The Angola Field Group looks forward to bringing you the latest developments from Cangandala National Park and Luando Special Reserve with monthly updates and photos, on what’s happening with Angola’s national symbol, the Palanca Negra Gigante or Giant Sable. Pedro Vaz Pinto, the man who re-discovered the Palanca Negra Gigante after Angola’s 30 decades of civil war, heads up the Conservation Program to protect this animal which is on the list of the world’s critically endangered animals. Pedro is a researcher for the Catholic University Centre for Scientific Studies and Research.

Scroll down or click on the links below to read the English and versão Portugêse versions of Pedro Vaz Pinto’s reports. All photos and text © Pedro Vaz Pinto.

 

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    • First Semester 2017 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS

Dear Friends,

This report is long due, and I apologise for delayed communication. I intend to make up for the lost time and get things back on schedule for the remaining of 2017. Anyway, here goes an update for the past few months.

Following the 2016 capture operation we had plenty of things to do in both reserves. In Luando we started by remotely tracking eight females and seven males. The collared females had been distributed by all five surviving herds, while the males were all solitary bulls. Thirteen GPS collars were still active and going strong by end of May 2017, but we were forced to stop tracking two animals when the signals became stationary. It is almost guaranteed that both specimens have died, but they are located in very remote areas, and until we get the chance to retrieve the collars and inspect the scene we won’t be able to determine the causes. The last few days of activity recorded by these collars did not denounce any suspicious movement patterns. Animals suffering from injuries or sickness tend to leave specific movement signatures, but none was here detected… it seemed like a sudden death! One of the casualties was a seven year-old male, a bull at the prime of his age, although one of the least impressive specimens we had handled. Unfortunately the other casualty was not only a female, 13 year old Jinga, but she happened to be the old dominant cow and only animal GPS collared in herd 5, which in turn proved to be the largest group of sable. So in one sweep we lost access to our largest herd. Although she was an old female, she had been healthy and lactating back in August, and the teeth wear did not suggest she could be approaching her last year.

Very worrying observations obtained from satellite imagery show that based on the water levels and flooding patterns of the upper Kwanza and Luando drainage basins, the last rainy season has been, by far, the driest on our ten-year-long records. Some woodland patches started losing the leaves even before the “formal” end of the rainy season. This means that the dry season that has just started will likely be extremely challenging for the animals, and we may expect more and earlier fires, less food and less water available. Of particular concern is a scenario in which most water holes will dry up quite soon, and the herds will be forced to utilize few, distantly located, suboptimal and dangerous points to drink. We will need to upgrade the anti-poaching measures and take the new conditions into account. A plan is being devised at the moment.

A most spectacular experience was flying a drone over a few sable herds.

A remarkable drone photo of the largest herd! E uma notável foto a partir do drone da maior manada!

I confess that I had been sceptical about the feasibility of filming wild herds with a drone in the remoteness of Luando reserve, but I was proved wrong, indeed very wrong. I travelled to Luando with my good friend and professional photographer Kostadin Louchanski (you can check some of his work on www.angolaimagebank.com), and who is without a doubt a very skilful drone-pilot.

Aerial view of where we stand. Vista aérea de onde estávamos

We then used a strategy to approach the herds in stages. Firstly we set advanced camps within the known home range for a given herd. Then early in the following morning we used a sat phone to get in touch with a colleague in Luanda who was monitoring the remote tracking and was able to forward us the latest GPS locations. The next stage was driving the Landcruiser off-track to the given spot, and use the VHF radio signals to triangulate on the ground the herd location to an approximate 1-2 km, close enough to reach with drone and far enough to keep the animals unaware of our presence. Then the final stage was flying the drone slowly towards the sable at around 50 m height, until we saw them and then attempting final approach. This worked very well and results were above expectations. Herd 5 for example allowed us to count a total of 41 animals, which was fantastic. In most cases, the sable reacted a bit nervously when the drone flew over, trotting away as a group but somewhat hesitantly, surely not understanding how much of a threat the drone poses (maybe the sound is reminiscent of a giant bee swarm?). Still, when we push the drone higher the animals get more relaxed and so we obtained nice footage. But when we tackled herd 4, magic happened: a relatively small group composed of females, calves and bulls, entered an anhara (grassland opening) and completely ignored the drone even when we lowered the aircraft to 12 m above their heads! We were able to film amazing behavioural scenes, including hierarchical interactions among three master bulls and pre-mating behaviour with females. Pretty unique stuff!

In Cangandala the breeding signs have been excellent with plenty of calving, and also with a notably increase of many young bachelor males. Ivan the Terrible has been successfully tracked remotely since August on a daily basis, and as always, he never ceases to impress and surprise us. For the first few months he made very interesting movements, sometimes visiting far away sites, but most often spending the majority of his “free” time patrolling the outside of the sanctuary fence. So far so good. But in late March Ivan clicked: he broke through the fence and entered the sanctuary! We still don’t know exactly what happened, other than there was a huge bull-fight through the fence and into the sanctuary. We can’t confirm yet if the fight was with Mercury or with one of the younger bulls, and we can only wonder if Ivan didn’t kill another contender… Coincidentally, it had also been in March a few years back, when Ivan killed the old bull Duarte on a fight through the fence, so let’s hope Mercury didn’t follow the footsteps of his father too far.

Mercury, the dominant bull, has become remarkably similar to his father Duarte, both in body shape and horn curvature, and also displaying a confident gentle nature; O macho dominante Mercúrio, tornou-se notavelmente parecido com o seu pai Duarte

Interestingly, and since he got in, Ivan has showed little interest in exploring the sanctuary or, apparently, interacting with the herds. Rather, he seems obsessed in trying to get out again, tirelessly patrolling the fence and hoping to return to his former comfort zone. Mad Ivan, was born to be wild, born to be free. Only in the last couple weeks of May, Ivan made some limited exploring inside the sanctuary, but not much. At an estimated age of 14, Ivan is, whether he accepts it or not, a very old bull. He must definitely be declining on his physical prowess, and not forgetting that he had to recover from near-death snare-inflicted wounds in the recent past, so I find it hard to believe that he can remain a threat to the younger boys for much longer… and on the other hand would be nice, or at least entertaining, to have some of his twisted genes passed on to the future generations!

See this website’s home page for two videos taken by the drones in the Luando Reserve. Trap cameras in Park Cangandala capture intriguing images also as per slideshow below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A very significant event unfolded in December, when our leading giant sable shepherd from Luando, the remarkable Manuel Sacaia, received the prestigious Tusk Trust Ranger Award. The award ceremony took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Manuel received the award from the hands of Sir David Attenborough and Prince William, not bad! Manuel Sacaia is most deserving of this recognition, and you can find additional details on the ceremony, and about the person (including a short film) on the following links:


http://tuskawards.com
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/safaris-and-wildlife/tusk-conservation-awards-2016-winners
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Anx1qjdethI

Links for the report photos and a couple compressed drone film sequences: https://goo.gl/photos/qNoviUh3ce7SrHEz9
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  • Third Semester 2016 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUES (Download)

Dear friends,

This quarterly newsletter actually reports to July and August, as September will be transferred to the last quarter. Between July and August we carried out an ambitious aerial census and capture operation in Luando and Cangandala, and this alone more than justified this report. This operation had been planned for several months and was only possible with specific international funding received from Fondatión Segré and ExxonMobil Foundation, adding to the local funds of which the two main contributors are currently Sonangol and Angola LNG. Instrumental for the success of this operation, and similarly to the exercises we carried out in 2009, 2011 and 2013, was the reliable support received from the Angolan Army. Particularly FAN (Angolan Air Force) who supplied the Jet A1 fuel drums, and the army in Malanje who provided additional crucial logistics. This activity was integrated into the Action Plan for the Giant Sable Conservation, developed in collaboration between the Kissama Foundation and the Ministry of Environment.

The Angolan military, here represented by General Sousa participated and provided critical support; As FAA representadas pelo Gen. Sousa participaram e deram importante contributo

As usual Dr Peter Morkel was the vet chosen, and of course we (including the sable!) couldn’t have been in better hands. As Barney O’Hara retired and sold his chopper, we arranged for an alternative in Namibia, where we hired another Hughes 500 piloted by the experienced and skilful Frans Henning. The team was set. Technicians from the Ministry of Environment, and local administrators also participated actively throughout the whole operation. Ruth and David Schaad kindly helped us while camping in Luando, and my son Afonso also joined and much enjoyed the ride. The objective for the 2016 capture operation would be, over the course of three weeks, to make an updated sable population census in Luando Reserve and place up to 16 GPS collars and 5 VHF collars on giant sable, both in Cangandala and Luando. A complementing objective was to survey as many as possible of previously identified (from satellite imagery) sable hotspots in Luando, including water holes, critical anharas, while assessing and acting against poaching whenever justified.

Dr. Morkel preparing a new dart; O Dr. Morkel preparando um novo dardo

Pilot Frans Henning and chopper parked in the woods; O piloto Frans Henning e o helicóptero estacionado na mata

The shepherds Bernardo, Gabriel and Manuel Sacaia, and Afonso at the camp site; Os pastores Bernardo, Gabriel e Manuel Sacaia, e Afonso no acampamento

The environmental conditions this year weren’t easy for the purpose of this operation, particularly in Cangandala, as the abundant rains in the previous season delayed the burnings throughout 2016 and the tree, bush and grass cover was much more luxuriant than in previous years.

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In Cangandala National Park there was no need for censing the sable population as it is being regularly well monitored on the ground. Also the poaching situation isn’t brilliant in Cangandala but at least it is fairly under control, besides the fact that with a couple exceptions all giant sables are contained inside the fenced sanctuary. Therefore the flights in Cangandala were done mainly with the purpose of capturing at least a couple young males and put them VHF collars. The flying conditions in Cangandala proved quite challenging because of thick canopy cover, but eventually we were able to locate the bachelor herd composed of four young males. After some effort and some risky chases we managed to immobilize two of them, Apollo (younger sibling of Mercury and the third sable born in the sanctuary, back in 2011), and a younger 3-year old male now called Xyami. Both were released with VHF collars as planned.

The largest giant sable herd! A maior manada de palancas negras gigantes!

Two old collars visible in this group; Duas velhas coleiras visíveis neste grupo

Additional patrol flights were carried out outside the sanctuary and, against all expectations, this time we stumbled with Ivan the Terrible! What a nice surprise this was. We hadn’t been able to see him since released in the sanctuary back in 2011, and all we know of his behaviour has derived from his more or less regular appearances in the trap camera record. But this time the ghost couldn’t hide and we reacted promptly – he was captured and then released with a GPS collar! He seems to have fully recovered from the poaching incident at the end of 2013 that almost cost him his life. His injury seems to have healed and although he is limping, at least regained most of his former muscular built. We had discussed previously what to do with Ivan in case we ever found him, and all agreed that it would be too risky to release him inside the sanctuary… he has proven to be a loose cannon and at least he now seems settled and content outside so better let him be, and from now on we can track him remotely – and this might be an interesting task!

Ivan still a magnificent specimen; Ivan ainda um exemplar magnífico

Another surprise in Cangandala was coming across a young male forest buffalo which was well seen and photographed. However, a later inspection of the photographs revealed a shocking fact: the poor buffalo had a steel wire snare around his neck! Apart from the obvious poaching proof and the animal suffering, this event brought in two novel elements: it was the first time that we recorded steel fencing wire as material for snare traps (mostly used are steel cables from motor bikes), and the first time we faced neck snares instead of foot snares. Of course there is a good reason for this, as the interrupted and temporarily abandoned fencing work around the park boundary, using steel wire instead of bonnox-type mesh, provided an unlimited supply of this type of wire for snare traps; and the neck snares might simply be an adaptation to the new materials available and presence of buffalos. Sure enough in subsequent days the ranges raided those signalled poaching areas and recovered dozens of snares built with the steel wire stolen from the border fence.

A forest buffalo! Uma pacaça!

Muloge with rangers presenting traps and guns apprehended from poachers; Muloge e fiscais apresentando armas e armadilhas apreendidas aos caçadores

In Luando the operation was a huge success. Before the exercise we knew of three confirmed herds in the reserve to which we could add two more that remained in doubt (both hadn’t been located in five years and one of them was also presumed to be very small anyway). During this operation we were able to locate the three better known herds and also the two “missing” groups, totalling now five confirmed herds. Not only this but, much to our surprise, the latter group that we thought was very small, actually proved to be the largest giant sable herd! It turns out this group had been much underestimated in 2009 and 2011 and we should have invested more energy tracking them in recent years. It comprised, at the time of our capture in early August, 31 animals but the local number may even increase in forthcoming weeks, until all cows calve and re-join the herd. The other herds totalled 26, 21, 19 and 18 sables (when counting I always include calves present but exclude territorial bulls). On the other hand, the existence of a sixth herd is now ever more unlikely, as many hours were spent surveying adjacent areas of suitable habitat without results.

This large bull required two darts; Este grande macho exigiu dois dardos

Administering the antidote; Administrando o antídoto

Interestingly, when analysing the group structure all herds included between 8 and 10 breeding females and 4 to 6 calves (almost half of the cows were still pregnant), but what seems determinant to explain the difference among herds is the number of yearlings and immatures (2-year olds). The largest herd had many and the two smaller herds had few yearlings and immatures. These results very much consistent with our earlier findings that the young animals are the most vulnerable to snare-type poaching and this is reflected in the age structure of different groups according to the poaching pressure they suffer. Young animals are confiding, adventurous and physically not particularly strong so they make ideal victims. The smaller herds are recruiting less than two animals a year into the adult age class and this is unsustainable as the herd becomes progressively older and reducing in numbers. Not surprisingly around the area of these two herds is where we recorded most cases related to snare poaching recently and during the operation.

A beautiful créche in Cangandala; Uma linda creche na Cangandala

Little calf, just a few weeks old; Uma pequena cria, com apenas algumas semanas de idade

In each of the five herds we collared two cows, at least one with GPS collar. In total we collared eight females with GPS and two with VHF collars. Nine bulls were darted and seven were also collared with GPS devices. Among these bulls a few were outstanding, including Lucas, carrying over 59 inch horns, and but not least Ngola, with horns no longer than 56 inches, but arguably the most powerfully built, strongest and well proportionated bull we ever handled. Ngola appeared to be stronger than Ivan, a true masterpiece of nature, the ultimate sculptural icon and a worthy representative of this superior antelope! And Ngola was found escorting the largest herd.

The bull Ngola might well be the most powerful we ever handled; Ngola pode bem ser o macho mais poderoso que alguma vez manipulámos

Lucas a massive bull with 59” horns; Lucas um macho enorme com cornos de 59”

Displaying in front of the chopper; Desfilando em frente do helicóptero

During this operation a lot less poaching signs were recorded as compared to 2009, 2011 and 2013. This may indeed reflect a reduction in poaching incidence, but may also result from a delayed dry season in 2016, and the fact that the local poachers seem to have learned that the presence of helicopter means trouble and immediately react by removing temporarily their snares and hiding the camps. True enough we only found active snares in the first few days of flying and subsequently we only came across half-hiding materials and camps left abandoned in a rush. Unfortunately the effects of poaching to the giant sables are still too evident, and not only reflected in demographics and herd age structure.

One active collar led us to the skeleton of a large bull; Uma coleira activa levou-nos ao esqueleto dum grande macho

One of the first animals darted in Luando this year was poor Dr Morkel had to improvise on Nadia, the young female (born in 2011) that we had tried to dart on foot in October 2015 when, based on the GPS data, we suspected she was injured and must had fallen in a snare trap. Unfortunately this suspicion was now vividly confirmed: she was limping and in poor condition, and carried a nasty wound in her right front foot.gical intervention to be able to remove a steel cable snare that was constraining blood flow in her foot and threatening gangrene and amputation. She must have gone through unspeakable suffering over the last few months. At least we may have at least mitigated her suffering and giving her now a reasonable chance for recovery. Miraculously she was lactating, meaning that she had had a calf recently. This could only be possible because she must have been impregnated just a few days before falling into the trap. It is doubtful if the calf will make it giving Nadia’s poor condition, but at least she has maintained her normal breeding cycle even during her worst year.

As suspected since last year, Nadia had fallen in a snare trap! Como suspeitávamos desde o ano passado, a Nadia caiu numa armadilha de laço!

Nadia released; Nadia libertada

A python digesting a large prey in the presence of a bushbuck!!! Uma jibóia digerindo uma grande presa na presença dum golungo!!!

 

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      • Second Trimester 2016 Report
Pond covered with lilies

Pond covered with lilies

Dear friends,

The second quarter always marks the transition from the end of the rainy season into the dry season. It is never a period that I look forward to, usually with too much water in April and too much grass in May and only improving a bit well into June. This is however the time when sable calves, with calving peak typically reached in May. Therefore it is hardly surprising that it tends to be very difficult to approach and observe the animals in these months. To make things worse, the abnormally generous rainy season of 2015/2016 in Cangandala and Luando, made conditions even harder with very wet conditions in May and an ocean of tall unhospitable grass right to the end of June.

Herd behind the dry grass

Herd behind the dry grass

And if this wasn’t enough the old radio-tracking VHF antenna fell apart and it became pointless to try monitoring the sable on the ground.

Instead we focused on various other activities, supporting management components in Cangandala such as repairing the water hole system and start building a new fenced sanctuary, which will be destined in the future to contain bulls for tourism visits.

Putting up a new fence

Putting up a new fence

The animals were simply monitored indirectly in Cangandala via the trap camera records as usual. Ivan the Terrible was recorded again, marking the territory outside the sanctuary, and at one stage the rangers on patrol reported to have seen Ivan once accompanied by a sole female… he doesn’t seem to enjoy too much the company of females, as he has ignored plenty of opportunities to lead herds, and until now had never been seen near a cow… but we can only assume that being a loner doesn’t make him less of a bull and hopefully the now lonely female will bear his seed!

Ivan scraping the soil with his front leg

Ivan scraping the soil with his front leg

Inside the sanctuary the most striking records reflect a steep increase in the number of young males. Apollo, just a few months younger than Mercury is back and might soon be a real challenger for the dominant bull role.

Apolo has turned into a fine bull

Apollo has turned into a fine bull

A bachelor herd was also recorded with three 2-year old young males (young males between 2 and 3 years old tend to abandon the comfort of their herds and wonder off forming bachelor herds of males before establishing territories later in life and then challenging mature bulls),

The three bulls make up a bachelor herd

The three bulls make up a bachelor herd

and plenty of male yearling and male calves. Mercury’s succession is guaranteed, but we can also expect that the rise in testosterone inside the sanctuary will result in more conflicts, fence challenging and possibly some injuries and deaths of inexperienced bulls. The plan eventually is to remove some of these males to the new sanctuary, as soon as it is finished.

Male calf

Male calf

In Luando Reserve a few things have shown progress, but there are a lot of worrying signs suggesting increase in poaching, and we lack updated hard data on the condition and status of different herds. One positive development was the support received in previous months by Angolan military, which has very much boosted the confidence on the shepherds and allow them to make more patrols and to penetrate deeper into less covered areas.

Shepherds with apprehended AK-47

Shepherds with apprehended AK-47

There were a couple of incidents reported of encounters with poachers, and on one of them there were several shots fired, and it ended with a shotgun and an Ak-47 apprehended. On a sad note, some shepherds reported encountering an injured female with a severe leg wound, possibly amputated. They could not see ear tags so it is possible that she was an unmarked female and another recent victim of a snare or foot trap. The shepherds also claimed that the poor female was accompanied by a small calf which would be consistent with a very recent incident.

The next quarter will be crucial as we are preparing for another capture operation, designed to put collars in animals in Cangandala and Luando, but also to make an updated aerial census of herds in Luando Reserve and, with assistance from military, to support anti-poaching activities also in Luando.

Best wishes,

Pedro

Photos can be seen in the following link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/6309025463335166961?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCPDKnZeXw7jz-gE&feat=directlink
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Dear friends,

The 2015 El Niño was being responsible for an extreme drought condition across southern Africa, particularly in Mozambique and South Africa, but in many parts of Angola if anything it’s been the opposite. At least in Cangandala this rainy season has been quite generous, causing over flooding of rivers and constraining so much our movements that in the first trimester we could only access the park between late January and early February, following a short break in the rains.

Exuberant miombo in the rainy season

Exuberant miombo in the rainy season

The rare break allowed us to carry out several activities in the park, reaching for example all the trap cameras. However, and quite exceptionally, this time we couldn’t even approach the giant sable inside the sanctuary, much less see them or photograph them. With few roads at our disposal, we’re often forced to track the animals driving cross country, but this just looked like a terrible idea with waterlogged soils and under threatening skies, and eventually we dropped those efforts.

Flooded danbo

Flooded danbo

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A gymnogene

And tracking the animals on foot wouldn’t make much sense either, they would feel chased and not much to gain from it… Instead I spent extra time looking for birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, while enjoying some photography.

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Dwarf gecko

Two active males of angolan reed frog

Two active males of angolan reed frog

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Stunning blue flower

Stunning blue flower

Without being able to track and monitor the animals on the ground, we had to settle with inferring the dynamics from the trap camera record, keeping me busy for quite a while. As usual we obtained plenty of photos, and even after filtering the data to exclude blanks, we got around 30,000! These included the usual species, such as giant sable, roan, hybrids, bushbuck, duiker and warthogs.

Female roan escorting two calves

Female roan escorting two calves

Clear colour differences between F1 hybrid and backcrosses

Clear colour differences between F1 hybrid and backcrosses

Mercury and his herd

Mercury and his herd

More calves, plenty of healthy females and Mercury dominating the pure herds. All good here!
On the other hand there was a big surprise waiting for us on photos taken outside the sanctuary, which was the resurfacing of Ivan the Terrible. Yes, the crowd’s favourite is alive and back!

Ivan made a sensational recovery

Ivan made a sensational recovery

He had last been recorded in November 2014, and considering the long absence and the high level of poaching in his territory, we speculated that he had probably been killed. He used to visit the salt licks somewhat irregularly but at least every few weeks. The only exception was between June and December 2013 when he went missing while fighting for his life after being caught in a snare trap. Throughout 2014 we were able to observe monthly his steady recovery, as he was slowly regaining some of his former physical strength, before disappearing again. He surely wouldn’t survive another poaching incident… Well, Ivan is now back with us! In the last three months of record he was photographed on five independent occasions. The reasons for his latest long absence are simply unknown, but he seems to be in good physical shape. Maybe it was just his crazy nature that led him to go wondering for so many months, may have decided to take a sabbatical year… Anyway it was a positive development, and we’re looking forward for his future adventures.

Ivan at sunset

Ivan at sunset

We now have ambitious plans for the remaining of 2016, but these will only be disclosed in subsequent reports.
Best wishes,
Pedro
Photos can be seen in the following link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/6276490376281083201?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCOnk8r6Z-4nOrQE&feat=directlink
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        • Fourth Trimester 2015 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUES (Download)

Dear friends,

The last quarter of 2015 was the wettest I have witnessed in the giant sable areas. The rains had started early and to be accurate the first storms were felt still during September, but they steadily increased in intensity throughout the following months and by December the rivers had overflowed in Cangandala, making it almost impossible to drive around. No doubt that this climatic extreme is associated to the El Niño phenomenon, but it is the first time we see such an obvious link in our regions. If this continues we may well be restrained from entering the areas for most of the rest of the rainy season in 2016. This weather might result in more vegetation growth, less or delayed fires in the dry season, more water availability and for longer, but may also yield a raise in insects, ticks and other disease vectors. Probably the net balance in 2016 will be positive for the sable, but only time will tell.

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A duiker arriving at the salt lick under a storm.

In Cangandala October started with alarming news: there had been a poaching incident with shooting involved, which resulted in one of the rangers being wounded. One of our best rangers, Domingos “Pau Queimado”, who had been a sable shepherd since day 1 and one of my most trusted men, was shot and penetrated by an AK-47 bullet that entered his left upper leg near his groin and left through his buttock. During a night patrol a team of three rangers was lured into an ambush by two poachers who had left a flashlight turned on and tied to a tree next to a camp fire while waiting behind bushes. When the rangers approached they opened fire without warning and Domingos was immediately hit. A short battle followed but the damage was done and the poachers eventually escaped while our man had to be rescued. Miraculously the bullet didn’t rip through any bone, organs or blood vessels, and after surgery in Malanje and a few days in Hospital, by the end of October Domingos was recovering reasonably well at home when we visited him. This is another sad reminder that even in Cangandala poaching still remains a very real threat, and unfortunately we could not yet capture the culprits. In fact, we very much suspect that they might be the same individuals responsible for trap camera destruction and placing of snares around the sanctuary. They seem to be getting more confident and bold, but it is the general feeling among the rangers that sooner or later they’ll be caught and they will have a score to settle!

Other than this tragic event, things seem to be going well in the sanctuary where at least the sable are breeding well and look healthy.

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Mercury and his herd. Lots of calves and young in the herd.

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Sable females.

The harsh ground conditions and the lush vegetation didn’t allow us frequent and prolonged monitoring of the herds, and particularly because as a result of the constant rains, huge numbers of tsetse flies were hammering the animals, leaving them restless and difficult to keep up with. Nevertheless it was interesting to note, and also confirm with the trap camera record, that several calves had been born relatively late in the season and even that some cows were still pregnant in December.

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A very young calf born off season.

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A very old sable cow and her latest calf!

This is a bit unusual as giant sable tend to display a well synchronized breeding with calving peak in June, but I suspect it might be related to accelerated breeding under optimal conditions. Mercury is still very much in charge in the sanctuary,

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Mercury keeping an eye on his herd.

and once again the trap camera did not record our dear and crazy “Ivan the Terrible”. His last appearance was in November 2014, and considering that one year has passed without sightings, I think it is fair to presume that he is probably dead – well, at least he is literally out of the picture! True, he has surprised us in the past, but I’m not keeping much hope for him at the moment…

Overall in Cangandala and because of the weather and ground conditions, there were not many opportunities for mammal observations, which were compensated by an abundance of insects, birds and of course frogs!

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Reed frogs exploded with the first rains.

We did try to revisit our friend the hippo in October before the rivers had overflowed, but we weren’t lucky. The hippo “guardians” at the village tried their best, and it was quite amusing to watch a local kid who climbed a large tree near the lake and started yelling “hipopótamo… hipopótamo!!!” while promising us he would come in response to the calling. Eventually he didn’t show and we offered the village chief the two cabbages I had bought to feed the hippo.

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The kid calling from treetop for the hippo.

In Luando there was lots of action in this quarter, not necessarily for the best reasons. 2015 was confirmed as a tough year in terms of poaching in the reserve when it ended yet with another crisis. It all started in the second half of September when one of the few animals still carrying an active GPS collar, a young female named Nadia, suddenly showed a sharp change in behaviour becoming suspiciously lethargic, even if not totally still. But from moving a daily average of 4-5kms sustained over two years, it suddenly dropped the daily log to a few hundred meters or less. This unusual pattern continued for several weeks as we entered October and we soon concluded that she must have got injured. Moreover, and tracing back her movements it was found that her behaviour had changed precisely when she crossed the drainage line where a foot trap had been recovered earlier in the dry season by the shepherds. Therefore we were probably dealing with another mutilated giant sable, tragically a very young female who had been collared in 2013 when two years old, and who should now be attending her second calf. It is another animal lost for breeding, so for the population it is as good as dead. Driving our Land Cruiser into that remote area in mid-October would no longer be possible, so we devised an emergency plan to try to reach the female with aerial means.
As always, the National Air Force (FAN) has been reliable and enthusiastic in providing support, and this time was no exception.

Palanca Report_4TRIM2015-3

The military Allouette chopper arriving in Luando.

A military Alloutte chopper was deployed to Luando and our small team that included an experienced vet, military and ministry officials, were dropped deep in the bush close to the spot where Nadia had last transmitted. Following the VHF beacon we were able to find and track and get very close to the injured female, but she sensed us and kept moving away, always maintaining a couple hundred meters distance through the very thick vegetation. We could not get as much as a visual and after a few hours we had to abort the mission for operational reasons. The disturbance forced the female to move a couple kilometres that day, but in subsequent days she became very limited in movements once again, and after a couple weeks the signal abruptly ended, likely as the batteries went dead. We believe this female is gravely injured and another victim of increasing poaching in Luando… the second in collared animals alone in 2015!

Making the most of the presence of the military chopper we also tried to locate two known herds in Luando, even if the conditions weren’t ideal this time of the year. The best we could, was locating a small subgroup, composed of one bull and four females, yet three of the five animals were previously marked.

Palanca Report_4TRIM2015-12

Gabriel and his four cows in Luando.

Palanca Report_4TRIM2015-9

The old dominant bull, Gabriel

The male was Gabriel, a bull handled in 2009 and estimated to be now 13 years old; and two old cows Andreia and Laura had been marked in 2013 and estimated to be currently 16 and 15 years old respectively. The two remaining cows were “new” (not previously handled) animals, one being a very old female (likely 12+) and the other a relatively young cow (possibly 6-7 years old). We found just one subgroup, and the composition wasn’t brilliant… three out of five were known animals, and four out of five are extremely old animals! On top of it the bull didn’t seem healthy and there were no calves in sight. It may not mean much, but these observations left me a sour taste.

Ending on a positive note, the military decided to step up their support to the shepherds in Luando reserve, making a few ground joint anti-poaching operations with ministry rangers, and subsequently deploying a few weapons to the shepherds who from now on will be better equipped to tackle the poachers.

Palanca Report_4TRIM2015-13

The Luando shepherds feeling upbeat with new weaponry.

Best wishes,

Pedro

Photos can be seen in the following link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport4TRIM2015?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLmNiM6aiJrUmAE&feat=directlink

__________________________________________

        • Third Trimester 2015 Report

VERSAO PORTUGUES

Dear friends,

Dry season. Notwithstanding the first hesitant showers that followed a couple thunderstorms at the end of September, most of the trimester went through the peak of a well-marked dry season.

group

The group heading for cover at sunrise; O grupo encaminhando-se para um abrigo ao nascer do sol.

Still, and as usual, this period is arguably the most heterogeneous and rewarding to do our field trips in the region: in July the grass is long dead and finishing being burnt, visibility is maximum and we can then reach the most remote corners; in August the sables tend to be tamer than in the rest of the year, proudly presently their calves as they come out in the open to graze the fresh grass; by end of August and early September the Brachystegia and geophyte regeneration paint the miombo landscapes with vibrant and unexpected colours; and throughout September the first showers bring back the earthly odours and myriads of flowers cover the anharas.

geophytes

The stunning colors of regenerating geophytes; As espantosas cores da regeneração das geófitas.

trees

Tree regeneration; Regeneração arbórea.

In Cangandala things are going fairly well with breeding in cruising speed.

babies

Three newborns! Três recém-nascidos!

The calving season has ended, but quite honestly it is very much difficult to determine the number of new calves. Sables are grouped in at least three different herds, often splitting temporarily in different subgroups. In addition the females marked with ear tags or collars also constitute a minority these days and only one keep an active tracking collar, and as result we can hardly locate the different herds or attribute calves to respective mothers.

young females

These females are the future of the species in Cangandala; Estas fêmeas são o futuro da espécie na Cangandala.

But this is a good sign of course. Even though the two oldest breeding cows (well over 14 years old) have apparently ceased breeding (still around but accompanied only by her two 2013 male calves), all the young females look very fecund.

Mercury keeps embodying the spirit of a true master bull, imposing yet totally tolerant to our presence.

mercury boss

Mercury the Boss; Mercúrio o Boss.

In late September, as we entered the oestrus season, we were able to watch him being quite assertive towards the females, chasing them around insistently in short sprints and holding his head menacingly down, likely as part of the pre-mating loving ritual… although it depends on one’s perspective, no doubt many will call this aggressive sexual harassment. He would go after them one by one for a while, and whenever he embarked on this behaviour the rest of the females in the herd would stay close, yet restless and nervous. After a while he would calm down and everyone relaxed.

mercury patrolling

Mercury calmly patrolling his territory; Maercúrio calmamente patrulhando o seu território.

In late September, as we entered the oestrus season, we were able to watch him being quite assertive towards the females, chasing them around insistently in short sprints and holding his head menacingly down, likely as part of the pre-mating loving ritual… although it depends on one’s perspective, no doubt many will call this aggressive sexual harassment. He would go after them one by one for a while, and whenever he embarked on this behaviour the rest of the females in the herd would stay close, yet restless and nervous. After a while he would calm down and everyone relaxed.

Another interesting behaviour was witnessing how loose the herd-bonds seem to be this time of the year. Throughout the day and in consecutive days, we could watch as the main herd would split in different subgroups without any seeming logic – calves would sometimes stick together and without respective mothers, or some would go with other animals and some would stay, etc.

Palanca Report_3TRIM-2015-127

Hybrid Sherikan; Híbrido Sherikan.

Palanca Report_3TRIM-2015-141

Sherikan babysitting a young calf; Sherikan fazendo de babá com uma jovem cria.

On a different herd, young Eolo at age 3 is developing fast and almost totally black by now, soon he may be challenging Mercury’s position. Also in the sanctuary the hybrid group has been photographed often by the trap cameras. Surprisingly a very young calf was recorded once accompanying hybrids, but the presence of a young pure sable female not far away suggests she may be the mother… or so we hope. Outside the sanctuary once again we got no news from ol’ Ivan the Terrible… let’s hope the poachers haven’t finish him off! On the other hand we found a young female, 2-years old, alone on the wrong side of the fence and trying to get back into the sanctuary. We made a plan to bring her in, but unfortunately in the following day she wasn’t to be found again.

Park management in general has improved in Cangandala over the latest months, and the rangers seem now more motivated.

patrol

Rangers on patrol; Os fiscais em patrulha.

Some repairs have been conducted on the Sanctuary’s fence, and finally the water hole has been fully functional and is being widely used by the animals.

water hole

Herd advancing into the water hole in Cangandala; Manada avançando para o bebedouro na Cangandala.

In the Cuque river, where it crosses the southern areas of Cangandala park, we were offered the most unexpected spectacle: a tame hippo that has made his home in Cuque river near a local village and somehow manages to live in peaceful harmony with its human neighbours.

hippo 1

Approaching the kids without fear; Aproximando-se dos miúdos sem medo.

Apparently it all started a few years ago (2010?), when allegedly a hippo calf, possibly coming from the Kwanza river a few dozen kilometres to the south, found its way to the current location in the Cuque within 500mts from the village. No one seems to know how and why this has happened, but one can speculate that the mother may have been poached and the calf wandered far on its own and finally settled down when found water. Actually I had passed through the village a few times before but was unaware of the hippo presence, and as far as I could tell the rangers also didn’t know about it until very recently. What is really remarkable is that, not only the hippo wasn’t chased away or quickly converted into bush meat, but instead was allowed to stay around and with time has grown a sort of bond with the locals. The river is only about 20mts across in its widest part. Women fetch water and wash clothes next to the hippo; the kids call the hippo screaming and engage in all sorts of games around it; while the occasional drunk may also joins the party performing eloquent speeches directed at the hippo.

hippo kids

Incredibly he comes to within a couple meters from the kids! Incrivelmente vem até um par de metros dos miúdos!

A bit of all this I was able to witness, and I couldn’t believe how close the hippo got to people. It does come across like a very dangerous exercise, although I must say that at all times while I was there the hippo seemed more curious and friendly than menacing… but of course if one day he decides to charge, at two meters distance no one stands a chance of escape! To add an even more surreal touch, on the day we visited the kids brought with them a small dog to use as decoy – instructing the dog to bark from the margin, the hippo quickly responded and came out of the water to approach the dog as if they were good old friends… he so got to within one meter of the dog, who was understandably nervous and eventually run away. The kids have concluded that dogs must be his favourite food (?!) which is of course nonsense. The hippo just appears to be a friendly lonely fellow desperately looking for company, and in the absence of other members of his species, then humans, dogs and goats will have to do! Let’s just hope that he keeps his good humour unchallenged… Well, in any case it allowed for some really remarkable and unexpected photographic sequences… the beast and the hippo whisperers of Cangandala!

hippo dog

Seems to have developed some weird bond with the village dog; Parece ter desenvolvido uma estranha ligação com o cão da aldeia.

In Luando a lot of things happened, and unfortunately we have to report an escalating of poaching, and this time with a lot of vivid and shocking evidence to support. Firstly there were reports on the use of a new trapping technique in the reserve: foot traps!

trap foot

A nasty foot-trap that injured Sacaia; Uma terrível armadilha que feriu o Sacaia.

These are iron made with indented lateral faces and operated by powerful spring coils. They are designed to break the leg of a large antelope such as sable or roan, and were not previously known to be used in Luando reserve. And the first time that Sacaia (our best man) and two other shepherds came across one of these traps, was in dramatic fashion and could have had much worse consequences. While on a routine patrol along the drainage line mostly used by our most important herd in Luando, Sacaia and his mates noticed suspicious tracks around the water hole, indicating that a sable cow had been caught in a trap and had been fighting there for her life a few days earlier. While they were analysing the spoor and looking for snares, Sacaia inadvertently stepped on a foot trap. In a split second when he felt the trap he tried to remove the foot but it was caught squarely half-way through his brand new boot! If it had hit him in the ankle it would have broken his leg, but luckily this way the boot was able to sustain much of the damage. With the quick support from his colleagues, they were able to disarm the trap, and in spite of the pain and injuries he was able to walk back home. If he had been alone he probably wouldn’t have made it. But at least another sable female on the main herd, wasn’t as lucky… A few weeks later, and near a different village, another group of shepherds also recovered a foot trap, so this may be a trend and a worrying sign.

3 shepherds

Shepherds recovered another foot trap; Os pastores recuperaram outra armadilha de ferro

And yet, we were in for more sorrow. From the animals collared in Luando in 2013, only two bulls still had active signals and were being regularly tracked, big boys Francisco and Elvis. The former a very old bull (around 14 years old) that limped from a deformed hind leg caused by a snare; but the latter was a magnificent bull at the prime of his age (around 9-10 years old). It happens that for several months now, we strongly suspected that they had died, but it hadn’t been possible to reach the sites where they would be located. This was only feasible in the dry season. This time we did reach those sites, confirmed the deaths and found the skeletons of both bulls. Francisco was very old, probably in poor physical condition and indeed his teeth were much worn-down. It wasn’t possible to find any clues to shed light on what caused Francisco’s death. It may have been promoted by a poaching incident, but it may also as well have been from natural causes… it was an old warrior anyway, and probably non breeding for a while and irrelevant for the population. A totally different story has to be said about our Elvis the King. Not only was he a dominant healthy individual that one wouldn’t expect to die “naturally”, but on site we found enough evidence to point to poaching as the cause.

bullet hole

Bullet hole… Elvis was shot in the shoulder blade! Buraco de bala… o Elvis foi atingido na omoplata!

The most relevant was recovering his right scapula (shoulder bone) with a round hole almost surely caused by a bullet; and moreover poacher signs were abundant in the area. The loss of Elvis is a huge setback as he was the dominant bull that attended both our second and third herds in Luando. Symbolically, both Francisco and Elvis were magnificent and imposing animals, carrying perfectly looped horns that measured 58 and 59 inches respectively. Two decent representatives for the most beautiful antelope in the world. Unfortunately it is also one of the most critically endangered mammals…

skulls

The recovered skulls from our big boys in Luando; Os crânios recuperados dos nossos grandes exemplares do Luando.

