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

Tuesday our elephant study team had their telemetry skills tested by the elusive elephants. John’s joke of the day was, “how can we ‘lose’ a herd of elephants?” The elephants themselves had not gone missing, but rather we could not follow them into the deep savannah off the vehicle track. We’d located them via telemetry, but could not see them. It was frustrating to know where they were, but not spot them and therefore collect our data.

Tuesday night the team decided to go out for a drive around Okambara at dusk to see what wildlife is around at that time of day. The group that took the western loop was able to watch the night-time ablutions of a male rhinoceros, who took it upon himself to give us a very thorough inspection before moving off into the bush. One the way home the group saw two more enigmatic species, the aardvark (sorry you missed that Joe) and a spring hare. Both were very short encounters, but thrilled the team nonetheless.

Wednesday before dinner Jörg Melzheimer, a very experienced scientist who also works on Okambara, came and gave us a presentation on the ecology of the savannah and the fundamentals of the human-wildlife conflict here in Southern Africa.

After dinner we inspected the camera trap photos that we had collected earlier in the day, and were delighted to see our efforts rewarded.After watching hundreds of cows walk by, we were delighted to see two individual leopards on the camera – two more identification photos to add to her catalog. In addition to the leopards, we also caught a cheetah on a different camera, making Vera extremely grateful to the “Friends of Biosphere Expeditions” who supplied the three new camera traps for her use.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also caught on camera was an oryx which, after making four attempts to do so finally cleared the small hole in the bottom of the fence, only to turn around and go right back through the way he came. Next up was the porcupine that provided us innumerable extremely close-up pictures of his quills. We went off to bed early for the next days’ research.

Thursday morning was our second vehicle game count, and our intrepid teams left at 06:00 to make it to the beginning of their transects at various points on Okambara. Afterwards the teams checked all the box traps (sadly empty) and came back to base for lunch. After lunch everyone pitched in cleaning up the vehicles and equipment, as well as entering data into the computer for Vera’s analyses.

This morning we delivered Team 1 to the gate and said our goodbyes. Thank you Team 1 for a great two weeks and for all the data you collected. You’ve set a nice example of teamwork for the groups that follow. Your legacy is the field work, and thanks to you we were able to identify 3 cheetah, 5 hyaena and 17 leopard tracks. Without Team 1’s surveying efforts, we would not have found the leopards tracks and the hole in the fence that led to your installing a camera trap in that location. And Vera says thanks for the two “snacks”.

Team 1
Team 1

A PS for following teams from Team 1: another reminder to bring warm clothes (even a windbreaker) as it is quite cold on the early morning vehicle game counts. Also bring a large refillable water bottle (or bladder) as it is quite dry here in the savannah and we all need to stay hydrated. And last, to all my fellow Americans, when Biosphere Expeditions says in the dossier to bring a lunch box, what they really mean is a re-usable plastic box to put your sandwich in, like Tupperware, and NOT a lunch box like you brought to grade school. Ask me how I know this when you get here 😉

And a PPS: if you refer to your pants as pants and not “trousers”, be prepared for the giggles from the Brits. Every time. Ask me how I know this when you get here 😉

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

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

Friday morning we conducted our first vehicle game count. It was quite cold on the back of the vehicles at six in the morning, but the teams did very well, both sighting the animals and with their identification skills. Each team moved directly into their afternoon activity re-activating the box traps, conducting a tracks and scats walk and observing the elephant herd.

On the "tracks & Scats" research activity
On the “Tracks & Scats” research activity

Saturday was a “rest” day, with a leisurely morning including a team doing water hole observation and in the afternoon a walk in the bush with Jesaya, our expert tracker. This group surprised a pair of warthogs in their den, and both parties had quite a fright. Luckily there were no injuries and now that group has a story of a close encounter in the African bush to tell their friends back home.

At the waterhole
At the waterhole

Sunday (yesterday) was business-as-usual for the research team despite the unseasonal wind, and consequent dust storms, and three groups went out in the morning and afternoon. The morning tracks and scats team came back with two baggies of specimen, and showed off their prize while the other teams were eating their lunch. They are now being referred to as the tracks and snacks team…

The afternoon box trap team changed the SD cards in the camera traps, and last night before dinner we were treated to a slide show of all the animals that trigger the cameras, including team members checking the batteries. Among the most interesting triggers were several troops of baboons, a porcupine, streams of warthogs, a very curious bull and team members making funny faces while checking the batteries. Vera concluded the evening with an in-depth presentation on the subject of her PhD and how Biosphere Expeditions is helping her gather data for that while also enabling her to be one of the community liaisons for human-wildlife conflicts in the area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Tuesday we spent the morning setting up a new box trap. The whole team participated in the event – even Martina (pictured) our strict vegetarian who jumped right in and brought the bait meat. Vera was quite happy to get this box trap installed and activated because before the Biosphere team arrived it was too far for one person to drive each day to check the trap. A group split off with Vera in the afternoon and activated two more traps that were already set up.

Namibia martina with the meat

Wednesday the teams spent learning telemetry to track the elephant herd, re-activating the fourth box trap, building a hide at one of the water holes, and walking in the bush looking for tracks and scats. As all three activity groups left base camp in convoy in the afternoon, we happened upon a rhino group who were polite enough to yield the roadway to us. They could not quite make out what three vehicles were doing on their turf, and resorted to a defensive posture, back-end together. We left them to carry on doing their rhino thing.

