fredag 25. juni 2010

It has been too long since the last update of what we have been doing down here… But here I am back again, sharing the latest news!

Let’s just start by saying we’ve had lots of problems with the car since last time. The last week in May and the first week of June were spent mostly waiting for the car to be fixed. Since then there have been some other minor fixes to be made as well. The car will never be entirely good again we presume, but with so little time left down here, we just do our very best to get things done, despite the car’s many problems.

On the other hand, we spoke to Dr. Robert when we had 80-something samples, and he said it was enough. As of now we have 93 samples, and are aiming for 100, which won’t be a problem as long as the car works! When it comes to Lisa’s foraging, she is uncertain of how much she has (it’s not easy with all the plants and plots), and how much she needs, but we hope she will get enough data to write her thesis before we finish!

The period from last blog entry until now can only be described as the period of close encounters outside the vehicle! We have really felt how we are living in the middle of the Serengeti. For starters, the dwarf mongoose around the area has gotten really friendly with us, solely because we feed them popcorn, but still! They get less than a meter away from us, and almost go into the house sometimes! We’ve had baboons in the house grabbing stuff, while we are in there, meters away! We chase them out, but still, the males who enter houses are only the biggest and boldest of baboons! Also other animals get closer now than before. We’ve had giraffes just outside our house; we could walk only meters away from one of them. Buffaloes have gotten closer, but never dangerously close.

The first of the really cool experiences was the herd of elephants walking past the saloon where we often go to be social and see the World Cup matches. The elephants were pretty close to us, and they didn’t seem to be bothered with us that much at first. But when they came really close to where we stood, one of the females, probably the matriarch, gave us a fake charge, making us run, heels on shoulders, closer to the saloon door! She calmed down though, and we all relaxed and got back to taking pictures! And we really got some cool ones that night!

The next experiences are the most amazing when it comes to wild animals, especially for me! The first event is the least exciting, but still it was amazing. It was to be late evening when a male lion made his way onto one of the kopjes outside our house. So, we went out to take pictures of him. He was about 100 meters away, so no worries there. As time went on the lion got out of sight, but we could still hear him roar in a safe distance. But close to dark I went out to see where he was, as he was roaring still. Suddenly the roaring got closer and closer, but I saw nothing because of the tall grass… So I ran back to the house, and Lisa, who was reading a book outside, followed suit. And when we came to the door, we saw this huge male lion coming out from the grass, only a few meters away from where I was standing only seconds before! As he didn’t’ seem to mind us that much, we followed him with our eyes and cameras in a safe distance to see him walk down the road past our house.

The second event was for me even more thrilling. We had just come home early from a trip. Heidi and I were walking down to the office to use the internet. As we came around the corner to see the headquarters, we waved at some people down by one of the buildings. They answered by pointing to the kopjes just beside us. And as we turned our heads up to look, there they were! Two lions, one male and one female, just relaxing and sleeping only a few meters away from us! They were lying well into the 4 meter tall rock, with only their heads visible, and they didn’t seem to mind us that much, so we stopped and took some photos. This was more than exciting enough, but still… Down at the office I found out I had forgotten my laptop cable! So, I had to go back home to get it, and… well… I had to pass a couple of lions on the way! So there I was, walking towards the kopjes trying to remember what the locals had told me: “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” But as I closed in on the kopjes I saw the lions had changed positions! Both were now lying upright, paws positioned out over the edge of the big rock, head held high, and both staring right at me! As long as they don’t bother me, they won’t touch me I thought, and forced myself to keep my pace. So, there I walked, looking straight into the face of a big male lion, which stared right back at me. And as I got closer the female raised up slowly. I hesitated for a moment, but when I saw she just moved to hide behind the big male I walked further and finally passed the kopje, looking at the big male the whole time. Afterwards, I told Lisa at the house she had to come see something cool, but when we came to the kopjes they had laid down to sleep, heads away from the edge of the rock. A position they held most of the remaining hours of that day. I rank this as the most thrilling experience of my entire life! It was amazing! I regret not taking any pictures or filming the whole thing, but I never dared to make any sudden and unexpected moves.