During our field trips in Luando we found plenty of steel-cable snare traps, old and active poaching camps, and killed animals – mostly duikers, either being smoked in racks at poaching camps, or simply rotting in the bush.

skulls n cables

The sable skulls lying next to dozens of steel cables from snare traps; Os crânios das palancas ao lado de dezenas de cabos de aço de armadilhas.

dismantling

Dismantling snare traps with steel cable, in Luando; Desmantelando armadilhas de laço com cabo de aço, no Luando.

destroying

Destroying the traps; Destruindo as armadilhas

But to end the report on a less sombre note, we did receive more news from our old friend the lion, and it was colourful as always. And yes, he did it again! He was reported to have killed and eaten a second poacher! This time the story was that a pair of poachers were operating snare lines near the Kwanza, when at night one of them decided to check on his traps while his colleague stayed in the camp preparing the bush meat. Not only the first guy never returned, but throughout the night the lion was very vocal roaring from the direction the first poacher had disappeared. The following day, the second poacher made no attempt to look for his mate, crossed the Kwanza and told his tale. Well, at least the lion seems happy to prey on poachers and is already a living legend. Besides, specializing in this specific food item (poachers) I don’t think there is much risk that he will ever starve in the reserve…

Best wishes,

Pedro

herd

Herd in a misty morning; Manada numa manhã de nevoeiro.

mercury head

Mercury, our handsome boy; O nosso belo rapaz.

bull

The bull! O Macho!

More great photos and images of interesting park specimens such as those pictured below, can be found at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport3TRIM2015?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLm-rpjS7PDDQg&feat=directlink

mimetism

Perfect mimetism; Mimetismo perfeito.

chameleon

Trying to go unnoticed… tentando passar despercebido…

lilac roller

Lilac-breasted roller; Rolieiro-de-peito-lilás.

________________________________________________________

        • Second Trimester 2015 Report

VERSAO PORTUGUESE

Dear friends,

The second annual trimester marks the transition between the dry and the rainy seasons. It begins moist and muddy and evolves quickly before ending dry and dusty, but if I had to choose its major defining component, it would be grass, lots and lots of grass.
Palanca Report_2TRIM2015-99                Cutting the grass at Salina 10; Cortando o capim na Salina 10.

It’s the period when grass reaches the peak in development, produce the seeds and becomes moribund. For me it has always been the least charming time to be in the giant sable reserves. The grass covers everything, even the main picadas (sand roads), making it very hard to see any wildlife; then millions of seeds clog the car radiator and enter the windows sticking to one’s clothes and irritating throat and skin, and when we go tracking on foot the dry leaves cut through our exposed skin. In compensation, this is when all roads dry up and we can fully resume our activities in both reserves.

mud

                            Last mud-stuck of the season; Último atascanço na lama da época.

There is not a lot to report from Cangandala in this occasion, as things have been relatively stable. We were able to track down and approach the animals a few times. Mercury has now fully matured, and his behaviour is what would be expected from a master bull, calmly arrogant and imposing; totally aware of his strength and hierarchical position as undisputed number one.
Palanca Report_2TRIM2015-16                         Mercury at close distance; Mercúrio a curta distância.

Most of the occasions when we approached him, he was alone and apparently not looking for company. Only once we found him accompanying a female group, but when they showed some nervousness and left in one direction, he looked up but made no effort to follow the girls. As if saying: “Never mind, they’ll come back sooner or later…” Amazingly he even allowed us to drive the Land Cruiser closer to him than ever before, and on our last visit we shortened the distance to within 15 meters as he grazed very relaxed, and totally ignored us.
Palanca Report_2TRIM2015-106Size and color matters… the youth respectfully moves away; Tamanho e cor importam… a juventude afasta-se respeitosamente.

What seems noteworthy is Mercury’s remarkable resemblance to his late father Duarte. Not only physical, but mostly his behaviour. His serenity, naturally imposing dominance without too much fuss or obvious signs of aggression. Everything he does, he does it slow and in style, in nonchalant manner. Like with his father we have yet to see in him show any aggression that one would theoretically expect from a master bull, like a few short sprints and pushes to herd some knotty females and maintain them nearby, or a few knocks and threats towards younger males to keep them well-behaved and fearful. Nope, not at all. Instead he just walks calmly, and everyone else seems well aware of who is the boss and stays obediently organized and respectful. Like the human father that all it needs to do is to raise an eyebrow, to keep his children quiet and well behaved around the dinner table (I wish I could do that!). I suppose Mercury is the good tyrant type… what a contrast to mad Ivan.

Mercury marking the territory at salina 19; Mercúrio marcando o território na salina 19. Mercury marking the territory at salina 19; Mercúrio marcando
o território na salina 19.

The trap camera record didn’t bring any surprises. The females seem healthy and most should be calving these days. The two main herds are increasing in number and most of the animals are very young.

Lots of youth; Muita juventude.                                                Lots of youth; Muita juventude.

The prospects are good for Cangandala in the short term. Consistent with our ground observations, Mercury appeared sometimes alone and other times escorting the females. His younger sibling, Eolo, has also been visiting the salt licks either alone or within the herd, but was never recorded near Mercury. Eolo is maturing fast but he still lacks physical presence and the body language reflects his sub-dominance status.

Young Eolo with young females; Jovem Eolo com jovens fêmeas.             Young Eolo with young females; Jovem Eolo com jovens fêmeas.

As for ol’ Ivan the Terrible, he didn’t show up this time. However, following earlier poaching incidents that led to the destruction of cameras, we’ve been keeping only one trap camera outside the sanctuary and until security is re-established, and this fact has significantly reduced the chances for us to record Ivan.

Sable entering salina 2; Palancas entrando na salina 2.                    Sable entering salina 2; Palancas entrando na salina 2.

Inside the sanctuary and additionally to sable, roans and robles (the hybrids), once again we recorded the tiny reedbuck family, composed of a young pair and their daughter…

The female reedbuck and her daughter! A fêmea de nunce e sua cria!The female reedbuck and her daughter! A fêmea de nunce e sua cria!

Hybrid cow smelling the presence of the cane rat; Fêma híbrida cheirando a presença da paca.Hybrid cow smelling the presence of the cane rat; Fêma híbrida cheirando a presença da paca.

… and then plenty of the remaining usual species, namely duikers, bushbucks, warthogs, porcupine and vervet monkeys.
Palanca Report_2TRIM2015-82                       And the dark-haired is the winner! E o moreno ganhou!

Spiny love; Amor espinhoso.
Spiny love; Amor espinhoso.


Vervet monkeys visiting Salina 10; Macacos-cinzento visitando a Salina 10.
Vervet monkeys visiting Salina 10; Macacos-cinzento visitando a Salina 10.

In June we entered Luando reserve and for the first time we managed to reach Quimbango with two 4X4 vehicles. Additionally we tried to access as many water holes and critical areas as possible, and locate some of the collared animals, but our objectives were hindered by the very long grass. Driving off road was a nightmare, our progress slow and painful and resulting in a couple punctures along the way. We reached only a few water holes, where for a change the poaching signs were not evident (however at the time the snaring season was yet to begin). Contrary to our intentions we couldn’t pick up any VHF signals nor get as far as the locations where we believe two collared bulls died earlier this year… this enterprise had to be postponed to July. At least we very much enjoyed some magnificent bush-camping nights, around the campfire and under Luando’s stunning June starlight!
campingSleeping between two campfires help resist a chilly June night; Dormindo entre duas fogueiras ajuda a resistir a uma geleda noite de Junho.

Other than this we verified that the poaching pressure is not diminishing and the rangers feel helpless to counter-act increasing numbers of well-armed and organized poacher groups.

Photos can be found in the following Link:
https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport2TRIM2015?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCJSRk4m5tdKnJA&feat=directlink

Best wishes,

Pedro

________________________________________________________

        • First Trimester 2015 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊSE

Dear friends,

The first trimester of the year coincides with the peak of the rainy season which in addition tends to end in crescendo. This fact generally translates into overflowing rivers, muddy roads, frequent storms and lots of green everywhere, and for this reason we always keep low expectations in terms of our bush activity. This is our low season. Nevertheless some routine monitoring activities need to be carried out as usual, and it was a welcoming surprise when persistent absence of rains allowed us to drive inside the park, without getting hopelessly stuck, until the end of February.

Removing a tree that fell over the fence; Removendo uma ´árvore que se abateu sobre a vedação.

Removing a tree that fell over the fence; Removendo uma árvore que se abateu sobre a vedação.

Testing the water pump; Testando a bomba de água.

Testing the water pump; Testando a bomba de água.

This latest rainy season started hard and strong in September and by the end of November the park was waterlogged, but then several weeks of drought followed, and what seemed to be an epic rainy season turned into an average to modest one.

Clouds building in the afternoon; Nuvens acumulando-se ao final da tarde.

Clouds building in the afternoon; Nuvens acumulando-se ao final da tarde.

A male Holub's golden weaver; Um macho de tecelão-dourado-de-Holub.

A male Holub’s golden weaver; Um macho de tecelão-dourado-de-Holub.

Colorful grasshopper; Gafanhoto colorido.

Colorful grasshopper; Gafanhoto colorido.

In spite of us being able to penetrate the park, the conditions were hardly optimal and we struggled to track down and approach the animals. We could only obtain was glimpses and a hand full of semi-obstructed photos of sable through the dense miombo vegetation. At least we were able to find and for a while follow Mercury, after tracking the radio signal on his VHF collar. The field observations coupled with hundreds of photographs obtained across the roughly three months since he returned to the sanctuary, revealed a very different Mercury. He is no longer the precocious yet unexperienced young bull that tried to impress and herd the youngest female group… now he has matured substantially, and truly personifies the master bull role for the whole sanctuary, which is evident in both his body language and general behavior. Instead of constantly following one female herd, he now spends most of his time alone marking and patrolling his territory, and only occasionally bursts calmly amidst a group of immediately-turned submissive females, to claim his bounty. His leadership is now naturally enforced and totally unchallenged. All young males, including the next-in-line Apollo, disappear or keep now a safe distance on his approach.

Mercury visiting a salt lick solo; O Mercúrio visitando uma salina sozinho.

Mercury visiting a salt lick solo; O Mercúrio visitando uma salina sozinho.

An old female screaming for Mercury's attention; Uma velha fêmea reclamando por atenção do Mercúrio

An old female screaming for Mercury’s attention; Uma velha fêmea reclamando por atenção do Mercúrio.

Mercury has long attained a jet-black color; Há muito que o Mercúrio adquiriu uma cor negra carregada.

Mercury has long attained a jet-black color; Há muito que o Mercúrio adquiriu uma cor negra carregada.

As for the rest of the animals in Cangandala, we were able to locate pretty much everyone, including the nine hybrids and some old females that we presumed dead by old age. This includes the unexpected resurfacing of the incredible ancient cow Joana, likely turning over 18 years of age at least… I’m not aware of any sable antelope ever reaching this respectable age, and although we can’t be sure of her exact age, when was captured and handled in 2009 she was the elder of the lot and the very experienced vet Pete Morkel estimated her to be more than 12 years of age. Quite remarkable in any case that she is still alive. Also the broke-horned Paula was photographed after a long absence, and even good old Theresa was seen accompanying her 2013 offspring boy. What seems evident is both Theresa and Louise, our only two breeding cows from the original lot, have finally stop producing… for the first time since 2010 neither has bred. Pity but surely resulting from their old age, with some luck maybe Louise may still give us one or two extra calves in the future.

Broken-horned Paula! Paula do corno partido.

Broken-horned Paula! Paula do corno partido.

Theresa and the last offspring of her and Louise; Teresa e as últimas crias dela e da Luisa.

Theresa and the last offspring of her and Louise; Teresa e as últimas crias dela e da Luisa.

The elder Joana! A idosa Joana!

The elder Joana! A idosa Joana!

Joana in day light; Joana à luz do dia.

Joana in day light; Joana à luz do dia.

Basically we were able to see or record throughout this trimester almost every known sable in Cangandala, the exception being, once again, young Apollo and one of the young females brought from Luando Reserve in 2011 – Raquel. Considering the long absence from records and a few unconfirmed witness accounts of sable outside the sanctuary, we now believe that a small group may in fact have escaped, totaling a maximum of 4-5 individuals. What is important is to recognize that breeding inside the sanctuary seems to be excellent and we have now reached a point in which it is no longer possible to keep track of new births nor identify individuals in the most recent generations… it’s simply too many of them and almost impossible to distinguish different animals and relate them to respective mothers… what a nice problem! We have at least two good breeding herds, totaling about 30 animals and with a good number of young breeding females… in this regard the prospects in Cangandala are encouraging. Quite remarkable if one considers that in 2009 we were down to nine old mostly infertile cows… a spectacular comeback no doubt! Interestingly we now had at least two calves born at the peak of the rainy season, around the turn of the year. We were expecting an increased synchronized calving around May-June, so this was somewhat surprising especially because it wasn’t from first-voyage mothers… it may result from an acceleration of breeding under unusually benign conditions, although this is speculative.

Young female looking after her offspring; Jovem fêmea tomando conta da sua cria.

Young female looking after her offspring; Jovem fêmea tomando conta da sua cria.

Young Eolo spends most of his time following the girls; O jovem Eolo passa a maior parte do tempo seguindo as meninas.

Young Eolo spends most of his time following the girls; O jovem Eolo passa a maior parte do tempo seguindo as meninas.

Young females are the future of Cangandala; Jovens fêmeas são o futuro da Cangandala.

Young females are the future of Cangandala; Jovens fêmeas são o futuro da Cangandala.

And now for some additional good news, the crowd’s favorite, mad-bull Ivan the Terrible made a very brief appearance in late December to be recorded on a trap camera outside the sanctuary. He seems now fully recovered and as elusive as ever. He might carry a limp and be less of an imposing figure, but in a twisted way it is reassuring to have him around! Another good surprise was a sequence of photos showing three reedbucks inside the sanctuary! Back in February 2013 we had once recorded one female with a calf, but never a male, and they were never seen again. Now finding three is a sign of breeding, which is excellent news.

And we finish with crazy ol' Ivan... he's back and looks strong! E finalizamos com o velho louco Ivan... está de volta e parece com força!

And we finish with crazy ol’ Ivan… he’s back and looks strong! E finalizamos com o velho louco Ivan… está de volta e parece com força!

A surprise: Three reedbuck inside the sanctuary! Uma surpresa: três nunces dentro do santuário!

A surprise: Three reedbuck inside the sanctuary! Uma surpresa: três nunces dentro do santuário!

On a sad note, many poaching incidents were reported, most coinciding with the Xmas and New Year season, typically a favored season for poachers, when the demand for bush meat increases significantly in urban markets. In Cangandala armed poachers were detected inside the sanctuary and shots were exchanged with the poachers, before they eventually escaped. Also yet another trap camera was stolen, highlighting the lack of security in the park. In Luando Reserve, although it wasn’t possible to access the area because of the rains, we were informed by the rangers that poaching is rampant and one of our trap cameras was destroyed by poachers. On the next trimester we will also investigate the probable death of two collared bulls in Luando.

The rangers visiting the salt lick on patrol; Os fiscais visitando a salina em patrulha.

The rangers visiting the salt lick on patrol; Os fiscais visitando a salina em patrulha.

Photos can be found in the following Link:

https://plus.google.com/photos/113384424565470443034/albums/6139876667893650753?authkey=CMPjwruRwdir5gE

Best wishes,

Pedro


        • Fourth Trimester 2014 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊSE

Dear friends,

As expected the last trimester coincided with the onset of the rainy season. The rains started generously and by end of October it was getting difficult for us to move in the park. These conditions also forced a stop in infrastructure development in Cangandala National Park, but at least the main bore hole was finished with good water flowing and solar pump installed. This means that throughout the next dry season there should be plenty of water available for the animals inside the sanctuary. On the other hand a permanent fence is being erected along the park boundaries, and this work has progressed very well until it was forced to a halt in November because of the rains. Nevertheless fencing should be resumed and finished in 2015.

A borehole is finished and equiped with solar power; Um furo está finalizado e equipado com energia solar.

A borehole is finished and equiped with solar power; Um furo está finalizado e equipado com energia solar.

Testing the water; Testando a água.

Testing the water; Testando a água.

The new fence around the park boundary; A nova vedação ao redor dos limites do parque.

The new fence around the park boundary; A nova vedação ao redor dos limites do parque.

Remains of a reedbuck killed in a snare trap; Restos de um nunce morto numa armadilha.

Remains of a reedbuck killed in a snare trap; Restos de um nunce morto numa armadilha.

In October and November we were able to track the animals in the sanctuary several times and from close range. The main issue requiring clarification was finding out exactly how many of the females had eventually broken through the fence and escaped the sanctuary in July. Unfortunately we still couldn’t get a definitive answer as very few VHF collars remain active, although there is good reason for us to be more optimistic now. The young females especially, seem to maintain very flexible bonds, leading to the temporary formation of loose herds that often come together and split again with different composition. This means that not always we find the same females together, even if we always track the same individual with active collar. The reason for this behavior probably relies on the breeding dynamics within the group relating to calving and estrus, but there might also be a random effect when the herd grows too large and it may get easier to break when they are foraging in the rainy season. The bottom-line is that all considered in different occasions inside the sanctuary, we have observed in total over the past few months the majority of sables that should exist in Cangandala. Only two young females have not been found. It is possible that a small group did escape the sanctuary but it won’t be a large group, and it is possible that no female escaped.

Two young girl calves; Duas jovens crias fêmeas.

Two young girl calves; Duas jovens crias fêmeas.

One of the young breeding females brought from Luando in 2011; Uma das jovens fêmeas reprodutoras trazidas do Luando em 2011.

One of the young breeding females brought from Luando in 2011; Uma das jovens fêmeas reprodutoras trazidas do Luando em 2011.

One interesting and clear pattern is that animals tend to group more according to their age and sex classes, than to their blood ties. It is well known that calves tend to stay most of the day in crèches, but even as they grow a young sable seems to prefer the company of same sex and age individuals than to follow his/her mother. And we found young females from the “old” herd being absorbed into the “new” herd where she could join similar age girlfriends. On the other hand the older females seem more conservative, and for quite a while they had only split in two behaviorally different groups: the non-breeding sable old cows and hybrid females, and the two very old breeding sable cows (Louise and Theresa) and their annual offspring. The old cows have never been seen close to the younger herds, but when their offspring reached a certain age they would split and join the young herds. Unfortunately it now seems that these two very old cows may have reached the end of their breeding career. Theresa has disappeared from the radar, and we fear she may have died of old age. Louise is now seen alone except for the company of the two yearling offspring that she and Theresa raised in 2013, but following four years of successfull breeding she didn’t produce a calf in 2014. Nevertheless these two Cangandala old cows have been heroes and made a fantastic contribution for the recovery program, producing a remarkable 9 calves (6 males and 3 females) between 2010 and 2013! And their offspring include the 3 young males (Mercury, Apollo and Eolo) that have been dominant the dominant bulls in the sanctuary since their father’s departure.

Louise and the yearling males; Luísa e o par de jovens machitos.

Louise and the yearling males; Luísa e o par de jovens machitos.

Young females protecting the calves; Jovens fêmeas protegendo as crias.

Young females protecting the calves; Jovens fêmeas protegendo as crias.

Young boy; rapazito.

Young boy; rapazito.

But there were significant developments regarding the bulls, but mostly positive ones. First the background: Over the years the dynamics surrounding the bulls have been often troublesome but always interesting to follow. With crazy Ivan the Terrible settled out of the sanctuary since 2011 and good ol’ Duarte killed by Ivan in the beginning of 2013, our first-born Mercury assumed the leadership inside the sanctuary. Mercury was a most imposing and precocious young male and had all the females at his disposal at age 3. However by the end of 2013 and much to our disappointment, Mercury decided to break through the fence alone and dispersed outside the sanctuary where there are no females and neighboring Ivan’s territory. This opened the way for Apollo, the second-born bull in Cangandala. But his reign in the sanctuary may have been even shorter, and hasn’t been seen since the beginning of 2014. He may still be escorting a couple young females, or he may have dispersed out of the fence or been killed, the fact is we have no idea what happened but he seems out of the picture. For this reason Eolo, the third in line and in spite of his tender age slightly over 2 years old, has been assuming the role of “resident” breeding bull escorting the larger breeding herd inside the sanctuary.

When we got into the park in November we received worrying news. The shepherds reported that the perimeter had been violated once again, and this time it was Ivan who broke through the fence and invaded the sanctuary. The rangers even had a visual report when during a patrol they came across the big imposing dark and proud figure of Ivan well inside the sanctuary. This wasn’t good news. If this was true and given Ivan the Terrible’s notorious and bloody curriculum, he would soon target the young bulls and Eolo in particular wouldn’t stand a chance. This was also unexpected considering that since 2011 Ivan seemed to have established a well-defined territory outside the sanctuary and never showed interest in returning. But the trap camera record told us a very different story: it wasn’t Ivan, but Mercury who returned to the sanctuary! After one year of adventurous dispersal he decided to come back home! Interestingly he did not reclaim his bounty, or at least until now he showed no interest in fighting Eolo and join the female herd as master bull. Mercury was our most impressive young male so no wonder that at the age of four, he has turned into a mighty imposing black bull with massive horns, and this explains why he was mistaken for Ivan. His behavior suggests that he is more interested in establishing a territory inside the sanctuary than escorting females on a permanent basis, leaving that task for the subdominant Eolo. If confirmed this may provide new insights into dominance and territorial behavior of sable bulls. Ivan on the other hand this time has not showed up in the trap camera record, raising some concerns about his condition… but as he has proved very resilient in the past and was recovering from the snare injuries, and therefore we expect him to resurface in future reports.

And Mercury again!; E o Mercúrio novamente!

And Mercury again!; E o Mercúrio novamente!

As always, the trap cameras provided tons photos and some very interesting sequences. The most unexpected by far was framing a python on the hunt ambushed at Salina 7. This was incredible, particularly because the python being cold-blooded even moving would not trigger the infrared sensor of the trap cameras. Because of this fact, the python was only recorded as “collateral” when mammals visited the Salina. It is amazing to see how the python has chosen well the ambush site stretching parallel along a piece of exposed root. It wasn’t a particularly big python, and it was probably waiting for a duiker, bushbuck calf or a cane rat. The first co-visitor we recorded was a hybrid (roble) female. I dare say that the combination of a roble with a python in a natural scenario, got to be a candidate for the most unique and bizarre combination of species ever recorded in a wild photo!!! The following day the python came back for the ambush but had changed to the other side of the root, and the new visitor was a male bushbuck. Once again it was too large of a prey for the python to attack, but amazingly the bushbuck stand less than 30cms from the python but not seeing the snake. Both in the case of the roble and the bushbuck, the antelopes seemed clearly nervous and aware that something isn’t right, looking around in inquisitive manner and lifting the front feet nervously several times before fleeing the site without even feeding. But I suspect that if they had been smaller the python would have strike and they wouldn’t escape unharmed. Needless to say that I was very much anticipating a predation sequence, with the python dominating a duiker or small bushbuck, but unfortunately didn’t happen. Pity, maybe next time!

Incredible scene: a python on the ambush, and a very nervous hybrid female!!! Cena incrível: uma jibóia emboscada, e uma fêmea híbrida muito nervosa!!!

Incredible scene: a python on the ambush, and a very nervous hybrid female!!! Cena incrível: uma jibóia emboscada, e uma fêmea híbrida muito nervosa!!!

The following night the python again a bushbuck male!!! Na noite seguinte a jibóia novamente e um macho de golungo!!!

The following night the python again a bushbuck male!!! Na noite seguinte a jibóia novamente e um macho de golungo!!!

Warthog male after his daily mud bath; Macho de facochero depois do seu banho de lama diário.

Warthog male after his daily mud bath; Macho de facochero depois do seu banho de lama diário.

Rangers inspecting the site; Os rangers inspeccionando o local.

Rangers inspecting the site; Os rangers inspeccionando o local.

Geophagic frenzy; Fúria geofágica.

Geophagic frenzy; Fúria geofágica.

In Luando Reserve we were able to move around in the beginning of October, when we attended a few trap cameras placed in water holes. However soon after, the rains settled in, and it became unadvisable if not impossible to drive off-road. We witnessed some massive storms in the afternoons, which allowed for some interesting landscape photography opportunities but it also made it clear that we could not venture further into the bush. Therefore we invested most of our remaining time in Luando in the planning and coordination of activities with the shepherds.

Fishing in Luando river as a big storm approaches; Pescando no rio Luando quando uma grande tempestade se aproxima.

Fishing in Luando river as a big storm approaches; Pescando no rio Luando quando uma grande tempestade se aproxima.

The storm arrived before sunset; A tempestade chegou antes do por-do-sol.

The storm arrived before sunset; A tempestade chegou antes do por-do-sol.

Misty dawn in Luando; Amanhecer enovoado no Luando.

Misty dawn in Luando; Amanhecer enovoado no Luando.

Nectar meal; Refeição de néctar.

Nectar meal; Refeição de néctar.

Kids canooeing in Luando; Miúdos numa canoa no Luando.

Kids canooeing in Luando; Miúdos numa canoa no Luando.

More photos are available at the following link:
http://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport4TRIM2014?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLT_v9CNwvTldg&feat=directlink

Best wishes,
Pedro

_________________________________________________________________________________

        • Third Trimester 2014 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS

Dear friends,

Poacher surprised to find a camera; Caçador furtivo surpreso por encontrar uma câmara.

Poacher surprised to find a camera; Caçador furtivo surpreso por encontrar uma câmara.

The trimester started off with worrying news from Cangandala. Partially in response to our constant reporting of poaching, the municipal authorities organized with the local police a series of nocturnal operations placing checkpoints at various dirt roads around the park. And on one occasion detained a poacher which was carrying in his motor bike a roan antelope! It was a yearling female and he had chopped out its head, but still it is amazing how he was driving to Malanje with such a large antelope in his bike. He was duly arrested by the authorities, and at least for a while he stuck in jail while awaiting trial prosecution. It is unclear where the roan was shot, and it may have been outside the park’s boundaries, but of course it may be this case may be the tip of the iceberg

 The young roan that was transported a poacher's bike; A jovem palanca-vermelha que foi transportada na mota dum caçador.

The young roan that was transported a poacher’s bike; A jovem palanca-vermelha que foi transportada na mota dum caçador.

In spite of the generous rains in previous months, the dry season this year was fairly intense in Cangandala, and against our expectations the natural water holes and drainage lines dried up quite rapidly. This caused occasional shortage of water inside the sanctuary which in turn may have contributed to raise the stress on the animals. Probably of result of this there was quite a lot of animal activity and testing along the fence, and unfortunately it was even brought down a few times as some antelopes violated the perimeter. It wasn’t clear to us which animals broke through the fence. In a couple occasions it may have involved roan, but at least once it was suspected that some sable escaped the sanctuary.

JUL2014_S2-29

July fire caught in camera when reached a salt lick; Queimada de Julho captada por uma câmara quando atingiu uma salina.

Place your bets gentlemen: The dark-haired or the blonde fighter? Façam as suas apostas senhores: No de cabelo escuro ou no lutador loiro?

Place your bets gentlemen: The dark-haired or the blonde fighter? Façam as suas apostas senhores: No de cabelo escuro ou no lutador loiro?

A new vehicle in Cangandala NP; Um novo veículo no Parque da Cangandala.

A new vehicle in Cangandala NP; Um novo veículo no Parque da Cangandala.

Ground observations and the trap camera record proved that the old females and at least most of the hybrids are still contained in the sanctuary and therefore, our concern grew as we fear that part of the young group may have escaped. Unfortunately none of those sable visited the salt licks in recent months, further raising our suspicions. Tracking the animals on the ground allowed us to locate one young group inside the sanctuary, which included the only two functioning collars in young females. This group comprised six females (ages 2, 4 and 5), two yearlings, five calves and it was escorted by Eolo, a young 2-year old male (third in Cangandala-born lineage, after Mercury and Apollo). Eolo is a handsome young boy, yet to turn black but already with an impressive presence.

Young Eolo; Jovem Eolo.

Young Eolo; Jovem Eolo.

The old cows; As velhas senhoras.

The old cows; As velhas senhoras.

We were in fact able to approach them several times and get them habituated to our presence, allowing for plenty of nice close-range photos. The composition of this subgroup demonstrates that the initial young herd has split in two, also considering that Mercury had long broken through the fence, the other group likely will be guarded by Apollo and might include five other females and four or five yearlings, plus a few calves. During my visits I could not find the second group, and witness accounts from the rangers are inconsistent (they claim to have seen the group both outside and inside the fence, with irreconcilable numbers and dates). This is a mystery hopefully to be solved during next trimester. Of course the possibility that half of our best breeding sable might be outside the fenced camp, can have major implications on the whole program and force us to propose exceptional response measures. For the time being and until proven otherwise, we will assume the worst case scenario and plan accordingly.

Vanda nursing her little calf; A Vanda amamentando a sua pequena cria.

Vanda nursing her little calf; A Vanda amamentando a sua pequena cria.

A satisfied calf; Uma cria satisfeita.

A satisfied calf; Uma cria satisfeita.

Outside the sanctuary the trap cameras recorded once again our good old friend Ivan the Terrible, patrolling his territory. He has clearly put on some weight and might be recovering some of his lost pride. But hopefully not too much of it. As for Mercury we couldn’t find him, and unconfirmed witness accounts place him patrolling a new territory on the opposite side of the sanctuary, far away from Ivan. I really miss this boy, and it would be a waste if we lose him as a breeding bull. Back inside the fenced camp and after months of frustrating delay it was finally possible to make a bore hole located in a scenic landscape right at the core of the sanctuary, which we will now make sure it will be operational at the onset of the next dry season.

In better shape, and displaying his magnificent horns; Em melhor forma, e mostrando os seus magníficos cornos.

Ivan in better shape, and displaying his magnificent horns; Em melhor forma, e mostrando os seus magníficos cornos.

Working on a borehole in Cangandala; Trabalhando num furo na Cangandala.

Working on a borehole in Cangandala; Trabalhando num furo na Cangandala.

A shocking development that we need to report in Cangandala relates, once more, to poaching activities. There is little doubt that we have at least one team of two armed poachers, who have been operating the area at least for the past three years. They know the area quite well, and mostly hunt at night with a spotlight near the sanctuary, but we know at least a couple times have ventured inside. They have been photographed by a Trap Camera back in 2012, and every now and then have manipulated, destroyed by fire or even stolen cameras. And they seem to have become progressively bolder in their actions. This time they completely destroyed one camera with an axe and took the memory card. Still, one of them was photographed a couple of weeks earlier on a different camera which they are unaware of. Unfortunately we obtained dark night photos, only useful to confirm we’re dealing with the same individuals but not good enough for precise IDs. We have now laid some traps with cameras hidden high up in trees, hoping to catch them in the act next time. This and more efforts are on the way to see if we can catch these guys.

The poacher in Cangandala; O caçador na Cangandala.

Armed poacher in Cangandala; O caçador na Cangandala.

A trap camera destroyed by poachers; Uma câmara oculta destruída pelos caçadores.

A trap camera destroyed by poachers; Uma câmara oculta destruída pelos caçadores.

Ranger placing a trap camera high to monitor poacher trails; Fiscal colocando uma câmara alto para monitorar passagem de caçadores.

Ranger placing a trap camera high to monitor poacher trails; Fiscal colocando uma câmara alto para monitorar passagem de caçadores.

Further south, the bridge across Luando River was finalized in July, and therefore we were able to drive the first car into the reserve in 27 years! We did a couple trips in this period to the reserve and each time spent several nights camping in the deep bush. Having the vehicle with us meant quite an improvement in terms of logistics and reach. But of course the bridge is also cause for concern as it facilitates the way for poachers and stimulates the greed for local natural resources. On the first trip we learnt that our old lion friend had returned to the region and created havoc among some locals, to the point that in certain villages people were strongly encouraged not to come out after dark. Another concern for the sable, although I remember thinking that if we’re lucky this could maybe deter or demoralize some poachers… who knows maybe the lion could even catch one poacher.

Our Toyota was the first car to cross the Luando river in 27 years; O nosso Toyota foi o primeiro carro a atravessar o Luando em 27 anos.

Our Toyota was the first car to cross the Luando river in 27 years; O nosso Toyota foi o primeiro carro a atravessar o Luando em 27 anos.

In Luando we also tried to approach the sable herds, but even tracking the VHF signals we had limited success. The region is very extensive and remote, and these animals are quite nervous, always on alert for poachers. Therefore the best we could achieve was very brief encounters, and for obvious reasons we decided not to push them further. Most of our time was used to patrol water holes and other hotspots previously identified from satellite imagery. Unfortunately it showed us once again that poaching is rampant in the reserve. We found plenty of poaching tracks, active and inactive traps, recently used cartridges, animal carcasses in traps, poacher’s camps, and even once we came across an armed poacher who got away before we could detain him. As this wasn’t enough the trap camera record were equally enlightening, as apart from roan and smaller antelope pictures, we obtained many photos of poachers, in five independent occasions! This fact was quite alarming.

Collecting cable snare traps; Recolhendo cabos de armadilhas de laço.

Collecting cable snare traps; Recolhendo cabos de armadilhas de laço.

Even a guineafowl can be caught in a snare trap, this one subsequently half-eaten by a bird of prey; Até uma galinha-do-mato pode cair numa armadilha, esta foi depois meia comida por uma ave de rapina.

Even a guineafowl can be caught in a snare trap, this one subsequently half-eaten by a bird of prey; Até uma galinha-do-mato pode cair numa armadilha, esta foi depois meia comida por uma ave de rapina.

And later the guineafowl ended up on the fire; E mais tarde a galinha-do-mato acabou na fogueira.

And later the guineafowl ended up on the fire; E mais tarde a galinha-do-mato acabou na fogueira.

Now I saved the best for last to end this report on less somber note (even if some might disagree): Before we left the reserve by the end of September we learnt the most amazing news. The lion did it!!! Our big boy caught, killed and had a poacher for supper. And he got away with it. According to the story as told at one local village by a very scared survivor, he and his friend were hunting at night with spotlights, and his companion was in front and carrying a shotgun, when he was ambushed by the big lion who gave him no chance to fight back. The second poacher run away as fast as he could and only stopped at the village, many kms further. He refused to go back to the meal site the following day and disappeared before long. Apparently no one could figure out where the poachers had come from, but were assumed to be diamond diggers operating along the Kwanza River. Now we hope the survivor to tell his tale, and spread it among his buddies.

I must admit that I am starting to see the lion under a different light now. A romantic person could be tempted to accept the lion as an active conservation agent fighting to hold his ground against competitors, while a cynical person could suggest that the lion is simply going for the most abundant prey: poachers! In any case, and however we choose to look at it, my respect for the Big Boy has increased exponentially!!!

The usually hard to find marbled snout-burrower; A geralmente difícil de encontrar rã-escavadora-marmoreada.

The usually hard to find marbled snout-burrower; A geralmente difícil de encontrar rã-escavadora-marmoreada.

A chameleon; Um camaleão.

A chameleon; Um camaleão.

Flower detail; Detalhe de flor.

Flower detail; Detalhe de flor.

More photos are available at the following link:
https://plus.google.com/photos/113384424565470443034/albums/6068878486065664289?authkey=CM6Uiuu3sLCkgwE

Best wishes,

Pedro

_________________________________________________________________________________

        • Second Trimester 2014 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS

Dear friends,

Driving through long grass; Conduzindo através do capim.

Driving through long grass; Conduzindo através do capim.

Although this rainy season wasn’t particularly wet, still the rains lasted for longer than the usual, with a lot of rain throughout April and well into May. This fact had several consequences, mostly positive for the animals but not necessarily facilitating our field work. During April and May, many drainage lines became waterlogged, so driving with the 4X4 inside the park was painstakingly slow and muddy, and as result we could only get glimpses of the animals inside the sanctuary.

Gently removing a small piece of wood from under the front axle; Cuidadosamente removendo um pequeno pedaço de madeira debaixo do eixo dianteiro.

Gently removing a small piece of wood from under the front axle; Cuidadosamente removendo um pequeno pedaço de madeira debaixo do eixo dianteiro.

Green hell; Inferno verde.

Green hell; Inferno verde.

In contrast when we returned in June, the soils in the park had pretty much dried up completely, but now there was an excess of overgrown grass everywhere. Most of the grass was dead but there was just enough moisture to prevent the start of prophylactic burnings. It felt like 2014 was one month delayed compared to standard years. And this period corresponds to the least attractive annual conditions, in the Cangandala bush, in my opinion. Rather give me rain, mud, wind, cold, heat, bees or fire anytime! But piles of dead grass with millions of tiny seeds getting everywhere and clogging the radiator are much more annoying. And of course it is a bad time to find and watch the sable. In June, and after a few frustrated attempts I eventually gave up on tracking them further.

Golden orb spider caught by the VHF antenna! Aranha apanhada pela antena de telemetria!

Golden orb spider caught by the VHF antenna! Aranha apanhada pela antena de telemetria!

Predator clash part II... jumping spiders are formidable hunters; Combate de predadores parte II... aranhas saltadoras são caçadores formidáveis.

Predator clash part II… jumping spiders are formidable hunters; Combate de predadores parte II… aranhas saltadoras são caçadores formidáveis.

More important is to recognize that the late rains at least reversed what until then had been a very dry wet season, and this is surely good news for the animals. As we have seen in previous years, good and late rains translate into shorter and less intense dry seasons, with a delay and reduction of bush fires, and more water available in water holes for longer time. And all this also means less poaching pressure and ultimately improved breeding success. This was particularly evident in Luando for the last couple years, when high mortality and low recruitment followed the very dry rainy season of 2011/2012, while the opposite happened last year after abundant rains.

A stunning bateleur; Uma fantástica águia-sem-cauda.

A stunning bateleur; Uma fantástica águia-sem-cauda.

Found on the road, a night adder ready to strike; Encontrada na estrada uma víbora-nocturna preparada para atacar.

Found on the road, a night adder ready to strike; Encontrada na estrada uma víbora-nocturna preparada para atacar.

Looking at the trap camera record it was a pleasure to confirm Ivan’s physical recovery. Even if it it is doubtful that he will ever be the same powerful unstoppable bull that was flown in from Luando Reserve in 2011. Most likely he will always carry a limp but how much this handicap will affect his proud and irascible nature remains to be seen. In any case it is reassuring to see that he has put on some weight and muscle and is back patrolling his old territory, even if his mane hasn’t yet regained the former pitch black coloration.

Ivan's back! O Ivan de volta!

Ivan’s back! O Ivan de volta!

But he will carry a limp for the rest of his life; Mas irá coxear para o resto da sua vida.

But he will carry a limp for the rest of his life; Mas irá coxear para o resto da sua vida.

Inside the sanctuary we failed to locate Mercury and he also didn’t surface in any salt lick. This started as being annoying, and then developed into an uncomfortable feeling, but finally we were shocked to locate his radio signal outside the sanctuary! Somehow he managed to break through and subsequently couldn’t get back inside… and he probably tried as we found him close and his tracks suggested he had been patrolling along the fence trying to return. This is a major setback of course, and made particularly worse because we were forced to cancel a pre-scheduled 2014 aerial operation for July as result of institutional misunderstandings.

So in less than one year we lost the original old bull on a fight with Ivan, then the later got caught in a snare trap and now we lost, at least temporarily, our most important young bull! And we don’t have the means to put him back in the short term. His escape also explains why in April we found the main breeding herd accompanied by the very young Apolo, barely mature and one year younger than Mercury.

Young Apolo is now taking charge; Jovem Apolo está a assumir o controlo.

Young Apolo is now taking charge; Jovem Apolo está a assumir o controlo.

At least the girls are still escorted by one bull, who should be perfectly capable of breeding. And the even younger Eolo, at age two and next in the male lineage seems also to be precocious and is became independent. Basically, even if Mercury never returns, this isn’t necessarily a crisis and it is probably a good thing to have different bulls siring calves every year, but we can surely not afford losing more bulls in the next few months. And of course, we also fear now for Mercury’s future, as security outside the sanctuary is far from optimal and he might also challenge Ivan with uncertain results.

