Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

The temperature has been slowly warming up as the team has warmed to their tasks. There were two days of training and yestreday have completed the first two full days of work. The training all went well – the presentation about the abilities of the Land Rovers have obviously been taken on board a little bit too well by Ilka. When she was driving there was a comment at one point, in unison, by the two passengers in the back of the vehicle pointing out, ‘There’s a big hole’.  The response from the driving Ilka was ‘This is a Land Rover’. With no pause, the reply came from the voices in the back ‘It’s still a big hole!!’.

The box traps were disarmed during the team change-over, so that no animals were captured whilst we were busy with training. They were re-armed yesterday and today, and new camera traps have been installed to add to the ones already in the field.

Setting a box trap
Setting a box trap

Already we have found several tracks of predators, and our work to understand the elephant movements has begun with several observations, during some of which we were able to get very close to the animals and see them ripping off parts of bushes.  In one instance we witnessed one of the larger animals working out whether to knock over a tree or not – she decided against in the end, but it was a good example of how the elephants work things out and test out their strength on potential sources of food (pushing hard with the front of their head between their tusks).

The team members are all working well together. They are getting used to the daily planning cycle and the constant changes and adaptations necessary to plans as things develop the way they do on expedition. The showers are hot and the beer is cold, there are a lot of beautiful animals to observe and a lot of work to be done. One team member, Fritz, made a good comment about his normal work that applies well here – he said that it is best to have a vision and to react to circumstances in a way that supports the vision. Plans should follow the vision, not lead it – very ‘expedition’!!

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Hello I am Kathy, your expedition leader for group 2. My time in Namibia here started with a highlight the day before yesterday. When Kristina and I took outgoing expedition leader Malika to the airport, we saw a leopard crossing the road! Sightings of truly wild leopards in the field are very rare, so to spot one crossing the busy road to the airport was like hitting the jackpot.

We took the same road again with group 2 after assembly (everyone has arrived safely). There were more leopards to be seen, but the giraffes were there to greet us when we arrived at our study site. We were then straight into the training sessions finishing up with more questions (and a beer) around the fire before supper.

Giraffe
Giraffe

It’s still cold but the showers are now hot – fingers crossed it will stay that way.

Today it’s more training and into the field.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Group 1 of this year’s Namibia expedition ended on a high with the capture of a massive hyaena on Wednesday and sedation and handling on Thursday, the day before group 1 had to leave.

Collared hyaena
Collared hyaena

At base we’ve gone back to the basics over the last few days. First no water due to a broken waterline and then no electricity due to a generator breakdown. Most of us just skipped showering and instead enjoyed standing around the fireplace in the evening, the only source of light and heat in camp. The sky was amazingly clear and the stars were shininig brightly – there’s no better way to enjoy a night in the African bush?

On Wednesday we also conducted a vehicle game count. The team was ready to roll at 06:00 in about  six layers of clothing, hats and gloves, but the Land Rovers did not want to start up because it was too cold. We finally got them up and running at 07:30, lazy buggers!

Thank you group 1 for all your hard work and roll in group 2!

Trailblazing group 1
Trailblazing group 1

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Hello from the bush hospital with news of our first leopard capture of the expedition!

A gastro-intestrinal virus is going round and seven of us have gone down. All the rehydration sachets have gone, as have the bananas. There weren’t many people around the dinner table last night. To make things even more uncomfortable, a cold front has moved in, so group 2, don’t forget to bring at least one layer of warm clothing.

These minor inconveniences aside, we’ve had an interesting time over the last three days. Saturday’s box trap team Liz, Stacey, Jay and I found trap BT3 closed. At first it did not look like there was anything inside, but when we approached on foot, we could tell immediately from the noise that there must be a leopard inside. What a great start to the expedition! Pictures from the camera trap next to the trap also showed us that this was a popular place attracting a rhino, a hare and “our” curious leopard who was caught candid-camera-like walking right in on Friday night and then looking somewhat sheepish inside about twelve minutes later.

We called a vet for the sedation, the rest of the team and then set up our field lab. The first (female) leopard of this expedition was named L038, is about 18-20 months old and weighs 25 kg. Her neck circumference is 35 cm; too small to wear a collar (adult females measure about 40 cm). Once we had taken all the samples and given her the wake-up shot, we left her alone for about three hours before coming back to release her. Guess what happened when we opened the gate: nothing! We sat around for 90 minutes waiting for her to come out, everyone with their cameras ready to get THE release shot. Still nothing. And you can’t blame her for being put off by four Land Rovers full of people facing her. So we left her in peace and found the trap empty when checking two hours later. So long L038, we’ll be on your heels from now on, and what a great start for group 1!

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Four box traps are in place. Everyone worked hard to build leopard-proof kraals around the trap entries by cutting and arranging thorny Acacia branches. The ground was then flattened and the bait hung up in a tree. Leopard-woman Kristina co-ordinated the workers from above (see picture). For the leopard the only way to get to the ‘lekker’ meat is to walk into the trap (‘lekker’ means tasty, good, nice – my favourite Afrikaans word!).

