Update: Barred Owlet Research Project Success

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Kariega Barred Owlet Aug'18

"There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success" ~ Heather Bresch

Research projects don't always go to plan. One always has this in the back of your mind when putting in the many hours and huge amount of effort to try to achieve results. Sometimes all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and success comes flying in (and gets caught in your mist net)! This is what happened recently with our African barred owlet research project at Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

Barred Owlet Research Project: Plan

Looking back to when our African barred owlet research project started in July 2017, we were hopeful and eager to get one response call or catch a glimpse of even one of these very elusive little owlets. Thankfully we have had great success with our project objectives to collect, analyse and compare sightings and material to assess taxonomic relationships among different subspecies of African barred owlets. Here we are in August 2018 with greater success than we could ever have imagined!

The African barred owlet research team headed out into Kariega Game Reserve's wilderness on two separate occasions in May and August 2018. The plan was to go to the areas where the barred owlets had been previously heard and to set up mist nets for our researchers to hopefully catch an owlet.

Putting up the mist nets is quite a process in itself and takes some time. The nets are very fine and difficult to see. Finding the right spot is also crucial. The researchers use their knowledge of the owlets' behaviour to best position the nets. Once the strategically placed nets are set up we start to call the birds. A recording of an African barred owlet is played and then stopped to wait for a response from a real owlet, who is hopefully sitting somewhere close. This process goes on for a while until there is a response from the owlet who thinks there is an "intruder" and comes to investigate. As the owlet comes closer it is coaxed into the mist nets with the recorded call until it is finally caught in the net.

This whole process is a gamble as there may not be a response from any owlets. In this case we would have to pack up and start again in a different location on on another night. It can really go either way and this is why there is not much information about these little birds. They don't like to show themselves to anyone. However...

Kariega Barred Owlet Research Success

Barred Owlet Research Project: Success

In the month of May all the hard work paid off and we caught our first African barred owlet in this project. What a heart racing experience for everyone that night! The team couldn't believe the success. Standing with a live African barred owlet specimen, everyone was smiling from ear to ear. We took DNA samples, photos and other observations before we released the unharmed little bird into the night.

On our August owlet expedition we went to another location in Kariega Game Reserve. We were disappointed at first as we weren't getting any response calls. However, our patience and persistence were rewarded as we caught our second African barred owlet. To say that everyone was ecstatic is an understatement! 

Researchers Jo Balmer and Ben Smit ensured that we took further DNA samples, photos and other observations in order to collect as much data for the project as possible. We are getting closer to find out if the barred owlets found in the Eastern Cape are a sub-species of the African barred owlets found elsewhere in southern Africa.

Read more about why this project was started in our previous African barred owlet blogs.

Kariega African Barred Owlet

Barred Owlet Research Project: What Next?

For our African barred owlet research project to be successful our team of researchers still need to collect data from a few more individual owlets in the Eastern Cape to prove their theory. They are also visiting other areas and hopeful for further successful captures. To date Kariega Game Reserve is the only reserve where any barred owlets have been caught so far.

The Kariega Foundation helps to fund this great research project with some of the equipment needed. Funds are generated for this project via the Kariega Foundation conservation and community levy. All adult guests staying at Kariega pay a compulsory levy of R130 per person per night in addition to accommodation and other costs. These funds are invested directly into our community and conservation projects, which play an immediate role in the betterment of local livelihoods and conservation efforts.

Read more about our other Kariega Foundation conservation and community projects. Please feel welcome to post questions and comments below or email foundation@kariega.co.za