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JohnR

Volunteer in Namibia 2011

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JohnR

This is not the usual kind of trip report as I was not on the usual kind of safari. Instead I returned to Namibia as a volunteer with Biosphere Expeditions to a game farm on the edge of Windhoek, the same as last year, and the 5th time I have volunteered in Namibia.

 

Arrival

 

Disliking Heathrow and living only 15 minutes from Birmingham Airport I decided to fly with Lufthansa Birmingham -> Frankfurt -> Johannesburg -> Windhoek with the A380 on the long leg. Flights were on time and I did not find the giant Airbus any more or less comfortable than other large long-haul aircraft. The extra leg and allowing time for the connections made the journey take almost 24 hours.

 

When I got to Johannesburg I found my phone battery was flat and I'd packed the charger in my checked baggage. I have a battery pack but annoyingly I had removed the Nokia charging cable from my cabin bag just before setting off. See how well organised I am?

 

I found a new cable at Vodacom's shop for R200. A bit pricey but it did the job and then I filled my hand baggage to bursting point with 2 of Mr Park's excellent books. Waiting for the flight to Windhoek SAA announced that the flight was full so cattle class would have to surrender all baggage beyond the allowance and I was now well over. I stuffed every piece of heavy equipment into a pocket in my photographers vest and managed to get the bag down under the limit. Their threat was no idle one as many people were being relieved of any number of bags, guitars, and duty free shopping to put it in the hold.

 

SAA seem to be using larger and larger aircraft on their flights to Windhoek which is a small airport without any automated handling and the A330 produced a large queue at the Windhoek end to be serviced by 2 immigration desks and a couple of baggage handlers. It took me an hour to get through immigration despite having bought a volunteer visa in advance in London and when I did get through the baggage still hadn't arrived. When mine (a backpack) did arrive it was pounced on by the Customs lady in a way only Namibian Customs ladies pounce. "I'll have that one" she said and made me unpack boxes of batteries, Snickers bars, shoes full of breakables. But whatever she was looking for she didn't find so reluctantly let me go. When I came out into the arrivals hall my transfer to Casa Piccolo in Klein Windhoek was still waiting.

 

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Casa Piccolo is a German style Hotel Pension and besides being a popular jumping off point with self-drivers, is also the assembly point for the expedition. It is an oasis of calm, the rooms are cool and comfortable and there is free wifi available, my last chance to go on the internet for two weeks. I have allowed a spare day in case baggage went astray so fill it with a visit to the Gocheganas Wellness Centre, a fancy name for a game farm with an indoor pool.

 

At 8:30 am Sunday morning the expedition Land Rovers arrive and we load our luggage into the back of one of the pickups and set off for the farm. Driving through the Katutura township we are stopped by a local driving back from church and he complains that we are encouraging crime by driving with the handles of some of the bags accessible from the street. It may be a township but the people care about their community. We tidy up and suitably chastened we continue to the farm. It's about 30 minutes from downtown but a different world.

 

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Kavey

I'm not sure that one can chastise visitors for encouraging crime by daring to have visible/ accessible their personal belongings - this isn't actually an invitation or encouragement to locals to steal them and if there is such theft by community members, stopping it needs more than simply trying to reduce temptation.

Of course, from a traveller's point of view, I'd be grateful for tips on reducing chances of theft, but being chastised for encouraging it, I'd not take so well!

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JohnR

Kavey,

 

The Biosphere Expeditions Land Rovers are well known in Katutura and we go there a couple of times a week to talk to people as well as take kids from school to see animals on the farm. We felt positive about the incident as we took it as a sign that they cared about us and their community.

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JohnR

Accommodation

 

On arrival at the farm we cross the wet river by the only bridge and drive to the camp which is on the dividing line between the "mountains" and the low farm. We are introduced to the staff and get a quick tour of the lapa and then are assigned to our tents.

 

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By chance I am given the same tent as last year, number 6 which is the furthest from the lapa (perhaps they remembered that I snore?). The tents are arranged in an arc on the edge of a dry riverbed. At least it was dry last year, but in the last wet season the Windhoek area had 4 times its normal rainfall and there are still pools in the riverbed.