As this was a crazy experience for me, the other people living here have even more amazing stories! Like Onesmo who had a sudden errand in the night, and had to run to the car parked outside his house. While running in the pitch black towards his car, he couldn’t see the big elephant in the way! So, he ran head on into its stomach! Realizing what he had just done, he ran back to his house. But he had locked the door, so he had to kick it in to get in safely! Or like Maliki, head of the garage, who heard sounds in the garage at night. Thinking there were car thieves, he got out to check. Suddenly he stumbled upon lions, who had managed to destroy the garage gate. And word told us he had a bit of a fight with them as well! Real hand to paw stuff! But he came away unharmed! So, it’s pretty wild here! But only really dangerous at night!

As for field experiences there is seldom any new stuff to document any more. The coolest thing has to be two leopards in a tree along the Seronera River on my birthday! Other cool stuff are: A puff adder crossing the road (one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa), the eland (the biggest antelope in the world, but really rare), a porcupine in the night (only the girls saw this one), a cheetah relaxing under a tree (before we scared it off...), Lions with semi-small cubs, the migration reaching the Masai Mara in Kenya, a martial eagle with a chick in its nest and a leopard kill in a tree (but no leopard). It’s still cool to see all other animals, but there is just not much new to document… There are still lots of animals we want to see though, like the serval and caracal, and any of the other snakes! Lots of the night creatures would be cool too, but as our car is as it is, we don’t dare taking it out for a night run…

And last but not least, the major experience for us in June! A late birthday gift for all of us you might say! It started when Lisa met one of the guys involved in the Rhino Project on the local gas station, and she got his number, and he told her which times are best to go see them! And one day, as we headed up north, we were running late because of too many elephants. Suddenly we were in the area, not too far from where they keep the rhinos, at the evening time it was best to go! So, we took a phone call, found out exactly where it was, and headed out! We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but what met us was amazing! The people working on the project were really nice, and more then wanted to show us around! It was Berry, from the UK, and Juliet, from South-Africa. In total, they are more than 20 working on the project. The girls took us on a tour around the bomas where the rhinos live. Each rhino lives in enclosures separated from each other. They were supposed to live like this for only 2 weeks, but since material for building the bigger 44 km2 enclosure has been delayed, they have been there for over a month. But still, the animals are doing great! All, except one though… She is really angry, and needs 4 whole bomas for herself. The rest have 2. People seldom get near her, as she might hurt herself by throwing a fit! The other animals though, were gentle and docile, and all went up to greet us when we popped our head over their wall! They all seemed like big dogs, especially when the youngest one started rolling around on the ground when taking a bath! When we left there that night, we were ecstatic and had found new joy for our time down here! So, we had to come back!

The next time we went there were even more amazing! They had said they would love to have us back, and they clearly meant it! This time, only Juliet was there, of the two we met last time. But now we met Shane, the project manager, and Martin, the anti-poaching specialist from South Africa, the one training all the rangers for protecting the rhinos when they are released. They were really nice! We also got to know a couple of the locals too, working with the project. Again we said our hellos to the Rhinos, and this time they were really talkative. Especially Cleo, one of the younger ones, made sounds all the time. We didn’t even know they could make any distinct sounds! What really made this second time around even better was the fact that Juliet allowed us to touch them! And even more special, she even thought us how to feed them! So, now we’ve actually fed and touched soon-to-be wild black rhinos! It can’t get more amazing than that!

The people there even allowed us to camp there for the night, so we made our dinner in their tented kitchen and had nice conversations with Juliet, Shane and Martin! Even the night at this place was amazing! The whole area where filled with buffalos! I could even hear them tear up grass and chew outside the tent, I even heard them breathe! A bit terrifying, as buffalos don’t have the best reputation of staying calm, but exciting too! The next morning we said our goodbyes to the rhinos, talked for a while with Shane and Martin, as Juliet was busy with giving the rhinos their breakfast! We also got breakfast, and tee, alongside our own oatmeal we had brought with us! They would all want to have us back, and we hope we’ll have time to! But for now we hope to see them on the party we are throwing July 1st!

