As I write this, sitting in the cool of the dining area at base camp, some of our Malawi citizen scientists are watching – and counting – a large herd of elephants drinking at the lakeshore, another team is out on a hippo count walk and others are peering at and photographing ants through a microscope, sifting samples of elephant dung for seeds and logging camera trap photos. It is a happy, calm and efficient scene! The Malawi 2022 biodiversity expedition team is up to the task – following a few days of settling in, training and practice, they are getting on the research tasks with notable competence and conviction.
The elephant herd analysis is important project for the conservation scientists at LWT to understand and monitor herd composition and health. The hippo count, similarly, is needed to measure changes in hippo population over time. The ant research is all about working out which habitats provide the most suitable ants for pangolins (a highly endangered and much trafficked rare animal that is a frustratingly fussy eater). The elephant dung analysis will tell the scientists the extent of cultivated crops in the elephants’ diet: there is very real conflict between the elephants here and the communities that live in the adjacent land. The dung analysis will reveal whether the new fence between the reserve and the cultivated land is doing its job or not.
And in between all these research tasks, we have been enjoying spotting – or being bothered by – the local wildlife. Elephants and hippos are seen daily, with an almost regular visit by elephants herds walking across the river in front of base camp every afternoon. We have also had elephants calmly wandering through base camp at night, tearing at branches for food and not threatening us at all, so long as we just watch and enjoy. There are clearly many wild animals exploring around our camp every night, judging by the grunts, snuffles and shrieks heard in the small hours. Surely not all of these sounds come from the expedition team’s tents. Last night we heard hyaenas calling to each other. Our night drives and camera traps have also revealed a diversity of nocturnal animals – bush babies, genets, civets, owls and porcupines and more. Baboons are a constant, but fascinating nuisance at base camp and have to be chased away from our buffet breakfasts.
We have had some minor inconveniences – delayed baggage transfer, vehicle tracks blocked by trees pushed over by elephants, baboons stealing our food – but the expedition is going superbly so far and we expect to continue to hard work collecting good field data and enjoying the ever-changing encounters with wild animals, for the rest of this Malawi African wildlife volunteer expedition.Continue reading “Malawi: Elephants, hippos and ants”