Showing posts from 2011

Servals, puppies, goats and Hi Fi

Our early Christmas party round Laurie and Bruce’s house was… interesting.  We decorated a dead and leafless tree, whilst I stood around watching people drink alcohol I couldn’t drink and eat dessert I couldn’t eat.  And then we were forced to sing Christmas carols.  At that point, I decided to leave.  Here’s hoping Christmas Day itself will be slightly better, although I fear what they may try to make me in the vegan department…  Salad and sauceless pasta, probably?!
After all the felid delight of last week, we also stumbled across (or should I say, nearly ran over) a small serval as we were driving back from a waterhole count.  Servals are smaller felids with spots like cheetahs, long legs and short tails – they look very out of proportion but are adorable nonetheless.  It was amazing to see one, especially as they are so rare and illusive.
I got woken up last night to the sounds of jackals yapping, hyenas wooping, dogs barking and baboons wahooing.  I then got up in the morning to se…

Leopards, cheetahs and caracals

I think I can safely say that the land within and surrounding CCF is full of more predators than I have ever lived close to before – and this excites me greatly J  Only last night, whilst walking back to my house from dinner, did I spot a large felid walk in front of me.  My first thought in the low light was that it was a leopard, especially as people had only just been talking about spotting a leopard about 100m from my house on two occasions that same day.  However, upon closer inspection, I realised it was in fact a cheetah.  As soon as I noticed the animal, it stopped in its tracks and stared at me.  I wasn’t sure whether to keep on walking or turn back to tell someone of my finding.  I decided to walk back to the dinner table to tell people, but after 20 seconds or so, started to run as I thought it may have left by the time I got back.  Only in hindsight did I think that it probably wasn’t the best idea to run away from a predator!  Fortunately for me, the cheetah was more scar…

Aardwolves, bug bites and rainbows

It seems that if you want to work in a conservation organisation in Africa you need to be able to work 80+ hours a week without any days off!  I was hoping that things would be a little more relaxed here at CCF, knowing that I was told that I’d be able to take 1.5 days off per week, but it seems that this is not the case.  There are people who have been working here for 6+ months and may have only take 2 days off.   Some of the staff who work on the cheetah reintroductions work two straight weeks of 18 hour days – how does anyone do that without dying of exhaustion?!  I have no idea.  I asked Laurie when was the last time she had a holiday in the last 10 years and she said “make that 40 years”.  I honestly have no clue how you can go on that long without needing some time out.  In any case, I am HOPING to take my first day off today.  I already managed to sleep in until 8.30 am, which was amazing.  However, I do have a small excuse as to why I cannot work today, in that I appear to ha…

Life in Namibia

I am finally beginning to settle in to Namibian life now after a brief panic period not knowing at all what I was doing!  I arrived into CCF the day after the previous ecologist had left, so I have had no one to mentor me whilst here, which is a bit of a scary prospect.  I have also been pulled between two tasks whilst here:  going to lectures for my course on human-wildlife conflict and learning about the tasks required of me as the ecologist.  However, as 90% of my time has been spent in the course, I’ve barely had time to figure out what I’m meant to be doing elsewhere here.  I keep having the students and interns I’m meant to be supervising coming up to me to ask for advice, although I have no idea what their projects are on or how I can be of assistance.  I keep feeling that I’m slightly out of my depth here, but I hope things will get easier as the days go on.
Fortunately yesterday I was able to spend the majority of the day in my office figuring out where everything is, sorting …

Too much travelling

Oh my gosh, three consecutive days of travelling through three countries has really worn me out.  I had my last day in Zimbabwe on Saturday, where I spent the morning doing a lion walk with the youngest set of cubs.  It was nice to go out on a proper walk with them, as I previously had only done one training walk and a client walk, and that was just to collect spoor measurements.  We had a nice stroll in the bush and then down to the river, where the lions sat on a boardwalk ready for some photos.  It did seem a bit “circuisy” getting them to sit and pose for pics, but I guess that’s what brings money in to the Park.

The day before leaving Yvonne the new lion researcher and I took a canoe out in the morning and went paddling down the river.  It was extremely peaceful and very serene; I just wish in a way I had come out at sunset because I’ve been told the sun reflecting in the water is a spectacular site.  We spotted lots of different birds along the way, including some Malakite (sp?) …

Final days at AP

I now only have two full days left as the lion researcher at ALERT.  It is a bittersweet time, as I wish I could stay to see how the cubs in the Ngamo release site grow up, but I can safely say that I am not going to miss anything else about this place.  It has certainly been an interesting time here in Zimbabwe and I feel like it was a good experience for me to come out here and learn about this project, but I am ready to move on now.  I shall however certainly keep updated with the Ngamo blog to read up about how the new cubs are doing and will hopefully keep in contact with the new researcher about things.