We are nearly reaching the end down here, and the Professor is coming already this Tuesday! He’ll then check our work, stay for the party and leaves again Friday, July 2nd. Then we’ll probably work only for one more week before we wrap things up and prepare for further travel! For me, that will be home, for the girls it’ll be a month in Malawi and Mozambique! On another note, we’ve heard there’s a leopard living around where we live, and it’s frequently seen behind the office. Spotting it will be a personal final mission for me, alongside spotting a serval or caracal in the field… But time is running short! And next time you hear from us, we will be finished! Until then, kwa heri!

lørdag 22. mai 2010

Here we are again, sharing the latest from our adventure here in the Serengeti! And let’s first just say that we have had almost no problems with the car. Of course repairs have been done, and some are in the works as we speak, but not nearly as serious as those we’ve had before! The rainy season has finally appeared for real now as well, but a couple of months too late… May is actually supposed to be the first month of the dry season. And the rain has been heavy, impacting both road and environment! We’ve gotten seriously stuck in mud twice already. The first time there were lions nearby, which we only heard in the tall grass maybe 100 meters away… But it was nothing dangerous, as one always keep watch when we have to go outside the car. We had no chance of getting out ourselves, so after some time a car came and helped us out! The second time we got stuck in a more secluded area were there’s almost no cars… A road where mostly rangers pass, and maybe only once a week! But luckily we managed to get ourselves out! We’ve bought a shovel now, so we can dig us out next time! Hopefully there won’t be a next time, as the people here say that the worst rain has passed, and we are only to suspect small showers!

As far as our work is concerned there’s only small progress… Elephants come and go, and are often hard to spot! Just the other day, as we were following a lone male, a huge herd of more than 50 individuals just marched out from the trees close to the Grumeti River. We hadn’t seen any one of them from the road, which were close. The elephants are big, but hide well among the trees! Even though the progress is slow, we’ll get enough data to write our master thesis. As my supervisor said to me: “It’s only a master, you are not supposed to revolutionize the world” Another thing to mention as well: We have started to camp a bit now, but often we have to do it ourselves, as it’s quite the lack of space when we are 4 people in the tent. I also spent one night in the car, when the others tented, which actually was quite nice! It gives me the opportunity to see everything that passes the car… But I didn’t see anything that night though, only heard some elephants passing somewhere close by. Maybe next time!

When it comes to the wildlife the migration of wildebeest has passed us, and there are very few left here in Seronera. Most of them walked directly towards the North and the West, where the huge herds are still gathering. Those walking West will cross the Grumeti River and into the Grumeti Game Reserve and Ikoma Open Area outside the park, before continuing up to the Masai Mara in Kenya. Those walking towards the North are taking a more direct route, avoiding the crocodile infested Grumeti River. But as we’ve now seen, they don’t avoid the other predators lurking around the park! Because, since last time, we’ve had the most incredible experience so far!

Just as we were heading back home from tenting in Lobo, about halfway up North, we heard some weird noises from the car, and decided to go straight back to Seronera to check out what it might be, thus dropping going further North, as was initially planned. And as we drove, suddenly there they were, just 30 meters from the road: 3 cheetahs feeding on a wildebeest they’ve just put down! Had we come maybe just 15-20 minutes earlier we’d probably seen them take it down as well! But still, the whole experience was incredible! As they were eating, the vultures slowly started coming. But there were no real action until the black-backed jackals came, wanting their own share of the meal, clearly unapproved by the cheetahs! We then caught glimpses of the cheetah’s incredible speed as one tried to chase away the sneaky little bastards! Best filmed footage so far, no doubt! And lot’s of nice pictures as well! After a while, there were too many vultures around, forcing the cheetahs to give up their kill. The cheetahs didn’t seem too upset with the situation, so they most likely had had enough to eat. Amazing experience, and well worth the whole stay!