Young Eolo now on his own; O jovem Eolo já independente.

Young Eolo now on his own; O jovem Eolo já independente.

Other than that, we had plenty of photos of the two extraordinary old breeding Cangandala cows, Luisa and Teresa. And yes, they seem to be pregnant once again, while still attending for their 2013 calves, two males that we have named Mars and Jupiter.

Old breeding cows Teresa and Luisa and her 2013 progeny; As velhas palancas parideiras Teresa e Luisa e sua prole de 2013.

Old breeding cows Teresa and Luisa and her 2013 progeny; As velhas palancas parideiras Teresa e Luisa e sua prole de 2013.

They had two boys, Mars and Jupiter. Tiveram dois rapazes, Marte e Júpiter.

They had two boys, Mars and Jupiter. Tiveram dois rapazes, Marte e Júpiter.

And both seem pregnant again, here Teresa pushing the boys away. E ambas as fêmeas parecem prenhes outra vez, aqui a Teresa empurrando os jovens.

And both seem pregnant again, here Teresa pushing the boys away. E ambas as fêmeas parecem prenhes outra vez, aqui a Teresa empurrando os jovens.

Young Mars and Jupiter under Luisa's surveillance; Jovens Marte e Júpiter sob vigilância da Luisa.

Young Mars and Jupiter under Luisa’s surveillance; Jovens Marte e Júpiter sob vigilância da Luisa.

In Luando the most relevant development is that the Provincial Government is building a new bridge that will allow access into the reserve with 4×4, which has not been possible for over two decades. This will be a huge contribution to our field work, but of course it is a double edged sword, as it might also facilitate poaching and other threats.

Building a new bridge over the Luando River; Construindo uma nova ponte sobre o rio Luando.

Building a new bridge over the Luando River; Construindo uma nova ponte sobre o rio Luando.

Flying duiker; Bambi voador.

Flying duiker; Bambi voador.

Photos can be viewed on Picasa Album through following link:

https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport2TRIM2014?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCO293uD_xNKAgAE&feat=directlink

Best wishes,

Pedro Vaz Pinto

_________________________________________________________________________________

        • First Trimester 2014 Report

VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS

Dear friends,

In the beginning of the year a short break in the rains allowed a 4X4 incursion into Cangandala NP, even though the road conditions had deteriorated substantially. It was a good opportunity to put to the test the new LandCruiser kindly donated by Toyota Angola, and sure enough there were plenty of good challenges for us to negotiate our way through the mud.

This time of the year the main access gets really bad. Nesta altura do ano o acesso principal torna-se mesmo complicado.

This time of the year the main access gets really bad.
Nesta altura do ano o acesso principal torna-se mesmo complicado.

Things seem to be evolving naturally in the sanctuary, with the animals consistently split in two groups, one comprising the old cows and most of the hybrids, and a second herd with most of the young sables. Somewhat surprisingly this time the second group was not accompanied by the bull Mercury, but by his younger sibling Apolo, who at age two is still very inexperienced. More worrying is the fact that Mercury didn’t show up at the trap cameras, nor could we picks up his radio signal anywhere. Maybe he’s been spending some time on his own and it was by chance that he’s gone undetected, but it is a bit suspicious… With Duarte and Ivan out of the picture, and the hybrid bulls castrated, he should be enjoying a comfortable dominance without competition inside the sanctuary, and I can’t think of any reason why he would leave his girls unattended… something to be followed up in future visits.

In the absence of Mercury, Apollo seems to be in charge. Na ausência do Mercúrio, o Apolo parece estar a dominar.

In the absence of Mercury, Apollo seems to be in charge. Na ausência do Mercúrio, o Apolo parece estar a dominar.

We were not able to confirm the number of sable calves, as the long grass, soft terrain and thick vegetation typical of the late rainy season, made it very hard to approach the herds.

A protea tree in full blossom. Um árvore de Protea totalmente em flor.

A protea tree in full blossom.
Um árvore de Protea totalmente em flor.

But it's party time for fungi. Mas é época de festa para os fungos.

But it’s party time for fungi.
Mas é época de festa para os fungos.

The herds were generously photographed in the trap cameras, but not simultaneously and similar aged calves are hardly distinguishable individually. In any case, we believe most calves have survived, and the animals look happy and healthy. Once again we could confirm the presence of several intruder roan bulls inside the sanctuary, but no females.

On the other hand, the roan herds out of the sanctuary have been producing lots of calves, consistently recorded in the cameras. One curious event revealed by the trap cameras was seeing that one old female – Paula, broke her left horn. Females often interact aggressively as they establish their hierarchical positions within the herd, and sometimes it can result in traumatic lesions. The broken horn however hasn’t reached live tissue and should bring no consequences to Paula, apart from hindering her dominance ambitions. And on the other hand it will make her much easier to be identified from now on.

Ol' Paula appeared with a broken horn! A velha Paula apareceu com corno partido!

Ol’ Paula appeared with a broken horn!
A velha Paula apareceu com corno partido!

Beautiful young roan girl drinking water. Bonita jovem fêmea de palanca ruana bebendo água.

Beautiful young roan girl drinking water.
Bonita jovem fêmea de palanca ruana bebendo água.

Young roan girl. Jovem menina palanca ruana.

Young roan girl.
Jovem menina palanca ruana.

Two old pure sable cows. Duas velhas palancas negras puras.

Two old pure sable cows.
Duas velhas palancas negras puras.

The trap cameras however also brought us a sweet-sour surprise. Remarkably, out most popular character – crazy Ivan “The Terrible” resurfaced! Following an absence that lasted for more than six months we had lost hope to locate him alive and assumed he had probably been another casualty of poachers. Well, he is alive yes, but unfortunately we weren’t that much off target in our fears. He did fell victim of a poaching incident, having been caught in one of the many infamous snare traps that are constantly being mounted in the park and neighboring areas. He has become a shadow of the Ivan we knew, and if it wasn’t for the white ear tags and VHF collar I would find it hard to accept that he is the same individual that now appeared in photos since January 3rd. Our old Ivan, strong and proud, mighty and threatening, undefeated… is gone. He is now a poor masculine figure, humble and skinny, feeble and frightened, beaten. Ivan has lost weight and has even lost his shiny black coat, having turned brown, almost female-colored. He is certainly not the same imposing bull, and on his left front leg carries a nasty ring-shaped scar, evidence of the cable snare that almost took his life. The incident must have happened many months ago and he must have gone through hell before finally attempting an hesitant return to his territorial duties. It is likely that the worst has passed and he will survive, but it is hard to predict if he will make a full recovery. This was yet another shocking proof that the poaching curse is far from resolved, even in Cangandala. It is highly frustrating that in spite of all the effort put into the project by the various stakeholders and the very significant successes obtained over the past few years, still we don’t seem to be winning the war against poaching and the recovery and survival of this magnificent and iconic species hangs by a thread.

Ivan resurfaced! But he is in shocking condition and hardly recognizable... O Ivan reapareceu! Mas está em condições deploráveis e quase irreconhecível...

Ivan resurfaced! But he is in shocking condition and hardly recognizable…
O Ivan reapareceu! Mas está em condições deploráveis e quase irreconhecível…

Ivan has turned brown and is skinny. O Ivan ficou castanho e escanzelado.

Ivan has turned brown and is skinny.
O Ivan ficou castanho e escanzelado.

Ivan's collar used to be tight around his neck... A coleira do Ivan costumava ficar-lhe apertada no pescoço...

Ivan’s collar used to be tight around his neck…
A coleira do Ivan costumava ficar-lhe apertada no pescoço…

The ring-shaped snare wound is clearly seen on his front left leg. A ferida circular da armadilha é claramente visível na sua para esquerda dianteira.

The ring-shaped snare wound is clearly seen on his front left leg.
A ferida circular da armadilha é claramente visível na sua para esquerda dianteira.

More photos can be viewed on Picasa Album through the following Link: https://plus.google.com/photos/113384424565470443034/albums/5998067063642775489?authkey=CPbNurKwo66wuQE

An elusive nighjar, possibly square-tailed (Caprimulgus fossii). Um esquivo noitibó, possivelmente Caprimulgus fossii

An elusive nighjar, possibly square-tailed (Caprimulgus fossii).
Um esquivo noitibó, possivelmente Caprimulgus fossii

A spider after the rain. Uma aranha depois da chuva.

A spider after the rain.
Uma aranha depois da chuva.

Best wishes,

Pedro

_________________________________________________________________________________

        • Third Trimester – Final 2013 Report: August to December

Versão Portugêse

Dear friends,

Following the July capture operation things stabilized in Cangandala NP. This year rains started early in September and as result of heavy works being done in the park by Government, to put bungalows and bringing new fencing materials, the access roads soon became so damaged, that from October onwards it became impossible to drive across the boundary into the park. For this reason we could only monitor the animals until September and after that we had to rely exclusively on the trap camera records. Inside the sanctuary and by the end of the dry season, a new well and water tank were being finalized and an elevated viewpoint was constructed over the Cazela river drainage.

The tree pangolin is a special and rare resident. O pangolim arborícola é um raro e especial residente.

The tree pangolin is a special and rare resident.
O pangolim arborícola é um raro e especial residente.

Young Apollo, at 2.5 years of age, is now becoming impressive. O jovem Apolo, com 2,5 anos de idade, está agora a ganhar corpo.

Young Apollo, at 2.5 years of age, is now becoming impressive. O jovem Apolo, com 2,5 anos de idade, está agora a ganhar corpo.

In late September the animals seemed to be doing very well, with young Mercury proudly assuming his role as the new master bull of Cangandala. The sables are consistently split in two herds, the younger group closely watched by Mercury and the old females lumped with the hybrids and apparently without permanent presence of any bull. In the latter case it still remains unclear if one of the castrated hybrid bulls has any deterrent effect on the pure males, but apparently the much younger Apollo at age 2 is now gravitating around the old cows.

Mercury watching over his group. Mercúrio vigiando o seu grupo

Mercury watching over his group. Mercúrio vigiando o seu grupo.

Mercury, females and a little calf. Mercúrio, fêmeas e uma pequena cria.

Mercury, females and a little calf. Mercúrio, fêmeas e uma pequena cria.

Most importantly we were able to confirm eight new calves born in 2013, the mothers being the six young females brought from Luando in 2011, and from Louise and Teresa, the two very old fertile cows that can’t stop breeding. And we still hope for a ninth calf that may have been produced by Venus, the first female born in the sanctuary back in 2010. Overall, and if we exclude the four problematic and old cows that have lost their breeding potential and never calved, then for the remaining cows the fertility is outstanding and pretty much at 100% since we started the breeding program. This is just one part of the equation as female sable are always expected to be very fertile, while it is the calf mortality during first year of age that often becomes a limiting factor for population growth.

Louise in August and just before giving birth. Luisa em Agosto e pouco antes de dar à luz.

Louise in August and just before giving birth. Luisa em Agosto e pouco antes de dar à luz.

Unfortunately we couldn’t drive into the sanctuary after September and the herds went few times to the salt licks for family photos, and so we couldn’t track properly calf development and success. By the end of the year it also seemed clear that we have permanently lost the two older bulls that had been the main protagonists in Cangandala for the past few years. Duarte was very old anyway and had done his part producing the first pure offspring produced in this park in over a decade. It seems logical that the terrible fight with Ivan back in March was his last. As for our most popular character, crazy Ivan the Terrible, unfortunately he seems to be out of the picture too. In May, Ivan was photographed, healthy and majestic, but in June he had disappeared while his collar was not emitting signal, and this was confirmed in subsequent months. There is no other large bull in the region and no serious wild predators in Cangandala, not to mention that Ivan was the strongest sable we have ever dealt with, so I’m afraid that we have to conclude that he was poached. Either shot by poachers or caught in a snare trap, and then the collar must have been intentionally destroyed.

The rainy season is when the fence is most vulnerable, because of frequent storms with trees and branches falling over. This has been cause for concern, and in addition it became apparent during the last few months that the fence has been challenged several times with animals breaking through. And of course there is no more Ivan to blame. So far it seems that no sable has escaped, but on the other hand at least two new roan bulls have invaded and established inside the sanctuary. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the roan population has apparently increased significantly in Cangandala or at least approaching the sanctuary, as proven by our remarkable trap camera record. Under such circumstances it is only normal that young roan males are naturally dispersing from their herds and finding good shelter inside the neighboring sanctuary. And our fence is clearly not a sufficient deterrent to stop a young roan bull on a mission. We confirmed in the photographs a young mature bull and also a lonely yearling, in two different salt licks. The latter is yet another animal that, miraculously given his age and smaller size, has survived a snare trap, showing an ugly scarred front leg. The unfortunate incident probably explains why he got astray at so tender age. When caught in the snare he must have suffered for a while, then panicked and got lost, before breaking into the sanctuary. Lost and lonely he was now recorded attempting to approach an old sable cow, probably a desperate attempt to find company.

The young roan male shows a clearly scarred front leg. O jovem macho de PV mostra uma pata dianteira ferida.

The young roan male shows a clearly scarred front leg. O jovem macho de PV mostra uma pata dianteira ferida.

New intruder - young roan male approaching a GS female. Novo intruso - jovem macho palanca vermelha. aproximando-se duma fêmea de PNG

New intruder – young roan male approaching a GS female. Novo intruso – jovem macho palanca vermelha. aproximando-se duma fêmea de PNG

In 2012 and concerned with continuing hybridization risks, we castrated the young and only roan male (Freddy) inside the sanctuary as he had joined the sable cows and we suspected they were poorly attended by old Duarte.

And Freddy, the castrated roan bull. E o Freddy, o macho de palanca vermelha castrado.

And Freddy, the castrated roan bull. E o Freddy, o macho de palanca vermelha castrado.

Now the situation has changed slightly and it is not realistic to keep tackling in such radical fashion every new roan invader. Especially because they will probably keep coming and more importantly the sable herds seem now properly supervised by young sable bulls. But we’ll keep watching… On the other hand and even if Ivan’s fate remains open to debate, the injuries on the new young roan prove that poaching with snares is still a major issue even in Cangandala NP, so a lot still remains to be done.

A lot of roan backsides. Muitos traseiros de palanca vermelha.

A lot of roan backsides. Muitos traseiros de palanca vermelha.

They seem curious... Parece curiosas...

They seem curious… Parece curiosas…

In Luando Reserve the fifteen sable equipped with GPS collars are being tracked permanently and apparently are all safe for now. It seems clear that the most serious threat pending over the last surviving giant sable herds in Luando, are the snare traps planted around the majority of water holes, mainly concentrated between June and August, and aiming to capture by the leg any medium to large ungulate that attempts to approach the site to drink. This infamous technique, often targeting the largest antelopes (mostly sable and roan) seems to be causing huge and unsustainable annual mortality on giant sable. Particularly affected are the most vulnerable, such as breeding cows and young animals, and this is supported by our demographic data. Pregnant and recently calved cows are probably the most dependent on a constant water supply, while yearlings are trusting, adventurous and inexperienced, and many times lack the strength to escape a snare. Old bulls are more weary creatures, less dependent on water and much stronger. This may explain why the bull population in Luando seems to be in better shape than the females and respective herds, and why so many females have serious leg injuries, and also why there seems to be an abnormally low annual recruitment of young animals into adult age, and contrasting with healthy numbers of calves.

A reedbuck skeleton near inactive traps. Um esqueleto de nunce próximo de armadilhas desactivadas.

A reedbuck skeleton near inactive traps.
Um esqueleto de nunce próximo de armadilhas desactivadas.

One of eight giant sable calves produced this year in Cangandala. Uma de oito crias de palanca negra gigante produzidas este ano na Cangandala.

One of eight giant sable calves produced this year in Cangandala. Uma de oito crias de palanca negra gigante produzidas este ano na Cangandala.

In an effort to counteract the rampant dry season poaching we have devised and successfully tested a new strategy, and which we expect will start producing results next season. Firstly we have acquired high resolution satellite imagery, and as result we were able to pinpoint an accurate water network for the whole reserve. Secondly, all water points were provisionally classified according to their nature, size and proximity to known sable territories or home ranges. One interesting surprise was finding that the water network was a lot more prolific than expected or at least perceived from our earlier ground experience… there is a lot more water available than we suspected, and this could be picked up from satellite! Then we conducted a quad bike expedition in September for ground trothing, and fine tuning and further detailed classification of the most important water holes, especially the ones closest to our already defined hotspots.

Preparing to cross the Luando River with a diesel quad. Preparando uma moto 4X4 diesel para atravessar o rio Luando.

Preparing to cross the Luando River with a diesel quad. Preparando uma moto 4X4 diesel para atravessar o rio Luando.

The Oceaneering team ferrying the quad. A equipa da Oceaneering atravessando a moto.

The Oceaneering team ferrying the quad. A equipa da Oceaneering atravessando a moto.

Safely on the other side. Já segura do outro lado.

Safely on the other side. Já segura do outro lado.

By the time we did the expedition, most water holes had dried out, while we experienced the first showers announcing the new rainy season. For this reason herds were not visiting the sites for drinking, and snare traps had already been removed. In any case, we were still in good time to evaluate the pre-identified water holes and to determine their importance and levels of threat. Over a few days and quad-biking in cross-country we visited 9 sites (of which only one was previously known by us), less than half than what we expected but we faced some contingency problems that forced us not to continue. Still, results were very promising and above expectations, and proving that we were on the right track. Two water holes, as also suggested by the sat imagery, had limited water retaining capacity and were downscaled as unimportant. Of the remaining seven sites, six (86%) had recent to not-too-old giant sable tracks. And four of those sites (57%) had serious and clear poaching signs. In three water holes we found large poles that had been used during the last dry season, for snares targeting sable and other large antelope. In one of these sites there was a skeleton of a reedbuck that had died maybe a month ago and in the meantime had been consumed by vultures and bushpigs.

Inspecting one water hole. Inspeccionando uma charca.

Inspecting one water hole. Inspeccionando uma charca.

Identification of a water hole in Luando. Identificação de uma charca no Luando.

Identification of a water hole in Luando. Identificação de uma charca no Luando.

In the last site visited the shock was even bigger when we burst into the scene and surprised a poacher calmly drying up meat around the fire on a camp situated less than 200mts from the water hole. He was alone as his other two mates had gone out to poach with shotguns. There were a few freshly killed duikers from the previous day, but we were even more alarmed to find that the two absent poachers had gone in pursuit of a giant sable bull that had visited the site during the night and left unaware of the poachers’ presence. This was easily concluded by the fresh tracks and spoor on the scene. The poacher was arrested and delivered to the local authorities, and his bounty burned. Upon interrogation he confessed that he lives in a village situated more than 100kms away, and they were a team of three and came in two bikes. The plan was shooting antelopes for a few days, drying up the meat, and then take the product to Malanje and sell it in the market.

This incident and some mechanical difficulties forced us abort the mission, as it would be too risky to try to reach some of the more remote sites. But the main objective had been achieved. We now hope to establish network surveillance next dry season, cleaning up and securing all major water holes in the key areas. And this may, hopefully and for the first time in many years, help to start turning the tables in our favor in the fight against poaching. Unfortunately and much to our shock and disappointment, we learned later, that our poacher escaped detention within 24 hours of being arrested and delivered…

Setting the poacher's camp on fire. Queimando o acampamento dos furtivos.

Setting the poacher’s camp on fire. Queimando o acampamento dos furtivos.

Another key milestone on this struggle may have been the renewed commitment from the FAA – Angolan Military Forces (army and air forces), who during October conducted a serious ground and aerial operation in Luando, aiming to serve as deterrent to poaching. For a few days they deployed teams patrolling the reserve, making local villagers aware of the importance to protect the giant sable, and sending the message that from now on, the military will be watchful to protect the national symbol. We collaborated with their initiative, and some awareness flyers and posters were produced and used to Luando. At the end of the operation no poachers had been caught but a clear statement was made.