Just a couple of days ago Kenge the new mother in the pride started to integrate her cubs with the rest of the lions.  She brought her two beautiful cubs out from their den in the morning and spent around 10 minutes with the rest of the group, before the cubs decided it was time to head back home.  The cubs are adorable bundles of fluff and it was so nice to see them fit and heal…

Exciting news!

Wow a lot has changed since my last blog update!  It’s funny what difference a week makes to the life of someone.
As I mentioned on my blog in the beginning, I came to Africa via Namibia to talk to Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) about my future PhD that I will hopefully be starting in September 2012.  I also wanted to know if there would be a possibility of me working there after I finish here at ALERT in March.  They said they hadn’t got any positions open at that point but that they would let me know if anything did come up.  I thought that was probably just them being nice to me and didn’t expect anything to come of it.  However, a few weeks ago they contacted me to say their ecologist is leaving next year to continue her postgraduate studies and CCF asked if I would like to take her position.  Of course, I jumped at the chance, as CCF is somewhere I have been longing to work ever since I first heard about it.  It would tie in nicely with me finishing at ALERT and would tide me ove…

Blood and guts

This past week has been a concentrated mass of carnage to the highest degree.We released 17 zebra, 10 wildebeest and 50 impala into the Ngamo site last week and since then the lions have been on an extensive killing spree.They have already massacred 2 zebras, 2 wildebeest and 4 impalas within the space of 7 days!This is bearing in mind that they usually make one large kill every 4 days.These lions have gone from being pretty skinny to FAT in less than a week and it is amazing to see how different they look now – and in fact how much more energetic they are.I watched Nala and Narnia (aka the queens of brutality) spend all day yesterday trying to hunt down anything that moved within 200m of them.In fact, between the first and second session, they had managed to take down a pregnant impala that they were busy munching on next to a waterhole by the time we found them.We only knew it was pregnant because half way through devouring it, Narnia pulled out a foetus and started playing around w…

Frogs on my feet and spiders on my face

It is getting HOT in Zim now.At 8.30am today the temperature was already 30C!We’ve not had proper rains for a few weeks now but they should arrive within the next week or so, which will hopefully clear the air and refresh the atmosphere.
I went on my first “Night Encounter” at the weekend, which is basically taking the older lions out for a walk at night time to allow them to hunt some of the game in the park.However, as they are too big for us to walk on foot, they are trained to follow vehicles, which they seem to do surprisingly well.We drove around the park for over 2 hours but the only animals they tried to hunt were one steenbok and a zebra.The steenbok chase was actually pretty good because the lions ran FULL PELT towards this steenbok (I have never seen them run so fast in my life!) and they very nearly caught the steenbok.It even screamed out in distress (poor thing – I would do too if 4 subadult lions were running for their lives after me).It seems like the prey have learned …

And here I go again on my own

Wow can't believe it's been 9 days since I last blogged.  I'm so busy here that time really does fly.  I've not really been doing anything interesting other than working, eating and sleeping.  I had another day off (second one in 6 weeks now) and spent the whole day applying for grants for my PhD, so it ended up not really feeling like I had time off at all.   I have been trying to socialise a bit more with the volunteers here so that I don't feel like such a loner all the time.  Watched a polo-cross game that the Antelope Park staff played, which was quite fun, but they spent a lot of time standing around not doing anything.
Cub drama has still be happening within the pride.  The sole remaining cub from Phyre has been brought into the pride (probably by Athena, the mother of the 8-month old) and was being looked after to some degree, but now it appears that it has been abandoned.
Watching these cubs is like watching a relative die slowly of cancer; painful to watch …

Stressful times in prideland

Had a very stressful time over the last few days here at ALERT.Two of Phyre’s cubs are missing, presumed dead, with only one remaining that we cannot locate.Kenge has probably given birth now too but we have no idea where she is, how many cubs she has, and how many may also have possibly gone the same was as Phyre’s.Athena, the lioness with the eight month-old, has been seen with three baby cubs (not hers), nursing them, carrying them around and letting Wakanaka her cub play with them.However, this means that the fragile little things are away from their mother and not being cared for properly, so their survival is very much compromised.We tried to move Athena and Wakanaka into a management enclosure yesterday to give the new mothers time to sort themselves out, but herding lions is about 100 times harder than herding cats, and this ended up being an epic fail on all accounts.The lions were stressed, we were stressed; it was not a good day.

