Kenya: Groove

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

We’re in the groove – more or less. Vehicle transects have been driven, foot transects walked, rangers introduced to our Cybertracker data recording app, with some taking to it like ducks to water and others less so. We have also checked camera traps (results later), where we could find them, been on night drives (for fun and a bit of data recording) and started waterhole observations, which presented their very own set of challenges (see below) 😉

We’ve recorded lions, hyaenas, civets, giraffe, topi, dik-dik, duiker, zebra, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, eland and much more. Cheetahs have been seen in the study site, but not yet caught during the surveys. The elephants are making themselves scarce and are elsewhere in the Mara. The leopards are elusive, as they tend to be.

The first star of the expedition has been awarded for Germanification of the daily activities grid.

Roland has put in a heroic effort to get the Cybertracker data transfer working reliably. The team continues to work hard and diligently, so the data are flooding in, putting a smile on Rebekah’s face.

Beaming too is the sun over the Mara. Our 06:00 breakfasts are chilly with lots of jacket and hat-clad people going about their business with quiet confidence now, packing up equipment and getting ready to head out. As the sun crests over the Mara, engines fire up and people leave to their destinations, be it a waterhole, a ranger pick-up point or a transect. A couple of hours into our survey work, the jackets come off and the suncream comes on for us muzungus. By lunchtime the sun is high and hot and, the siesta until 15:00 appreciated, ready for another round of activities in the afternoon. This is an expedition after all, not a bloody holiday!

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Kenya: Trailblazers

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Team 1 has arrived. Trailblazers we called them and trailblazers they are. Missing baggage, northern accents, naughty dogs, long hours or data-collection apps on mobiles don’t faze them.

Two days, some Teutonic organisation, plenty of laminating sheets (great thing we have so many) is all it took to get them up to speed and convert them into citizen scientists and 4×4 fiends.

So on day three, as the sun shines and the Mara bursts with life, they are already out on their second vehicle transect – spotting, recording, off-roading and beavering away in a very sciency way.

Now all we need is for inseparable K&J to be less smelly, J&D to sing, R&E to restart their phones, B&Y to train the rangers, R&R to relax, J to take over, G to order the driver to continue, S to continue chauffeuring and N to find some Wellingtons, and we’ll be in expedition heaven.

But, no really, well done team 1 so far! You are creating big boots to fill.

First three days
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Kenya: Groove, sort of

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Baggage: arrived. Roland: arrived. Cars: fixed, sort of. Preparations: finished. Team: missing. That’s our status here in Enonkishu.

There’s been lots of changes over the last three years, so group 1, you will be our trailblazers. Bear with us, work with us and get us in the groove. Remember it’s a team effort and we’re here to lead, not to serve or nanny you. So, I hope you have:

  • a copy of the field manual ready for your own use (essential for your work)
  • downloaded the Cybertracker app (essential for your work)
  • downloaded the Earth app (new, essential for your work, see below)
  • downloaded the BirdLasser app (not essential, only if you are really into your birds)
  • downloaded the iNaturalist app (not essential, only if you are really into your natural history)

We’ve decided to use Earth for on-site navigation, so please download the app. If you’re into things like that, you can also import into Earth three files and have a play. We will send you these files and also some others so that you know what’s coming 😉 If you are not into this, then don’t worry, we will explain everything on site and get you set up once you are here.

Roland and I will be driving to Nairobi in a minute. See you there at 08:00 tomorrow, group 1.

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Arabia: Final entry

Update from our wildlife conservation volunteering holiday in Dubai (UAE) working on oryx, wildcat and desert species

This year’s Arabia conservation expedition is over. Writing this, I am at Dubai airport waiting for my flight back to Frankfurt. Group 2 left on Monday after helping to break our lovely desert camp. On our last day on Sunday, we picked up nine camera traps in the morning, reviewed their pictures, finished up data entry, had lunch and a final de-brief with Aline back at the DDCR office. She provided a summary of animal sightings and data recorded – quite impressive what a dedicated team of citizen scientists can achive in only six days:

Group 2 recorded 766 animals of 32 species (7 mammal, 16 bird, 4 reptile and 5 insect), conducted 42 quadrat surveys, checked fox dens in 6 different areas, as well as possible eagle owl nesting sites, and 2 ‘blind spot’ surveys. Well done, group 2! Overall, the two expedition teams surveyed the entire study area of 227 square km (62 quadrats).

After all this, we spent a well-deserved relaxed Sunday afternoon/evening at camp around the campfire, where we enjoyed a self-made dinner and chatted away far into the night.

The data gathered by the expedition will contribute a big piece in the DDCR’s jigsaw of effective wildlife management and conservation and I would like to thank Gerhard, Aline and Basil of the DDCR for welcoming and having us all camp in the most precious, protected and beautiful spot within the Reserve. Thank you for your cooperation and support in all aspects of this joint project and expedition.

