Saturday, 6 August 2011

Fox hunt for African BFC

I have just returned from a most interesting activity.

During the past week, I received an email from Glynn ZS6GLN, to ask if I was willing to participate in a fox hunt with a difference.

From my understanding two very rare (threatened species) of African Black Footed Cats were released a while back in Ezemvelo Nature Reserve. Both the cats are fitted with small radio tracking collars. The daily movements of the cats tracked and the data logged. The male cat had left the nature reserve and was heading in a South-Westerly direction. He had apparently done something similar on two prior occasions and returned a few days later. This time he had not returned and the last sighting was on 23 July, 14 days ago.

Someone responsible for these cats decided to contact the South African Radio League, to see if they could assist. Then things moved fast. Dennis (the president of SARL) contacted Glynn. Glynn in turn set up a well, thought out plan of action, to see if we could find the critter.

Today, Saturday, I set my alarm for 2:30 AM, to meet the assembled team of fox hunters at the rendezvous point at 4 AM. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many Radio Amateurs volunteered their help. 13 people, 6 vehicles and a helicopter. The vehicles were filled with all sorts of tracking equippment, some resembling porcipines with all the antennas. The helicopter flown by Hennie ZS6EY joined us just after sunrise.

The search started at around 4:30 AM and ended at around 10 AM. In the process I traveled 240 km, including some spectacular off road tracks over a mountain ridge and down to a very secluded spot by the Wilge river, within the Leopard Lodge private reserve.

Unfortunately, no one heard anything. Not even the slightest "beep" was heard. Realistically, I guess our chances were very slim. Once the hunt was called off we regrouped at Ezemvelo NR for a light lunch. After lunch, I went to search for the female cat that is in the reserve. I did find her and so did Glynn and company.

Actually the cat was quite easy to find since Glynn had beat me to it and they were wearing bright clothes, so I could see them from about 3 km away Hi…. Jokes aside, the signal emitted by the tracking collar is not very strong. I did a range check and the signal disappeared 300 metres either side of the spot. The cat was hiding in a very shallow depression of approximately 200 mm below ground level at the time.

The Radio transmitter has a ERP of only 0.09 milli watt and transmits a 20 mS long "beep" at a rate of 55 ppm. According to the specifications the battery should last 845 days. This sure is QRPp in the extreme, quite impressive....

This sure was an interesting day. Pity we did not find the missing male, but it was fun and I think we are all somewhat more prepared to do the same in the future, should we be called upon to do so.

73, Pierre ZS6A

It might be worth monitoring 150.623 MHz (+/- 3 kHz) best heard on CW or SSB.
If a short beeping signal once every second is heard then maybe it might be from the cat in question.

Please notify:

Free Me Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
083 558 5658
011 807 6993

This the actual two cats in question. Female on left, Male on the right.

The actual track of my search for BFC



  1. Very interesting Pierre. So that is where you were hiding today. Thanks for the info.

    Geoff ZS6GRL

  2. Pierre, a HUGE thank you for all the time and effort you and the team put in for our missing BFC aka 'Party Animal'! It has been a real education for me to observe how well this search party was put together, the detail covered in the planning and execution and the commitment from everyone involved, their time and resources. Like all of you, having spent days myself searching too, I share your disppointment that this special animal wasn't picked up. We're all hoping that he'll return to the reserve and that one night we'll hear that magic 'beep-beep'! I will certainly keep all of you updated regarding this project anyway.....hoping that the female will produce a litter this year! Once again, a sincere thank you from everyone involved with the release project!

    Nicci Wright
    Senior Animal Manager
    FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

  3. Hi Nicci,

    It was a privilege to be involved in this search attempt to find the missing cat.

    We certainly hope that he will once again return from his walk about and settle in at Ezemvelo (for good). I must say the location that we found the female, fits the description of BFC habitat perfectly.