Malawi: Wrapping up 2018 with data galore

Our final group has left Vwaza Marsh and Biosphere Expeditions is wrapping up its time in Malawi for 2018.

It has been a very successful expedition, with an incredible amount of data collected by our three teams. The third and final group did 21 large mammal vehicle transects and five large mammal walking transects, two hippo vechile transects and five hippo vehicle transects. While the elephants were a little more elusive in this group compared to the previous two and only five new elephants were identified, this group caught more bats. On their last survey night alone they captured 23 bats, bringing the total up to 31 for this group. They also captured 28 different species during their camera trap survey, identified nine insect orders, and processed 12 elephant dung for the elephant diet and distribution analysis. All of this when combined with the previous two groups adds up to a staggering amount of data.

The three  groups combined achieved this:

  • 53 large mammal vehicle and 12 large mammal walking transects with 72 sightings and 23 species  recorded
  • 6 hippo vehicle and 11 hippo walking transects counting a total of 3,359 hippos
  • 28 new elephants were identified
  • 11 primate surveys were conducted
  • 27 orders of insects were identified with one being new for Vwaza Marsh Reserve, the Embioptera
  • 72 new morpho species for Vwaza Marsh were also identified
  • 60 bats from six different species were captured and released
  • 69 camera traps were deployed during the expedition
  • 49 species were caught on these cameras
  • out of those species, three cat species had never before been recorded in Vwaza Marsh Reserve: lion, caracal and serval.

All this will be written up in a scientific report, which will be available within a few months.

A massive thanks to you to everyone for all your hard work, enthusiasm and contribution. You could have been an ordinary tourist lying on a beach somewhere. Instead you chose to become citizen scientists, contributing to an important research and conservation project in a remote and little-visited part of Africa. We take our hats off to you and I also thank our partners from the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and Conservation Research Africa, most of all their committed and inspiring staff on the ground, for helping our beleaguered wildlife and wild places. None of this could have happened without you.

Safe travels and I hope to see you again somewhere, sometime on this beautiful blue planet of ours.

I leave you with a few final impressions…

Expedition leader

Malawi: Aardvark and greater bushbaby added

The first round of camera traps photos for group 3 in Malawi was a success. We captured two species that we had not previously recorded during our  camera trap surveys: greater bushbaby and aardvark.

We also captured three more sightings of the elusive caracal, as well as lots of other species. So everyone is in high spirits.


The bat team had an exciting night yesterday, when they encountered a two metre long python on their drive back from the survey site. “It was beautiful, I can’t believe how long the animal was” says Kathrin from Germany about the encounter.

The elephants have been a little more elusive of late and we have only been able to identify four new individuals. Today, however, they all came back and one young bull that had previously been identified and named Bruno came right into camp feeding under our clothes line.

So we are hopeful for this afternoon’s elephant observation survey.


Meanwhile, Heather from the UK had an elephant encounter of a differnt kind: “An elephant shrew ran straight into my foot today during my Large Mammal Walking Transect”… 😉


Malawi: Hippos galore as the waters retreat

Group 3 is in full swing and by now – our last group of the inaugural expedition to Malawi – we are running like a well-oiled machine.

During our hippo transects we have been counting more hippos than previously, which is most likely a result of the retreating water levels. Indeed water level has gone down significantly since the expedition started seven weeks ago. With the lower water levels, the hippos are easier to spot and during one of the transects we counted a whopping 177 of them. The large number of hippos is encouraging, since hippos are targeted for their ivory tusks by poachers.

During our time here in Vwaza we have seen poachers on our camera traps and found evidence of hippo poachers in the bush. “Hippos are harder for poachers to get than elephants, since they live in the water and are very aggressive. If a hippo gets scared or injured on land it will run into the water were poachers can’t get it” explains Lilongwe Wildlife Trust research manager Amanda Harwood.

During our day off we also visited the village of Kazuni. Following a request from the village, our participants had brought an impressive amount of supplies from home for the local school. “I sent a message out to the community I live in back in France and a lot of people chipped in donating supplies” says Sue from Ireland. Needless to say the local school was delighted by the donations, which included some footballs for PE.

Our next task is to swap SD cards in our camera traps and we are all excited to see what they have captured. Stay tuned!

Malawi: Group 3 in training

The third and final group for our 2018 Malawi expedition has arrived in Vwaza Marsh.  Equipment, camera trap, elephant survey and primate survey training is done. We now only have insects and bats training to go through before our our real scientific survey works starts tomorrow.

Despite it being the dry season, green leaves have started to sprout around camp already, in anticipation of the rains arriving next month. In response to the greenery, a herd of elephants came right up to camp eating the fresh leaves. “They were so close, it was amazing” says Matthew from the USA. Quite the welcome to camp!

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