A large spotted genet seen in Giba Gorge
outside Hillcrest.

A postgraduate student in UKZN’s School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus, Mr Craig Widdows, is doing his MSc research project on how large spotted genets are expanding their range and adapting to urban environments.

Project Supervisor and Co-ordinator, Professor Colleen Downs explained that Widdows’ project aims to determine how large spotted genets are successfully using an urban environment and how they are subsequently increasing their numbers. In particular, she said that Widdows’ research focused on the home range and habitat use of the large spotted genet in urban Kloof and Hillcrest.

The genet research project is one of a cluster of research projects supervised by Downs, who is the Top Published Woman Researcher at UKZN.  She said multi-disciplinary postgraduate research projects focused on the impacts of changing land use, especially urbanisation, on biodiversity – particularly birds and small mammals.

As part of his research, Widdows is attaching radio chips to genets in the Kloof-Hillcrest area. ‘What I am aiming to do is to attach a 35g radio chip on the Genets,’ said Widdows. ‘These chips are in no way invasive and will not harm the individuals. These will allow us to track the movements of the genets by providing activity readings every 10 minutes for a period of 10 months. This will allow us to identify how they are surviving in the urban area.’

Widdows is also setting up cameras to aid his research. ‘When the individual walks past the sensor the camera will take a picture,’ he said. ‘These cameras come with an invisible black flash so their location won’t be visible.’

In addition to sensor chips and video footage, Widdows is looking for and examining the scats of large spotted genets to determine their diet.

In an effort to use the eyes and ears of local residents, Widdows has issued residents in the Hillcrest/Kloof area with data sheets.  ‘They will be able to record the genets they observe and indicate the time, habitat and behavioural observations of the animals. All this information will be included in my thesis,’ he said.

Besides large spotted genets, other projects being undertaken by postgraduate students under the supervision of Downs include research involve serval and feral cats; bats in rural and urban environments; and birds such as the hadeda ibis, trumpeter hornbill, rose-ringed parakeet, house sparrow, black sparrow-hawk and crowned eagle expanding their range in urban environments.