Malawi: Bats, hippos, elephants et al.

Everyone ist trained up and the camera traps are set in the northern part of the reserve. Well done, folks! It is a long, arduous drive. Let’s hope for some more good results.

We ran the first bat survey on our second training day. Everyone was keen to help setting up the harp and mist nets after another half day of introductions and theoretical training sessions on primates, entomology and bat identification. The traps were opened at sunset and closed after three hours. Enough time for everyone to assist with handling and recording the captured animals. Over ten individuals were caught that night – very exciting.

The hippo transect went well today with lots of sightings of kudu, puku, impala, warthog, vervet monkey, yellow-billed stork and quite a few herds of elephants – apart from our study animals 😉 On the way back the team was held up by several herds of elephants, but made it back to base shortly before lunchtime just when another herd of elephants decided to walk past the platform at a distance of no more than 30 m. Why go out for elephant observations if you can do it from base? 😉 Leigh-Anne and Dominique took many, many ID pictures, which we will process soon.

Malawi: Training, interrupted

Team 2 has arrived safely at base on Sunday. Our team of ten citizen scientists consists of Carol & Neil, Charlotte, Neil and Linda from the UK, Thomas and Matthias from Germany, Lore from Canada and Brianne and Alex from the USA. We saw another stunning sunset during the first introductions and the risk assessment before dinner.

Going through the training lectures and practicing with the expedition equipment was repeatedly and rudely interrupted by wildlife coming into view, incluiding elephants on the other side of the lake around lunchtime. We hope to get a closer view of the herds later in the afternoon when we head out for our first game / training drive.


Malawi: team 2 for 1

Farewell team 1.

Helen, Marion, Kathleen, Ed & Paige, Sandra & Gary, Rob, Steve Marion and Kris left on Friday morning after breakfast. Karen, Mandy and I went to Mzuzu for a food shopping run, sorting out tyres, etc. We made it back to base shortly after sunset, but it was way beyond bedtime when everything was sorted, the kitchen restocked and the remaining supplies stored away safely.

Two weeks have flown by. Thank you so much everyone for being a great team, collecting lots of data and having fun… remember the 3 Ss: safety, science and satisfaction? 😉 I think we had plenty of all! We hope you’ve enjoyed your time out here at Vwaza as much as we did and have taken with you memories that will last forever.

Team 2, see you on Sunday!

Malawi: New bat species for Malawi!

On our last expedition day for group 1, a primate group went out for observations in the morning and the rest of the team collected all camera traps. Back at base everyone helped going through thousands of pictures before lunchtime, using all available laptops, extracted animal pictures in the first step and finally ran them through the ID process. Even more, everyone helped a lot over the last couple of days putting datasheets into the computer so that we have a pretty complete picture of what the first team has achieved. Here is a summary of the results:

Large mammal transects

  • 18 driving transects were completed, the total number of sightings is 44 of nine different species.
  • Seven walking and five hippo transects, the average number of hippos counted along the lake transect was 108
  • Overall most animals were recorded in the southern part of the reserve most likely (because that’s where all the water is)

Elephant observations

This activity was performed 15 times. Every day a team went out to find elephant herds and to take ID pictures. Back at base, the pictures were used to identify individuals by comparing them with ID identification sheets of 94 elephants on the existing database. A great result is that six new elephants could be added: four females and one male. It was the observer’s privilege to name them, the new additions are now Carily, Sabra, JuMaddy, Kylie and Elias.

Elephant dung survey

Elephant dung was picked up from different locations within the reserve for further analysis. 229 seeds were extracted, washed and dried for identification. So far only four of them could be identified.

Primate observations

Six times a team of two to three people followed “our” troup of vervet monkeys for behaviour observations. Focal observations of one individual at a time were performed 29 times for 20 min each. The focal, continuous and proximity observations help to bolster an existing database that was started in April this year when the monkeys were released into Vwaza Wildlife Reserve.

Biodiversity studies & insects

On four occasions light traps were put out. The samples collected included 900+ individual insects that were processed by organising them into family groups, measuring and counting them in three sessions. 11 insect orders were represented within the samples, the largest number that has ever been found.

Camera traps

24 camera traps were out for nine nights each in the southern half of the reserve. We found animals on 1500 pictures, identified 23 different species, including 7 carnivores and one big cat: a leopard. Other species were genet, civet, serval, caracal, proqupine, spotted hyaena, honey badger, water mongoose, ground hornbill, duiker, hippo, elephant, yellow baboon, vervet monkey, bushbuk, guinnea fowl, kudu.

Bat surveys

Over six bat survey nights a total number of 34 bats of eight different species were caught in the mist and harp nets set up 30 min before sunset and closed after three hours. Two species were recorded for the first time in Vwaza: Laphotis botswanae (only recorded once in Lillongwe National Park) and Myotis bocagii. On top of that the team caught and identified a new species for Malawi! A Kerivoula lanosa, also called woolly bat, in one of the harp nets on a study site pretty close to camp. The only record of this species in Malawi is from the 1980s!

Quoting scientist Karen: “the results are insane!”. Thank you very much, team 1. Over to you, team 2!

Malawi: More research and a day at the village

After a week full of activities, the team spent the afternoon of a well-earned day off at the neighbouring village where were warmly welcomed and fed.

We were back to our research tasks on Sunday. We exchanged SD cards of 21 camera traps that were set five days earlier along the West and North road.  We managed to go through the camera trap pictures using multiple laptops. Some of the SD cards had more than 3000 pictures on them – mostly of grass! More about animal pictures when we have finished identifying the species.

As the days went by, teams went out for elephant observations each day, we continued primate observations following a troup of vervet monkeys that were released at Vwaza a few months ago. Bat surveys continued in the evenings. On some of the hippo transect walks along the lake shore, we counted over 140 individuals.

Now team 1 has only two more days to go… time flies! I’ll keep you updated about the results.