Leopard woman Kristina
Leopard woman Kristina

Kirsty, Philipp & Giles were the first to check the traps this morning. They reported fresh leopard tracks around one of them – very good news! If the leopard doesn’t eat today, he might be hungry enough to walk into the trap later..

Cate, Sanya & Brian also reported fresh leopard tracks on one out of seven walking routes they were on yesterday. Led by Jesaja, one of two local trackers here to share their knowledge with us, they bravely walked 9 km and finished the survey only when it was dark.

Leopard calls were heard at base early in the morning today – they are all around, we only have to catch the buggers if we can ;).

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

The pictures below show survey teams (1) trying to get the elephant herd telemetry signal before leaving base so that they know where to drive to ;), (2) finding the elephant herd and observing its behaviour and (3) filling in the  datasheet (what do they feed on?). This is one of the questions we want to answer with your help this year as surprisingly little is known about the feeding ecology of these magnificent animals.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Our trailblazing group 1 has survived introductions, training sessions and a 4×4 driving course and is now out in the field to set up the first box trap. In the last couple of days we learnt a lot about Namibia, the ecosystem we are working in, our study animals and their prey, research methods and safety procedures in the bush.

We also had our first elephant sighting yesterday afternoon – three mothers and six juveniles showed up for us at ‘Frankposten’ waterhole. They were busy drinking, playing and taking a dirt bath when we came across them just as it was getting dark. It was a thrilling experience and unsurprisingly everyone is keen to go out for more.

Elephant
Elephant

I am happy to report that group 1 did not have to join in the dirt bath shenanigans, albeit a minor teething problems incidents at our brand new field base (a broken water pump) has split the group into hot shower wimps and cold shower hardcore expeditioners. The wimps, however, showed great esprit de corps by letting the hardcore contingent use their showers…

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

This is a quick hello from Kristina, our helpers and I. We spent the last couple of days (and nights!) with preparing paperwork and and getting set up with the work you will be doing. Group 1 will be the first team ever to survey the herd of nine (wild!) elephants in the study site. And wild they are indeed, and agressive they can be, so this will literally be no Etosha / Krueger cushy drive in the park where you will know where the pretty tame and vehicle-habituated animals are by spotting all the safari vehicles around them! More on the dangers and how to avoid them when you get here.

Elephants
Elephants

We’re about to move into camp – believe it or not, construction work is still going on all around camp with a small army of workers swarming around in a good termite mound impression. But the houses look good and habitable (sort of). You’ll be glad to know that the furniture has turned up and also the mattrasses. We also think that the bathrooms will be connected soon to the water line, otherwise it’s dust baths for group 1 to get into the spirit of elephant surveys. And we all know that no true expedition is ever complete without getting really dusty. As to the bar, you’ll have to find out when you get here.

These minor comfort issues aside, we are as excited as you hopefully are and we are looking forward to meeting trailblazing group 1 tomorrow morning at Casa Piccolo.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

It’s great to be back in Namibia! Kristina and I went out for a drive around the study site yesterday. We found a baboon caught in a cheetah trap…

Construction work is still going on at base camp. The huts are being painted and the furniture will be delivered soon (we hope) while Kristina and I have taken two more Land Rovers to Windhoek to be fitted with new tyres and batteries. It’s all the usual last-minute African mayhem, which for us Krauts is hard to deal with 😉

Trailblazers in group 1, please be prepared for teething problems at camp and everything else you can imagine. Here’s the first thing we’re throwing at you: there will be limited electricity at base camp for the first couple of days (or weeks). We are still waiting to be connected to the main electricity line and while we wait, a generator will be used to feed our power-hungry equipment, so don’t bother bringing your hair dryers 😉 And by the way, plugs at base are type D (see http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm for more details), so bring an adaptor.

The days are sunny and warm (25 deg) but it gets chilly once the sun has set. There will be a fireplace to sit around in the evenings, but (as per the dossier) bring an additional warm fleece or jacket.

I’ll let you have more details once we have moved into base.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

I’m packing up for Namibia & Peru.

Best practice is this. Step 1 (accumulation) – throw it all in one place, step 2 (selection) – what items do I really have to take??, step 3 (packing) – make it fit in the bag somehow. I have completed steps 1 & 2 (see picture) and am confident I will master step 3 before tomorrow evening.

Packing for two (continents and expeditions)
Packing for two (continents and expeditions)

Note for rest of the team: please do not try and pack as much as I do! The picture scenario is “packing for a seven-week trip and preparing for two expeditions on two different continents”.

On Monday morning I’ll meet up with our scientist Kristina at Windhoek airport from where we will go straight into town for extreme pre-expedition shopping and picking up one of the Land Rovers that has been serviced and equipped with new tyres. I’ll write again once I have made it to base.

Good luck with your very own packing

Malika

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa.