Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

“Welcome to Biosphere Expeditions Namibia. Now hurry up and get off the bus so we can go collar a leopard!” is what Group 6 arrived to. Amazing, and true. We caught a leopard in the mountain lodge box trap during the break between groups 5 and 6, and this makes the third leopard we’ve captured in a box trap with Biosphere Teams this year.

Several months now we’ve been watching a leopard on the camera traps up north that appeared to be an adult male. He has a very distinguishing feature; he is missing a portion of his upper right lip which exposes his canine teeth on that side. It makes him look quite fierce to us humans, and because he was so unusual we were keen to catch him. Lucky for us, he is now L055 in Vera’s study! (Previous teams who caught and collared L051 and L052 might ask what happened to L053 and L054. Those were caught on other farms within Vera’s study area.) Four leopards in just over a week…now that makes for a busy Biosphere Expeditions scientist!

Thanks go out to Martin and Renate, previous team members (different teams) that sent care packages along with two team 6 members. Speaking of care packages, thanks also to Team 6 members Siggi and Eliza for being Biosphere Expeditions couriers. They have brought along new kit for us—three new pairs of Swarovski Optik binoculars and a new range finder. Thanks Swarovski Optik for providing such great equipment that is so useful for us! Those 10×32 binoculars are great for seeing the small details on animals!

Group 6 has also been able to observe the rhinos here at the bush camp water hole, which is always a treat. It seems like I may mention it quite a bit here in the diary, and that’s because it’s an infrequent event. Yet when they arrive the entire camp goes quiet, and it never ceases to be a near reverential experience. It would seem we have a group or porcupines that has taken up residence in the Bergposten trap. So far we are 4 for 4…four days, four porcupines. One even decided to move in for the day, and the group eventually had to leave him in the trap with the doors open because we was just too comfortable. (I’d had to do the same with a porcupine over the break as well)

Tuesday was the first day for telemetry lessons and elephant observation, and Team 6 has already figured out that it’s not always easy to find a herd of elephants! The morning group looked for over two hours, before finding all nine of them taking a mid-morning siesta under an unlikely and very small tree. As we left them two of us who were looking were able to see one of the large cows lying down under a bush just a few meters away. It is my first time seeing one of the mature elephants lying down. Speaking of which, another team saw three mature giraffe lying down mid-morning, again another first for my stay here on Okambara. It just illustrates how the animals are reverting to their “energy conservation” mode.

Speaking of which, the weather here in Namibia has turned HOT during the day, although it is still cool at night. We’ve amended the daily schedule and the volunteer teams now start at 07:00 to take advantage of the cooler morning air. I think Team 6 hit their stride today, their second full day in the field, when they left early for both their morning and afternoon activities. We love keen volunteers!

Team 7 if you are currently deciding what to pack, make sure to bring plenty of high factor sunscreen, a hat, and long sleeves, which are now essential for the long hours in the blazing sun. You’ll still need your sweater/jumper at night, however.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Just when we thought we were winding down the second week Team 5 started doing the bush boogie. They saw vultures circling over a kill (which we could not locate from the ground), then the next day they found another fresh kill (which was not a leopard kill). Why is this important? Because the first time we caught a leopard this year it was because we used his kill as bait in the traps and caught him the next night. So kills and drags and vultures and spoor are all very important pieces of the puzzle we use successfully to trap our cats.

During the week we released several non-target species from the traps such as porcupine and warthog. We also had some genets or mongoose triggering the traps on us, but they are slender enough to escape, leaving the disappointingly closed but empty trap for us to find.

Team 5

Team 5

Friday was our last dinner together at the bush camp, and the rhinos once again came right on cue. It was a great finale for Team 5. Thanks for all your hard work, flexibility, and assistance in collaring leopard L052. We wishe you safe travels home.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Saturday wasn’t much of a day off for Team 5 because we caught a leopard overnight at the Bergposten box trap. It’s interesting how we go about our data collection day after day, the diligence of checking the box traps twice a day, and while we always remain hopeful, it still comes as a delightful surprise when we do have our target species in the trap.

Vera was ecstatic. She and Joerg rode up to take a look at the animal and to put a shade cover over it.

