I came to volunteer with African Impact in the Greater Kruger Area for eight weeks, spending four as a photography volunteer and four as a research volunteer. When I first arrived as a photography volunteer, I didn’t realize how important photos were for conservation research. Even after my four weeks as a photographer, it didn’t really hit me. I had enjoyed taking pictures, and we gave some of our pictures to the research volunteers, but the main focus was just to take pictures of our own enjoyment, while also learning about wildlife photography. However, when I joined research, I realized how much of the research we do is dependent on the pictures we take and the ID kits we make with them. If an animal has an ID kit that is missing a picture of one side or has a poor photo, you end up with a lot of unidentified animals.
ID kits prove vital to a conservation researcher, both in the field and back in the project room. When you have a leopard sighting, you ideally want to know which leopard you saw. Unfortunately, most leopard sighting are short, seeing it briefly cross the road for instance, and don’t get the opportunity to examine the rosettes and ID it in the field. If you have a picture of it though, you can come back to it later and determine who it was. Even with giraffe and elephant sightings, that aren’t necessarily short, giraffes might stand still feeding for a very long time, you don’t want to spend an hour or more trying to find out which one it is in the field. By taking a picture of it, preferably of both sides, you can carry on with the drive and keep looking for other wildlife. ID photos are an absolute necessity, and it is important to have someone who knows how to take good wildlife photos, something I learned how to do in my stint as a photography volunteer, to make good ID kits.
Sometimes you might have a sighting that has a lot of animals that need to be identified. When you can’t stay long to see them, or they run off before you ID them, pictures become invaluable. On one of my drives as a photography volunteer, we saw a pack of 17 wild dogs. While I didn’t have to record data then, we still want to ID the wild dogs, but trying to get individual shots of them would have been very difficult. In a case like that one, taking a shot of all the animals together is useful. You will undoubtedly get good shots of most of them, and have them all accounted for. We then take the pictures back and can make ID kits for all the animals, even the ones that only have partial photos. An ID kit with poor photos or that isn’t complete is better than no ID at all!