An awareness poster. Um poster de sensibilização.

An awareness poster. Um poster de sensibilização.

Nevertheless, a few weeks later we received worrying reports that many armed poachers were still active in Luando, and as compelling evidence the shepherds found a freshly killed roan carcass. It was a yearling male and had been shot by poachers near the diamond areas along the Kwanza River. And yet another worrying report was learning from the shepherds that the big lion was back in business, patrolling and hunting inside giant sable sensitive areas. After the helicopter incident in July he had left the scene for a few months, but finally returned.

The shepherds in Luando by the river. Os pastores no Luando junto do rio.

The shepherds in Luando by the river. Os pastores no Luando junto do rio.

An evening in the wilderness Um final de tarde no mato

An evening in the wilderness. Um final de tarde no mato.

To finalize on a positive note, by the end of year we received wonderful news that Toyota – Angola would be donating us a brand new Land Cruiser HZJ … in good time indeed!

Photos can be seen through the following link:
https://plus.google.com/photos/113384424565470443034/albums/5967678625420685505?authkey=CJ6vpfnVq8LXdg

Best wishes,

Pedro
_________________________________________________________________________________
Special Report – July 2013
Versão Português

Dear friends,
Although the third annual report wasn’t supposed to be released before October, I felt July deserved a special newsletter to report on the 2013 Capture Operation, and hope you’ll enjoy it. This capture operation wasn’t intended to translocate any animals, as it was agreed that the Cangandala population has finally picked up and is breeding well following a slow start. The main objectives set in Cangandala, were: first of all (and if possible…) finding crazy “Ivan the Terrible” to replace his collar and maybe cut off the tip of his horns to make him less lethal; to track down old Duarte to confirm (or not) his death; to place a few new collars on pure sable including at least on the young bull Mercury; and if possible to dart some of the old 4-5 non-breeding cows, check her condition and maybe give them an hormonal boost to see if we can induce a late estrus.For Luando, the main objectives were to place as many new tracking collars as possible; track down known herds and animals collared in previous years while trying to find new groups; and very importantly, to get fresh information on the population trends, poaching activities and other threats. For this operation we counted with the same top-team as in 2009 and 2011, which proved to be as professional and efficient as always, namely the veterinary Pete Morkel and pilot Barney O’Hara and his chopper Hughes 500. They make their amazingly difficult and specialized skills to look easy. It is a privilege to work with them, and as in previous exercises, this operation was a complete success!A lot of logistics had to be put in place weeks in advance. Fuel was deployed to Cangandala NP and to Luando by military truck and by an Air Force Allouette respectively. The collaboration with Administration of Cangandala Municipality and Provincial Government of Malanje was very relevant, and as always the support from Angolan military forces proved instrumental. In preparation, we started by tracking the animals on the ground and checking the trap camera records, but results weren’t very encouraging. We were facing very atypical veld conditions, as the unusually moist and prolonged wet season had delayed the grass decay and seasonal burnings. This was probably good for the animals, providing more cover, graze and water availability well into the dry season, but made our job at finding and observing sable much harder of course. In addition few sable used the salt licks in June, one of the few exceptions being some of the young females brought from Luando in 2011, who were photographed very heavy on their second pregnancy. Surely this to be credited to young Mercury! As for Ivan he simply did not show up on any salt lick. This wasn’t promising as we wanted to have a good feel on his whereabouts before tracking him from the air, but as long as his collars was active we would find him sooner or later…

Young pregnant females; Jovens fêmeas prenhes

Young pregnant females; Jovens fêmeas prenhes

Well in her last few days of pregnancy; Bem nos últimos dias de gravidez

Well in her last few days of pregnancy; Bem nos últimos dias de gravidez

A lot of logistics had to be put in place weeks in advance. Fuel was deployed to Cangandala National Park and to Luando by military truck and by an Air Force Allouette respectively. The collaboration with Administration of Cangandala Municipality and Provincial Government of Malanje was very relevant, and as always the support from Angolan military forces proved instrumental.

Ready for first flight; Prontos para o primeiro voo

Ready for first flight; Prontos para o primeiro voo

In preparation, we started by tracking the animals on the ground and checking the trap camera records, but results weren’t very encouraging. We were facing very atypical veld conditions, as the unusually moist and prolonged wet season had delayed the grass decay and seasonal burnings. This was probably good for the animals, providing more cover, graze and water availability well into the dry season, but made our job at finding and observing sable much harder of course. In addition few sable used the salt licks in June, one of the few exceptions being some of the young females brought from Luando in 2011, who were photographed very heavy on their second pregnancy. Surely this to be credited to young Mercury! As for Ivan he simply did not show up on any salt lick. This wasn’t promising as we wanted to have a good feel on his whereabouts before tracking him from the air, but as long as his collars was active we would find him sooner or later…

As you probably guessed, Ivan would prove to be as unmanageable as ever, and for the two-week period that the operation lasted he simply vanished like a ghost. His collar wasn’t active anymore (must have ceased to function shortly before the exercise…), and the several hours spent flying over his territory produced no results. Disappointing, although not completely surprising… I suppose his legend continues, but let’s hope Mercury learns to keep away from this maniac! Similarly Duarte wasn’t to be found anywhere, as his collar also wasn’t active, probably result of the serious fight with Ivan that must have taken his life as well.

Other than this, everything else was very successful in Cangandala. We managed to dart and collar young Mercury, and we could confirm “in hand” that he is truly a superb specimen at his tender age – He has just turned three, and while his horns still haven’t curved much and don’t look impressive, nevertheless they are over 40 inches long.

Mercury with collar and ear tags; Mercúrio já com coleira e brincos

Mercury with collar and ear tags; Mercúrio já com coleira e brincos

In spite of his tender age Mercury is a worthy leader ; Apesar da sua tenra idade ele é um digno líder

In spite of his tender age Mercury is a worthy leader ; Apesar da sua tenra idade ele é um digno líder

The three young females that had been photographed very pregnant a month earlier, now all had three beautiful young babies, and for obvious reasons we didn’t disturb them any further. On the older group we found the two old breeding cows pregnant, and we managed to dart and collar the four remaining cows (the fifth, named Katia hadn’t been seen for almost one year and must have passed away by now). The non-breeding condition of these 4 old cows was confirmed by Dr. Morkel and so he gave them a hormonal injection. It’s probably too late for them to breed, having wasted a significant part of their lives with roan and hybrids, but we have nothing to lose. Finally and on the last day of flying, we were able to dart young Venus, the second sable born in the sanctuary, in 2010. She is a beautiful girl and probably on her first pregnancy!

Three females on the run; Três fêmeas em corrida

Three females on the run; Três fêmeas em corrida

First animal darted in Luando this year was an old female; primeiro animal capturado este ano no Luando foi uma fêmea velha

First animal darted in Luando this year was an old female; primeiro animal capturado este ano no Luando foi uma fêmea velha

Little calf in Cangandala; Jovem cria na Cangandala

Little calf in Cangandala; Jovem cria na Cangandala

Pete prepares an hormone shot for an old female; Pete prepara uma injecção hormonal para uma velha fêmea

Pete prepares an hormone shot for an old female; Pete prepara uma injecção hormonal para uma velha fêmea

The bulk of this operation however happened in Luando Reserve. It didn’t take us long to locate the main herd, known since 2011, as it was still on the same area and remarkably even watched closely by the same territorial bull, which had been the first sable found in Luando back in 2009 in that same spot! In subsequent days we relocated a second known herd, and eventually found a new herd, which we had long suspected. However, we couldn’t find two “old” groups, although one is suspected to have been poached out. Various females were darted and collared on each herd, and several territorial bulls were also found, darted and collared. In total, ten females and ten males were darted in Luando, from different groups and different age classes. Several sable bulls were very impressive, and, the seven adult bulls darted, measured between 52 and 58 inches.

A young female with dart visible on her back; Uma jovem fêmea com dardo visível no lombo.

A young female with dart visible on her back; Uma jovem fêmea com dardo visível no lombo

Careful approach on a darted bull; Aproximação cautelosa a um macho anestesiado

Careful approach on a darted bull; Aproximação cautelosa a um macho anestesiado

A bull collared, marked and ready to go. Um macho marcado e prontinho.

A bull collared, marked and ready to go. Um macho marcado e prontinho

Following drug reversal the bull recovers quickly; Após ministrar o antídoto o macho recupera rapidamente

Following drug reversal the bull recovers quickly; Após ministrar o antídoto o macho recupera rapidamente

Setting the collar; Apertando a coleira

Setting the collar; Apertando a coleira

Often Barney had squeeze his chopper to land it in the woodland! Frequentemente o Barney tinha de espremer o seu helicóptero para o poder aterrar na mata

Often Barney had squeeze his chopper to land it in the woodland! Frequentemente o Barney tinha de espremer o seu helicóptero para o poder aterrar na mata

On the second day of flying in Luando, happened one of the most extraordinary scenes I will ever witness. We had found the main herd on a large “anhara”, and after a very short chase, Pete placed a dart on a young female; as she was part of a large group and they were entering the woodland, we decided to chase them from close distance – to make sure we wouldn’t lose the darted animal if the herd split under tree cover. So far so good, but then, as Barney maneuvered the chopper over the tail of the herd, and as “our” female slightly started to slow down… a huge black-mane lion came out of nowhere, jumping from under the grass to the back of the female and quickly knocked her to the ground! We could not believe our eyes! There was a lion in Luando, and it had attacked a sable right underneath the chopper!!! We were in shock and totally unprepared for that… Everyone was screaming inside the chopper; I was in overdrive taking as many photos as I could, while trying to get rid of the seat belts to find a better observation angle and shouting at the same time. Barney lowered the chopper close over the battle scene while blowing the chopper siren continuously, and eventually the lion must have decided he couldn’t challenge this giant and noisy metal yellow bird, and moved away… The whole scene didn’t take longer than a few seconds, but it was an unforgettable experience. Amidst the battle there was one specific moment we will never forget, and I only regret not having been able to photograph it although is frozen in my mind – when we got down real close on them, the lion twisted on his embrace around the sable’s neck and looked up straight into our eyes, while his dark mane was being blown backwards by the wind projected from the chopper blades. It was a grotesque, creepy and unique sighting. Crazy stuff…

We zoom in and dart a young female... Aproximamo-nos e atiramos o dardo numa jovem fêmea...

We zoom in and dart a young female… Aproximamo-nos e atiramos o dardo numa jovem fêmea…

And out of nowhere... a lion strikes, attacking the young girl! E inesperadamente... um leão ataca a jovem menina!

And out of nowhere… a lion strikes, attacking the young girl! E inesperadamente… um leão ataca a jovem menina!

During the short battle the lionbrings down the female; Durante a curta escaramuça o leão derruba a fêmea

During the short battle the lion brings down the female; Durante a curta escaramuça o leão derruba a fêmea

Lowering the chopper and blowing the siren we managed to chase him away! Baixando o helicóptero e tocando a sirene conseguimos afugentar o leão!

Lowering the chopper and blowing the siren we managed to chase him away! Baixando o helicóptero e tocando a sirene conseguimos afugentar o leão!

Under the effect of M99 drug and being knocked down by a monster cat, the female was prostrated and wasn’t going anywhere. As soon as the lion fled the scene we landed the chopper next to the sable cow and urged to assist her on the ground. We trusted the lion had been sufficiently disturbed and spooked, not to come back and reclaim his prey. Fortunately the big boy didn’t return! It was our chance to inspect the adventurous female, who we named Carina. She was a beautiful young girl, three years of age and well advanced on her first pregnancy! Surprisingly she had suffered only minor injuries, only scratches on the back and neck, and a superficial wound on the belly. There were no bite wounds, and the sable skin had proved to be quite resistant to the lion claws on his first wave of the assault. A few more seconds and it would have been too late for her… The belly wound was bleeding slightly but Pete was concerned that infection could spread quickly and in deadly fashion, as lion claws can be full of bacteria. The wound was abundantly cleaned with water, disinfected and treated with antibiotics. The female was then marked, collared and released.

Our main concern was assisting the poor girl; A nossa maior preocupação era ajudarmos a pobre fêmea

Our main concern was assisting the poor girl; A nossa maior preocupação era ajudarmos a pobre fêmea

The wound was duly treated; A ferida foi devidamente tratada

The wound was duly treated; A ferida foi devidamente tratada

But she was still in grave danger, as the lion could well return to track her down. To improve her survival chances, after waking up we chased her a couple kms away from the scene. Then we returned and for a while we looked for the lion but we could never find him again. Not surprising, as the long grass makes a perfect cover for a lion. That’s when we started to realize the gravity of the situation, of having an active sable predator on the loose around our most important herd! We may have played the herd into his claws that morning, but there’s little doubt that he must have been there tracking down the sable for a meal. And chances are he’s done it before and will do it again. This can be a real problem. Our numbers are so desperate, that all it takes is one lion killing one sable every few weeks, to compromise the population’s recovery. In retrospect, maybe we should have left the female anesthetized on the ground and focused instead on the lion before he got away… but during those frantic moments all we could think was rescuing the poor girl! At least in subsequent days we confirmed that Carina recovered completely, and in 48 hours had rejoined the herd.

Carina ready to go; A Carina pronta para seguir.

Carina ready to go; A Carina pronta para seguir

But as dramatic as this scene was, the lion is not our biggest concern. The main predator in Luando walks on two legs, and during the operation we were confronted with new evidence on a daily basis. And as in previous years some of the poaching examples recorded are quite shocking. The fact that the previous season was very wet meant that the poachers had to delay somewhat their dry season snaring activities, as they usually place the traps around strategically burnt grass patches, and water holes. In spite of this, we found plenty of areas trapped, including one given water hole, located deep inside a herd’s territory, and with huge snare traps clearly targeting the sable.

In Cangandala, south of the sanctuary, we found a live duiker caught in a snare, which we were able to release, while in Luando we found two dead duikers that had died snared and left to the vultures. In comparison with 2011 we found less traps and poaching camps, but this may well have been because this operation was done earlier and the dry season is delayed this year. More worrying is the fact that in previous occasions we found most of the snares to be made of nylon and the minority made of cable, but this time the vast majority of 60 snares collected, were made of steel cable, therefore much more lethal.

Snares set on a fresh grazing patch; Armadilhas montadas no capim fresco

Snares set on a fresh grazing patch; Armadilhas montadas no capim fresco

The very long and robust poles with steel cable snares were designed to catch sable; As varas muito longas e robustas com laços de aço foram preparadas para capturar palancas

The very long and robust poles with steel cable snares were designed to catch sable; As varas muito longas e robustas com laços de aço foram preparadas para capturar palancas

Dismantling snare lines; Desmanchando linhas de armadilhas

Dismantling snare lines; Desmanchando linhas de armadilhas

Just as if finding all those snares wasn’t enough, we had to face several vivid examples of their effects on sable. Two darted females had horrible injuries in the form of amputated legs. One was a poor four year old female with the right front leg amputated below the knee. The accident had probably happened 1-2 years ago and the injury had healed remarkably, but of course she has a serious limp, and has never produced a calf. The other was an older female which had the left hind leg amputated. None of these females will ever breed, and for the sable population they have been wasted. They’re as good as dead… In addition two of the bulls found were limping, and after being darted and inspected, they revealed serious injuries on their right hind legs, also clearly caused by snare traps. Maybe because of their stronger built, or simply because they were luckier, they managed to recover without leg amputations, but they still carry nasty scars resulting in deformed and less functioning legs. It is unclear just how much they are affected but their breeding abilities might well be compromised.

This was a shocking find, and the poor female never had a calf and is lost for breeding; Esta foi uma descoberta chocante, e a pobre fêmea nunca pariu e está perdida para a reprodução.

This was a shocking find, and the poor female never had a calf and is lost for breeding; Esta foi uma descoberta chocante, e a pobre fêmea nunca pariu e está perdida para a reprodução

A snare injury on the bull's leg; Uma ferida de armadilha na pata do macho

A snare injury on the bull’s leg; Uma ferida de armadilha na pata do macho

Female sable skull found in the bush drying up in Cangandala camp; Crânio de palanca fêmea encontrado no mato secando na Cangandala

Female sable skull found in the bush drying up in Cangandala camp; Crânio de palanca fêmea encontrado no mato secando na Cangandala

In total, a staggering rate of 20% of all darted animals (males and females) had serious snare injuries. Considering that this might be the tip of the iceberg, representing just the ones that survived, we can have a good idea on the magnitude of this problem. Surely this level of poaching pressure translates into completely unsustainable harvesting. As far as we could tell, some poaching originated in the local villages. But the more organized and most worrying type of poaching, targeting the larger antelopes such as sable, seems to be fueled by a constant demand for meat to supply the diamond outfits established along the Kwanza River.

We now have a very good picture on the real situation on the ground, numbers and location of herds, and the level of threats. Compared to 2011, the sable population doesn’t seem to have decreased further, but it hasn’t increased either. Rather, it seems to have stabilized around low and dangerous figures: there aren’t more than a hundred giant sables left! Over the next few months we expect to implement a series of anti-poaching activities in collaboration with the military.

Sendi making a educational presentation for public schools in Cangandala; A Sendi fazendo uma apresentação educativa para escolas públicas da Cangandala

Sendi making a educational presentation for public schools in Cangandala; A Sendi fazendo uma apresentação educativa para escolas públicas da Cangandala

You’re welcomed to enjoy the photos on this link.

Best wishes,

Pedro

_________________________________________________________________________________
Second Trimester 2103 Report
Versao Portuguese
Dear Friends,

Just before sunrise on the Luando; Antes de nascer o sol no Luando.

Just before sunrise on the Luando; Antes de nascer o sol no Luando.

Sunrise; Sol nascente.

Sunrise; Sol nascente.

The second trimester usually marks the transition from the wet to the dry season. It has hardly been a favorite of mine, as April tends to be too wet and waterlogged, while in May and June the dead grass takes over and the bush fires start, making field work uncomfortable and not very productive. It is never a good time of the year to observe the animals as our mobility is reduced and they have plenty of cover. If this wasn’t enough, the abundant rains of the ending rainy season delayed the normal sequence of events at least one month.

Even throughout June, we struggled to drive across the floodplain that defines the western boundary of Cangandala National Park.

Stuck in mud! Atascado na lama!

Stuck in mud! Atascado na lama!

Preparing the crossing; Preparando a travessia.

Preparing the crossing; Preparando a travessia.

And not surprisingly, we had very few sable observations to report. The most we could do, was approaching a few times the young herd, now proudly supervised permanently by magnificent Mercury (the first born of our “new” Cangandala). Attempts to approach the larger herd, comprising old females and hybrids, were not very successful because of the elusive nature of hybrids, dense cover and made worse by the conspicuous absence of ol’ Duarte. In spite our efforts we could not track his radio signal anywhere. Considering the fight reported on the fence in the end of March, we do fear that we may not see the old bull again… A pity, as he had made a miraculous recovery after last year’s challenge, but he was getting too old anyway.

Young Mercury; Jovem Mercúrio.

Young Mercury; Jovem Mercúrio.

Old sable female Sarah drinking water; A velha fêmea pura Sara bebendo água.

Old sable female Sarah drinking water; A velha fêmea pura Sara bebendo água.

On the other hand Ivan, as the trap cameras confirmed, looks as strong as ever and unscratched. What worries us, is that Mercury will be next in the succession line under Ivan’s radar, and sooner or later might be challenged for battle… and we cannot afford to lose young Mercury!

Ivan the Terrible! Ivan o Terrível!

Ivan the Terrible! Ivan o Terrível!

Lots of calves suggest good roan production this year; Muitas crias indiciam uma boa produtividade de palancas-vermelhas este ano.

Lots of calves suggest good roan production this year; Muitas crias indiciam uma boa produtividade de palancas-vermelhas este ano.

