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

We’ve had a little rain, which is so badly needed and completely unexpected that we all went outside and danced in it. I’m not sure if the pictures do it justice, but I took a picture just to prove to the prior teams that it happened. Valerie took a “Rhinos and Rainbows” picture while still out in the field.

Friday was vehicle game count and the overall numbers were quite low. Perhaps that was due to the rain the night before.

Team 7 got a real “day off” on Saturday; the first Saturday in a few groups where we did not catch a predator in a trap. The team, however, was super keen on data entry, so they set up shop for the entire morning.

Sunday we moved the Lodge East trap to where camera trap 15 was located (for the previous volunteers that is behind the lodge up in the mountains—at the junction of the roads to Olifantposten and Kuduposten). Evidently it was here that Team 7 changed my nickname for Vera (Madam Scientist) to their own (Mad Scientist), purportedly for being very focused in the placement and setup of the box trap.

Like Vera’s new jewelry? (She was testing its transmitting capabilities.)

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Sunday’s team also saw our first aardwolf. Never heard of one? They hadn’t either—they just knew it was an unusual sighting. What is an aardwolf? Picture a miniature striped hyaena with a long mane and bushy tail. They feed almost exclusively on harvester termites, and are one of the most specialized carnivores. They are solitary, nocturnal, and are thought to locate the termites more by hearing than by smell. Vera was delighted and now we’re off to set another camera trap at the hole where the team first saw it.

aardwolf

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

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

We had a week’s break after the last group, and now Team 7 is on the ground at Okambara. The group has been trained in box trap operations, elephant surveys, waterhole counts, navigation around the farm, and now we’re focusing on perfecting the box trap setups so we catch one final leopard. While we’ve had a great run and collared three leopards already, we’ve seen plenty more uncollared ones on the camera traps…so we know our work is not yet done.

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Yesterday our water hole team of Wayne, Barbara, Seema and Carole built a shade net structure at Gustavposten; one we hope to replicate and erect at the other water holes.

Yesterday’s morning elephant team of Morgan, Ann, Eva and Ritva had a very (non) exciting encounter with the “bad boy” elephant (the teenage male bull that sometimes causes trouble on the farm.) We encountered him tearing into and eating a shrub pretty close to the road, and evidently we weren’t very exciting companions for him because after lifting his trunk to sniff and check us out, he promptly went over to a bush and laid down! Then it was his turn to be (non) exciting, because we got to watch him snooze for a full hour and a half. Right on cue, seconds after we wrapped up the observation period, he leapt up, shook himself off, and sauntered further into the bush and out of sight. The first groups of volunteers will remember very different encounters with the elephants – at the beginning of the season they were very wary of us. Now, they are mostly non plussed, and just go about their business and ignore us. Good news, because that means we are now observing their natural behaviours.

The rhinos are getting more accustomed to us as well. In the last two days all teams have encountered the rhinos near Sandposten. The rhinos now care so little for us that they hardly move out of the roadway! They just stand and stare at us, and go back to eating. We’re now able to get so close to them that we can hear them breathing and chewing!

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

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

Our seventh and last group for 2014 is about to start. While you wait, here are a few pictures of your tools of the trade, from your fingers to maps to GPS and binoculars, as of Sunday…

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

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

Team 6 caught another honey badger in the lodge east trap, and this one we released because the IZW veterinarian was too busy with other tasks to come to immobilise the animal and take samples. The rest of the week was business as usual—box traps, elephants, tracks & scats, and waterholes in the mornings, and box traps, waterholes, and elephants in the afternoons. Anh, Prasadu and Gabi’s names were drawn to help Vera investigate several clusters, which is a new activity.

Team 6
Team 6

What are clusters? Every 3-4 weeks Vera’s colleague flies over the study area and downloads the information off all the animal collars in the field. Vera gets the data and can see the activity of each animal. When an animal spends a significant amount of time in one area, or comes back to an area repeatedly over a period of a few days, it shows up as a cluster in the data. Vera then goes out into the field and investigates the area looking for evidence of activity, scat, kills, and other useful information. Her study area is much larger than Okambara, yet we had two such clusters on the farm and so she took volunteers out to investigate.

One animal (L051) spent all day in one location, but the site revealed none of its secrets. The second cluster they investigated belonged to L055, the leopard Team 6 collared upon their arrival, where the animal had come back repeatedly over a three day period. That site revealed two kills – one older and unidentifiable animal (Vera took hair samples back to the lab to determine the species) and a newer young oryx.

L051
L051

Normally the timing does not work out quite so well – collar an animal and then have the ability not only to see its movements in the next slot, but also then be able actually to track its movements in the field within the same two week expedition. Don’t worry previous team members – when Vera publishes her final report on the expedition, she will also include data on the movements of “our” animals.

Thanks Team 6 for all your hard work, and for your flexibility throughout the expedition, and for the rain you brought complete with the double rainbow!

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

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

Saturday Group Six did not get much of a day off. In the morning we found a honey badger in the Bergposten trap, and the IZW veterinarian came in the afternoon to immobilize it and take samples. What a lucky group this is!

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