 

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I have a largish pool on the opposite side of the riverbed in front of my tent and in the morning I am greeted by several water birds. However I have been sleeping with the tent flaps open and just the mosquito net closed. When I move to the entrance with my camera they turn out to be very skittish and all fly off. After trying a couple of times I decide to close the tent flaps at night and in the morning unzip them enough to poke the lens through as in a hide. This works but there is a second problem. Dawn is at 6.45am and breakfast at 7.00am followed by the start of activities at 7.30am. This leaves me very little time to take pictures and the light is quite poor. Oh well, as we are frequently reminded, we are not on a photographic safari and I have to crank up the ISO and grab what pictures I can.

 

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Kavey

Kavey,

 

The Biosphere Expeditions Land Rovers are well known in Katutura and we go there a couple of times a week to talk to people as well as take kids from school to see animals on the farm. We felt positive about the incident as we took it as a sign that they cared about us and their community.

Yeah, I figured that it was perhaps not said quite as it came across (to me) in your post... I think it's fantastic that there is clearly care for the community in evidence. Just makes me bristle when there is a suggestion that crime is the victims' fault for putting temptation into play. Yes, in cases where there's a huge gap in wealth and lifestyle, it's easy to understand, but at the same time, people do know that stealing is wrong, regardless of whether handles are peeping out or not! That's all I meant.

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twaffle

Enjoying this very much. Sensational scenery.

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JohnR

Settling in and training

 

Over the next day and a half we receive our training. Our life will be governed by BE's three esses: Safety, Science, Satisfaction in that order. Meaning safety always comes first. When it is safe to act then the science comes next. Finally when it does not conflict with either of the previous two, then we are free to enjoy the situation, take pictures, rest, etc.

 

We begin with the rather long risk assessment where we hear that statistically what we are about to do, armed with knowledge, is less dangerous than DIY at home and our biggest risk is a road traffic accident. But we have to be told about snakebites, scorpions, insects, and always respect for animals. We should not wear head torches except in the tent or lapa and always carry them in the hand when walking around camp in the dark. Apparently cobras spit venom at the light and this has been observed on the farm.

 

After the risk assessment comes an introduction to the equipment we will use and training for those who have never used a GPS, compass, 2-way radio, binoculars, laser rangefinder, vhf telemetry receiver. If we have our own equipment we are free to use it provided it is up to the job. I have a Garmin Oregon 300 GPS which out-performs the expedition's aging GPSMAP 60s and a pair of Leitz Trinovid 10x40 bins (the old Wetzlar model not the modern doorstops). As good as the latter are they cannot out-perform those donated by Swarovski but they are set up for me as a spectacles wearer.

 

The equipment table

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We try to upload the map of the farm tracks to my GPS using Mapsource but they do not appear on my Tracks4Africa map of Namibia. After trying several times I take my GPS back to my tent and look through the various managers. The way-points are there as are a large number of new tracks. When I look at the setting for each track segment (nearly 100 of those) it shows up as hidden and without a colour selected. So I go through each track setting it to show on the map and to black. At last they are all there and finally I can use it to navigate. I had not noticed how cold it had become whilst I was concentrating on this (5C with a wind blowing through the tent) and I was shivering uncontrollably. I put on my hoody and wind proof jacket and crawled fully clothed under the duvet to thaw out.

 

Later in the week someone asks about doing a night drive. There is a spotlight but it is not working so I took it to pieces and found a soldered joint has come apart. The problem is that no-one has a soldering iron or any solder for that matter. Rafael, the camp caretaker, builds a fire and finds a large nail which we heat to red hot. I can just about melt the existing solder and press the end of the wire into it. It is not a permanent solution but it will last a while and we go out with one of the pickups. Next time I visit I must bring a soldering iron.