Weighing in at 67.5 kg, the leopard was determined to be an adult male of sufficient size to collar. Samples were taken of his conjunctiva, saliva, capillary blood from his ears, arterial blood, and fecal samples. The Biosphere team was able to watch the entire process except for the initial immobilization darting at the trap. We did get to hear it, however, and at that moment it sounded like it was a 200 kg leopard!

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The team did a really great job of being flexible, and driving around the farm to check on the other box traps late that evening, despite being tired and hungry. I volunteered to check the cheetah trap near Gustavposten on the way home, and after much confusion about how I was to simultaneously open doors on both ends of the trap AND lock the trigger mechanism all at the same time (remember we were all tired and hungry!) Peter and Geoff came to my aid and helped me re-set the trap.

Here is my favourite advice from Namibian conservationist John Kasaona. This was advice given to him by his father, who is a poacher turned conservationist.

“My father taught me that when you see a cheetah feeding in the wild, you just slap it on the butt, and it will run away. If you see a lion face to face, stand your ground son, and look big. It might turn away. But if you see a leopard, you run like hell boy. You run faster than the goats you are herding.”

Having seen how powerful an angry leopard is when caught in a box trap, I think that’s really good advice.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Friday was our vehicle game count, and I think everyone will agree that 6 am is a beautiful time of day to see the farm. All three teams reported record numbers of animals counted. Vehicle 2 spotted some cheetah tracks mid farm, which the team called “a nice interlude” for the game count. Vehicle three saw two bat eared foxes in the early morning light. They are seldom seen on Okambara, and Vera was very excited.

Two teams have had the opportunity to see all seven rhinos near Sandposten, and it is quite rare to see them all together. It’s full-on spring at the farm now, which means warm nights, cool mornings, and very hot afternoons. We’ve even had a few (very light) rain showers. I’ve switched to my summer Buff (without the fleece) for early mornings on the vehicles, and future team members should pack accordingly. You should also bring water containers to hold at least to litres of water, which is the bare minimum that you should drink each day. I find I am draining two litres before lunch.

Julia Johnson is an author, and she has brought us two of her books. “The Leopard Boy” and “The Cheetah’s Tale” are now a part of the Biosphere Namibia library.

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Julia’s husband sent her a text message saying he saw her hat, not her, in the previous diary. I wonder what he will make of this next picture. 🙂

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

The giraffes greeted team 5 at the bush camp straight upon their arrival from Josephine Gate.

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It was pretty stiff competition for my briefings, but thankfully the team paid attention and learned everything they need to know to be out in the field collecting data. Vera and I would like to thank Verena for planning her birthday on day one; thanks to her we got to eat cake and a visit from the rhinoceros, all at the same time.

Too good to be true, just after everyone went to bed, I heard the elephants at our water hole. I got back out of bed myself, turned on the lights, and went to see who else was still up. Verena and Stefan’s lights were still on, so I knocked on their door and presented her with her final birthday gift of the evening: all nine elephants. As usual, the first six elephants had to wait around for quite some time eating the bark off trees and licking the salt block before the last cow and her two calves showed up, so the encounter was quite long. Giraffe, elephants, and rhino at our water hold all in the span of a few hours. I think this is another lucky group.

Today was our first day in the field, and we had one porcupine (Michael’s Dam) and a warthog (Lodge Trap) to release, which was done by staff because we were actually on our way to the box trap briefing/move. Despite the heat the team managed to relocate the JM South box trap to behind the lodge (where we’d had a camera trap showing leopard activity on a number of occasions). We did it in record time with so many willing hands, and we hope the fresh meat and fancy digs will be appealing to the leopards.  Vera gave a box-tap briefing with a twist – this time we did a pop quiz at the end: what did we forget? THE MEAT! Eric jumped right in and helped Vera and Don fasten it inside the cage. Then we did housekeeping all over again.

Team 5’s box traps are located at Michael’s Dam, the Lodge, Mountains Lodge (the one we just installed today), and Bergposten. A cheetah trap has also been set up by our research partner IZW, not too far from the bush camp, and we’ll also be checking this for them as well. So team 5 has 5 box traps…a nice, tidy number coincidence!

