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

We’d given the traps at the lodge a “night off” (really an opportunity for the mother and cub leopard not to be bothered if they were still in the area recovering), and Sunday morning Team 2 reset the lodge box trap. John, Valerie, Lesley and Jesaja had quite some work because of the leopard caputre, and we’d actually split into two box trap teams for the task. The trap that caught the mother leopard was brought to Vera’s base for repairs, and we collected the release box out of the field as well. That leaves us three box traps still set (Frankposten, behind the farm owner’s house and the one at the lodge).

John and Lesley set out to (not) find the elephants, frustrating because once again the team knew where they were, but there was no track close enough to view them. Lynne and Valerie checked box traps in the afternoon (empty), while Glenn stayed at base to do data entry.

Thursday’s “Black Mamba” vehicle game count team re-encountered a monitor lizard on their route (thanks Valerie for several nice pictures added to this diary). Lynne had a “magical” encounter with the elephants at Boma, when she single-handedly recorded elephant behaviour. Other pictures are of Team 2 working in the field.

We’re having some maddening problems with the Bushnell cameras. One, the display stopped working. Another, it seems to like to spit out the batteries right after the volunteers set it, so we don’t get any pictures. Super frustrating since these cameras were installed in the mountainous area of Okambara, so that means furtherst away from base camp.

The good camera news is that our Tracks and Scats team found a leopard “marking” place (it’s a place with a lot of defecation, so marking is not the proper term but that’s what we’ve nicknamed it). We set a camera trap up there and once we get the cameras working properly, then we’ll see who’s coming around.

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Other good news is that our partner scientists have flown over the study site, collecting data from the collars of several animals, and our female leopard L074 from Monday was on the download. We were able to see her movements after her immobilisation, and as predicted she laid low until her immobilisation drugs wore off, then climbed the ridge behind and walked off down the ridge.

Team 2 leaves today and it’s hard to believe it’s already been two weeks. It’s been a very productive and interesting two weeks. Thanks for your flexibility and eagerness to get out into the field and do whatever is necessary, including Valerie and Lesley taking a bag of intestines up into the mountains and dragging them towards a trap in order to entice a leopard. Not all of our work is pretty or “nice”, but thanks to all of you for tucking in and getting it done. My favorite Vera quote this week: “Is it my imagination or is everyone getting out into the field freakishly early?”

Team 3? See you on 7 September after the week’s break. We have a box trap that’s ready to be placed back into the field, lots of animals to be counted and elephants whose feeding behaviour we need to record, so pack your sunscreens, water bottles and get ready to roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of catching more leopards!

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

Glenn dubbed yesterday “Double Leopard Monday” because we had an historic event on Okambara: yes, we caught two separate leopards in one go and collared one. Here’s how it happened: Saturday we’d just had a team meeting, brainstorming about why very few animals were going into the traps. We are following all the protocols from last year – changing the meat every 3-4 days, leaving as little human scent as possible around the traps and applying all the good housekeeping methods of attracting leopards.

Sunday morning Glenn and Valerie were the box trap team, and they called in a leopard at the lodge box trap. Excitement! Vera called around for a veterinarian while she and I drove to place a shade net and water for the animal. Sunday was part of a long holiday weekend, and the veterinarian could not come until the following morning. (This is completely okay for the animal to spend one night in the trap—we made sure he was comfortable and safe from other predators.)

The leopard was a young animal about a year old, and since he had to spend the night in the box trap anyways, Vera decided to set another trap next to the cub to see if we could catch the mother.

We met the veterinarian at dawn on Monday, and the anticipation was keen while we waited for Vera to check the trap the next morning to see if we had one or two animals to collar. The beaming smile on Vera’s face gave it away—success! We’d caught the mother as well.

We had a long morning of setting up the field hospital, immobilising the animals one at a time, taking samples of the cub and placing a rice-sized chip in him (the same kind that veterinarians place in pets that can be scanned and read if an animal goes missing, in this case for if he ever gets caught again we’ll know when and where he was first caught.) Too young to collar, we filled him with fluids to ease his immobilisation hangover, and Lynne, our resident (retired) nurse, helped the veterinarian look after him.

Afterwards we placed the cub in the shade in a transfer box so he’d be safe while we immobilised and worked on his mother. In the prime of her life and recently very well fed, the mother was fierce and protective of her cub and took longer to immobilise than her cub. By the time she was collared and placed in the shade with a shot of sedation reversal, it was 13:00 before the team left Vera and the veterinarian watching over the waking up and releasing of the cub and mother together.

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Team 2 stood in the hot sun watching and helping with the immobilisations for hours, but they were wired when we got back to camp for “breakfast” at nearly two o’clock in the afternoon. We’d left bush camp at 5:30 in order to check box traps and meet the vet at first light, but believe it or not they ate a few bites and eagerly jumped into the afternoon tasks that needed to be done. Team 2 you are really terrific. Thanks for all of your helpfulness, good humour and team spirit. You rock!

Vera is extremely excited at having caught and collared her first female leopard on Okambara. Collaring females within the ranges of male leopards has been a goal of hers for the past year, so it’s thanks to you –  all of you – for making that happen. Shall we try for another two next Monday?

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

Well, we have a new record for the number of camera trap pictures the data entry team has to look through. Team 1 was shocked by the 3000+ pictures on the SD card, yet John from Team 2 suffered, er, poured over 9,569 pictures taken at Bergposten. He is now a self-proclaimed expert in baboon behaviour. (John also points out that the card was only half full, so the potential exists for 20,000 pictures for the next unsuspecting citizen scientists to pour through.)

Thursday was our vehicle game count, and the team reported slightly more early morning game activity. Also with the time change we started fifteen minutes earlier than Team 1. My team for that activity is now dubbed the “Black Mamba Team” for reasons of which I cannot discuss in the diary. (Some tall tales need to stay on Okambara.)

Saturday was our day off, yet once again this team wanted to work and volunteered for tasks that normally Vera and I are left to do on the day off. John, Glenn and Mei were rewarded for their efforts by being the team that found and released a beautiful genet. John did the proper thing and stayed far away from the release, yet with his telephoto lens caught the animal at the perfect time in its release for the attached picture.

MDamGenet-1000

Saturday was a sad day for us because Mei left in the morning. She was an integral part of the team the first week and a great volunteer, but unfortunately her work schedule sent her off to South America mid-slot. Mei you are missed!

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

Team 2 hit the ground running. We’re a small group, but full of enthusiasm and have already been trained up on all the equipment. Glenn, Lynne, Lesley and Mei came out with me on the first day and learned how to use the telemetry equipment to track the elephants. They also learned how well the elephants can blend into the savannah and how frustrating it can be when the entire herd is in the exact middle between tracks and we know where they are, but we cannot see them.

John and Valerie walked with Jesaja on the first day on the tracks and scats route #9. The surface was hard for them to read with the pockmarks of the light rain that came down. Yes, rain. We woke up to the unusual sound of the patter of rain on the thatched roofs. This was big and most-welcome news for us since we are now in the heart of the dry season.

Yesterday we caught our first rock dassie (rock hyrax) by-catch. Normally hiding in the rocks, this fellow was found hiding under the trigger plate of the trap. Evidently the animal gave Ligeus, Lynne and Leslie quite a scare when it stopped playing “dead” and raced out of the trap as soon as they opened the door to investigate.

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

We thought we’d share some of our “Best of” camera trap pictures and team photos while we’re busy training Team 2…

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

It’s been a whirlwind week of checking box traps (liberated: one rock monitor lizard, one hare and one porcupine), setting up camera traps, trouble-shooting camera traps (re-aligned by baboons, some not taking pictures, some taking too many pictures), fixing up waterholes (Emil the bull rhino used the one at Gustavposten as a scratching post), doing water hole observations, early morning vehicle game counts (1 cold and one not-so-cold-but-windy), observing elephants, walking around the bush looking for tracks (lots!) and picking up scats (lots!).

We did two evening observation drives and while we did not see any aardvarks, which were my original idea because of the plethora of new holes dug in the farm tracks, the teams reported seeing an aardwolf, bat eared foxes, “loads of springhares” and jackals. Evening entertainment included “Banana Grams”, a simple word game made very confusing by each participant making words in their own language (English, French, German and Italian). Verification was next to impossible. Evening briefings were made more artful by Marco’s pictogram explanations of the day’s activities. Thanks Heinz for letting me post some of your pictures with this diary!

Team 1 has just left for the Josephine Gate and it’s very sad to see them go. They formed a solid working team quite quickly, and really impressed Vera and I with their work ethic and willingness to spend long hours in the field making sure everything got done. Up and out at times before the “regular” departure time, their willingness to go out in the cold and count game animals was remarkable, and their willingness to go out into the field all day working on a smorgasbord of activities got us off to a great start. A big thank-you to all of you for your ability to make hard work fun, and for your contributions to the leopard project. Safe travels home.

Team 2? See you Sunday!

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

How to Set up a Box Trap in 5 Easy Steps

1. Gather 9 citizen scientists

2. Fill buckets with sand and make a nice floor for leopards to walk on

3. Do leopard-liking landscaping inside and out

4. Hang Fresh Meat

5. Install Doors and Activate Trap!

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

Team 1 has arrived and has already had one day of briefings so far. We’ve stuffed their brains full of useful information on bush safety, using GPSs, rangefinders, compasses and other equipment, and right now Vera is going over the datasheets. After lunch everyone will learn how to change a tyre in case of a flat, even the non-drivers. Then we’ll move on to the 4WD training, then straight into field work, because we have three open box traps on Okambara and they need to be checked twice a day.

We spent the afternoon learning how to change flat tyres then went out into the field for our 4WD training. Late afternoon tasks included a briefing on how to check the box traps and some animal identification practice. Tuesday will be our first full day working in the field.

