ANGOLA - Giant Sable Project

VIERANAS SAFARIS received the 1st Trimester Palanca Report from Pedro Vaz Pinto:

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.

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.

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.

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).

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?
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.

Outside of the sanctuary Ivan has been regularly visiting the salt licks, although mostly at night, while patrolling his new territory. And on January 1st he showed up accompanied by Joana (the old female that had escaped the fenced sanctuary in 2009), thus confirming our suspicions. On the other hand, we saw none of two young females that escaped the sanctuary following Ivan, and at this point it is unknown if they have teamed up with Joana, or wondered off on their own. Best wishes, Pedro.


mikapoka said…
Wow, so interesting, I'm glad I've stumbled across your blog. Amazing pics, the one with the mauve spider actually made my day. Ciao and thanx!