Caught on camera

Ken Wynne-Dyke,Somerset West

As an amateur wild-life observer I have monitored camera traps on the Helderberg for the past four years, and twice-monthly I go up the mountain with the wine farmer, Rupert McNaught Davis, to change cameras.   

The cameras are heat and motion sensitive, taking three successive shots during the day, but at night only one shot when an electronic flash illuminates the subject. 

The flash then takes about a minute to recharge, by which time the subject may have exited the field of vision. 

Most of the local mammals are nocturnal, with only two or three passing the camera in daytime. 

In these four years I have photographed virtually all our known mammals, and recently even had four visits by leopards. 

These were identified by the Boland Leopard Trust (by the spot-patterns) as the same individual Boland male 26, named Bacardi.

A few days ago I got the shock of my life when I downloaded two shots of an animal that shouldn’t even occur this far south: a bushpig or bosvark, Potamochoerus  larvatus.  

All the field guides and my copy of Mammals of South Africa, by Austin Roberts (1951), confirm the most southerly occurrence as Swellendam and Knysna, and incidentally the earliest record of Potamochoerus larvatus is by Schreber in 1791.  

My photos, along with hundreds of others taken by interested observers, are submitted with their GPS locations to the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town.   

This data will eventually enable the update of distribution maps to more accurately reflect populations that may have migrated or disappeared from a particular area. 

The ADU website, however, shows no bushpig sightings from 2010 to date, although there have apparently been anecdotal records of sightings in the Western Cape in recent years. The species is, however, quite common further up the coast towards KwaZulu-Natal.

Although the ADU has officially identified my record as a true bushpig, Jeannie Hayward, a researcher with the Cape Leopard Trust, suggests it may be an alien invasive feral pig Sus scrofa. I await her further research.

This beautiful specimen has just bathed and is soaking wet and covered in mud.  Apparently one of the bushpig’s favourite hobbies is mud-bathing.

They are hefty creatures, with males weighing between 46kg and 82kg,and females up to 66kg, and living up to 15 years. 

They are omnivores and will even eat carrion and snakes.

I hope to photograph him/ her again, and preferably with a mate.

Thank you for sharing this fascinating glimpse into the life of these wonderful creatures! Ed