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Following on the previous month’s report on the 2017 numbers for the annual game census for the Umbabat, it was highlighted that buffalo numbers have declined noticeably due to the drought. This is a general trend across the broader landscape. Subsequently a dedicated buffalo count was undertaken on 09 October 2017.
This forms part of an approved research project, hopefully an annual exercise provided there is sustainable funding. It is supported throughout the APNR (Association of Private Nature Reserves) whereby individual Reserves contributed financially to the purchasing of suitable photographic equipment.
The primary objective of the survey is to achieve a total count on the day, the methodology being that when any buffalo is spotted, the aircraft descends and orbits the animals taking photographs that reliably afford a total count. Cameras have high resolution ability. A secondary objective is to analyse the images to determine age and sex structures, better understanding current population dynamics.
On the survey day no large buffalo herds were spotted in the Umbabat, in fact only a total of 30 buffalo were counted, in small groupings. The observing team noted that “grass cover was unusually sparse, except in the North-east of the Reserve”.
The buffalo are numbered individually, see Picture1, and by zooming in the age and sex can be determined. Advanced software has been designed to assist in this regard, analyzing horn condition and length. Note the poor body condition of individuals 1, 2 and 3 in particular. Also note the extremely sparse grass cover.
Picture 2 shows the same individuals, numbered 1-5, but photographed from a different angle. Individual 6 is now included in this group, straggling behind, but clearly considered a member of this group due to close proximity.
Picture 3 shows a wide-angle photograph, with superimposed transect lines (shown in yellow). This image shows how spread out small groups of buffalo can be. Back at a work station the analyst will be zooming into each transect, working the image from top to bottom and left to right, ensuring no individuals are missed being counted.
Picture 4 is not representative of the Umbabat survey, but I’m including this image because it gives the reader a clear view from the air, showing the importance of timing aerial surveys when the tree canopy is predominantly void of leaves. It is much easier to see the target species the observers are photographing or counting. The riparian areas will always be more challenging for aerial viewing due to evergreen tree canopies being present.
by John Llewellyn
Pictures courtesy of Aerial Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing Solutions.