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Friday, May 11, 2012

Shimoni Forest after dark

This quarter on forest, one of our focuses is on Galago surveys – which means lots of intensive night walks!  Shimoni forest is home to two species of galago, or bush babies:  the greater galago and the dwarf galago.  It’s pretty common to hear them calling during the night, but trying to spot them isn’t quite so easy.
Our transect for the galago survey follows the road heading east out of Shimoni village.  After beating through the bush and climbing over mangrove roots on some of our other transects, you might think this would be easy…until you walk down an uneven road of coral rag in complete darkness with your neck craned upward, swiveling your head back and forth, searching the trees by the light of your head torch.  It always humbles me that I’ve been here for almost four months and I still trip over the coral rag.  But at least I provided amusement for Hannah, who was the second spotter for the three surveys we did this week.  On night walks we need to have two spotters, and one of the key things to watch for is the eye shine caused by reflected torch light.  It’s the easiest way to spot galagos, as well as many other nocturnal creatures, because often they freeze when they see or hear you, but all you need to detect the eye shine is to catch them looking at you.
The greater galago

Dwarf Galago
As with all our surveys, we start a casual observations form as soon as we leave the house so that we can record anything we see other than galagos, as well as any galagos seen before or after the survey.  On Monday the first thing we saw, not far from the village, was a crested porcupine!  This was my first porcupine sighting in Africa.  I’d been told they were here, and had seen them in the mammal field guide, but somehow I still wasn’t prepared for the sized of him – he looked about 3 feet long from head to tail.   We were perhaps five meters from him when we saw him.  He saw us at the same time and ran for the forest – which meant he had to cross the road right in front of us!  He was a gorgeous animal.  Hannah and I were a bit giddy with excitement for the rest of the night, but we settled back down to look for galagos again.  Our next sighting was at the top of a bare tree branch, but it also wasn’t a galago.  A silvery-cheeked hornbill was perched there asleep.  We made a note and quickly moved on.  After the hornbill we saw our first set of eyes, but again, not a galago.  These belonged to a small antelope, possibly a Harvey’s duiker.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good enough look for a positive ID.  Finally, as we neared the end of the transect, we saw some galago eyes.  We moved closer to the tree to try to confirm which species it was, but the galago managed to evade us.  Sadly we were only able to record him as “unconfirmed species.”  We completed the galago survey and turned back down the road.  The walk back was mostly uneventful, though we did spot a suni (a dwarf antelope) near the village.
Tuesday’s night walk started out with another exciting sighting – a giant pouched rat ran right across our path!  Hannah and I had another speechless moment, just like with the porcupine.  Again, we recovered quickly and continued the survey, but the rest of the night was quiet.  We saw no other mammals, with the exception of the ever-present bats.
Suni seen in Shimoni Forest
Wednesday we went out for the third night in a row.  It was a beautiful, clear night, but there was no moon to give us extra light.  Early in the walk we spotted a couple of antelope in the area we’ve dubbed ‘Mordor’ – a partially-cleared area along the coast, just outside Shimoni village.  We got a good look at one of the antelope, and were able to identify it as a suni.  The other was larger and darker, possibly a duiker or bush buck.  Further down the road, near where we saw the galago on Monday, we spotted more galago eyes.  This time we were able to see him clearly and to identify him as a greater galago.  We saw two more galagos before completing the survey – one a greater galago that croseed over the road on a branch right in front of us.  The other we only got a glimpse of – not enough for a positive ID, but all-in-all, not a bad night.  We finished it off with another up-close suni sighting.  Hopefully future night walks will continue to yield exciting discoveries and lots of galago data.

Laura Taliako
Conservation Field Staff