As most of you know, we had our national day this last Monday, the 17th of May! Sadly, we didn’t have time to celebrate with anything else than a field trip up North, which was when I slept in the car. We sung a bit and stuff, but nothing more. But just yesterday, we had what is as close to a May 17th celebration as possible down here! The first 6 of a total of 32 black rhinos flew in from South Africa on a Hercules Airplane, lent from the South African Air Force! And none other than the President of Tanzania were there to witness the event, which he marked with an official handing over of the rhinos between South Africa and Tanzania and a good speech about the endangered species and its importance! It all happened on the Seronera air strip, and there were tents put up for the occasion. There were lots of well dressed and important people present from different organizations, but also tourists were allowed to witness it. Snacks were put out for all who wanted and refreshments could be bought. Additionally, there were several acts from different performers: a singing group, a couple of dancing groups, complete with tribal clothing, and to really get the May 17th feeling, there were even a marching band present! The most important event was, of course, the unloading of the rhinos! Sadly, we never actually saw the rhinos, as they were all drugged down, sleeping in huge containers. But Heidi managed to get a picture of one of them, as she passed her camera to a veterinarian who had view of the rhino inside the container! If we are lucky we’ll get permission to go see them up and about in their temporary closures, were they will adapt to living in the Serengeti environment! If not, then we’ll have to go down South-West and try to see one of the few resident rhinos that already live there, but they are seldom seen. So, to spot them, one has to be really lucky!

Also as I promised last time, here’s a summary on how we actually live down here, and how things are around the area: We have no electricity in the house before 7 o’ clock in the evening, which lasts until 10, at which we normally go to bed. Also, at 7 o’ clock, the sun abruptly sets, turning everything to blackness, which makes the electricity a necessity! We’ve done major food shopping both times we’ve been to Arusha, so lot of the food we eat comes from those trips. We also buy fresh vegetables; fruit, eggs, fish and meat at the markets in Bunda and Lamadi, both situated West, near Lake Victoria. It’s also possible to get lots of this in Mugumu, which is closer to Seronera, but we’ve only been there once. We travel out West at least once a week, which makes it a better choice for food shopping! In the park we have the Seronera Center, were we buy other stuff, such as juice cartons, jam, butter and a few other food items. They also sell a few other things there, such as tooth paste, deodorant, etc. Water, soda and beer are available at the saloon not too far from us. It is situated near the small village where many of the workers live. Both Elias and Jasinta lives there. At the saloon they also have a television set, not anything fancy, but it works! They often send football matches there, and tonight we will go see the Champions League final! It is also sure to be filled with people every day as soon as the World Cup kicks off in June! The main headquarters of the research center are just a walking distance from our house, and here they have electricity during the day, and also internet. It all works on solar panels, so periods of rain equals periods of less electricity. And periods of drought equals no water, so both are a necessity for things to go around down here. But we are far away from any crisis in either direction, so no worries! When it comes to phone receptions there is only this one small spot outside our house were we have reception. We also got some reception just near the outside wall in the office of the house, but it is so unstable that it is basically no point calling from there, only if it’s a must and it is dark outside. We also have no real shower, so Jasinta normally cooks up rain water which she sets in the bathroom next to the bathtub. We wash ourselves in the old fashion way, with a bucket! Luckily we have a normal toilet, as most of the places we stay in on our fieldtrips have toilets that are only holes in the ground. I guess that covers most of it, it there is more you would like to now, don’t hesitate to ask in the commanetary section below!

Until next time, kwa heri!

Håvard

tirsdag 4. mai 2010

Let’s just start by saying Elma is back on the road, but things aren’t as rosy as we’d hoped! When the car broke down last time, the clutch plate was the problem. So, thankfully the new gear box wasn’t the problem! It was also an easy and much cheaper fix, but still not too cheap! We’ve actually used 20 000 kr on this car since the middle of April, that’s including gasoline! Thankfully much of this will be returned, but the gasoline money will not…

The clutch plate wasn’t the only problem either… On a single day trip last week, without Elias, the car stopped again… It was, thankfully, the clutch fluid cylinder that was leaking, so we only had to fill some extra fluid and drive back home. But it also had to be fixed… Luckily for us, this wasn’t too expensive either, but still… another fix... We’ve got some trust issues with this car now, that’s for sure!

