Various animal species from leopards, lions and zebras to penguins, manta rays and whale sharks, have individually unique spot patterns or natural markings which are useful in identifying individuals within that species. Most often these spot patterns will remain the same over time, as the animal grows and develops, which allows individuals to be distinguished from others throughout its life.
Understanding this and knowing where to look and how to identify an animal is very helpful in that it allows us to monitor the movements of individuals within a population and better understand the behaviour of that animal. It helps us understand the life-histories of animals and determine other ecological data such as abundance, range or territory and the structure of populations; elements that are essential for the study, conservation and protection of a species.
About two weeks ago I made a trip to Tofo, Mozambique, and met a number of marine researchers at a scuba diving centre there. They were working with the Marine Megafauna Foundation and were researching all large aquatic animals from groupers and trevally (species of fish) to manta rays and whale sharks. Before each dive they would give us a brief on how to help them acquire photographic data. Manta rays have unique spot patterns on their ventral surface which vary greatly in size, shape, contrast and spatial distribution. These were the patterns we were asked to take photographs of… how I was going to get under a manta ray’s belly I did not know! Having photographs of these patterns allows researchers to manage and track sightings of the mantas to establish the life-histories of these aquatic giants, as well as determine other ecological data such as abundance, range, movement patterns and structure of manta populations across the world. Throughout those interesting conversations I couldn’t help but draw on the similarities with the Londolozi leopard research and observation – they were equally excited about it!
Having conversations with those passionate marine biologists and volunteers I met in Mozambique made me think of the leopard research here at Londolozi. At Londolozi we have documented the behaviour of a large number of leopards over many generations either through photography and videography or through hours spent in the field observing. We have a large database showing territorial, mating and feeding behaviour as well as the lineages over the last four decades. This knowledge of leopard behaviour is passed on to each guide who arrives at Londolozi. All our data is uploaded to the central database of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cats. By now they have data on over 1800 different leopards that at one time or another have called the Sabi Sands Game Reserve home. This unique and extensive dataset is revealing sides to Leopard behaviour that we previously knew nothing about…
Who knows, maybe one day something similar will be available for Manta rays?