 

On the night drive it is bitterly cold, especially on the back while the vehicle is moving so we just drive around for an hour. I operate the spotlight as I had plenty of previous practice in Caprivi but we don't find any cats. We did find mice, spring hare, springbok, dassie, kudu and giraffes. We thought all the giraffes were in the mountains so we were surprised to find them near the camp. It is pure luck what you find. Last year we drove by the Davidspost water hole and saw nothing, yet when we checked the camera traps a couple of days later we saw a leopard drinking just 10 minutes after we passed by.

 

After the equipment comes the data sheets. These sheets are why we are here so it is really important we learn how to take all the measurements and fill them in properly as otherwise the data is not usable. They cover all our activities (game counts, carnivore tracks and scats, camera and box traps, community surveys) plus a couple we always carry to record any carcasses we find driving around as well as any incidental carnivore sightings.

 

Finally, we have the Land Rovers. 4 Defenders now in their 3rd year of loan from Land Rover as part of their Our Planet sponsorship (2 twin cab pickups, a single cab pickup and a station waggon). Some are due for maintenance at the Land Rover dealer in Windhoek when the parts arrive so we do not always have all the cars available.

 

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Every time we use one of the Land Rovers we are responsible for checking it over to make sure it has a wheel on each corner with a tyre pressurised to 2.2 bar, and a spare wheel at the same pressure. It has clean windscreen and mirrors, any needed equipment and enough fuel and to spare to last the activity. Each vehicle has an air compressor, a high lift jack and the twin-cabs also have a bottle jack. We learn to use the jacks and to let down and pump up the tyres as needed. We go through all the tools to make sure each vehicle has a full set despite them mysteriously moving between cars when we are not looking. We open the bonnet (hood) and check the fluid levels, fill the windscreen washer bottles, take out the air filters and clean them. I crawl under my vehicle and remove the twigs and grass someone has hidden there. Fire is a real risk in the dry season, and grass under the vehicle is easily set alight by the exhaust. There is a fire burning on the next farm for several days. My father was a car mechanic so this stuff is not new but I enjoy it anyway.

 

In the last afternoon before the science begins in earnest we have the 4x4 training for the drivers. There are 7 volunteers and 4 (2 couples) want to drive. I have never learned to drive so I don't join them. There are some challenging sections of road, 1 in 4 gradients where each wheel is on a different surface, bare rock, gravel, soil and sand. Knowing when to switch to low range and leave the driving to the Land Rover is something I can help with as I have been driven over all kinds of terrain by many different drivers.

 

Whilst the drivers receive their training the rest of us go on a tour of the traps with one of the staff driving. This gives us a quick look at the farm (10,000 hectares) and we check some camera traps. It is not the same as last year due to the heavy rainfall having left the waterholes still full despite being well into the dry season. As a result many more animals than usual are still in the mountains rather than being forced down to the wet river in the low farm.

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Kavey

The training sounds really robustly planned and thorough. Must be such an experience. Enjoying reading about it. x

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twaffle

I never knew that about the cobras and the headlamps. One to remember.

 

Interesting that your father was a mechanic but you don't drive. Isn't it such an interesting thing learning about other people and knowing that despite all our differences, we still have so much in common.

 

This is so wonderful, thank you for all the little details.

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JohnR

Thanks Kavey and Twaffle. I'm more used to formal scientific writing in my day job so this is fun and helps me relive the experience before it fades away.

 

Another thing which writing a more detailed report like this does is make me realise how many photo opportunities I missed so I don't have a picture, or have to borrow one from a previous year. Hopefully :rolleyes: I'll do better the next time.

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JohnR

Our first drive around the farm

 

On the first Monday afternoon we are taken on a drive around the farm while the volunteer drivers are getting their training. It is a chance to activate the box traps which were deactivated as the previous group of volunteers left at the end of their slot. There is one box trap near the camp in the dry river, and two in the mountains. The fourth trap is left inactive as we will move it to a new location as our first activity on the Tuesday.

 

A view over the farm looking East towards Windhoek

 

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On our drive in the mountains, the signs of Spring are everywhere with bright green leaves on the thorn bushes. We see blue wildebeest, kudu, warthog, giraffe, ostrich, oryx, two jackals one of which is sitting in the middle of a flock of guinea fowl presumably hoping one will stray close enough for dinner.

 

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JohnR

Box traps

 

Tuesday sees the start of our fieldwork in earnest. The first activity is for the whole group as we have to move a box trap to a new location which has been identified by the scientist Kristina as being a good prospect for leopards.

 

There are 10 of us including our tracker Jesaja in 2 cars who drive to the old location of the box. We dismantle the existing kraal of thorn branches and spread them out to avoid blocking animal paths. Then we lift the box onto the back of one of the Land Rovers. This is why we need so many people as the boxes are very heavy. They are also much longer than the bed of the pickup so a a heavy weight is needed to stop the box sliding out of the back - me.

 

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We then drive South to the farm to pick up some meat to bait the new trap and drive further South to a location near Supergame. Supergame is the game translocation service with its home base on the farm. They are coming to the end of the annual translocation season and lots of their large trucks are parked up along the road. When we get to a dry riverbed we stop and Jesaja looks first for fresh spoor and then we all join in. Several leopard tracks and some scat are found, so it looks quite promising.

 

It is decided to put the box to one side near a well worn animal path and close to a tree where the bait can be hung. Pangas, an axe and a saw are distributed and we start to cut down branches under Jesaja's direction, large ones at first to form the framework of a kraal around the back of the box and then progressively smaller to fill the gaps. I am in charge of a panga and get my first blisters (but not my last). Despite starting early, it s already getting quite hot and it is important to keep stopping to drink. We are in the Biosphere documentation to bring water bottles to hold a couple of litres but you can easily get through that when really sweating with the heavy work.

 

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When Kristina is happy with the kraal we also set up a camera trap opposite the entrance to the box, add the gates and activate the release mechanism. With so much human activity in setting everything up I have my doubts whether anything will go close, certainly not until the meat ripens.

 

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There are 4 active box traps and a tour of these needs to be made every day to check them and release any non-target animals. Checking is usually combined with some telemetry otherwise it is a long drive, with two of the boxes in the mountains far apart. When both teams have other assignments the boxes will be checked by a member of staff. For all of the first week nothing is found.

 

The middle Saturday is our day off. We can either get a lift into Windhoek to do some tourism, or stay on the farm. Of those staying on the farm volunteers are requested to check the box traps so that the staff can take a day off and the traps can be kept active. Everyone who remains Marco, Brigitte, Dorothea and Nicky volunteers so we take our packed lunch and a Land Rover to do a tour of the farm and stay out all day. We also take the telemetry equipment to see if we can pick up any signals in the mountains. When we get to the first of the mountain boxes in the South, the box is closed but it isn't easy to see what it inside. I walk about 50 metres away and down to the river edge but still cannot see inside so I walk further out into the river and can at last see into the box and that we have a warthog.

 

The rule for a hot release is that everyone gets into the vehicle except one person who climbs on the top of the box and pulls up the door of the trap. I volunteer as the nearest and only when I get to the trap realise I have forgotten to put on gloves. But I have my hat so I wrap this round my hand and move the thorns to one side, climb on top and then realise the bushes are in the way to raise the long lever which locks the doors closed. So I quickly move them out of the way (ouch!) and turn round and raise the door. The warthog is a female in prime condition and does not seem too badly affected by her time in the trap beyond a few bruises around the snout, and she comes out of the trap like a rocket. It took everyone by surprise and no-one got a picture. Except the camera trap facing the box. Sadly it missed the warthog but got the other mammal.

 

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This illustrates one of the dilemmas - active particpant or passive photographer?I felt sure that I would have got pictures using my Canon 7D in burst mode. When we found an aardvark in the other mountain trap the following week, it was released by Stefan and I was able to photograph it shooting off.

 

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After the morning's exertions, we ate our packed lunches and when it had cooled down a bit we split into two teams. Team 1 (Stefan, Renate, Nicky and me) went on a tour of camera traps changing SD cards for empty ones, placing the (hopefully) full ones in marked ziplock bags to identify them later and checking batteries. Team 2 go with Jesaja to look for predator tracks and scats.

Edited by JohnR

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JohnR

Game counts

 

Data collection includes both vehicle and foot game counts and we start on Wednesday morning with both teams going on foot game counts. We walk two parallel straight line transects separated by about 2 km. We are driven to the eastern part of the farm and dropped off with our equipment: binoculars, rangefinder, protractor (for bearings relative to the transect), GPS and animal identification sheets (though I don't think anyone needed them). The transect is 4.7km as the crow flies but that's for the birds. I turn on the odometer on my personal GPS to find out just how far we do walk.

 

At the point we are dropped off and in the direction we want to go is a 100 metre high hill (thanks, Kristina). Last year I did the foot game count with one of the expedition leaders and he explained that you had to interpret the instructions sensibly. You cannot walk in a straight line in the bush so you have to navigate round obstacles. As the GPS user I look at the route and decide that it makes no sense to go to the top of the hill as all the game will see us and run off. The best thing to do would be to walk half way up the back side, walk around the contour line and as we come round the far side, do so quietly pausing frequently and using the binoculars to scan for game. We find oryx, kudu, zebra. There are no photographs as I left everything in my tent which might be a burden and only carried water in addition to the equipment.

 

Then we began to descend. Which was easier said than done. We had to be careful not to stray too far from the transect which I tried to do by taking detours around bushes and drainage ditches alternately to the left and to the right. After the heavy rains of the previous year the surface has a lot of loose scree overgrown with grass so hiding many pitfalls making it quite difficult to go straight down unless you were happy going base over apex.

 

When we eventually got to the bottom, what had look like flat land turned into a series of ridges covered in groves of thorn bushes. More deviation from the straight and narrow. We try to keep up a good pace with regular stops for water and only see the odd kudu as now the bushes make seeing anything difficult and they can hear us coming not least because of my swearing. Eventually we reach the wet river which we set ourselves the challenge of crossing without taking our shoes off by hopping from rock to rock.

 

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Now we just have a couple more ridges to go and a climb up towards the edge of the mountains where we finished on the north-south road. I ran out of water, feet and energy just as we got to the end of our 3.5 hour walk. When I checked the odometer I had actually walked 7km.

 

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Vehicle game counts are much less strenuous. Driver and navigator sit in the cab whilst the spotters sit on a bench across the railings on the back of the pickup. We again follow two parallel transects, this time in the mountains, running South to North. The transects are far from straight a we must follow the roads and we constantly turn a corner to see a new vista, and so have a good chance of seeing plenty of game. At least those higher up on the back see plenty. In the cab we see gravel road.

 

Camera traps

 

After the wonderful foot game count on Wednesday morning we stay in camp to do some data entry in the afternoon. A vital activity since it is the data which we leave behind us when we depart. With 17 camera traps there are a lot of images to check so I use my netbook with its built in SD card reader to double the speed at which we get through the job. We are looking for all images of predators but also record some examples of prey species. We delete the hundreds of photos of waving grass or small birds. And although we have not seen many of them directly, the camera traps are full of baboons. Here's a selection

 

Brown hyena with VHF collar

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Duiker?

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Leopard

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Giraffe

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Civet

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Leopard

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Brown hyena with hackles raised

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Oryx

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twaffle

I just don't think the giraffe will fit into the trap!!!!

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Kavey

Wow, this is brilliant, really great to get such an insight into the activities of volunteers. And I loooove your aardvark photo!

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Shreyas

Very interesting report! Great narrative, especially love the leaping Aardvark.

TFS

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egilio

They certainly make you work!

But you might want to use your animal identification sheets :lol: I think the duiker is actually a Steenbok (based on the lack of a crest and the black above the nose) and the civet is actually a genet.

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JohnR

Quite right, Egilio. I even spelled genet for the person doing the data entry into the computer. Not sure why I wrote civet here.

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JohnR

Tracks and scats

 

Thursday and Group 1 goes on Tracks and Scats on a 5km circuit in the mountains. We are accompanied by Jesaja who will identify any tracks we (but more likely he) find(s).