Enough of the bad stuff, huh? Other things have happened as well! On our first trip after the clutch plate fix, we were supposed to head out of the park towards Mugumu… But we didn’t come far until we saw elephants! Lots of single males, so many that we couldn’t take them all! But we managed to get 3! So, since we failed to go to Mugumu, we tried again the next day, ignoring all Seronera-elephants on the way! But we had no luck, and had to take another group in Seronera on the way back... This really seems to be the place to be for elephants these days! Since we are supposed to get samples from elephants in different parts of the park, this trend is not that good… But maybe times will change!

The next day, we went outwards on a two-day trip to the west! And not too far into our journey Elias spotted a leopard in a tree just by the road! But when we got too close it jumped down into the tall grass! I managed to film it, and Heidi got some pictures. It’s difficult to upload any videos, since the internet connection is so and so down here, but we do try from time to time... We also got a close encounter with an elephant of the suspicous kind! It was a huge single male, and it was keeping an eye on us at all times... Even coming all the way up the car to figure us out! You could sense he wasn’t too happy for us being there. It was a tense moment! He eventually left us, still peeking over from time to time… It was accompanied by a younger male, who didn't seem to care much at all... Maybe the bigger one was protecting it, or showing it how to behave towards suspicous and strange beings as ourselves!

Well outside the park, in the west near Lake Victoria, we slept over in Bunda, instead of the smaller town Lamadi were we usually stay. Personally I prefer Lamadi, as Bunda is too big and has too many people… It’s a bit tedious to be a mzungu (white person) when there’s too many people paying attention to you, saying things you don’t understand… In contrast to the quiet atmosphere inside the park.

On the way back from the west, Elias, again, managed to spot a couple of Verreux’s eagle owls! This was really cool, especially for Heidi, who had wanted to see owls for quite some time! Further we saw our first elephant that far west, it was huge and had humongous tusks! It walked casually on the road, eating and minding its own business, clearly unaffected by our presence! Much better than the one from the day before! We also got to see some huge crocs near the Grumeti River, and the rare black-and-white colobus monkeys! And when we got home we were greeted by a small herd of wildebeest, which we, at the time, thought was huge. But we were clearly wrong!

This Saturday was workers day, as you now, but still the mechanics were working! So they fixed the little we had to fix, including the clutch fluid cylinder. It was also Lisa’s birthday! So we made a good dinner, drank some fine wine and watched a movie! So this was a good day of relaxation!

The next day, when I woke up, I could hear and smell wildebeest, but not see any… Until I spotted them covering the entire faraway horizon! We went out to the north that day, but unable to see any elephants we eventually turned back. And since we had a lot of time to spare we took some new routes around in the Seronera area, where we live. We followed the Seronera River downwards hoping to spot some rarities. And suddenly we wounded up near some safari cars watching some huge crocs fighting! When we came one had the others tail in its mouth, and after a little while they exploded into a quick fight, and the girls got incredible pictures!

We continued to follow the river and saw that the herd of wildebeest at our house was not as big as we had previously thought... Because, by the river, they were all over the place! To get around them we drove around the river, seeing a leopard on the way! It was laying in a tree quite far from the road, so the pictures weren’t that great… And as we continued around the river, we understood that it was impossible to get around all the animals... So, we had to drive through it…

As we headed back home we had one of the most incredible experiences our lives, it certainly was for me! There were wildebeest everywhere! Hundreds of thousands stretching in all directions, with some zebras here and there! It was one of the most mind blowing things I’ve ever seen! And it didn’t end, ever! It stretched, with some minor gaps, all the way from the river, and up to our house! The great migration had finally arrived at our doorstep! You might have heard of it before, but you can’t fathom how huge it really is until you are right in the middle of it!

By today most of the wildebeest have passed us it seems, as we see them less often, and more dispersed, outside our house. We see them maybe a couple of times during the day… But we hear them all the time, and there are lots of other animals around now because of them! We have seen what I think is a civet during the night, and a genet about a week ago. And there sure are many lions around now as well! Last night we heard them in all directions outside our house. And today we heard that a male and a female were mating not far from where we live! So we went over there to check. We got some nice pictures, but sadly they were reluctant show us any moves…

On another note, we have finally started our work in the lab, Heidi and me! For two days now Heidi has extracted her hormones from the feces, and I have prepared some samples for drying, which is all I have to do down here… I will do most of my own work in Trondheim, while for Heidi it’s more like 50/50. It was good to finally do some work with the samples, as you get the feeling that you are actually doing work for your master thesis. By tomorrow, we will again be out in the field continuing our search for tembos (Swahili for elephants). Next time I will go into more details on how and where we live down here! Until then, kwa heri!

Håvard

søndag 25. april 2010

It’s not been too long since we came back from Arusha, and one can clearly say that the last few days have been eventful!

Our gear box was successfully changed and tested, and we were finally ready to go back into the wild! I forgot to tell you that when we entered Ngorongoro Conservation Area the first time around, which we have to pass to get into the Serengeti, we saw a pride of lions by the road… And since the area is all thick rainforest, it is quite rare to see lions there! The Professor told us he didn’t even think lions where there at all when we asked him just some 20 minutes before! The second time in, last Wednesday, proved to be just as good, because this time we saw a leopard on the road, some 60 meters in front of us! Sadly, it got into the thick vegetation before any of us could take any pictures…

The way into the park was just as filled with animals as the way out! But since we ran a bit late this time, we had to drive through the dark, which proved to be lots of fun! We saw bat-eared foxes almost running beneath the car, several hyenas and an African wildcat just beside the road! But the most eventful thing was a bit more saddening… As I was standing in the car to get a better view of the wilderness as we drove, some birds had settled on the road just in front of us… This is common in the park, and they normally manage to get off in time… But this time, instead of flying away, one just flew right up, and hit me head on in the chest! To my amazement it didn’t hurt, which I figure was mostly because of the shock, but the bird sadly, fell half dead in the chair beside me… As I was still paralyzed by the situation, Lisa did the only humane thing to do, and put it out of its misery…

The very next day we continued on our field work and took a one day trip towards, but not as far as, Mogomo, a town outside the park. This gives us an opportunity to collect samples from individuals who are more in touch with the human population surrounding the park. It will provide useful data, especially for Heidi who is studying the elephant’s stress hormones. It proved to be a good day for us dung collectors with as many as 6 samples in 1 day, but sadly everyone was inside the park, and fairly close to where we are stationed. During the trip we stopped at Fort Ikoma, outside the park, and talked to a warden, as Heidi wanted some data on poachers. He told us that they are shipping in 32 black rhinos from South Africa, beginning on May 21st! The President will be here to witness it all, and we were told we are welcome to join in! So, finally we will get to see the rhinos! And what a way to finally get to see them!

Early next day we continued our work by heading up north. It started out as any other day in the field… Lots of animals here and there… Giraffes, topis, impalas, zebras, buffaloes… Even some wildebeest are finally arriving near the center, even though most of them are still occupying the south. We even met a small herd of elephants, which we successfully got data from. And later on a much bigger group, one of which we collected 3 dung samples. All in all a good day so far. But Elma had other plans for us… As we were closing in on a big puddle of water far north in the park, Heidi started downshifting the gears, and the car just stopped… The car wouldn’t get into any gear as the engine was running! After a lot of waiting and thinking Elias came up with the idea to push the car uphill, away from the puddle, and then pushing it forward again as Heidi tried to get the car started and in gear! Amazingly, it worked! But the car still had problems… So we had to take things slow, shifting only between 1st and 2nd gear. And finally we made our way out of the park and into the Masai village, Ololosokwan, where we usually stay the night when we are up north. Here a guy tested the car and told us the clutch plate was the problem and that we could drive home the next day, but only slowly, or polepole as they say down here. So, next day we headed out towards the south. But only after about 20 minutes the gearbox started giving off unpleasant sounds… Soon after the whole car stopped… And without cell phone reception, we couldn’t do anything but wait for passing cars, which aren’t that many this time of year. Some cars came by, and a lorry promised to tow us some of the way after it had unloaded its cargo, but it never came back… And after hours of waiting, and many cars and people had tried in vain to help us we were beginning to lose our hope of returning home that night... But then, suddenly, a car with a familiar face showed up! It was one of the men working in the labs back in the headquarters where we live, and he was heading all the way back there, to Seronera! So, he and another, Emmanuel, helped us towing Elma to the entrance gate into Serengeti, where we left her! From there on, we got stuffed in the back of their car along with 3 others, and there were no real seats and lots of luggage… So we all sat with our backs against the bare wall, facing towards each other. And it was one of the most painful experiences of my life, with my legs and hips severely squeezed for maybe 2 hours!

Today is the day after… And we have no car… But as we speak Lisa is driving with some locals to go get it, which is a 7 hour project… And then they will take it to the garage, where the mechanics will take a look and determine what is wrong. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens… But as things are at the moment, one can clearly say that Elma and us are not the best of friends!

And just a little notice: Dr. Robert came back from a long trip to both Arusha and Dar Es Salaam today and paid us a visit to hear what’s going on. And he told us that we are first, ever, to do this kind of study on the Elephants in Tanzania! It gave me more motivation to keep on and to things the best way I can! I just hope Elma will change her attitude, or else it will all be in vain… Until next time, Kwa heri!

Håvard

mandag 19. april 2010

Here comes another update in what we have been up to lately! First, let’s talk about what is sure to be a few of many close encounters with the elephants. On the first double day trip up north we came across a single male walking in a terrain with 50 % trees and vegetation and 50% savannah. So, we decided to go off-road and follow him to get data… But after a while, following him through the trees, we suddenly found ourselves in midst of huge herd! To prevent them from being startled we stopped and turned off the engine… As we stood there, observing them, we saw some movement behind a bush right in front of us. And when we saw it was a couple of elephants running head on towards us, you can say we were more than a little nervous! When they came on our side of the bush they spotted us, stopped, and carefully made up their mind about us. When they regarded us as no threat they continued on what they were doing, which was, in fact, mating! It was a huge bull chasing a female around us, and he had nothing else in is head then to forward his legacy! It was amazing to witness so close, but frightening when the huge animals ran headless around the car!

Only later that day we again came across a huge herd of elephants, 22 individuals. But this was in the open, so we had more control. But the whole herd went by, really close on both sides of the car as we stood there, far from the road! Another thrilling moment! The only thing I didn’t like was the two buffaloes that was too close to my linking, and paid too much attention to us as well… Buffaloes alone and in small groups can be quite dangerous, and might even attack cars, but Elias, our field guide and helper said it was fine, and thankfully he was right, as he has been in all the cases so far regarding the animals here!

These huge herds of elephants have proven to be a problem for us… There are too many individuals and too hard to get complete data of size and family structure. And the worst thing is... The herds we encounter are almost always big! Like 30+ in individuals. And when we finally come across smaller groups, they are, well… not a group at all… Just lonely males wandering their territory… Hopefully we will get better groups as well, and maybe the huge gatherings of elephants are just seasonal.

