Camera Trap


A camera trap is a useful tool for monitoring wildlife. Attached to a tree or a stake, it is triggered by movement and can be programmed to shoot one to three pictures per triggering. It is especially handy for capturing nocturnal animals on photo, estimating species’ numbers and identifying individual animals. One of our camera traps was stolen by a troop of baboons when it was strapped to a tree near number 13 waterhole. The baboons chewed through the strap and took the camera up into the mountain. We never found the camera, despite a careful search of the area. Since then, Peter has made a special baboon-proof wooden box to house the camera, with a strong chain to attach it. This seems to have foiled the baboons.

This photo was taken in the car-park at our camping ground, Lulu’s. The previous night a bushbuck had been killed nearby. Samuel, our staff member who looks after the camp, told us that he thought it was a caracal kill because of the way the bushbuck had been covered with leaves. He said the caracal would return the next night to eat its prize. We chained the bushbuck’s carcass to a post and set up the camera trap. Just as Samuel had predicted, the caracal returned to the scene of the crime.

Caracals are beautiful cats, with their tufted ears and three-quarter length tails. They are hated by farmers because they target sheep and goats. After the caracal had eaten its fill, a brown hyaena arrived later in the night and was also caught on the camera trap. It demolished what was left of the bushbuck.

Despite our state-of-the-art electrified fence, somehow a single wild dog managed to get into Makulu Makete. It was seen here and there on the reserve by different people. From this photograph, taken at number 8 waterhole, it was identified as having been part of a pack that had escaped from Venetia nature reserve.

Every wild dog (also known as Cape Hunting Dog or Painted Dog) has a unique colour pattern. Here the wild dog has been attracted to the bait (a dead warthog and a kudu leg) placed near the camera.

This is a brown hyaena, a smaller and long-haired cousin of the better known spotted hyaena. They are mainly nocturnal, timid creatures.

The camera trap caught these two brown hyaenas fighting over bait.

One of the hyaenas in the fight turned out to be Oubaas, a big male hyaena which we had trapped and collared in June 2005. This photo was taken in July 2005, on the other side of the reserve from where we caught Oubaas. (“Oubaas” means “Old Boss” - the name the staff call Peter. With a twinkle in his eye, Shawn, our ranger, suggested we call this hyaena Oubaas.)

The radio collar appears to be giving Oubaas an advantage over the other hyaena. His neck is protected from attack. Eventually Oubaas won the battle and took off with the bait.

It is not just nocturnal animals that are caught on camera. This is a Verreaux’s Eagle (formerly known as a Black Eagle), which was drawn in to eat carrion left in front of the camera.

Verreaux’s eagles nest on rocky ledges high up on Madia Pala Mountain and Kremetartkop at Makulu Makete. Along with the Martial Eagles, they are the largest eagles in Africa. Watching them soar overhead is a truly breath-taking sight.

Everyone wants to see a honey badger (called "Ratel" in Afrikaans). Getting a photo of two of these fearless creatures is a real bonus.

An inquisitive kudu bull came in for a closer look at the camera when it was set up at number 13 waterhole.

The aardvark is the ultimate nocturnal animal, not often seen because of its unsociably late habits, but worth waiting up for.

What an extraordinary-looking animal it is. To give you an idea of its size, the aardvark can weigh up to a hefty 68 kilograms (about 150 pounds or just over ten and a half stone), on a diet consisting almost entirely of termites.

This waterbuck bull is a magnificent specimen.

This handsome brown hyaena was attracted to bait hanging from a wire above the camera.

It took the hyaena two hours to finally pull the bait off the wire. (The date on this photo is incorrect - it should be 01/31/07). The eyes of the animals shine in the camera flash. Sometimes that’s all we get in a night camera trap photo - a pair of eyes reflecting in the light.

One morning Peter noticed a clear paw-print of a leopard in the mud next to number 8 waterhole. We set up the camera trap that day. We had been told that strong, musky perfume is often used to lure leopards into a trap. It was worth a try, so we sprayed a couple of sticks with French perfume and placed them in front of the camera. That night this brown hyaena was drawn in to the fragrance.

Five days later, and in daylight, we got this photo of the leopard at number 8 waterhole. It appears to be a big male. Is that a shadow across its neck or is it wearing a radio collar? Leopards can freely come and go from Makulu Makete, using trees along the fenceline to climb across. Kremetartkop, which is close by, and the small rocky koppies, seen in the background of the photo, make number 8 waterhole a perfect habitat for leopard.

The small antelope in this photo is a klipspringer ("rock jumper"), one of the prettiest of all the antelopes. They live in rocky mountain and koppie areas. Their hooves are specially adapted to jumping across boulders and up vertical cliff faces. This klipspringer is joined by a troop of baboons at the waterhole. In true baboon fashion, the inquisitive baby baboon in the foreground is trying to prise open the heavy concrete cover over the water inlet valve.

For some reason the zebras at Makulu Makete are extremely timid. Our normal view of zebras is several striped rumps disappearing in a cloud of dust. This photo shows how watchful they are as they move araound nervously, raising the dust.