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

With no internet around the Musandam, below is a short summary of the expedition starting with Catherine’s records from day 3 onwards. Pictures of it all have gone up below. Thank you to everyone who made the expedition such a success. You were a great team and it was a great expedition. Another step towards that ultimate aim of a Musandam marine protected area. You could have lounged on a beach somewhere or gone shopping in Dubai. Instead you did this. Thank you! Safe travels and see you again someday, somewhere.

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Day 3 (8 Oct) – Yoga at dawn followed by breakfast en route to Eagle Bay. There were no eagles, or sooty falcons (our terrestrial flagship species for this expedition), but plenty of ospreys swooping around. Even more excitingly, a 6 metre whale shark swam straight over a team of divers completing their in-water Reef Check ID test!  Jean-Luc, our scientist, confirmed this area to be a perfect place for a marine protected area, and with Amran Al Kamzari from the Oman Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, and Antonia Vegh from the Environment Society of Oman as part of our team, we have a couple of good ambassadors to make this a reality!

Day 4 (9 Oct) – First full day of Reef Check, three surveys, three different locations, all performed with great enthusiasm. Huge bait balls, ripping currents, humpback Indo-Pacific dolphins, turtles and manta rays just adding to the enjoyment of this stunning lunar landscape.

Day 5 (10 Oct) – With the first survey completed before 8:30, scientist Jean-Luc and expedition leader in training, Catherine, yours truly, decided to perform a snorkelling recce at the backside of the island. With masks and snorkels donned, the team proceeded to swim around the back of Abu Sarr island collecting data as they went. The highlight for some was the amazing night dive at Coral Garden, filled with lobster, shrimp, cow fish, cat fish and a plethora of coral.

Day 6 (11 Oct) – The first dive survey of the day was at Ras Taher, an unusual site, exposed to strong currents, so therefore exhibiting different species. This provided a challenge for the team, which they met and overcome with great skill and teamwork. As our reward, we were treated to the gem of a site, Pipi beach, where thousand year old porites corals dominated, creating an incredible cathedral-like underwater landscape, inhabited by turtles, huge schools of snapper, and an army of barracuda. It also happened to be our expedition leader’s birthday, so we celebrated with an enormous and very elaborate boat shaped cake. Happy birthday Matthias!

Day 7 (12 Oct) – The last day of the expedition, and a leisurely dive or snorkel at Telegraph island. All kit was packed and documented, then we were away, back to the hustle and bustle of Dubai; the tranquility of the Musandam peninsular a beautiful memory.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

We’re in between teams at the moment, and since we’re looking forward to your arrival, we thought we’d share some of the camera trap pictures from the last group. Enjoy! See you soon Team 5.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

All the staff are now here (from left to right): Rita Bento (outgoing scientist), Matthias Hammer (expedition leader), Jean-Luc Solandt (incoming scientist), Catherine Edsell (expedition leader in training).

staff

Did you hear Jean-Luc mention the words “field ID test”? How are your Reef Check studies going?

We’ll see most of you tomorrow morning in Dubai, and Antonia, Amran, Sondy and the crew of the Sindbad, our research vessel, in Khasab.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Thursday was our Vehicle Game Count and I think all three transects saw significantly more amounts of game than the previous week. It’s always great fun to be out and about on Okambara that time of day and see things from the early riser point of view. One team picked up a hyaena track and another got down to investigate and record the tracks. Back at base, Louize made a new friend.

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We caught two porcupines in the box traps overnight, so most of the team has now seen one up close and personally. Jackie and Sue volunteered to liberate the one at Bergposten. Thursday night we had a nice sunset, complete with Emil, the male rhinoceros, attending the water hole just before dark. Somehow I never get too mad when he interrupts my briefings 😉

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We said good-bye to Team 4 this morning, and they’ll be missed. Thanks everyone for your hard work, your flexibility, and for making our time in the field fun, in spite of the scorching afternoon sun. We could not have collected nearly as much data as without you, and we never would have caught and collared that hyaena and the THREE honey badgers. As the journal says TEAM FOUR ROCKS!

We’re into our week break now and look forward to meeting Team 5 next Sunday, 13 October! Over and out until then.

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Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

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