The biggest surprise in the sanctuary was finding a pair of reedbuck. Over the past two decades reedbuck were almost wiped out in Cangandala (although in Luando they are still common today), and the last sighting had been in 2009 in a floodplain further south. We certainly didn’t expect any reedbuck to had been caught inside the fence perimeter, where the habitat is not the most attractive for this species. Reedbuck in the region generally prefers more extensive open areas associated with drainage lines. However a careful look at the photo record, gave us some hints on how they had ended up here. Being an adult female and a very young male, suggests they are mother and son. A likely scenario would be the female moving into the woodland to give birth, precisely when the fence was being expanded and as result she ended up imprisoned inside the sanctuary with her calf. Even if the habitat is not their most preferred, they will be safe inside the camp, and now bear the responsibility to repopulate the area!

A huge surprise: a female reedbuck inside the sanctuary! Uma grande surpresa: uma fêmea de nunce dentro do santuário!

A huge surprise: a female reedbuck inside the sanctuary! Uma grande surpresa: uma fêmea de nunce dentro do santuário!

As if it wasn't enough, she was in the company of a young male, probably her son; Como se não bastasse, estava acompanhada de um jovem macho, provavelmente o seu filho.

As if it wasn’t enough, she was in the company of a young male, probably her son; Como se não bastasse, estava acompanhada de um jovem macho, provavelmente o seu filho.

In Luando reserve, rains had also been generous, but the most worrying factor were insisting reports of poaching, brought to us by the shepherds. Poaching does seem to be closely linked with several diamond operations established along the Kwanza river, as they create an increasing demand for bushmeat, and this remains unchallenged. And of course, well armed poachers, not only are a permanent threat to the animals, but they put the lives of our shepherds in danger. Some steps are being taken to tackle this crisis, and I’m hopeful it may produce results soon.

Family photo with project booklets; Foto de família com as brochuras do projecto.

Family photo with project booklets; Foto de família com as brochuras do projecto.

White dance over red; Dança branca sobre vermelho.

White dance over red; Dança branca sobre vermelho.

Next trimester we expect to make a new aerial survey and place up to 20 collars on sable in Cangandala and Luando.

Handsome young bushbuck; Jovem e elegante golungo.

Handsome young bushbuck; Jovem e elegante golungo.

Uncommon visitor to Cangandala: a western banded snake eagle; Um visitante pouco habitual na Cangandala: uma águia-cobreira-listrada.

Uncommon visitor to Cangandala: a western banded snake eagle; Um visitante pouco habitual na Cangandala: uma águia-cobreira-listrada.

Photos can be seen as usual on a picasa web album, through this link.

Pedro

__________________________________________________________________________________
First Trimester 2103 Report
Versao Portuguese
Dear Friends,

Juvenile martal eagle; Águia-marcial juvenil.

Juvenile martal eagle; Águia-marcial juvenil.

Rains this year have been plenty and generous, and I can’t remember such an extreme wet season in Cangandala at least since the 2005/2006 season. This fact has several consequences that, one way or the other, affect our work. The first and most obvious result was over flooding the rivers, which reduced considerably our mobility inside the park. Actually, and as soon as the rains grew in intensity around mid-January, the park main road was cut-off, and we had to walk across with water above our knees to get in. Approaching the animals in these conditions turned out to be almost impossible, and the only exception was a brief observation and photographs taken still in January.

A stunning grasshopper on lilac flower; Um gafanhoto fantástico numa flor lilás.

A stunning grasshopper on lilac flower; Um gafanhoto fantástico numa flor lilás.

Cangandala park at dusk; Parque da Cangandala ao anoitecer.

Cangandala park at dusk; Parque da Cangandala ao anoitecer.

Nevertheless, the abundant rains might be a blessing, especially following several very dry seasons in a row. It reduces considerably the risk of intense drought, it should also replenish underground water resources and the soils should keep moisture for longer into the dry season; and the lush development of the vegetation should provide lots of grazing material. On the other hand, the constant rains didn’t allow for strategically placed small out-of-season burnings, which in previous years had contributed for a balanced veld management and food provision for the animals. Another concern is that the overgrown grass this year will turn into a huge amount of dead grass – combustible material, thus increasing enormously the risks of hot fires in the dry season, inside the sanctuary. So basically, the weather conditions this year might prove to be good in many respects, but will demand a more carefully planned and assertive management in the next few months.

Possibly long reed frog Hyperolius nasutus... Possivelmente rela-de-nariz-afiado Hyperolius nasutus

Possibly long reed frog Hyperolius nasutus… Possivelmente rela-de-nariz-afiado Hyperolius nasutus

An interesting frog, a shovel nosed Hemisus marmoratus; Uma rã interessante, rã-escavadora Hemisus marmoratus.

An interesting frog, a shovel nosed Hemisus marmoratus; Uma rã interessante, rã-escavadora Hemisus marmoratus.

As for the animals, as always there are new developments to report, and this time a huge surprise was registered. While observing a herd inside the sanctuary in January, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we spotted Joana among the group! This was a totally unexpected. Joana-the-mad-cow, had proved to be anti-social and escaped under the fence, soon after being captured in 2009. It had since remained outside the sanctuary, behaving in secretive fashion, declined to approach the hybrids when they were around in the first two years, and although we looked for her, we failed to find her during the 2011 capture exercise. And finally, even when having Ivan-the Terrible around, they didn’t seem to “connect”, as they were never recorded together, in spite clearly overlapping their roaming territories. Of course, neither of them seemed to be friendly characters, but we always had hope that they could get along somehow… or at least to meet on a special stormy night… On the other hand we still fear the day Ivan will break through the fence into the sanctuary, but the last thing we expected was Joan to decide to crawl under the fence after 4 years of deliberate isolation!

As the rainy season progressed, the animals did split into several smaller sub-herds, at one given time apparently into 4 groups, one group with old females and the old bull Duarte, a second group with young Mercury and many young females, a third group composed of a couple females a younger male and several calves, and a last group mostly comprising hybrids.

  • The herd half-hideen behind trees; A manada meio escondida por detrás das árvores.

    The herd half-hideen behind trees; A manada meio escondida por detrás das árvores.

    Ol' Duarte back in business! O velho Duarte de volta à acção!

    Ol’ Duarte back in business! O velho Duarte de volta à acção!

  • Young Mercury looking after his girls; Jovem Mercúrio tomando conta das suas meninas.

    Young Mercury looking after his girls; Jovem Mercúrio tomando conta das suas meninas.

    And here comes Ivan the Terrible! E aqui vem Ivan o Terrível!

    And here comes Ivan the Terrible! E aqui vem Ivan o Terrível!

    And Ivan always patrolling his territory; E o Ivan sempre patrulhando o seu território.

    And Ivan always patrolling his territory; E o Ivan sempre patrulhando o seu território.

    Other than this, we had to rely on the trap cameras to know what was going on. And here our expectations were fully met. Back in December we were convinced that Teresa, one of our two old breeding cows which had conceived calves in January and February (the other being Luisa), would produce a second calf before end of 2013. Well, not only we could confirm that, but somewhat surprisingly, both cows produced the second calf by turn of the year! That was fantastic, as both cows, in spite of their age, seem now to be well synchronized, and producing calves every 9 months. This brought us to a total 2013 production to 7 calves (where 2 old females alone produced 4 of these), of which 3 were females, 2 males, and the two youngest still undetermined (although at least one of the later seems to be a female). Truth be said, the second male calf born, hasn’t been seen in many months and may well have been killed. Some degree of calf mortality is unavoidable, but if confirmed it was the first casualty in 3 years, and in any case it is better to lose a male calf than a female.

    The young females and progeny; As jovens fêmeas e prole.

    The young females and progeny; As jovens fêmeas e prole.

    A 4 month old young girl! Uma jovem menina de 4 meses!

    A 4 month old young girl! Uma jovem menina de 4 meses!

    Young 2.5 year old female... has she entered her first pregnancy? Jovem fêmea de 2,5 anos, estará já na sua primeira gravidez?

    Young 2.5 year old female… has she entered her first pregnancy? Jovem fêmea de 2,5 anos, estará já na sua primeira gravidez?

    By end of March, we received disturbing news, accounting for a new fight along the fence, between Ivan and, presumably, Duarte. Once again the fence got quite damaged, and there were clear signs of fighting and blood, but neither Ivan nor any other bull could be found nearby. We still don’t know for sure if any bull got seriously injured or if animals moved across the fence boundary, but apparently things are back to normal and are once again peaceful. For now…

    Photos can be seen as usual on a picasa web album, through the following link here.

    An unusual visitor: a genet! Um visitante pouco usual: uma geneta!

    An unusual visitor: a genet! Um visitante pouco usual: uma geneta!

    Do I look pretty or what?! Estou bonito ou quê?!

    Do I look pretty or what?! Estou bonito ou quê?!

    An artistic shot of an adult white-headed vulture on the wing! Uma foto artística de um abutre-de-cabeça-branca adulto em voo!

    An artistic shot of an adult white-headed vulture on the wing! Uma foto artística de um abutre-de-cabeça-branca adulto em voo!

    Best wishes,

    Pedro
    __________________________________________________________________________________ Fourth Trimester Report,

    VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS

    • Dear friends,The last trimester of 2012 marked the onset of the rainy season as predicted. In Cangandala and Luando, the rains started early and heavy this season, somewhat compensating for the severe drought that lasted for almost one year.
      Threatening rain in Cangandala... Ameaçando chover na Cangandala...

      Threatening rain in Cangandala… Ameaçando chover na Cangandala…

      We had several good developments in Cangandala. Firstly, and quite unexpectedly, old Duarte not only survived but made a sensational recovery. Only a few weeks after we had left him in shocking condition, we found him in great shape and looking after his girls.

      Duarte is back! Duarte está de volta!

      Duarte is back! Duarte está de volta!

      I must confess that I had been very pessimistic about his future, and I was quite convinced that he stand little chance of making it through the turn of the year. Fortunately I was completely wrong on this one! He no longer is limping markedly, seems to keep well the pace with the herd, looks alert and in good condition; the fur recovered the old shine and, quite remarkably, the ticks are now almost completely gone. Quite amazing how fast the ticks spread and took over his skin when he was beaten and ill, and how quickly they disappeared as soon as he got better… it’s as if ticks sense when an animal is debilitated, and/or somehow a healthy animal has the ability to repel most ticks and keep them under control.

      C'mon Duarte, let's go! Então Duarte, vamos embora!

      C’mon Duarte, let’s go! Então Duarte, vamos embora!

      But if ticks were under control, the tsetse flies were a nightmare, probably affecting all living mammals in the region, us included! This was not necessarily surprise, as every year after the first big set of rains, and for about a couple months until the woodland gets too wet even for them, the flies explode in numbers and come down hard mainly targeting the large social antelopes. I have the distinct feeling (I feel it in my veins) that this has become worse every year, which is probably a good sign… more sable mean more tsetse flies! To procure some relief from the relentless flies, every 15-20 minutes the sable herd would suddenly run for a couple hundred meters before resume grazing. It also seemed that the bulls were the most affected by flies (possibly attracted to the dark coloration), and in response they would sit down often inside thick bush.

      Struggling with tse-tse flies; Sofrendo com as moscas tsé-tsé.

      Struggling with tse-tse flies; Sofrendo com as moscas tsé-tsé.

      At the end October the animals had temporarily split in two groups: the old females stayed with the hybrids, while the new females and young were joined by the bulls in a second herd. This worked very well in our favor, as the crazy hybrids are always nervous and almost impossible to approach. Therefore, we focused on the second group and were able to approach the animals several days, providing us not only to monitor closely the most important group, but also to get by far the best photographic sequences to date!

      Young females, aged 3 and 2; Jovens fêmeas de 3 e 2 anos de idade.

      Young females, aged 3 and 2; Jovens fêmeas de 3 e 2 anos de idade.

      And most importantly, breeding turned out to be better than anticipated. It turns out that all the three young females brought in from Luando in 2011 at age 2, produced one calf each. This brings the total calves produced in 2012 to 5, but it is possible that the old champion breeder Teresa, may have calved again before end of the year (she could not be located). But at least we had 5 calves, of which 3 are females.

      Three young calves, age 2, 3 and 8 months; Três jovens crias com 2, 3 e 8 meses de idade.

      Three young calves, age 2, 3 and 8 months; Três jovens crias com 2, 3 e 8 meses de idade.

      The youngest female calf; A mais jovem cria fêmea.

      The youngest female calf; A mais jovem cria fêmea.

      It was a pleasure to keep track of this prime herd, with several young beautiful girls, and many calves around.

      Young girls are curious; Jovens fêmeas são curiosas.

      Young girls are curious; Jovens fêmeas são curiosas.

      PalancaReport_4Trim2012-56

      Wanda, the youngest female brought from Luando; Wanda, a mais jovem fêmea que trouxemos do Luando.

      In addition, Duarte’s successions seems to be guaranteed and in smooth fashion, as both Mercury and Apolo are growing up fast and strong, and so far are well integrated and tolerated by Duarte. They all seem to know their role and position within the hierarchy…But of course boys will be boys, and sooner or later, the youngest should get expelled.

      Young handsome Apolo; O Jovem e bonito Apolo.

      Young handsome Apolo; O Jovem e bonito Apolo.

      Apolo is growing strong but not dark yet; O Apolo está a crescer forte mas ainda não escureceu.

      Apolo is growing strong but not dark yet; O Apolo está a crescer forte mas ainda não escureceu.

      Mercury and a male calf; Mercúrio e uma cria macho.

      Mercury and a male calf; Mercúrio e uma cria macho.

      I'm still the boss! Ainda sou o chefe!

      I’m still the boss! Ainda sou o chefe!

      Looking back, the first two years after the breeding program started have been very disappointing, and the breeding frustratingly slow. But now finally things are looking brighter, and for next year we expect an even better breeding performance, as we have now four other females which have just turned 2 year old, and could deliver their first calf in 2013. With two remarkable exceptions (Teresa and Luisa) the old Cangandala females haven’t been up to the challenge, and if it wasn’t for the 2011 operation bringing to the pot 6 new females from Luando, the giant sable population in Cangandala would not have survived! Now, at least we have a chance.

      Neffretiti suckling on her mom Rachel; A Nefretiti mamando na sua mãe Raquel.

      Neffretiti suckling on her mom Rachel; A Nefretiti mamando na sua mãe Raquel.

      Our prime herd; A nossa manada de eleição.

      Our prime herd; A nossa manada de eleição.

      As for mad-Ivan, after almost beating Duarte to death, he has kept low profile, and been peacefully behaved. Of course I don’t trust him in the least, and possibly he is preparing a new surprise… He is still out of the fence and patrolling the boundaries regularly, but as usual we could never get within sight distance. And for the past few months he has even avoided the salt licks, except for one time in which he made a ghostly and brief appearance, as if to say “Beware of Ivan, I’m still around…”

      Ivan on a brief appearance; O Ivan numa aparição momentânea.

      Ivan on a brief appearance; O Ivan numa aparição momentânea.

      The trap cameras gave us plenty of duiker, bushbuck and warthogs as usual and some roan, but the biggest surprise was a young male waterbuck, quite close to the fence line. These were known from the riverine floodplains in the south, and it was the first time recorded in the heart of the park. Also interesting were a few nocturnal sequences showing us a greater gaçlago and a white-tailed mongoose.

      Duikers head to head; Bambis cabeça com cabeça.

      Duikers head to head; Bambis cabeça com cabeça.

      Do I look nice? Estou bonito?

      Do I look nice? Estou bonito?

      If things went smoothly in Cangandala, it was however very different in Luando where poaching seems to be rampant, and we were faced with a number of shocking cases to illustrate this, in spite of the desperate efforts from the rangers – the giant sable shepherds. Two shepherds on patrol were shot at by poachers (fortunately the poachers missed and no one got injured) and on a second occasion managed to apprehend a rifle, as the poacher escaped and left the weapon behind. Plenty of snare traps are being found and dismantled on a regular basis, but arguably the most shocking incident was when, during a routine patrol, the shepherds found a dead body of a freshly killed giant sable bull. The carcass was getting rotten, but still showed a round bullet on the neck.

      The sable bull carcass; A carcassa da palanca morta.

      The sable bull carcass; A carcassa da palanca morta.

      With support from the Angolan Air Force we scooped the area on the following day after the incident was recorded, without relevant results, and only a couple weeks later we were able to make a ground expedition to the site, to gather additional information. It was a young healthy bull, at the prime of his life, and had no signs of infection or bone injuries, practically ruling out a snare injury or disease. The most likely scenario points to bull getting away after being shot in the neck by poachers.

      We camped near the site for a couple nights, and on one of those nights we actually saw a spotlight in the distance and heard shots, just across a small river from us and about 500mts from where the carcass was! If there were ever any doubts of what killed the bull…

      Aerial view in Luando; Vista aérea no Luando.

      Aerial view in Luando; Vista aérea no Luando.

      The team of giant sable shepherds crossing the Luando river; A equipa de pastores da palanca atravessando o rio Luando.

      The team of giant sable shepherds crossing the Luando river; A equipa de pastores da palanca atravessando o rio Luando.

      As we progressed cross-country we found dozens of traps; À medida que progredimos a corta-mato encontrámos dezenas de armadilhas.

      As we progressed cross-country we found dozens of traps; À medida que progredimos a corta-mato encontrámos dezenas de armadilhas.

      The head of the bull killed by poachers; A cabeça da palanca morta pelos caçadores-furtivos.

      The head of the bull killed by poachers; A cabeça da palanca morta pelos caçadores-furtivos.

      The shotgun aprehended by the shepherds; A caçadeira apreendida pelos pastores.

      The shotgun aprehended by the shepherds; A caçadeira apreendida pelos pastores.

      Camp fire in Luando; Fogueira no acampamento no Luando.

      Camp fire in Luando; Fogueira no acampamento no Luando.

      Camping deep in Luando... Acampando nas profundezas do Luando.

      Camping deep in Luando… Acampando nas profundezas do Luando.

      Compared to a few years ago, we now have a much better understanding of what is happening in Luando. We also have a basic monitoring network on the ground which is producing promising results, and some small steps are being implemented directly against these illegal activities. But we are still far away from tackling the crisis properly and reverse the trend. The situation is quite alarming, but I want to believe that 2013 will be year of change, when the table odds will be finally turned against the poachers and in the giant sable’s favor!

      A bocage's tree frog; Uma rela-de-bocage.

      A bocage’s tree frog; Uma rela-de-bocage.

      The angolan reed frog is the commonest amphibian in Cangandala; A rela-de-angola é o anfíbio mais comum na Cangandala.

      The angolan reed frog is the commonest amphibian in Cangandala; A rela-de-angola é o anfíbio mais comum na Cangandala.

      Another colour form of Angolan reed frog; Outra coloração da rela-de-angola

      Another colour form of Angolan reed frog; Outra coloração da rela-de-angola

      Flat-backed toad; Sapo-de-costas-achatadas.

      An unusual visitor, a honey buzzard; Um visitante pouco usual, um falcão-abelheiro.

      An unusual visitor, a honey buzzard; Um visitante pouco usual, um falcão-abelheiro.

      Holub's golden weaver; Tecelão-dourado.

      Holub’s golden weaver; Tecelão-dourado.

      Photos from last trimester can be seen through this link:
      https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport4Trim2012?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCN7Uv9-hncmi6wE&feat=directlink

      Best wishes,

      Pedro

      _________________________________________________________________________________

    • Angola Field Group Presentation: Biologist Pedro Vaz Pinto presented an update on Angola’s endangered giant sable (palanca negra gigante) to an audience of over 150 members of the Angola Field Group on October 25, 2012.
      Pedro Vaz Pinto.

      Pedro Vaz Pinto at the presentation.

      In the following video (part one of two) Pedro Vaz Pinto provides an overview of the giant sable including the history and place in Angola’s culture and environment today:

      In the next video (part two of two) Pedro Vaz Pinto discusses the 2003 launch of the Giant Sable Project and Conservation Initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Environment – the project’s original objective was to locate the giant sable; the creation of the Shepherd Program in 2004; the publication in 2005 of the first photos of giant sable taken since 1982; information about the hybridaztion of the species that has taken place in Cangandala plus more Giant Sable project highlights up to 2008. Since 2009, the bulk of the project’s activities are being implemented by the Kissama Foundation and the main priority now is conservation of the giant sable.

