02 Sep Annual aerial game count
The Welgevonden Game Reserve Annual Aerial Game Count (count) was conducted over three days from the 20th to 22nd August 2013.
The Reserve is divided into three sections and ideally counted over a period of three days by flying in 400m wide east/west transects, i.e. 200 m on each side of the helicopter is counted with each flight line.
The observers call out the species and numbers together with ages and sexes, if applicable, to the data capturer via a headset and microphone. The information is captured on a laptop computer while the GPS coordinates are recorded automatically for each entry together with the helicopter flight path.
Good weather for the best visibility is preferred and counting is suspended if the visibility becomes poor. The use of yellow goggles and/or glasses assists the observers by making the colours and contrast stand out more.
The count is carried out using a helicopter with a pilot and data capturer in the front two seats and an observer on each side in the rear two seats. The pilot and data capturer also observe, especially in the area close to and under the helicopter. On Welgevonden the counting is done with the doors off for better visibility although observers need to sometimes be fortified against the cold and wind with flight suits, beanies, gloves and goggles.
Each day consists of about three sessions of 1½ to 2 hours each. Between each session, a break of more or less 45 minutes is taken to refuel the helicopter and to give the counters time to rest and get something to eat and drink. The first sessions start at about 7am, and normally the last session finishes between 2-3 pm.
For the counters the rare and charismatic species are often a highlight to be seen from the air. Animals such as serval, caracal, leopard, python, brown hyeana, aardvark, lion, ratel or honey badger, etc. have been observed and are definitely enjoyed.
The opportunity of viewing the entire Reserve from the air is also used by management to record other issues of concern such as exposed power cables, water pipes, suspect sewerage systems, rubbish in the veld, erosion, alien plant species, carcasses, etc.
It should be kept in mind that an aerial count is not designed to determine the total number of animals on a property but rather to monitor trends over time. As such, the purpose of conducting a game count is not accuracy but rather precisionsince it is simply not possible to count all the animals on a property.
Certain animals are easier to count than others simply due to habitat preferences, time of activity (diurnal vs. nocturnal), size of animal (e.g. kudu vs. klipspringer), herd size (impala vs. bushbuck), choice of shelter (e.g. under a tree or underground) and as the day advances animals seek shelter under trees and become increasingly difficult to spot.
Moreover, animals may move from one census grid into another, leading to possible under or over counting (it is assumed that these balance each other out) and various other factors. Hence, an aerial count is primarily designed to monitor trends in populations of medium to large diurnal herbivorous mammals by keeping all the error factors the same from year to year.