The Kalahari is home to more than just meerkats…

… and meerkats aren’t the only critters getting attention from researchers at the Kuruman River Reserve! These are a few of the species being investigated by my fellow PhD students and postdoctoral researchers at our field site.

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Dr Amanda Ridley and associates from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithological Research (Cape Town) work on beautiful pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor). Babblers, like meerkats, live in social groups and breed cooperatively, with a dominant pair monopolising breeding opportunities. Current research includes work on kin recognition, family conflict and communication. (Read more about their work and individual projects here.)

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My Cambridge friend and colleague Mike Finnie set up a project looking at one of the coolest birds in the Kalahari – the Southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas). These birds are not only beautiful (well, I think so) but also pretty bizarre: before the female lays her eggs she seals herself/is sealed by her mate into a hole in a tree trunk, where she then moults all her feathers, essentially trapping herself in, and leaving her totally reliant on her mate’s provisioning. A high-risk strategy open to all sorts of questions about honesty, communication and conflict, which has been the basis of Mike’s soon-to-be-completed PhD.

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As well as the amazing birds of the Kalahari, there are studies of other mammals going on, including work on other mongoose species. Yellow mongooses are a common sight, the elusive slender mongoose less so. Researchers from the University of Zurich’s Communication and Cognition group look at how these groups communicate and make decisions in groups, among other things…

I’m excited to see these guys again (researchers and study species alike!). There are many more wonderful animals that I’ll be coming across… more on them another time 🙂


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