Finding the hidden one, or operation Grysbok

What is nature conservation all about? Sometimes it is about waking up at a ridiculously early hour (4 am) to make sure there is enough diversity in a population of Southern Grysbok at one of the nature reserves. That is what I’ve done on one of the April mornings as part of my nature conservation experience at CTEET.

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Rain jewels at the Milnerton Racecourse

Grysbok is a small and shy antelope. It is fairly common in the Western Cape, but yet it is very difficult to spot. Hiding is their expertise. Speed might be another one. This small creature, reaching only around 50-60cm in shoulder height, is very vulnerable to predators, like leopard, jackals, eagles and, of course, humans. So to survive it figured out that the best strategy is to hide in the thick bush vegetation or in a hole left from a seasonal wetland. “Maybe if I don’t move and sit still no one will notice me? I will only move when danger is really close by”.

Given this behaviour, capturing grysbok without hurting them is not an easy task, but the staff of the Milnerton Race Course Conservation area knew what to do. This area of just about 18ha in the middle of the horse race course can only support a population of 6-12 bokkies and animals are basically cut off from other potential habitats due to urban development. So nature conservators have to help them every now and then. If population grows too much, they capture some animals to move them to other nature reserves or game farms, and to introduce more genetic diversity they regularly bring a breeding pair from another area.

 

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Holding the net

The later is what our goal was: to capture a one male and one female grysbok and safely transport them to another nature reserve. The morning was cold and foggy and it took a while to assemble everybody. We were separated in two groups. Around 15 people were holding a huge net up on one side of the area and the rest of us would be the chasers on the other side. I was in the chasers group and our task was to move in a tight half-circle shape trying to eventually narrow down the bokkies’ area by making a lot of noise. We were singing, clapping hangs and shaking the bush. Already in the first few minutes we spotted a female grysbok sleeping in the bushes, I did not even have enough time to turn my camera on, she jumped of the bush and was gone within milliseconds. This tiny creature looks more like a dog with really big ears, I thought. OK, a dog that jumps really high and really fast.

Ready for action!
Ready for action!

The lady bokkie ran straight to the net and was captured by the skilful nature conservators. To calm her down we all stopped making the noise and were standing very still, while she was blindfolded and carefully carried to the transportation crate.

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As I said, during the event everything was happing so fast that I haven’t managed to snap a good picture of a grysbok. So here is a sketch from my nature journal instead =)

 

The male made us work a bit harder, but a couple of hours later we found one as well. By then I was soaking wet and dirty from walking through the wet bush, but the feeling was strangely satisfying. I have seen the master of hiding, the Cape Grysbok!

Captured Lady before the release. Picture by CTEET.
Captured Lady before the release. Picture by CTEET.

Truth is, you don’t really have to (in fact, in normal circumstance you shouldn’t) walk around shouting and shaking the bush to know where grysbokkies are. Try to go for walks at your closest nature reserve in the Western Cape and take a closer look at the bush, they like to pick a favourite spot to spend the day in. It can be quite an adventure!

Freedom to the bokkies! Picture my CTEET.
Freedom to the bokkies! Picture my CTEET.

 

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