What is BushCam Adventures?

BushCam Adventures attempts to share some of the amazing images, stories and insights that I've collected during my camera-trapping adventures.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Secret Seventeen

The term “Big Five” is synonymous with hunting and safaris in Africa. Many wildlife reserves will use the term ‘Big Five Reserve’ to proclaim the fact that they have Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino on the property. 

Black Rhino
Sadly, many visitors to this region are only interested in seeing those five species. They tick them off and return home happy – oblivious to the remarkable diversity of wildlife that they didn’t see. 

 Now I have nothing against the Big Five - they are wonderful creatures and are not called the Big Five for nothing – but they are just five examples of the remarkable diversity of mammals present in Africa.


                                                                           However I would love this all to change, which is the purpose of this post. I’d like to encourage all wildlife enthusiasts to get excited about seeing our SECRET SEVENTEEN mammals. Why seventeen? Well, there is no compelling reason why it has to be seventeen. It could just have easily been the Secret Sixteen or perhaps the Elusive Eighteen. The Furtive Fifteen came to mind as did the Nocturnal Nineteen – but the adjectives ‘elusive’, ‘furtive’ and ‘nocturnal’ weren’t universally appropriate.

  The point is the number needs to be reasonably high – so that it’s not just another small exclusive club of mammals. This is about celebrating biodiversity rather than getting picky.

I’ve compiled the list that follows from mammals occurring in South Africa but there is no reason why the concept should just be a South African one. All countries should have their own version of the SECRET SEVENTEEN. Each country has its own wonderful endemic species that should be included in its national list.


My guidelines for selecting a proposed list of seventeen secretive species were as follows:
1. They shouldn’t be easily seen, but should nevertheless be capable of being seen with some effort.

2. They should have a reasonably wide distribution within the country. Species that only occur at the margins of South Africa might be rare but are not appropriate for this list. So something like the Suni (Neotragus moschatus) might be rare enough in South Africa but is widespread in Mozambique – so is excluded. 

Riverine Rabbit

Similarly, the Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) now only exists in such isolated pockets that the likelihood of most people seeing one is very slim.
 I have also favoured those rare species that occur in the traditional ‘game viewing’ regions of this country because that is where most visitors go to view wildlife.

Small-Spotted Genet

3. Where there are closely related species of a particular family, that are all worthy of inclusion, then I have simply included the generic family. 
For example, any one of the three species of genet occurring here could have been chosen so I’ve decided to include just ‘Genets’ on the list. 
The same goes for our two Otters and two Galagos (Bushbabies).

4. However, in contrast to the above, there are some families with both rare and abundant representatives e.g. Mongoose, where we have ten - I think. Here I’ve made a decision to include just one species which I think best fits my other criteria.
5. I’ve excluded those Orders/Families that are particularly difficult to identify (and possibly of lesser interest to the general wildlife-viewing public). These would include the small rodents, moles, bats and marine mammals. I appreciate that I’m now on dangerous ground! I know that there are many extraordinary examples of the above but most wildlife enthusiasts, and even guides, wouldn’t be capable of identifying them without catching them.

Brown Hyena
6. I’ve also excluded large mammals which might be fairly rare but, if they occur in the area/reserve, are usually easy to see during the day. Examples would be Roan (Hippotragus equinus) and Sable (H. niger) Antelopes.

So here goes. This is my suggested list – in alphabetic order:

Orycteropus afer

Proteles cristatus

African Civet
Civettictis civetta

African Weasel
Poecilogale albinucha

African Wild Cat
Felis silvestris lybica

Brown Hyena
Parahyaena brunnea

Potamochoerus larvatus

Caracal caracal

Galagos (Bushbabies)
Galago moholi; Otolemur crassicaudatus

Genetta genetta, G maculata, G tigria

Honey Badger
Mellivora capensis

Lutra maculicollis, Aonyx capensis

Manis temminckii

Hystrix africaeaustralis

Leptailurus serval

Southern African Hedgehog
Atelerix frontalis

White-Tailed Mongoose
Ichneumia albicauda

This is a very personal selection and I’m very aware that some worthy species have been excluded. So I would really welcome your suggestions as to what would be other appropriate inclusions to this list, or simply your preferences. As mentioned above, this is my South African selection. So if you’re not from South Africa I’d also love to hear what your SECRET SEVENTEEN would be in other countries. Please do respond – I’d love to hear what you think.

African Wild Cat
 p.s. So when you do go out and find these secretive species please do take a photo and send it to the University of Cape Towns's MammalMAP programme ( http://mammalmap.adu.org.za ). The distribution of the Big Five is fairly well known but data on the SECRET SEVENTEEN would be invaluable to them.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sometimes you get lucky.......


I fear I might be guilty of mis-representation!

 Its not that I've claimed someone else's camera-trap image as my own (or something else equally dishonest) - its just that I've possibly made camera-trapping in Southern Africa sound particularly easy. As if we really do have lions and elephants walking our streets.....or great herds of antelope passing through our back yards.

For a couple of years I've posted photos on this blog of creatures great and small that I've been lucky enough to catch on my camera traps. But what I haven't done is to confess when my camera-trapping efforts haven't been rewarded. And there have been loads of those opportunities for confession! I guess its vanity, or perhaps a sense that the readers of my blog will desert me, that keeps me posting only 'success' stories.

A good example occurred a few weeks ago when we were invited to join some friends in walking the Whale Trail along the Southern coast of South Africa. This is a stunningly beautiful 5-day walk where one should see remarkable whale sightings during our winter and spring.


The area has been protected for some time and there are plenty of large ungulates in the area. There is also some anecdotal evidence of predators that forage in the intertidal zone. So I, obviously, carried along a few trailcams in the confident belief that this would present a good camera-trapping opportunity.

I put out the two cams on each of our four nights in the reserve. In each instance I spent some time scouting the area and was confident that I'd identified the best possible sites. And this is all I got:

A blurry porcupine...

......and a 'only just' image of a mother Common Duiker (I think) with her offspring.

For all that effort! I should have carried a bottle of wine rather that the cameras.

So, I've resolved to be more transparent about my camera-trapping results in 2013!

Having said that I also resolved to eat healthier food and do more exercise......which resolutions I've already broken. So don't hold your breath.

I wish all you camera-trappers out there a year of photographic miracles in 2013. I hope you all capture that Snow Leopard, or equivalent, that you've been dreaming of.