Today we cannot locate Phyre or Kenge, so don…

Rain and cubs

The rainy season has arrived!Had quite a few intense thunderstorms since being here, which has been quite spectacular to see, especially as it has been months since it has rained properly here.The area really needed some moisture as there were quite a number of fires starting in the park that became quite a scare to us.Fortunately all were kept under control, but there is always that worry that maybe they won’t be able to put it out.
Had some very exciting news recently as one of the pregnant female lionesses went off to den a few days ago and has recently given birth!We accidentally stumbled across the den complete with mother, three cubs and two other lionesses waiting diligently by her side.The cubs looked very healthy and were suckling when we saw them, which was very cute to see.Phyre, the mother, looked proud but tired so we left her after just a few moments as we didn’t want to intrude or scare her.
A giraffe died in the park recently, which was quite handy for the lions as they …

Time flies

I have been travelling for nearly a month now and it feels like centuries ago that I was back in the UK living in the little village of Shepherdswell and looking after the cats.  It’s funny how when you travel time seems to fly, but when you’re back home it goes really slowly.  I guess it’s partly that I’ve been so busy here that I’ve not had a moment to rest and think.  I apologise to my friends everywhere about being crap at keeping in touch with you, but when you only have a few moments to use the internet each day, and most of that time is taken up by sending work emails, it becomes hard to find a spare minute to message people.  Please do email me though to let me know how you’re all getting on and I will try to find some time to reply!!

After watching the Ngamo pride for nearly 4 weeks now I am starting to learn all of the different personalities of the lions and their various quirks.  It’s amusing and fascinating watching AT1, the cub, develop in front of my eyes.  She seems to …

Vegans Love Protein

Kirsty the current researcher has now finished her time at ALERT, and with that, my trainer has left too.  I’m now the one and only lion researcher here at Antelope Park, which is a bit of a scary prospect!
Spent the morning with the pride (the cub seems to keep wandering off, which was a bit of a worry initially but I guess it means she’s growing up and becoming more independent), then midday with the breeding programme lions trying to measure pugmarks from some of the lions there.  This is easier said than done!  Getting a perfect footprint is hard at the best of times and depends a lot on the substrate, the way the animal walks through it and whether they walk back over it to smudge the original tracks.  It took over two hours to get just two individuals to walk over sand in such a way that we could measure their tracks today – what a pain!!  A lot of time was spent waiting around for the handlers to get the lions into their management pens so that we could go into their main enclos…

Sick of being sick

I am so sick of being worried about what people keep putting in my food.  The chefs have accidentally been putting animal fat into my meals and it is making me sick.  I've been getting really bad heartburn which is making it hard for me to sleep at night because my stomach just hurts.  I haven't had digestive problems since cutting dairy out of my diet and obviously my body is not used to all this animal fat that keeps on being thrown in.

What's more is that the chefs STILL don't seem to understand that vegans need protein.  They gave me one source of protein within the last few days (other than peanut butter which I put on ultra thick at breakfast as I'm never sure when else I can get any more) even after giving the chef a list of places I can get protein from.

Today I was meant to go to town for the first time since getting here 3 weeks ago so that I could finally go to a shop myself and stock up on essential food to keep me going.  But something happened in the…

First day off, woohoo!!

The lion researcher who is training me felt sorry for me being so ridiculously tired and exhausted so gave me a day off today - thank god, as I really was beginning to crack.  I had a sleep in, managed to catch up on loads of emails I've not had a chance to reply to, did some research for my PhD, had a chat with my Mum, did some bird watching (got some good pics of kingfishers, hoopoes, cormorants, a fish eagle and grey herons), went for an afternoon horse ride in the bush and then a mule-driven carriage ride at sunset.  Managed to see some good game, like tsessebe (with a tssesbok - a tsessebe crossed with a blesbok), wildebeest, impala, kudu, giraffe, warthogs, waterbuck and lots of vultures.

The current researcher and I went on a cub walk recently to measure the spoor of one of the cubs as we would like to know if you can ID individuals by their pugmarks, or at least tell the age and sex of the lion.  It was fun going out on the walk as one of the cubs decided it wanted to clim…