A big thank you also goes to the teams. You have been great to work and share time with. Thanks for putting your time, effort and money into the project and sharing your knowledge and experience with us. The expedition would not happen without you, of course.

Best wishes

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

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Kenya: Stutter start

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Matthias and I are off to a stutter start of our Kenya biodiversity volunteer expedition.

First, our baggage (with important expedition equipment) did not make it to Nairobi. So far Kenyan Airways have proved incompetent in even locating it. Then our first hire 4×4 broke down after 5 km and we had to leave it with the mechanics. The second just made it to Enonkishu before the clutch gave in. Thank you very much Market Car Hire! And on the way, we were harassed by a greedy and self-important policeman.

But we got there in the end and it is good to be back. Lots of changes. More wildlife, more people, more rain. Lots of work to do. New (very good) cook!

Rebekah, our local scientist, has been busy devising our surveys, now in three conservancies rather than one (see photos, all to be explained during training when you get here). We in turn have busied ourselves with paperwork and setup. Replacement cars are here and we hope this will be breakdowns and police harassment out of the way for the expedition, but don’t hold your breath.

The Mara is as beautiful and welcoming as ever. It’s a bit chilly in the morning (jacket or long sleeves required), but gets hot by mid-day, cooling off in the evening. As I type this, rain is gently pattering on the tin roof and vervet monkeys are playing in the trees nearby, sounding like elephants when they venture on the wet tin roof. Tonight the hippos will be grunting us to sleep as they always do. Sweet dreams and safe travels group 1. See you on Sunday. One more diary before then, perhaps.

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Arabia: Dune adventures

Update from our wildlife conservation volunteering holiday in Dubai (UAE) working on oryx, wildcat and desert species

Our Arabia desert volunteer expedition is on its last day this year. Three teams are out collecting nine camera traps set from group 1 on the very first expedition day. Rupa and Jim volunteered for data entry and sharing expert knowledge of optimising datasheets and streamlining all the data that has been put into the computer so far. The three of us are at the office right now, everyone typing on their computers eagerly.

All quadrat, fox den and eagle owl surveys were completed by Thursday evening – great job, team 2! That allowed us to spent a whole day with ‘Blind spot surveys’ – 11 pairs of eyes and ears out in the field exploring remote areas the scientist know little about. Out of eight specific areas (see map) the teams explored the terrain between Tawi Suhail and Tawi Manana in the morning.

Two teams parked their 4×4 on the north road and walked straight south, the other two teams parked on the south road and walked north, the distance between starting points being 500 metres. Reaching the end point, each team was then supposed to find a car parked on the roadside about 500 m away. So far, so good – one team picked up the wrong car, but other than that, the logistics worked well. All teams did a great job navigating and arrived safe and sound ‘on the other side’ bringing back valuable data from the field. After the successful morning test run, we did the same in blind spot D13 in the afternoon.

It was quieter than usual during the de-brief. Everyone looked pretty tired from walking in sandy dune terrain in the sun for a whole day. Thanks for your effort & well done, team!

One team found a dead fox, another team discovered an eagle owl hunting outlook under a fire bush, located on a steep sandy slope, overlooking a large gravel plain. Many pellets of different ages showed that this spot is used frequently for hunting by at least one owl. The location is definitely worth revisiting.

We have not spotted lappet-faced vultures for a few days now. But today a team is on the lookout specifically around the area where a gazelle was killed by a feral dog yesterday.

Apart from the field work, we will catch up with data entry and have included this activity in today’s planning.

Despite the the great effort put in by this group, most expeditioners make it to base camp before the survey de-brief at the DDCR office to take a quick shower or have a well-deserved a cup of coffee.

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Arabia: Working hard

Update from our wildlife conservation volunteering holiday in Dubai (UAE) working on oryx, wildcat and desert species

The clouds have gone and the sun is high in the sky again. Still, our Arabia desert expeditioners faced a couple of windy days, but also enjoyed pleasant survey temperatures throughout the day.

To Aline and Basil’s joy, four teams managed to complete 32 quadrat surveys within two days! Well done. The progress made is clearly visible on the map (outlined quadrats) – only a few in the north to go now.

One team found a dead fox, another team discovered an eagle owl hunting outlook under a fire bush, located on a steep sandy slope, overlooking a large gravel plain. Many pellets of different ages showed that this spot is used frequently for hunting by at least one owl. The location is definitely worth revisiting.

We have not spotted lappet-faced vultures for a few days now. But today a team is on the lookout specifically around the area where a gazelle was killed by a feral dog yesterday.

Apart from the field work, we will catch up with data entry and have included this activity in today’s planning.

Despite the the great effort put in by this group, most expeditioners make it to base camp before the survey de-brief at the DDCR office to take a quick shower or have a well-deserved a cup of coffee.

