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 have been bitten by a rather ferocious blood-sucking insect on my eyelid, which has swollen my left eye up to the point that I can barely open it.  It doesn’t really hurt very much, I just look like a complete weirdo, so I don’t really want to leave the house!  I am hoping that with some antihistamines and ibuprofen it will go down ASAP.  Also as I have been writing this blog, a nasty large black ant has bitten me a few times on my shoulder.  Beware of insects in Namibia!

Last week we went on a game count around what is commonly known as ‘Little Serengeti’ or ‘the big field’, which is a large area of flat land that used to be cultivated but has now turned into a savanna plain, hence the Kenyan moniker.  It is in stark contrast to the bush-encroached surrounding land and is a great place to view animals without obstruction.  Whilst on our night drive, we saw two aardwolves (small hyenas), a honey badger running for some time on the road in front of us, a small spotted genet, a porcupine, an unidentified owl and many antelope species.  Apparently there are approximately six leopards that share CCF land, along with a number of wild cheetahs, so I hope that the future night game counts yield some rather larger predators!

I am currently being trained up to assist Rob, the current rhino warden, with his duties whilst he is away for three weeks over Xmas.  It’s a great job: you drive around a 16,000 hectare reserve for three hours three times a week checking camera traps, fencelines and looking out for suspicious activities, but along the way get to see some fantastic wildlife (like a pair of jackals running around on the old airstrip).  We keep spotting tracks of lots of carnivores too, so I’m sure it won’t be long until we bump into one in person.  Apparently it is very rare to see the rhinos as they are extremely secretive and are more active at night.  Plus the bush there is terribly thick, so it’s hard to even see a few metres from the car.  I’ve been told one of the male rhinos has a habit of charging the vehicle if you startle him, so I do hope that I don’t bump into him in close proximity!

The international course for integrated livestock and predator management has now come to a close.  It really was very enjoyable and I got to meet some interesting people, such as the field researcher for Ruhue Carnivore Project in Tanzania and the manager for Tau Lions Project in Botswana.  The celebrate the end of the course we went out to the big field with some food and drink to watch the sun go down.  We couldn’t have timed it better, because the rain was still coming down over the Waterberg in the distance, creating a rainbow in the sky.  It was beautiful to see and we seized the opportunity to take a group photo with the entire course and staff.

Now that the course is over I can spend more time on my real job as the ecologist here.  We have some Earthwatch volunteers coming today, who will be here for two weeks.  They will be spending a lot of time with me helping me with game counts and entering data.  It’s funny to think that volunteers at Antelope Park would complain when they had just a few hours of “hard graft” to do per day, with the rest of it spent doing fun things like horse riding, lion walking and elephant herding.  Here, you are lucky to spend one hour every few days doing something fun!  I think it’s good that they get the volunteers here really involved with the projects, as they learn a lot more about what CCF is and what we’re trying to achieve, rather than thinking that the whole project is here for the enjoyment of bunny huggers who just want to come pet a lion cub.  Plus it seems like the volunteers really do not mind getting dirty and doing somewhat menial tasks here because it is extremely common for them to return within the next year.

I have not had a chance yet to start anything on my PhD, nor to have a chat with Laurie about what direction she would like to take it.  Seeing as one of the main reasons for me to be out here is to get started on that, I do hope that we can make progress soon.  Unfortunately she is an extremely busy person, so it’s hard for her to find time.  I hope to nab her some time next week to sit down and talk this through with her.

It’s weird being in the southern hemisphere around Xmas.  It’s hot and sunny here, which, considering it’s 4 December, seems odd to me.  I think it will be very strange on Xmas Day sitting around in shorts and a t-shirt!


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