Aardwolf – mostly a good model

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The Aardwolf Proteles cristata mostly makes a good model for the camtrap. This may well be due to its foraging behaviour of walking slowly, standing still and listening intently and looking up with cocked ears.  When it passes a camtrap within range, the photos are almost always good and clear.  The colour pattern of these animals makes them good subjects to photograph both in black and white and colour. The two pictures were taken near Springbok in Namaqualand and Laingsburg in the Karoo.

The thick mane on the nape gave these animals their Afrikaans vernacular name.  It is called Maanhaarjakkals (“mane jackal”) which is actually a misnomer as they are not related to the jackal at all.  Although they are sometimes grouped with hyaenas they are not related to these animals.  The Aardwolf is in a family of its own – Protelidae.

Aardwolf – Namaqualand

It is a nocturnal mammal living almost exclusively on termites – up to 300 000 of these creatures per night and as much as 420 kg per year.  The dentures of this animal has adapted to this specialised diet so much that it cannot crush bones or kill anything larger than insects. The animals will dug into termite mounds and then lap up their prey with large amounts of the loose sand. Unfortunately some of these animals are killed in indiscriminate ways of hunting for problem predators.

The Aardwolf occurs widely across southern Africa.  During the day they will sleep in burrows and at dusk they will start foraging.  When they leave the burrow they will quickly move to the closest midden and there they may lose up to 10% of their body weight at once.  The faeces has a sharp pine odour due to the high content of termite remainders and contains quite a lot of sand which is ingested with the termites when feeding.  Another characteristic is the high number of termite heads that can be seen in the faeces.  These middens are a telltale field sign of the presence of these animals in a particular area.

Crawling the fence – Aardwolf in the Karoo

These two photos clearly demonstrate the difference between two camera types used in the field.  The colour photo was taken with a camera (Cuddeback Attack) which employs a strobe flash (white light) to give colour pictures even at night.  The white light (like the flash of a normal camera) can be seen by animals and it may pose some disturbance to animals.  The black and white photo was taken with a Bushnell Trophy Cam with infrared flash technology of which the light cannot be seen by animals and therefore they are not disturbed.  In certain instances the colour pictures are preferred by researchers to ID the individual animal in the field.  Leopards for example each have a unique pattern in their spots and can be individually identified.

Rodent police or “lamb killer”?

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The Black-backed Jackal Canis mesomelas has a reputation in the South African stock farming community as a “lamb killer” and they are persecuted by stock farmers to a very large extent.  Despite the persecution it seems as if their numbers are increasing.  Is this the result of mismanagement of the ecosystems in South Africa over many decades?  They are normally active at dawn and dusk, but these sly animals have adapted behaviour to become completely nocturnal in the areas where they are hunted.  They learn from each other to avoid traps and poisoned baits.  The pictures below were taken on the west coast of the Northern Cape not far from Port Nolloth.

Black-backed Jackal at hole in broken fence

The same individual preparing to crawl the fence

These animals are regularly killed and eaten by larger predators like leopard and brown hyena.  Unfortunately these animals are also persecuted in farming areas as part of the human-wildlife-conflict.  Their natural enemies are dwindling in numbers and therefore cannot contribute to keep the jackal numbers under control.

On the other side of the balance: a single Black-backed Jackal annually kills huge numbers of rodents as prey and carrion forms a large proportion of their daily intake of food. Insects represent a large part of their diet as well.  The management of problem animals that kill livestock poses a huge challenge to both conservation authorities and the farming community in South Africa.