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Arabia: Group 2, initiated

Update from our wildlife conservation volunteering holiday in Dubai (UAE) working on oryx, wildcat and desert species

Everyone on our Arabia expedition team 2 arrived safely on Monday morning. We went straight into introductions, background and training and on Tuesday, two groups went out to conduct quadrat surveys. Other events during the two training days included a visit to a possible eagle owl nesting site, where we checked all the ghaf trees for nests and were lucky to see one owl flying off close to where we stood. We also did a 15 min circular observation training session, checked a camera trap and visited a fox den site for first-hand experience of what the specific surveys include.

Although it is somewhat overcast and hazy, it has become much hotter in the desert. At night the sky is pretty clear and we sleep under an amazing starry sky.

When you read this, group 2 will be out on its first independent full survey day.

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Kenya: Let’s go

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Welcome to the Kenya 2023 diary. I am Johnny Adams, your expedition leader.

We look forward to returning to Kenya and Enonkishu Conservancy after a pandemic-enforced absence of two years. In fact, our Kenya expedition in February 2020 was the last expedition that ran before the pandemic hit us all. So now we are full circle and keen to go again.

I will be flying to Nairobi on Sunday to set up for you. With me will be our founder and executive director Dr. Matthias Hammer, who will be there for setup and probably part of group 1. Helping us in Kenya will be Rebekah Karimi, erstwhile conservation manager of Enonkishu Conservancy and our first local scientist when we started this expedition back in 2019, as well as Roland Arniston, who will act as expedition scientist this year, alongside Rebekah.

I’ll be in touch again from the ground in Kenya next week, but first here are some tasks for you citizen scientist in preparation for the expedition:

  1. Please download the expedition field guide & manual 2023 and make sure you bring a copy with you on the expedition (hardcopy or softcopy on a tablet are fine). The more you can study and swot up on this now, the easier you will find the training on the ground, so please invest some time now, if you can.
  2. We will be using Cybertracker for much of the data recording. Please can you download this to your mobile phone and familiarise yourself with the app. The app works best when connected to the internet, so either please buy a Safaricom SIM card on arrival (this provider works best in the study site) or make sure you have a roaming agreement for Kenya with your provider at home. You can easily pick up Safaricom SIM cards at the airport, just after exiting arrivals.

Otherwise, I hope your preparations are going well. You’ll hear from me again in a week or so.

And finally, here are some photos and videos of the last expedition in 2020 to get you in the spirit of things.

Best wishes

Johnny Adams
Expedition leader

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Arabia: Data galore from group 1

Update from our wildlife conservation volunteering holiday in Dubai (UAE) working on oryx, wildcat and desert species

Home, sweet home. I’ve returned to the DDCR after dropping off group 1 at the Premier Inn, except for Peter, who is staying on for group 2 also. We restocked and then enjoyed another peaceful afternoon at base camp.

Friday was a wonderful last day with group 1 of our Arabian desert species conservation expedition. All four teams managed to get their morning tasks done in time, giving Aline and Basil, our scientists, enough time to go through all datasheets for a final check, whilst everyone else went through pictures collected by our camera traps during the week. With all that done, Aline and Basil, gave us a preliminary summary of findings recordings: Group 1 recorded

  • 19 bird
  • 9 mammal
  • 4 reptile and
  • 6 insect species,

including records of a rare and ancient dwarf honey bee nest in one of the crevices of the reserve’s rocky outcrop at its northern tip.

The Pharao eagle owl the team was actually looking for was found later on, nesting in a ghaf tree on the other side of the track.

The camera traps recorded

  • 1 desert wheatear
  • 17 Arabian oryx
  • 29 Arabian gazelles
  • 8 Sand gazelles and
  • 1 Arabian red fox.

Over the week, the teams checked

  • 24 Pharao Eagle Owl nesting sites and
  • 62 Arabian Red Fox dens

to assess their status – more than half of a total of 108 known den locations (group 2, there are 46 den sites left for you to find and check).

The lappet-faced vulture survey was also conducted every day, but instead of finding the birds in places where they have been recorded most frequently in the past, they were seen randomly, but frequently, in different locations within the reserve.

As to the quadrat survey, 20 out of 62 were completed. Again, more work for group 2…

After the presentation of results, we went back to camp to enjoy another magical sunset and then sat around a warming camp fire until late in the evening.

I would like to thank everyone on the Arabia expedition team for the time, effort and resilience you have put into this project. But also for generating lots and lots of interesting findings and bringing data, pictures and stories back from the field to share with everyone. I hope you have enjoyed the week as much as I did. Safe travels home and see you again, perhaps.

Group 2: I am looking forward to meeting you on Monday morning at the Premier Inn.

Continue reading “Arabia: Data galore from group 1”
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