health
It’s a very dry year across the region and the wild creatures are struggling, but this is Africa and animals are adapted to these extremes. This morning as we were doing our routine checks and preparing to collar Leila we encountered numerous baboon carcasses on the floodplain and dry river-bed. These baboons may have been hunted by Leila or one of the other juvenile lions. That’s a great sign and an even better one is this Bateleur, a type of raptor, feeding on the baboon carcass. This demonstrates a complete food chain where each of the animals have a role to play. We still have work to do to increase numbers of certain species, but we have come a long way.