Updated: May 2, 2020
The progress of the leopard mirrors has been very good, with more time available thanks to Covid - gratitude exercise in play here!! - we are now seeing definitive results in the Leopard ID project. To recap, for those of you who missed the original blog on our Mirror Project: different lodges and naturalists use a whole host of techniques to monitor and research the identities of wildlife these days. As is typical of us here at El Karama, we have divised a creative way of tracking the movements of predators here, a technique that involves no contact or human interference. We are quite passionate about learning as much as we can about the environment we are responsible for stewarding.
The mirror project originated with Murray Grant. Having spent 5 years in the Aberdares eco system researching and photographing Mountain Bongo and large male mountain Leopards, he brought his unusual techniques here to El Karama Lodge, where we were getting very excited about the high numbers of Leopard seen on game drives and night drives.
We now have 4 active mirrors on the property attached to camera/video camptraptions that allow us to photograph and video 24 hours a day, capturing images of any animal/bird or beast that passes by. Through Murray's painstaking research and focus, he discovered that mirrors not only capture images that are definitive when it comes to identifying predators by their specific markings, it also seems to create an attraction to the animals, so that they stay and look more carefully out of curiosity. rather than fleeting photos with a shaky hand, which is typical of leopard photos, here we can finally get both strong video and photo archives resulting from the mirror/camera combo.
Our use for the mirrors is to build up ID photographs and videos of the leopard on this conservancy, to help us understand who we are seeing, map out family trees, ID cards and other props that we can use to educate our guests of all ages including at Bush School. In time, if other neighbouring conservancies follow our lead, we can begin to build cross border IDs and mapping systems.
Like zebra, giraffe and other animals with markings, a Leopard's rosettes are completely unique. Their whisker spots, like Lion, are also a tell tale finger print that we can use in our research to understand who and what we are looking at. There are other more environmentally specific attributes that vary from animal to animal, kinks in tails, scars or scratches, ear notches from fights, anomalies brought on by climate (high altitude mountain leopard in the Aberdare or Mount Kenya highlands have much darker, shaggier fur covering than say Miombo leopard from the lowlands of Tanzania). All these observations add depth to our guiding experiences and give our guests the possibilities of being actively involved in the lodge conservation efforts for this eco system.
The cameras and mirrors allows us to capture broad side shots, facial images and full body movement shots that help us to notice who it is that stalks where. In time as well as creating ID cards and photographic archives, we hope to also be able to map out their territories as our information becomes more scientifically specific, we hope to identify mating behaviour between individuals, breeding grounds for protection and other points of interest that will help us to understand these beautiful and elusive creatures and also provide information for those working in the wider human/wildlife conflict environment where the interactions between the humans and predators is much more fraught than in this haven where our policies, techniques and strategies mean predators and livestock can live fairly harmoniously thanks to an abundance of other prey and well managed bomas and herding systems.
Here are a few of our latest images from the bush mirrors: