South Africas Sumbandila Satellite Lifts Off

© Tommy Javerfalk
University of Stellenbosch team with the satellite.

South Africa made history on the September 17, 2009 with the successful launch into space of its low-earth orbiting satellite, SumbandilaSat. The 81 kg microsatellite blasted into space at exactly 17:55 (South African time) from Baikonour in Kazakhstan, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Naledi Pandor, the minister of science and technology, was in Kazakhstan to witness the historic occasion. Pandor said SumbandilaSat had paved the way for bigger and better things.

"We look forward to implementing our space strategy so that we can join other nations in exploring the myriad possibilities presented by scientific and technological research."

Director-General of science and technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said the launch reinforced South Africa's role in national, regional and international space initiatives.

"This is a momentous occasion, not just for the department of science and technology and its partners and stakeholders, but also for the people of South Africa. This launch is a milestone in our efforts to develop and enhance space science and technology in our country."

The satellite carries a high-resolution camera that will produce images for use in monitoring agriculture, mapping infrastructure and land use, tracking population movement, and measuring the water levels of dams.

Data will be streamed to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) at Hartbeeshoek, near Pretoria, for analysis and policy development purposes.

The SAC will carry out command and communication functions by tracking the satellite using a large dish antenna.

In addition to the camera, the satellite carries a secondary communication payload from the Department of Communications and experimental payloads for the scientific community in the areas of low-frequency radio waves, radiation, software defined radio, forced vibrating string and radio amateur transponder.

No place like home: Africa's big cats show postcode preference. The secret lives of some of Africa's iconic carnivores, including big cats, are revealed in a new study in the journal, Animal Conservation. The results shed light on how different habitats are used by some of Tanzania's most elusive meat eaters, such as the leopard.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) carried out the largest survey of Tanzania's carnivores, using a novel approach making use of over 400 camera trap locations.

The research reveals that many species, including the leopard, are particularly fussy about where they live, actively avoiding certain areas. Surprisingly, all the species surveyed tended to avoid croplands, suggesting that habitat conversion to agricultural land could have serious implications for carnivore distribution.

"Camera traps provide a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge on habitat use and spatial distribution of otherwise elusive and poorly known species. This methodology represents a powerful tool that can inform national and site-based wildlife managers and policy makers as well as international agreements on conservation," says Dr Sarah Durant from ZSL.

Until now, many of the species had been under reported because of their nocturnal habits, or because they live in heavily forested areas. The strength of the technique to document habitat preference of elusive species is highlighted by camera trap observations of bushy tailed mongooses - including the first ever records of this species from one of the most visited areas in the country.

These data can also be used to understand how Tanzania's carnivores may respond to habitat changes caused as a result of environmental change.

"Carnivores are generally thought to be relatively tolerant to land conversion, yet our study suggests that they may be more sensitive to development than previously thought, and that protected areas need to be sufficiently large to ensure that these charismatic animals will roam in Tanzania for the decades to come,' says Dr Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL.

She adds: "All species were affected by rivers and habitat, and the analysis provides important information relevant to the examination of future impacts of climate change."

The project continues to map carnivore distribution across the country, working closely with the wildlife authorities to support local conservationists and to generate information that is used to inform conservation planning.

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