Our tourism season has started again in full swing; post rains the sun has come out and has turned all the long red oat grass and seed heads into glowing, swaying fields of gold. The plains are teeming with Reticulated Giraffe, Elephant, Grant's Gazelles, Impalas and Cape buffalo and the air is alive with the sound of fledgling baby birds and insects. There is something truly magical about these rolling acacia hillsides after the rain, when the ground has finally thirsted and found the moisture it needs.
Whilst we were busy maintaining the lodge, adding a brand new solar water heating system (more about that later!), gorgeous new furniture and sumptuous blankets and linen and all the cosy extras that make our lodge so special, we have also quietly been working away to better understand our predator populations here on El Karama with some new in-house research projects.
With 14,000 acres of private, protected land that hosts all East African wildlife except for Rhino at our fingertips, this property has a unique abundance of plains game and so a hearty and exciting predator population who feed on them! As guides and naturalists living and working in this special place, we are passionate about wanting to learn more these incredible animals and this year we have turned our attention to the striking and slinky Leopards we see here so regularly.
The original founder of this lodge Murray Grant is, as you read in one of our previous blogs, an incredibly talented and determined wildlife artist specialising in detailed and beautiful bronzes that are now in private collections all around the world. Murray's work has been heavily influenced by the life he has led in the bush and the depths of his knowledge go far beyond that of an artist. His reputation is not simply based on the incredibly quality and detail of his work, but also because of the visceral, challenging way in which he researches each specie he sculpts. Following his muse the Leopard, he has spent the past 5 years researching large male leopards in the Afro-Alpine ecosystem of the Aberdares, working closely with wildlife rangers of that area to understand the movements, behaviour and identities of large male Leopards in that region, Murray has brought knowledge of bush cameras, tracking and mirror work to the team there, enhancing their knowledge and working together to continue to better understand the population in specific areas.
Circling back to El Karama, we are now exceptionally lucky to now have 5 mirrors set up in different areas the ranch with bush trail cameras and videos along side them. The purpose of the mirrors is to help our guides and rangers monitor and identify the Leopard population in this eco system.
This technique has proved a successful and non invasive method of collecting indentification photographs of leopard. We do not use collaring in this area nor do we use tracking devices to find or follow predators. Our guides used traditional tracking methods and communication with foot patrol anti-poaching rangers and guides to ensure that we know where the predators are so our guests can have the best possible experience!
Using the mirrors to attract curious Leopards, we can set the cameras to pick up photos from different angles showing the unique spot patterns that every Leopard or Leopardess has that, like a fingerprint, cannot be shared with any other individual.
The mirrors are useful in getting the leopard to stop and observe their reflection, often passing one or two times out of curiosity, sometimes lying down, preening or in some cases even licking the mirror. With the images we are collecting using these mirrors, we can begin to build not only exceptionally useful ID photos of every leopard on El Karama, but also we can begin to transect the area and assess the size of their territory, the nature and variety of interactions and behaviour with a view to knowing and understanding more about how large a space they inhabit and how they interact with other predators such as Lion or Cheetah.
The first sets of images have been collected from one of the mirrors and we've been so excited to not only find the Leopard male that grew up here around the corner on the cameras, but also male Lion, a White-tailed Mongoose, a Genet, various birds, Warthogs and other small passing creatures.
This wildlife monitoring project is just one of the unique, homegrown activities our guests can get involved in when they visit our lodge. We are the first environment in Kenya to use this technique and we hope the information gathered can be shared and replicated to help us all understand Leopard and to share information across boundaries.