The Malawi 2022 biodiversity expedition has finished, with 12 satisfied and cheerful expeditioners loaded onto a coach to take them back to Lilongwe. This has been an expedition that kept on giving. The last couple of days gave us more elephant herds to record, more hippo counts, more elephant dung to sift through, more ants to study under a microscope, more camera trap images to view and more wildlife encounters.
The day after our discovery of the super herd of elephants reported in the last blog, we came across a super herd of Cape buffalo – maybe 100 animals quietly milling about in the dark.
Our last elephant survey gave us a beautiful hour with a family herd drinking and splashing in the lake before wandering off, leaving a large bull elephant browsing on a marula tree, blocking our way and in no hurry to move on. We waited patiently until he did wander into the trees with sufficient distance and lack of interest in us to allow us to slowly drive past, with a wide berth. So we thought. A large bull elephant can turn and charge with impressive speed, we discovered. We made a hasty 100 metre retreat in reverse gear to give the elephant the personal space he clearly needed and continued to watch him until we could circumnavigate him, successfully this time, and continue on our way to look for more animals.
A celebratory sundowner by the lake that evening was a fitting end to a successful and very enjoyable expedition. Back at base camp, Brenda and Phonice, our marvellous cooks, served up a wonderful last meal for us. Benni, our expedition scientist from LWT, summarised our expedition field research achievements and thanked us for the hard work we had put in and the impressive amount of research data this had produced.
Our initial headline results are:
- 42 herds or individual elephants counted, with a total of 458 individual elephants
- 6 hippo transects completed, with an average total hippo count of 116 hippos
- 976 seeds sifted (and photographed) from 38 samples of elephant dung
- Over 40,000 individual camera trap images uploaded and catalogued
- 117 samples of invertebrates collected and preserved, giving 2161 identification pictures of ants that are relevant for pangolin food
A big thank you also from me, your expedition leader, to all involved – from LWT to Park staff and rangers, to cooks and helpers, to citizen scientists. There are too many to name individually, but you know who you are. This expedition would not be possible without you and I thank you for making it a success.
Roland, expedition leader