With the freezing overnight temperatures continuing we decided to deactivate the box traps for a couple of nights. This was to prevent the capture of smaller animals that cannot cope with such low temperatures at times when they are usually in their dens. Thankfully this spell of weather has passed and the nights have warmed up again, so all the traps are fully operative. However, nothing to report in terms of captures. We have tracks of predators walking near the traps, but nothing has gone in as yet…
The elephant teams have been continuing their observations morning and afternoon and getting quite close to the animals now, something that we were unable to do in the first slot. This has meant some interesting feeding observations and also some reversing to maintain our 50 metre distance rule (we should not get closer than this for safety reasons) as the elephants are wandering towards us and have, on occasion, appeared out of the bushes at a closer distance, but always calm and relaxed. It’s amazing that such large animals can be invisible in acacia bushes.
Our waterhole counts have been interesting too – there are a lot of different species here, with everything from giraffe, to cavorting wildebeest and shy oryx, not to mention the donkeys who were a surprise to me. Due to the destructive nature of the elephants here, it is not sensible to build the sort of hides that you can find in Europe – nice wooden boxes for people to sit in with a window slit to look out of. Unfortunately these don’t last long as the elephants can be very inquisitive and when they want to find out about something they investigate with their trunks and objects often don’t survive very long. So we use adapted bushes with enough foliage to keep people covered and just enough room for three people sitting on folding stools. These have worked very well in fooling one species – the elephant team spent 20 minutes in front of the newest hide doing their radio telemetry work and noting cheetah tracks before one of them followed some tracks right to the door of the hide and three laughing people. It has been more difficult to hide from the other species, most animals seem to know that we are there, often staring straight at the hide before drinking and going about their business. This month is known as the month of changing winds and we more than suspect that the animals can smell us (some team members even claimed to have had showers the same day so they don’t understand it). Our evening camp fire discussions over the last couple of nights have included a lot of debate on hide design – a portable, collapsible design seems to be the most favoured at the moment, but I think we will have a proper design competition before the end of the slot.
The ground is set at the ARC to welcome the first expedition team. Over the last few days Alfredo and I have worked on the datasheets and a weekly work plan including various tasks for each group. We went out for a night walk in the forest spotting a tarantula and more nocturnal animals, unfortunately no mammals, though.
Writing this I am waiting at the Tahuayo Lodge for the team members to arrive from Iquitos. All of them have made it despite late arrivals and cancelled flights from Australia. Once they arrive here, the rest of the day will be packed with introductions, safety procedures and background information about the animals and the research.
Having spent most of the time working on our computers and finishing preparations, Alfredo and I can’t wait to go out into the field.
The temperature has dropped again over the last few nights with ice on the waterholes early in the morning and our water pipes freezing, so there is no water first thing in the morning. The Land Rovers have also refused to move before they have warmed up, but teams have still managed to leave camp by 08:00. On Thursday morning a caracal was found in box trap number 1 (a quick congratulations to the team from the last slot who set this trap up before they left – their third capture, truly box trap setting gods:)). The wildlife vet came to sedate the animal so that samples could be taken, and the usual efficient and professional organisation came with her. She arrives on scene with helpers (some also qualified vets) and a tent is set up with a table for the animal to be taken to once it is sedated. A clock sits over the proceedings and everyone works quickly to ensure that the animal is sedated for the minimum amount of time. Our team members likened it to everything from the set up used by Medicine sans Frontier in the field, to the arrival of a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) team.
Caracals are known to bruise their faces when they are in box traps, something that they quickly recover from, but our animal had damaged its lower teeth, a very rare happening, so a decision was taken to remove it to a large enclosure where it could be watched for some days before release.
One team was very fortunate in finding some big drag marks crossing their path, and on following them into the bush they found the remains of an impala that had been killed by a leopard. It was a very fresh kill, which means that the leopard will be back to eat more. A decision was quickly made to move one of the box traps to this location and set up a kraal around the kill so that if the leopard wanted to get to the meat, then it would have to go through the box trap and hopefully be captured. The team worked hard with the very spikey acacia bushes to create a kraal that the leopard could not get through. This morning we found the tracks of the leopard coming back to have a look for its kill but it hadn’t tried to reach it – we are very hopeful that it will ‘take the bait’ within the next few nights…
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.
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’!!
Alfredo and I reached base yesterday. The speed boat brought us to the Tahuayo Lodge in 2.5 hours, where we switched to a smaller boat. After the record floods of some months ago, the rivers are now very low, so it took us another 1.5 hours (!) to reach our final destination: the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo River Research Centre. So out of the window goes our timetable so far (nothing is a constant as the change of plan on expedition).
Over the next couple of days we’ll be setting up base as well as our survey walks and canoe trips. We’re looking forward to welcoming trailblazing group 1 in a few days. Please come prepared for the unexpected and with the appropriate guinea pig attitude 😉
I am writing from Iquitos where I arrived the day before yesterday in the late afternoon alongside two bags and two big boxes filled with expedition equipment. I felt pretty spaced out when I finally stepped off the final plane into Amazonia, having travelled from Africa for 38 hours, dipping into various countries and timezones. After the first night my watch was finally set to local expedition time ;).
Yesterday morning I met up with our local scientist Alfredo who did a great job guiding me through noisy streets and crowded shops for some hardcore pre-expedition shopping. It was around noon when we ticked the last bits and pieces off the shopping list; as far as gear is concerned, we are now ready to leave for the jungle and when you ready this we’ll probably be in a boat to the remote research centre about 2 1/2 boat hours up the Amazon and then many smaller rivers.
I now also have a Peruvian mobile number: +51 961 821125 (for emergencies only) but please note that there is no mobile phone coverage at base and you can only reach me by e-mail from tomorrow on.
Finally, I’ve uploaded some pictures to give you an impression of Iquitos: a view of the Amazon (early morning after a heavy downpour), famous motortaxis and street life outside the A&E hotel.
Safe travels group 1 and I’ll see you at our research base on Sunday.
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.
It’s still cold but the showers are now hot – fingers crossed it will stay that way.
A couple of admin things: I will not be at the A&E office assembly point for group 1 as I will be at the research station preparing things for you. Someone from the A&E office will be there to meet you and put you on an A&E boat to the research station where Alfredo and I will be waiting for you.
As per the expedition dossier “The expedition team will leave Iquitos shortly after assembly and from then on it will be extremely difficult to catch up with the team or find base camp. If for any reason you miss the assembly, contact the A&E office, Iquitos, Peru at +51-65-242792 and email firstname.lastname@example.org.” A&E will then help you catch up with the expedition, but hopefully this will not be necessary as you will all be there on time at 08:00 on 19 August (group 1).
The assembly TIME (not date, which is still 26 August) for group 2 has changed to 09:00, so you get to lie in for another hour and I will be there to collect you at the A&E office assembly point.
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.
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!
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!