Malawi: Roadblock and other creatures large and small

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

We have reached the end of group 2 on our inaugural Malawi expedition.

It has been a very busy two weeks with a lot of elephants around, not only did we identify twelve new elephants, but we were also often stopped in our tracks when they were blocking our way. Indeed one of our newly identified elephants is now called “Roadblock” 🙂

Our team of citizen scientists captured twenty species on the camera traps, notably “our” young male lion on two occasions. He  seems to have taken up residence in the north part of the park.

On our Large Mammal Walking Transects we recorded three species, and nine species were recorded on our Large Mammal Driving Transects. We counted a total of 696 hippos during our five Hippo Transects, and our bat teams captured a whopping 21 bats across four species. This is a great bat result during the dry season, when insect food is lower. The teams also did four insect surveys capturing 481 insects from eleven different orders.

Jodi  from Canada says she “had such a wonderful time; I really like that we get to be part of so many different research projects”.

Thank you so much to everyone in group 2 for all your hard work and enthusiasm.


Malawi: Here in Vwaza, the excitement continues…

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

We have caught another lion on our camera traps,

as well as a never before recorded caracal!

Also featured were: genet, roan, bushbuck, civet, guinea-foul, hyaena, honey badger, baboon, impala, porcupine and white-tailed mongoose.

We also spotted some Lichtenstein hartebeest on one of our Large Mammal Driving Transects in the north part of the reserve. These species have only been spotted once before; they are also a first for our Biosphere Expeditions project and we never see them down in the south region of the reserve where camp is.

“It was so nice, we saw four of them about 100 meters away. We also found a scull of one, so this seem to be where they hang out”, explaines Eckhart, one of our citizen scientists from Germany.

Yesterday, we had a lovely time during our Primate Observations. Anneliese from the UK: “We sat for over an hour with a troop of adult male yellow baboons that were baby-sitting a number of juveniles. They did not seem to mind us at all. It was amazing.”

With only a few days of surveying left, we have been very busy in camp entering data and analysing camera trap images during our spare moments between surveys.

Malawi: Five elephants, twelve bats, fourteen transects and more

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

Our second group in Malawi is in full swing and after just three days of proper citizen science we have already

  • identified five new elephants
  • captured and released 12 bats
  • carried out ten large mammal driving transects, two walking transects, two hippo transects
  • set up several insects traps and processed three elephant dungs

Our partner scientists from Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and Conservation Research Africa are delighted by the data our team of citizen scientists have collected to establish a baseline for Vwaza Reserve. These data will be used to better manage the reserve and help protect it from poachers.

Our team has also deployed 24 camera traps in the rarely visited northern part of the reserve. Tomorrow we will switch the SD cards to see what we have captured. Stay tuned!




Malawi: Group 2 getting trained and commencing work

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

Group 2 has arrived at Vwaza base camp and training is in full swing.

During elephant identification training yesterday, a large herd of elephants obliged us with their presence, just in time for our training.

In the afternoon everyone enjoyed their first drive through the park spotting impala, kudu, hippos, elephants and a large herd of buffalo. “Incredible,  just incredible” said Jodi from Canada when describing the buffalo encounter.

Today everyone was trained to use the camera traps and tomorrow we will drive to the northern reaches of the reserve to place our second round of camera traps. As we’ve said before, no big camera trapping study has ever been done in  the reserve, let alone in the remote northern part of the reserve, and we are very excited to see what the cameras will show us in time.

Our first “real” science commences tonight when we set the bat traps in front of camp, as well as deploying our insect traps. Hoping for some night-time visitors to start off our work.




Malawi: Thank you group 1 trailblazers!

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

The inaugural group of citizen scientists on our Malawi expedition has just left for Lilongwe after two weeks of intense surveying. During their time in Vwaza Marsh, we have conducted Large Mammal Transects, Hippos Transects, Elephant Observations, Primate Surveys, Elephant Dung Analysis, Bat Surveys, Insect Trapping and Identification and Camera Trapping. And we already have some exciting results from our initial two weeks:

Eleven new elephants have been identified and named, and we sorted through 16 elephant dung samples.

