Bubbling over with enthusiasm, Madel also has lots of conservation experience. She conducted research projects at Pongola and Mkhuze game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal, and served a stint as resident zoologist on Frégate Island Private in the Seychelles. Her Master’s thesis at the Tshwane University of Technology focused on birdlife in the swamplands at Ndumo Game Reserve.
Now she’s based at Nossob in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park where her husband Brent is section ranger. Her KRP responsibilities include monitoring raptors in the whole South African section of the park once a month, as well as quarterly transects. Huh? All this means is moving along a fixed path to count and record raptors along that path. At the same time, she records the distance of the bird from the set path, so as to arrive at an estimate of the birds’ actual density.
Recording nest sites is also important. ‘Martial, Tawny and Bateleur eagles are very territorial and sensitive to factors like poisoning, especially Tawnies and Bateleurs because of their scavenging habits,’ says Madel. ‘The main – and almost only – nest sites for these birds are in the tree savannah area of the park, and that means along the Auob and Nossob riverbeds.’ She will also be monitoring vulture nests.
Monthly nest monitoring is more complex than it first appears. She must first note whether the nest is active. ‘Because there are usually a couple of nests used by the birds in the territory, I need to find the nest being used for the season,’ she explains. Then she must measure it and note its GPS co-ordinates. Other things she’s on the lookout for are active breeding pairs (not all pairs breed every year) and how successful each breeding attempt is.
‘Although I’m still fairly new to this, I was lucky to have Kotie Herholdt come out for a week to show me how to locate and identify the nests,’ she says. As Nossob section ranger from 1988 to 1994, Kotie began the raptor research on which Madel is now building. In fact, the transect paths she’s using were originally set up by him.
The goal is to be able to compare what Madel finds now with what Kotie found some 30 years ago. If things have changed, it will be interesting to figure out why – whether environmental conditions have changed (for better or worse) or if there’s more impact from predators (or indeed tourists!), and so forth.
‘We’ve written a new project proposal for another three years, but we need to find funding of some R150 000 to R220 000 a year to make that possible,’ says Madel. Although she’s bought a range finder herself, other equipment that would help her in her research includes: a GPS; re-chargeable batteries; tent poles with mirror (to inspect the contents of the nests); rope and bag (to hoist birds down from the nest for ringing purposes); and safety rope and harness. Anyone who can help with such equipment can contact The Endangered Wildlife Trust, tel 011-486-1102, email email@example.com.
To find out how you can make a financial donation to this project, see the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s website at http://www.ewt.org.za/.
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