 

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Equipment for tracks is a measuring device for the prints and the GPS for locations of the start and end of the track. For scat we have a box containing gloves, and ziplock bags and again we use the GPS to record the position of any find. If we find predator scat we will only take a portion so that some scat is left to pass on any messages to other predators.

 

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Unlike the foot game count we stay on the road which makes the walking much easier though in the mountains the route is very up and down so still plenty of exercise. We find a number of tracks including one about 100 metres long but no scat.

 

Telemetry

 

In the afternoon we take the telemetry equipment to the south of the low farm and pick up Lucy, the first female leopard to be collared.

 

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Both game counts and telemetry would be easier and more accurate if done from the air but that is very expensive.

 

Friday we check box traps in the morning and do some more telemetry, this time on our own but we do not manage to triangulate any of the collared animals.

 

The telemetry we attempt on our day off produces three bearings from three locations but when we plot them we get three parallel lines. We realise that we need to use the gain control more to get more accurate figures.

 

Some birds and game seen whilst checking traps in the mountains

 

Red billed hornbill

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Purple roller

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Eland

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Springbok

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Kudu

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Plains zebra

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(Two) Klipspringers

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And that's the end of the first week. We are pleased with the way things have gone and are getting on well. Oh, and no punctures.

Edited by JohnR

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Treepol

JohnR,

 

I am really enjoying this report of your volunteer time - is this something you do in your annual holidays?

 

The camera trap certainly caught a wide variety of animals, and that photo of the airborne aardvark is a keeper for sure.

 

Regards,

 

 

Pol

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JohnR

I am really enjoying this report of your volunteer time - is this something you do in your annual holidays?

 

Pol,

 

I am not a beach person and I enjoy the science bit so this kind of volunteering is perfect for me. I spend much of my working life at a desk so an active holiday is a real break and probably good for my health. Biosphere Expeditions support other studies which would also be interesting but the Namibian big cat study is the only one which falls squarely outside the teaching trimesters at my University.

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Super LEEDS

Thanks for sharing, JohnR. Loved the aardvark shot!

 

I don't think I'm the only one but this kind of wildlife experience really gives one ideas.... Hope you don't mind me posting this link (http://www.africanimpact.com/volunteer-projects/projects/big-cat-research-and-conservation/overview) but after a quick bit of research, the costs for these volunteering programs - and they are everywhere including big cats of the Mara in the Naibosho Conservancy which someone reported about recently - seem to be quite low, even for a 2 week period. Appreciating this isn't even a basic safari, let alone luxury one, and understanding what you're getting into, this could be a very good low-cost alternative.

 

I think I'd love something like this - the wife has another opinion though. Time for a trial holiday-separation lol.

 

Sorry if you've said, but how many times have you done something like this?

 

EDIT: oops, just saw at the top, its your fifth time! Have you ever done it elsewhere?

Edited by Super LEEDS

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JohnR

Thanks for sharing, JohnR. Loved the aardvark shot!

 

Thanks

 

I don't think I'm the only one but this kind of wildlife experience really gives one ideas

 

You should be clear why you are doing it and that the organisation can meet your expectations. Many of these volunteer programmes will not supply you with a cheap safari holiday.

 

At the recent WildlifeXpo, Biosphere published their top ten tips for finding worthwhile volunteer organisations.

 

www.biosphere-expeditions.org/toptentips

 

Have you ever done it elsewhere?

 

I've been to two other locations in Namibia, both volunteer programmes organised by Biosphere Expeditions. One was on another game farm, the other in Caprivi.

 

As good an organisation as Biosphere is, people can still get the wrong message and end up not liking the experience. It is important to do your homework and read widely before committing yourself.

