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Animal Managment Lecturer works with Wildlife Action Group

Posted on 30th August 2013 in Animal Management, HE News, Higher Education

Hadlow College Animal Management lecturer John Pemberton armed himself with a machete against a possible attack at his camp in Thuma Forest, Salima, South Africa, where he spent his summer break tackling human /elephant conflict while helping to protect the area’s wildlife for future generations.

John has been working with Wildlife Action Group (WAG) Malawi since 2010 when he first visited the African country.  During his most recent visit, he was conducting the first camera trap survey of the area but, unfortunately, most of his time was spent dealing with the organised crime of ivory poaching.

The reserve at Thuma is around half the size of Caithness and trying to patrol it effectively every day and night on foot is a huge challenge — one which WAG’s small team struggles to meet on a shoestring budget.  John explained "An end to poaching is a bigger feat than we can achieve on a national level but within Thuma more protection in the form of rangers and scouts combined with effective education and work with local communities is needed.  “We are running an emergency SOS appeal to fund extensions to our fence — this doesn’t directly stop poaching but does prevent the elephants leaving the reserve and raiding crops.

In three weeks, John found four elephants had been killed — one of whom was Kit, the matriarch in her late 20s, whose four-year-old calf also went missing.

John is currently analysing the data retrieved from the camera trap study “We use small camera units which are triggered by movement and body temperature.  You strap them to a tree and leave them, check them a few weeks or months later and see what has passed by.  We have never carried out any work like this before, mainly because almost all of our resources have to go into anti-poaching and human/elephant conflict mitigation,” he said.  “I carried out a very small study, only four weeks with 15 cameras and discovered three previously unidentified species in Thuma — caracal, honey badger and marsh mongoose.  Although only a pilot study, this highlights just how diverse the forest actually is.  Despite poaching and illegal deforestation, we have large populations of predator, which means our prey base is also strong and we have large mammals which have never been observed before.  Imagine what bird, reptile, amphibian or invertebrate species may be waiting to be discovered?”

John trains some Malawians in camera trap surveying

Johns Animal Management lectures include animal/human conflict, biodiversity and zoological collection management.  John’s work in Malawi with WAG has helped to link the classroom at Hadlow College with real life, and has given his students a chance to get involved.

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