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

This morning I woke to the sound of jackals and it’s good to be back on Okambara. Vera and I did some expedition shopping in Windhoek yesterday, and now we are busy setting up base camp for our six Namibia expedition groups this year. Good and bad news at the bush camp – for our three returning expeditioners, you’ll be sad to know that the elephants knocked down the shade tree we used to use for the trucks. The good news is that we can use its thorny branches to make corrals! Other good news is that we now have nine rhinos on the farm. They are only a couple months old and Vera has yet to see them, so that is definitely something for all of us to look forward to.

elephant

I remember from last year we had some confusion about the “lunch boxes” mentioned in the dossier (myself included!) and so I want to clarify that you’ll be wanting to bring a plastic container to carry around your sandwich. We got so see some really creative ones last year, including recycled ice cream containers and lime Vera’s green one that happened to be the same color as the anti-venom kits. Bring whatever style you like, just know we’ll be packing our lunches every day and using the plastic boxes to keep the contents together.

lunch box

Another thing you need to be sure to bring is a re-usable water container. Backpack hydration packs are great, for example. See your dossier for further details.

One last thing I’ll mention right now to everyone is to bring your valid driver’s licenses! You will be able to drive our 4x4s around the study site (after proper training of course) and while we’ll only be driving on farm tracks, I still need to see your license in order to let you drive (no need to send copies to the office beforehand). Bring them even if you are thinking that you won’t want to drive, because I guarantee you when you see how easy and fun it is, you’ll regret it if you cannot drive. I mentioned the cold in yesterday’s diary, but it deserves mentioning again because when I arrived it was ZERO degrees Celsius. Bring a warm hat, scarf, layers, and especially warm gloves or mittens because the early morning vehicle game counts will be very cold until the sun comes up.

Looking forward to meeting Team 1 in Windhoek at 08:30 am on Sunday!

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

Hello everyone! Alisa Clickenger here, and I am your expedition leader for this year’s Namibia expeditions. I am writing (and speaking) to you from Frankfurt airport…

I’m in between my two overnight flights, and should be on the ground in Windhoek by 05:30 Tuesday morning. I am excited to see our expedition scientist Vera Menges, and we’ll begin right away doing the expedition shopping and setting up base camp for our studies there. I am equally excited to meet all of you, and looking forward to another season at Okambara.

Since I’ve yet to land I don’t have a Namibian SIM card for you to contact me yet, but that should be remedied upon my arrival. I’ll send another diary entry letting you know my local contact number in case of emergencies. For now just a short reminder that our meeting point is Casa Piccolo in Windhoek at 08:30. Team 1 will need to be there on Sunday, 03 August. Please arrive on time, and Casa Piccolo requests that you check in with reception when you arrive. After you check in at Casa Piccolo what then happens is that Casa Piccolo staff will put you on a transfer bus that will drive you out to Okambara, our study site (I’ll be meeting Team 1 and riding the shuttle with you to make sure everything goes smoothly with our new transfer company). It’s about a 2 hour drive on the shuttle and then Vera and our ground staff will then meet you in our 4x4s upon your arrival at the Josephine Gate. We’ll have another 45 minute drive to our base camp on Okambara, where we’ll quickly get settled in and get straight to briefing you in order to get you out and working in the field as quickly as we can.

The weather in central Namibia is sunny with temperatures during the day in the twenties (Centigrade) and dropping to single figures at night. Getting up in the morning will feel decidedly cold for the first few groups – there is no culture of heating in Namibia anywhere, so bring warm clothes! Vera gave me some good advice last year that I’ve followed again this year – I brought a lightweight sleeping bag to supplement my covers for the first teams. The good news is that as soon as the sun comes up over the horizon, you will quickly be able to shed those layers.

Here are a few more notes that may help you in your planning / anticipation of your work with us:

1 – There is no internet or mobile coverage at base, so you won’t be able to text, tweet or otherwise type away on your smartphones. Get your internet fix at Casa Piccolo and call all your loved ones and tell them that you’ll be disappearing for two weeks. I invite you to enjoy the serenity of the bush and your first hand experience with the Namibian savannah while leaving our all-too-wired society behind.

2 – Since there’s no internet at base, you won’t need a laptop unless you get withdrawal symptoms without one or you want to tinker with your photos or need a massive hard drive to share them (I encourage you to bring a high-volume USB stick for that purpose). Which brings us neatly to the question of photos. Of course you can snap away, but you won’t be on a photo safari either. We’re there to do serious science so we expect you to perform your jobs first and foremost, and the pictures are secondary. Of course it’s exciting to be in Namibia to see all those wondrous creatures and marvelous landscapes, so we will make sure you have some opportunities for photos. Heck, if we are lucky like last year, the animals will come to us at the base camp water hole once they get used to the activity there after our long absence

I look forward to meeting you and working together over the next several months!

Best regards

Alisa Clickenger
Expedition leader

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