      More highlights from the presentation: 

      2010: The first two calves were born in Cangandala and a new fenced camp of 2400 was created (in the process 10 hybrids were inadvertantedly caught inside).

      2011: A new camp of 400 ha was built and a new capture operation was launched; hyrbids were confined in a third camp. The team managed to catch and bring 6 new young females from Luando reserve: three two-year olds and three one-year olds. Two new bulls were also brought in: a young male and one ‘at the prime of life’ named ‘Ivan the Terrible’ due to his uncontrollable nature. Ivan eventually killed the young male and broke through the fence. A third calf was produced.

      2012: Two females died of old age; one female became pregnant again and the first calf born in 2010 is now preparing to take over the herd. Currently poaching is the main threat to the giant sable. Snares and pit traps are widely used causing severe trauma and death. A staggering 15% of adult animals captured or photographed had nasty leg injuries caued by traps. About 75% of the Luando reserve is devoid of sables and less than 80 are estimated to survive. The total number of giant sable left is less than one hundred animals making it one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world.


      Plan for 2013:
      Up to twenty giant sable should be darted and released with VHF and GPS tracking devices for monitoring. Infrastructure should be built in Cangandala and the breeding program monitored. Ongoing genetic and ecological research will continue and be reinforced.

      __________________________________________________________________________________

       Third Trimester 2012 Report,

      • Preparing for the fence work; Preparando os trabalhos na vedação.

        Dear friends,
        The third trimester tends to be the busiest in Cangandala/ Luando and this one was no exception. We started by making a series of improvements on the sanctuary fence, of which the most important was expanding the perimeter, adding 800ha of prime habitat to the sanctuary area. The fenced camp covers now approximately 4.000 hectares, which we believe, should be good enough for the next 5 years at least.

        New main gate in the park; O novo portão de acesso ao parque.

        Also importantly, the new design is now more rounded and manageable, and we were able to include one of the best natural salt licks that used to be outside the perimeter and some good grazing areas. We also took the opportunity to build three water holes, two inside and one outside the camp.

        Central drinking hole; O bebedouro central.

        Near the central waterhole we placed an elevated tank, to feed water by gravity to the other drinking spots. Before the end of the year, we expect to drill a borehole to supply the elevated tank.

        An elevated tank to feed the water holes; Um tanque elevado para abastecer os bebedouros.

        In July we had expected to have the chopper and capture team with us, hopefully to dart some of the non-breeding old cows to give them some hormonal treatment, and also to do a survey and capture/marking exercise in Luando. Unfortunately, and due to last minute unexpected bureaucratic constraints in Botswana, the chopper couldn’t come and the operation had to be canceled. In any case we had Pete Morkel with us, and a vet team from the Huambo faculty, and we used the opportunity to monitor closely the herds while trying to dart one of the old cows. We did not get close enough to the old females, and the best we could achieve was to dart and mark the lonely young roan male that is still inside the camp.

        We caught and marked the young roan bull inside the sanctuary; Capturámos e marcámos o jovem macho de palanca castanha dentro do santuário.

        If this was somewhat disappointing, at least everything else turned out much better than we had expected. The first good news was finding Duarte still alive. He definitely took a serious knock, but at least survived. As result of the fight with Ivan, he lost an ear tag and now carries a few scars and stab wounds.

        Duarte is old and beaten; Duarte está velho e derrotado.

        Although finding Duarte was fantastic, we must now face the fact that he is beaten and his career as a breeding bull is over. He is limping from the hind legs, lost physical condition, his mane looks dry and dirty, and the ticks are taking over. He allowed us to get really close, but he can’t keep up the pace with the herd. In September his condition hadn’t improved, and I suspect that he won’t live through the next season.  A very interesting observation, was noting that he was now feeding mostly on burnt “kinzole” (Diplorhynchus condylocarpon) leaves – we’ve seen healthy animals browsing on green “kinzole” leaves, but not on brown burnt leaves. It could be a result of his teeth wearing off, and therefore looking for less fibrous (but also less nutritious) food, but this is speculative of course.

        It might be for medicinal purposes, or simply because is the easiest to chew; Pode ser por razões medicinais ou simplesmente por ser o mais fácil de mastigar.

        But if Duarte seems to be finished, still the bull scenario looks to be under control. Not only Ivan is back out of the sanctuary and behaving well for the time being (just patrolling regularly the salt licks in his territory), but most importantly Mercury has, without any doubt, replaced Duarte as the breeding bull. In spite of his tender age (2 year old), he looks impressive and is clearly “the man in charge”. We saw him several times courting the females and trying to mount them, even in the presence of old Duarte, who ignored the scene and simply moved away.

        Mercury courting a young female; Mercúrio cortejando uma jovem fêmea.

        But a much more important finding was realizing that our fears of Ivan having kidnapped a few females had been completely unfounded! We were able to observe and confirm inside the sanctuary, the 6 young females brought from Luando in 2011, and the remaining 6 old Cangandala cows (from the initial 9 cows, two have died of old age and one, Joana, escaped the sanctuary in 2009). So basically, the sanctuary holds pretty much the whole breeding potential. Outside the camp, only Ivan and Joana are established.

        Are you ready my love? Estás pronta meu amor?

        The trap camera mounted next to the carcass of the old sable cow, Neusa, who died in early June, produced some interesting sequences. As we suspected, and in the absence of large predators, bushpigs are the main scavengers, and for several weeks a large family of pigs would come to the site almost every night, until there was little left.

        A warthog family; Uma família de facocheros.

        The new trap cameras have been taking dozens of thousands of photos, with few blanks or false events, making the job of cataloguing the camera record a very time consuming task, and storing the photos is becoming a nightmare. The usual species were photographed many times, plus a few unexpected customers, such as mongooses, hares and hornbills.

        First time caught on camera: a white-tailed mongoose! Pela primeira vez apanhado numa câmara: um manguço-de-cauda-branca!

        Yet, banded mongooses are quite common; Já os manguços-listrados são bastante comuns.

        The remarkable ground hornbill; O notável calau-terrestre.

        What are you? – Duiker meets scrub hare! O que és tu? – Bambi encontra lebre!

        The elusive African finfoot in Luando; O tímido pés-de-barbatana no Luando.

        On the other hand, in July and August we had a few problems, which included several suspicious bush fires, one camera being handled by trespassers and one camera got stolen. It was the first camera stolen since we started in 2004. We have good reason to believe that poachers were behind these incidents and we are investigating the matter.

        A small prophylactic fire done in June to protect the camera; Uma pequena queimada profilática feita em Junho para proteger a câmara.

        When a real bush fire came in July, the camera survived; Quando um grande incêndio chegou em Julho, a câmara não sofreu.

        This other camera wasn’t so lucky; Esta outra câmara não teve tanta sorte.

        A trap camera found open in the field; Uma cãmara oculta encontrada aberta no terreno.

        With the capture chopper grounded in Botswana, we were able to organize a couple of flights over Luando and Cangandala on a military Alloutte. The Angolan Air Force has always been an enthusiastic supporter, up to the challenge and should be an example to other institutions. And after all, the giant sable is a national symbol and well deserves the commitment! We then managed to track down and locate two of the Luando herds, and do a reccie, focusing on sensitive areas and known poaching hotspots, such as various water holes. Poaching is still clearly the biggest threat in Luando, and far from being controlled. What we can attest at this point is that the largest herd seems for now to be doing well, with about 75% recruitment rate of calves into the herd from 2011 to 2012. Or put in other words, we may have had around 25% mortality of calves last year, which is an acceptable result, within “normal” expected rates.

        Still, the situation is so delicate, that all it takes is a couple poaching incidents, and everything goes down the drain, and beyond recovery.

        The military Allouette preparing for a flight over Luando; O Alloutte militar preparando o voo sobre o Luando.

        One of our herds in Luando; Uma das nossas manadas do Luando.


        A large water pond in Luando reserve; Uma lagoa na reserva do Luando.

        The largest herd in Luando; a maior manada do Luando.

        Aerial view in Cangandala NP; Vista aérea no PN da Cangandala

        Back in Cangandala, in September, we had more good news. First by finding another newborn! The mother is one of the young females, and the father may have been Duarte, but requiring confirmation.

        The little one! O pequenote!

        And then surprisingly or maybe not, Teresa once again, is showing clear signs of pregnancy. What a wonderful cow! She will produce her fourth calf in little more than 3 years, in what is a remarkable breeding performance. It will be interesting to determine the father, as it may have been any of the three bulls present.

        Our good ol’ Teresa pregnant yet again! A nossa velha Teresa prenha outra vez!

        A certain curve of horn! Uma certa curvatura do corno!

        To escape the sunlight, a solifuge can dig a burrow in seconds; Para escapar à luz do sol, consegue cavar uma toca em segundos.

        Are these beautiful eggs, quail eggs? São estes lindos ovos, de codorniz?

        Well, not quite… they were laid by a small moth! Bem, não propriamente… eles foram postos por uma pequena traça!

      Ants on a flower bud; Formigas num botão de flor.

      A magnificent martial eagle, one of Cangandala top predators; Uma magnífica águia marcial, um dos predadores de topo na Cangandala.

      More photos can be found on this link:

      https://picasaweb.google.com/113384424565470443034/PalancaReport3Trim2012?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCKP_mO73m_noPA&feat=directlink

      Best wishes,

      Pedro

      _______________________________________________________________________________

      • Second Trimester 2012 ReportVERSÃO PORTUGUÊS Dear friends,The second trimester marked the end of a very dry wet season, and the few showers experienced in April were too little too late. As result, we are now facing a serious drought this year. This fact made focus our attention on the need to provide water to the animals inside the sanctuary in consistence manner. Until now we have resorted to plastic containers filled manually twice a week during the dry season, but this of course is a poor system. We have now just concluded a geophysical and hydrological survey in Cangandala Park, and we hope to dig a borehole and install several water points this season.

        Technicians working on the geophysical survey; Técnicos trabalhando no levantamento geofísico.

        On a short trip to Luando Reserve in May we were able to meet with all the shepherds, pay them the due subsidy, motivate them, and coordinate and distribute their tasks for the following months.

        The Luando river beautiful as always in the early morning; O rio Luando bonito como sempre ao romper da manhã.

        Back in Cangandala and as usual during May, it was tough to drive off-road and make progress because of the accumulation of dead grass.

        Grass invasion; Invasão de capim.

        In spite of this we were able to monitor the breeding herd a couple times, although briefly and not from close range. The old bull Duarte was escorting the mixed herd (pure females and hybrids) as usual, while the two old breeding cows had not yet rejoined. More importantly and as we hoped for, the trap cameras confirmed the two new calves! The two old cows Teresa and Luisa, had joined efforts and kept both newborns and their 2011 calves in a separate group, forming a crèche in what can be considered as typical behavior in sable. Keeping the calves together might be a good anti-predator strategy, until introducing them later into the herd.

        Teresa and her new calf, a female! Teresa e a sua nova cria, uma fêmea!

        Teresa’s calf; A cria da Teresa.

        The best breeding group led by Teresa e Luisa; O melhor grupo reprodutor liderado pela Teresa e Luísa.

        Interestingly, the first calf born in the sanctuary, in 2010, the young male approaching 2 years old – Mercury, had split from both groups and joined the 4 young females brought in from Luando in 2011. Confirming his precocious nature, he was now in charge of his own herd, and possibly establishing a territory. In spite of his young age he must be already fertile, so this was excellent news indeed. And for a colorful touch, this young and promising group was also joined by one of the castrated hybrids.

        Mercury, the young 2 year old male drinking water; Mercúrio o macho de 2 anos a beber água.

        Outside the sanctuary, we were able to localize Ivan the Terrible a couple times near the fence, but as usual he did not allow us visual contact.

        In any case, things then seemed under control and of course we could not anticipate that hell was about to break loose… In the beginning of June, Ivan decided to break into the sanctuary and started creating havoc. We found clear signs of a fight near the fence and a blue ear tag was recovered from the ground. Ivan ear tags are white, but Duarte’s were blue. This could only mean one thing: Ivan had fought Duarte and, being younger and stronger, most likely had beaten him. Frustratingly, over several days we could not locate Duarte, as his radio signal couldn’t be picked up anywhere: presumably the collar got damaged during the fight. More worryingly, the main herd was left unattended, which means that Duarte probably got killed or is injured and recovering in a secluded place.

        As this wasn’t enough, Ivan the Terrible found the two old breeding cows and their 4 offspring and broke through the fence once again. We only hope he didn’t take the party with him…

        The place where Ivan broke out of the sanctuary leading the herd; O lugar onde o Ivan rebentou a vedação para sair e levar consigo a manada.

        This was disappointing and a bit worrying, and Ivan proves to be a loose cannon. It is amazing the contrasting characters of these two bulls, and I don’t know if we were extremely lucky with the first one or very unlucky with the second. In hindsight it may now look questionable the decision of bringing Ivan… on the other hand we definitely needed new blood, and Duarte at age 13 was over his glory days and shouldn’t be expected to last much longer as a breeder anyway, so Ivan taking over must be seen as the culmination of a natural and needed process. And maybe Ivan will prove to be a much more efficient breeder than Duarte was?!

        Ivan being rude: showing us the tongue – “See if you can catch me!”; O Ivan sendo mal-criado: mostrando-nos a língua – “Vejam se me conseguem agarrar!”

        What is a shame is that it was Duarte’s gentle nature that allowed us to get close to the females, and with him gone the animals are less approachable. On the other hand, the fact that Ivan has brought to perfection the skills to break through the fence, making it into a nasty habit, means he is virtually uncontainable, forcing us to invest much more in fence management and security in Cangandala. However, and at this point, the situation is a bit uncertain, and it will be over the following months that we will know for sure what has really happened.

        Yet, there were still more bad news to come. While looking in vain for Duarte, fortuitously we ended up finding the corpse of our older pure female, Neusa, who used to be the alpha-female on the main herd. She had been dead for only a few days, and we couldn’t find any injury or signs of predation. This female was at least 15 years old and had not been able to produce any offspring for the last few years, nor were we expecting that she could in the future given her advanced age. Sable are known to live up to 18 years in captivity, but they rarely surpass 15 in the wild, and the fecundity is expected to decrease as the females grow older. All things considered her death wasn’t unexpected and has no impact on the giant sable breeding potential in Cangandala, but nevertheless we all felt sad.

        Neusa found dead, probably of old age; A Neusa encontrada morta, provavelmente de velhice.

        But the June wouldn’t end without a pleasant surprise, when trap camera records revealed a newborn on the young female’s herd! This was totally unexpected, as the group included 3 young girls brought in at age 2, plus one yearling from Luando last year. Females become fertile after two years of age, and these shouldn’t have had the opportunity to get pregnant. Or so we thought. As the calf was born at end of May and sable pregnancy is estimated at 8.5 months average, conception must have happened at the beginning of September 2011…  and this coincides precisely with the few weeks in which Ivan stayed inside the sanctuary before breaking out for the first time! He was never seen near the 2.year old females and therefore we had assumed they never met. But evidently they did, as Duarte at the time was contained inside the smaller enclosure which was only opened in October.

        And the big surprise: A little newborn calf with her young mother! E a grande surpresa; uma noca cria recém-nascida e a sua jovem mãe!

        The beautiful newborn; A linda cria recém-nascida.

        This was excellent news indeed. Means that the young females are starting to breed and, not less importantly, it means that Ivan is not a bluffer! He is certainly not much of a gentleman, but as long as he keeps siring offspring I won’t complain.

        Yellow-mantled widowbird; Viúva-de-dorso-amarelo.

        Impressive looking creature; Criatura de aspecto impressionante.

        Best wishes,

        Pedro


        _____________________________________________________________________________________
        First Trimester 2012 Report

      • VERSÃO PORTUGUÊS Dear friends,The beginning of 2012 was as dry as I could remember. The rainy season usually reaches its peak by February/ March, often over flooding the wetlands and making the roads muddy and frequently impassable. The last few years had witnessed generous rains, isolating Cangandala park for weeks or months, generally between January and April. This rainy season however has been very atypical as most of the country experiences a severe drought, so when we scheduled our trip to Cangandala in March, and following insisting reports about the drought, we were confident that we would be able to enter the park and accompany the sable movements on the ground.

        Praying mantiss cleaning his tools; Louva-a-deus limpando as ferramentas.

        But, and as you have probably guessed by now, things wouldn’t be that easy. True that the landscape was shockingly dry, without mud or water in the temporary streams, while the grass was half-grown and already dry and moribund – the park hadn’t seen a drop of water in months! But just as we arrived in the evening and settled in the camp, and sat down for dinner, it started to rain. First just a drizzle, then more steady and heavily. We went to bed while it rained, and it rained all night without stop. And it rained. And it was still raining in the morning while we had coffee, and now things started to look not so good.

        Mommy takes the kids to the pool; A mamã leva as crianças à piscina.

        A wall crab spider having dinner at camp; Uma aranha-de-parede jantando no acampamento.

        The rain only stopped half-morning, but we were already on-wheels and the damage was done anyway. Over the next couple days we were able to reach all the trap camera sites, to replace memory cards and batteries, but at the cost of slow progress and hard work. We got stuck countless times on the dirt roads inside and outside the sanctuary, and most salt licks had to be reached on foot. At least we were able to recover all the memory cards, but tracking the herds off-road was completely out of the question under those conditions.
        So the trip turned out to be a half-disappointment, and this update report had to rely mostly on the various trap cameras’ photographic record.

        Speaking of cameras, the new trap camera model we planted last December is performing exceptionally well, almost too well I may add. These have better image quality, are smaller and lighter, seem more reliable, and are much more energy-efficient with batteries lasting up to several months of continuing use. But they can also take literally thousands of photos per week, stored in 8GB cards, which is fantastic but also a curse in disguise. If we used to struggle with screening, managing and storing the photos, now this problem has been inflated several fold! This trip alone rendered dozens of thousands of photos, of which “only” a few thousand showed sable, roan or hybrids.

        Hybrids showing up at Salina 7; Híbridos aparecendo na salina 7.

        The main herd seems to have split in small groups, which is presumably a seasonal behavior during the rainy season, but may also result from specific social dynamics like females calving and young males dispersal. One interesting example was realizing how our best breeding female Teresa, just before calving, separated from the herd while taking with her the three young calves. By mid-December she was extremely pregnant, and surely her latest calf must have been born around Xmas. It’s only a pity we couldn’t see her since and she didn’t go back to the salt licks. In any case she is our main star, being the likely mother of three hybrids and having had now three pure calves just over two years of confinement – an exceptional performance! On the other hand, it also highlights just how poorly the others have performed (maybe Luisa had by now her second calf, but all the remaining 5 old females in the sanctuary have produced zero calves).

        Teresa showing enormous and swollen udder; A Teresa mostrando um úbere enorme e inchado.

        Very interesting to note that during her last days of pregnancy, Teresa became extremely dark in color, of a deep brown that almost resembles a bull. This is even more evident as she wasn’t a particularly dark female. Must be a physiological response resulting from hormonal changes, prior to calving. Also noteworthy the fact that the first calf, the young male Mercury, is now turning very dark in color, and at a very young age, under 2 years old. He seems to be very precocious, with impressive horns for a yearling, and already darker in color than most of the herd females. Maybe the lack of competition stimulates young males to develop faster?

        Teresa on the right has turned almost black; A Teresa à direita ficou quase preta.

        Going in opposite direction are the castrated hybrid bulls, particularly the mature ones, which in a few months since castration have passed from an attractive dark golden-brown coloration, to a dominant pale-roanish color, mimicking now almost in perfection the color pattern of the female hybrids! Again, reflecting serious hormonal changes – testosterone has been proved to enhance the darker coloration on sable.

        A magnificent roan bull; Um macho ruano magnífico.