Behind the Spy: capturing the rhino riding genet

By Kat Holmes

I recently got the chance to speak to Dr. Simon Morgan, Director at Wildlife ACT and the man behind the infamous shot showing a genet taking a ride on top of a rhino! Wildlife ACT is a South African based organisation which monitors wildlife in Zululand, a culturally and ecologically rich rural area in the east of South Africa. Dr. Morgan and his team often use camera traps to monitor species like wild dog, rhino, elephants and lion. Here he tells us more about his bizarre genet capture and some stories from the South African bush.

The infamous shot of a genet riding a rhino captured on camera trap by WildlifeACT's Dr Simon Morgan.

The infamous shot of a genet riding a rhino captured on camera trap by WildlifeACT’s Dr. Simon Morgan.

[KH] Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Dr Simon Morgan, we loved the weird insight into genet behaviour you captured on camera trap. We captured our own genet on our SafariSpy camera trap recently, what do you think?

[SM] Thanks, it’s great to talk to you too. This is some very nice footage of a genet exhibiting typical foraging behaviour. They’re nocturnal cats and feed on small vertebrates, arthropods and fruit, so I would hazard a guess that this particular genet is in search of a meal.

[KH] Have you gotten any further in working out what on earth that genet was up to on top of that rhino (and previously on top of a buffalo) in the beautiful Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa?

[SM] We recently managed to get some video footage of this genet on a black rhino actually, making it the third species we have recorded it on. During the video we could see the genet near the head area of the rhino and it was actively hawking insects from up there as they were disturbed by the rhino. So it would seem that the genet is using these large herbivores in a similar manner to that of a cattle egret, which follow animals to take advantage of the insects that are disturbed as they walk.

The buffalo was the first mega-herbivore the genet was captured riding.

The buffalo was the first mega-herbivore the genet was captured riding.

[KH] So had you been using camera traps for a long time before you captured the infamous rhino riding genet?

[SM] Yes, we have been using camera traps for quite a few years now to assist us with the monitoring of threatened and priority species in Zululand.

[KH] Have you always had success or did your first camera trapping attempts draw some blanks like mine?

[SM] With camera trapping you are always learning new tricks and ways of capturing the animals correctly, especially with those species which do not use game paths or have predictable movement patterns. So we all have many blanks when we start, but I think those decrease as you get going and you start understanding the species you are working with better and better.

[KH] So was capturing Genet Jackson your best camera trap success story? I love the name Wildlife ACT has given the cheeky genet by the way and that she/he is raising awareness of rhino conservation on twitter.

[SM] Yes, Genet Jackson is definitely one of our most interesting stories we have had and those photos have really opened the world of camera trapping up to people who had no idea about the use of cameras like this to capture unique animal behaviours. But I think our real success comes from the dedication of our monitors and volunteers who are out there daily checking up on the hundreds of cameras we have and sifting through the thousands of photos to find those which are meaningful and contributing to the conservation of species like the black rhino, leopard and cheetah.

Lion behaviour captured by WildlifeAct and their dedicated volunteers

Lion behaviour captured by WildlifeAct and their dedicated volunteers

[KH] Now we have heard about your successes you have to tell us your biggest camera trap fail, because we have all had one or two!

[SM] For sure we all have a few – but one recent incident happened when I just wasn’t thinking things through. I had gotten excited about putting up a camera trap looking at an elephant carcass and forgot its protective metal box….needless to say the hyena were just as interested in chewing through the camera as what they were the elephant’s skin!

[KH] Oh dear! I can definitely understand how an exciting opportunity like that would distract you! So there is a growing number of new and budding camera trappers out there, what would be the top tip you would share with them?

[SM]The best tip I have been given was from a good friend and colleague of mine, Chris Kelly, which is that a camera trap in your cupboard isn’t any good to man or beast – make sure your cameras are out there as often as you can, increasing the chances of getting ‘that shot’ and what you want from them.

Vertvet monkey selfie captured by WildlifeACT and their dedicated volunteers

Vervet monkey selfie captured by WildlifeACT and their dedicated volunteers

[KH] Thanks, that’s a really inspiring bit of advice that I am sure will spur NatureSpy and our readers into action! You have given us a great insight into your camera trapping experiences, so thank you! One last question… what is your number one camera trap goal for the next year? Maybe to capture Genet Jackson riding a lion?

[SM] Hahaha, ja, for sure! Ultimately though I think our goal is to get more cameras out there doing more conservation monitoring work for us, and to ensure we have as few ‘cameras in cupboards days’ as possible!

[KH] Well that sounds like a great goal and one we could all happily aim for, will you keep us and our followers up to date on how you get on?

[SM] Definitely – we are often posting our favourite photos, especially of Genet jackson, on our Facebook page!

[KH] Great well we look forward to seeing more footage from you and more lazy antics from Genet soon. Happy camera trapping!

Wildlife ACT assists Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife by monitoring endangered and priority species in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa.

For more information visit:

Wildlife ACT website

Wildlife ACT Facebook

Genet Jackson’s Twitter account

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