Our camera traps captured 26 different species with six of them being carnivores, including two big cats – lion and leopard. This is particularly exciting as lion has never before been captured on film inside the reserve.

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During our nightly bat surveys, we captured eight bats from four different species .

Last night, Karen, our in-house entomologist identified a new order of insect to Vwaza Marsh – the rarely seen Embioptera. Embioptera is the only group of insects that spin silk through their forelegs.

We are sad to see our very first hard-working group of citizen scientists leave, but we are looking forward to group 2 to arrive on Sunday to carry on the important work of monitoring the wildlife of Vwaza Marsh.

Thank you to everyone in group 1!

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Malawi: Camera trap success or what!

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

It has been an exciting couple of days in Vwaza Marsh. During our day off we visited the nearby village of Kazuni. We were the first group of foreigners ever to visit their village and they put on a quite a show. Not only did we get a great insight to village life, but we also got to dance with the local women to the beat of African drums. Of course our visit brought some much welcome income to a deprived community in deeply rural Malawi, but I am convinced that our hosts genuinely enjoyed showing off their culture and traditions.

Following our day off, we set out to check our camera trap grid to make sure it was all working properly. Whilst doing so, we changed over the SD cards inside the camera traps too. Back at camp we couldn’t wait and immediately started going through them, everyone waiting with baited breath to see what we had caught. The first cheers rose through the group as a pair of honey badgers appeared on the screen.

Soon more cheering ensued as a leopard was up next…

…followed by a pair of very elusive and rarely seen servals.

Just as we thought it couldn’t get any better a lion walked into the frame!

This is the first lion ever to be captured on film in Vwaza. While there have been reports of lion tracks before, being able to confirm the presence of this young male lion is indeed a big step towards better understanding the ecosystem of Vwaza Reserve.

What a start to the expedition. If anyone ever doubts the value of citizen science again, just show them this blog…. 😉

Malawi: Research activities

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

Our expedition is in full swing. Half of group 1 is already over and today is our day off with resupply runs (and visits to local villages and the market).

We’ve been very busy with our research activities every day and also every day the elephants, very many of them, have come down to the lake in front of our base camp to drink, dust bathe, fight and play, and delight us with their presence.

We have already counted hundreds of hippos, added three elephants to the ID database, captured one delightful fruit bat, analysed three elephant boli, driven three and walked one mammal transect, etc., etc.

And because pictures speak more than a thousand words, here are lots (with thanks to Ng Kui Lai and John Haddon for sharing some of theirs)…

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Malawi: Training days

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

After a day of getting to Vwaza from Lilongwe, the next two days of the expedition are dedicated to training. This includes talks on the study species, research background, hands-on training on maps, GPS, compass, datasheets, bat net erection, behaviour in the bush, cars, etc., etc. It’s intense, but necessary if we want to generate good research data, which is what it’s all about. And it’s excellently fuelled by the most important

Our scientists have prepared remarkably well, thank you, so it has gone smoothly. Tomorrow we start with our research work. We have hippo transects, bat surveys, vegetation surveys and much more on the programme…

Stay tuned.

And because she really wanted it… 🙂


Malawi: Ready to roll…

Update from our Malawi expedition working on cats, primates, elephants and African biodiversity

We’re as ready as we can be for you. The proof will be in the pudding now, starting with trailblazing group 1 tomorrow. And trailblazers we will be indeed. Just one example is that our expedition will set camera traps all over the reserve for the first time ever. Yes, it has never been done before and we are excited about the research work and what it will show. And the camera traps are just one facet of many citizen science aspects. So wish us success and good fortune!

Group 1, I hope you are all reading this in Lilongwe tonight and I hope you are ready. Please help us smooth out the rough edges and make this inaugural expedition a success.

Here are a couple of videos and some pictures to wet everyone’s appetite.


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