Namibia defensive rhino

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

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

Kathy, Vera and I finished our preparations for this year’s expedition and base camp has come alive with the arrival of Team 1, and now it feels like home. Yesterday was full of introductions and briefings on the farm, our work here, and an introduction to life in Namibia. Afterwards we watched the sunset from the lapa and practiced our species identification as various groups of animals came to the water hole at desk.

Vera clearly enjoyed introducing us to the telemetry antenna and Kathy branding up the brand new Landcruisers as they arrived with a day or so to spare 😉

Thanks to Martin and Jane, our new camera traps have also arrived and Vera will brief us on how to use them later today.

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

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

Alisa, your expedition leader, here and I am writing to you from the ground in Namibia.

Kathy and I arrived yesterday and have joined Vera at base camp in Okambara. Last night we were treated to several wildebeests drinking from the water hole outside the lapa and later a jackal. This morning the giraffes joined us for our morning tea, all while we were busy preparing base camp for the expeditions and looking forward to your arrival.

A reminder that our meeting point is Casa Piccolo in Windhoek at 8:30. Team 1 will need to be there on Sunday, 4 August. Please arrive on time, and Casa Piccolo requests that you check in with reception when you arrive. What then happens is that Casa Piccolo staff will put you on a transfer bus that we hire from Omahuka Transfers. This bus will take you to our study site, a drive of about 2 hours. Vera, Kathy and I will then meet you in our 4x4s upon your arrival at Okambara’s Josephine Gate.

Best regards

Alisa Clickenger
Expedition Leader

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

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

Final preparations (with a look of utter concentration) before we start our four months of big cat & elephant conservation and research.

Final prep

Our next e-mail (with the emergency contact number) will be from Namibia!

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

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

Mutiny already and we have not even started! We’ve received replies containing the s/h/v-words in open defiance of the ban. Smartphones will doubtless have to be confiscated. Do you know why they are called smartphones by the way? Well before the NSA (hello, by the way – we hope you are also enjoying reading this), there was a secret agency based somewhere in Washington with a secret agent called Smart who had a portable phone way before anyone else had….

And while you ponder this, we leave you with some girl power pictures so that you all know who to hand your phones into…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Not long to go now. With Vera already in Namibia, Kathy will join her from the UK via Germany next week and Alisa will from the US, also via Germany. Girl power indeed.

Meanwhile a male particpant is clearly struggling with the Buff that you will all receive when you get there (he won his in a competition).

john

And usually it’s only male cheetahs that get caught in a box trap repeatedly. Females, once trapped once, will by and large never be caught out again. Draw your own conclusions 😉

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 – there is no culture of heating in Namibia anywhere, so bring warm clothes group 1. The good news is that as soon as the sun comes up over the horizon, you will quickly be able to shed those layers.

The girl power team will be in touch from Namibia once they have settled in and awoken the expedition gear from its Sleeping Beauty lull in a shed near the expedition base.

Sleeping Beauty storage

Alisa will send her mobile number for emergencies a few days before we start and update us all on final preparations.

We hope yours are going well too. We have attached the plan so far as well as some datasheets for you to swot up on – and dispel any last myths there may persist of anyone joining some kind of safari holiday 😉

Two weeks to go for trailblazing group 1…

P.S. In case you were wondering what the heck a Buff is, have a look at

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

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

Here’s a short video update from the field from our scientist Vera:

The warning about cold nights applies to the first few groups and we’ll keep you updated about exact temperatures closer to the time. Only 5 weeks to go until we start with group 1 on 4 August!

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

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

It has been a while since I arrived at our Okambara study site in Namibia, so it’s time to give you an update on my work here. I have already seen lots of wildlife and let me tell you, it is hard to miss! There hasn’t been one day without seeing an animal but although I was very excited to see rhinos and giraffes for the first time on the farm.

Giraffes
Giraffes
Rhino
Rhino

I was still hoping for a leopard, as this is the species I will focus my main research on.

Finally, after a few weeks of waiting (not so) patiently, Fortuna had a female leopard go into a trap, which had actually been set up for capturing cheetahs on another farm! We (that is the people within our research group here in Namibia) took the opportunity to collar her, which will now give us the chance to monitor her movements in the following months. The picture was taken to help us identify her unique fur pattern in case she walks in front of a camera trap or gets captured elsewhere.

Captured leopard
Captured leopard

I also learned that the male leopard collared during the 2012 expedition is hanging around in the northern part of Okambara (see his GPS-positions).

Map
Map

In addition, tracks of a big leopard have also been found in the south as well. Not far from the farm house, we found a hole in the outer farm fence, which could serve as a gateway for all kinds of animals, including a leopard. I have set up a camera trap to find out who/what is using this (no longer) secret entrance to Okambara. My camera trap captured porcupines and warthogs but then…a leopard showed up also. As you can see on the picture, it is quite a big individual and if you look even more closely, you will notice that a part of the upper lip is missing, which may have been caused by territorial fights with other leopards. Box traps have now been set up in various places in order to capture and collar this leopard to find out more about its usage of the area.

Got you!
Got you!

Watch this space for further updates.

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