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JohnR

Week 2

 

There's another Biosphere Ess besides Safety, Science, Satisfaction and that is Stay Flexible. This week exercises our flexibility. :lol:

 

Sunday morning Group 1 is going on a tracks and scats search in the South-East corner of the farm. Group 2 are checking the box traps and doing some telemetry. One of the rules for safely releasing accidental captures is to stand on the box trap and pull up the door. If there is a male baboon in the box trap he must be released by a male human. This is because males are superior to females in the baboon hierarchy so will not tolerate a female human above them. So Group 2 needs a male in the group who can climb on the box. Mario has a back problem so cannot do it, so I transfer to Group 2 for the morning. In the event all the traps were empty but we did improve our telemetry accuracy and got a triangulation of Lucy.

 

In the afternoon I rejoin Group 1 for more telemetry whilst Group 2 goes looking for tracks and scats.

 

Monday morning was supposed to be a visit to the farm by some school children but due to a communication problem it had to be postponed to the afternoon. So Group 2 was sent to change the SD cards in the camera traps whilst my group is joined by Kristina to tour the box traps. When we got to "our" box trap below Supergame which we built last week we can see the doors are closed but we think that it is another warthog. Kristina decides to do the release so we wait in the cab of the Land Rover. As she approaches the box we hear "Oh **** it's a leopard". Now we get really flexible. We won't be releasing it this morning and nor will the school visit take place. I have my 7D with the 100-400 with me today so I go 50 metres away from the box and find a point where I can see the cat (just checking that Kristina's not winding us up :P ).

 

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We drive back to camp and drop Kristina who will see if Ulf, who is at his veterinary practise, can come and examine the cat. We also contact the school and ask if they can come the next day. Then we carry on to check the traps in the mountains which are both open.

 

After lunch we go in 3 cars with Ulf to measure and take samples from the leopard. Ulf is a wildlife vet and has done this many times before so there is an air of calm efficiency. One pickup is parked not far from the box trap and the boxes of tools placed around it. Ulf estimates the age of the young male at around 18 months, too young to collar, and prepares a dart which is administered quickly and then we wait for the leopard to go down. Once it is safe to move him, Ulf and Stefan carry him across to a tarpaulin which will be used to weigh him.

 

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Kristina takes some identification photos and then Jesaja holds the scales. He's around 38kg (the leopard I mean).

 

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After that he is transferred to the tailgate of the Land Rover where he is measured and a number of hair and blood samples taken. Some minor injuries sustained in the box are disinfected and dusted with antibiotic powder. Throughout his eyes are protected by a mask

 

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and he is given two bags of saline solution with Jesaja striking a statue of liberty pose. Kristina involves everyone in the work when she needs extra hands. She held out a thermometer and asked me to check its temperature. It's a good job he couldn't see who was sticking a thermometer up its rear end.

 

When all the work is done, Ulf prepares to reverse the immobiliser and Dorothea and I carry the leopard back to the box trap which has been moved to a more shady spot and covered with a tarpaulin. The trap is closed and a frame and pulley fitted which will allow the door to be raised from a safe distance by a cable hitched to the bullbar of one of the Land Rovers. We have seen the Youtube video "how not to release a leopard" so we won't be making those mistakes.

 

The leopard is left overnight and the scientists go off to the veterinary lab to process and freeze the samples. They haven't come back by the time we have had dinner so we decided to think of posible names. Not so easy in an international group, but in the end Spotty got the majority vote. Of course, the scientists did not feel bound by our decision and I was told in the morning that Ulf decided to call him Johnny in honour of my 5 Namibian expeditions. This was totally unexpected and I am touched.

 

We went early the next morning and released him safely.

 

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Males range quite widely and there are farmers nearby who shoot leopards on sight so I don't know what his chances are.

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Super LEEDS

Lovely update, JohnR, and thanks for the replies.

 

The one I was looking at was for PAWS Africat (http://www.pawsnamibia.org/). Of course, I presume, it can be difficult to determine what you're getting for but the website and details seem quite good. Not sure how similar to your experience but the cost here is just less than half of the Biosphere (£720) for 2 weeks which I'm not sure is the sign of a good thing or a bad thing so I'd have to look into them a little further.

 

Other differences include this location has a rehab centre for cats - which is something in the Biosphere top 10 to really look into.

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