To mention other news, we have been a couple of meters inside Kenya, when we drove to the gate which leads into the great plains of the Masai Mara. We have visited the great Lake Victoria out in the west. We still have ferocious fights with the tsetse fly in our car on the hottest days, which are many… There is little to almost no rain, even though it is the rainy season, which is bad, because the water we use is solely rainfall. When it comes to animals the lions seem to have left our property for good, or at least for some time. But we still have other animals to keep us company, like the baboons, hyraxes, and of course the dwarf mongooses who kindly visited us the other day! Giraffes and impalas also wander in the backyard from time to time, but in a distance. As to some cooler stuff: We saw a lonely lioness hunt warthogs, and captured it on film! Though in poor quality… She didn’t catch any of them, but it was cool nonetheless! And Heidi as proven to be a superb bird watcher! She sees the coolest birds sitting in various trees, even though she is the driver! So, thanks to her we have seen lots of fabulous birds, especially the birds of prey! We still haven’t seen any leopards, even though I look for them everywhere… No more cheetahs either... As they are my two favorite animals in the park, I will always document a spotting of any of them, or any other rare animals!

When it comes to the Elma, our beloved car, then well… It’s not that good news… We had to take it to Arusha to change the gear box, and that is where we are at the moment… waiting for it to be fixed. We’ve been here since Thursday, and hope to leave Wednesday… On our way out of the park though, there were lots of animals. The huge herds of wildebeest, zebras and thompson’s gazelle had gathered around the road. We also spotted a little rarity, the golden jackal, which was kind enough to get really close to our car, and even showing of some nice behavior when I filmed it! So, expect to see some film clips later on. We just have to figure out where to put it... So the south end of the park is where to be at the moment to really get the Serengeti experience, but we hope this will change as we move closer to June, when the big herds comes closer to our house.

Tomorrow we’ll be picking up our car and getting it a full service check! And hopefully we’ll also get to see Alice In Wonderland on the local cinema, which is quite good actually, almost European standards! It even has a balcony in the screening room! Prizes: 30kr for normal sitting, 40kr for the balcony… Not bad huh!?
So, next time you hear from us, we hope to be well innside the Serengeti! And I’ll try to upload some pictures as well before then! Kwa Heri!

Håvard

tirsdag 6. april 2010

Here we are, finally in Serengeti, Heidi, Lisa and me! But first let us recapitulate on what we have done so far! First we landed in Johannesburg, South-Africa, which is a damn scary city! There they have a huge 5-star hotel in the city center which is completely empty and never used. This is because people that can afford to live there will be robbed off of all their belongings when they set their foot outside the building. It’s safe to say we didn’t stay for very long! So we jumped on the first bus down to Port Elizabeth, on the south-east coast. It was a decent city with some nice areas near the beach, but it was really windy! There we met a British girl, Carolyn, who arranged for us to go living in Island Vibe, Jeffrey’s Bay!

This proved to be an amazing place! Lots of good shopping and lots of good partying! It is also the place to be when surfing in South-Africa! We all tried it, and it was real fun! The girls did well and Lisa was most eager to learn, trying it several times. It’s safe to say I was no natural myself, but I was also a bit hung-over from the night before… There were lots of nice people staying at Island Vibe, both staff and guests (and of course dogs, lots of dogs!), and it’s a must-visit place when travelling along the south coast of South Africa!

After 4 days, we reluctantly headed for Cape Town, which were our main destination in SA. Here we met Helle, our friend from Biology who has been studying there. She proved to be a great guide, showing us around the city and giving us a great time during our stay! We lived in a backpacker’s place called the Green Elephant, were there were lots of nice people. There they arranged for us a guided trip with the Boogie Bus around the cape, which was real fun! The last day the girls went for a trip up to Table Mountain, but I had other plans… I went shark diving! It was an amazing experience, and well worth the money! About 20 great whites visited us during the whole event! Some even crashed into the cage while we were in it! Then, after a great last night out, we turned our heads towards Tanzania, leaving Cape Town behind, which we all in all can say was a great city!

When we landed in Dar Es Salaam, it was hot as hell and humidity levels unheard of! Luckily we didn’t have to stay long. The girls got the go-ahead for travelling to Zanzibar, where they had a great time! They went diving and saw lots of cool stuff! I was tired of travelling and, instead, went to relax in Professor, and our supervisor, Evin Røskaft’s house, which he himself has built in Arusha. There I made some music and learned some new cool stuff… But that’s a different story… After a week the girls joined me, and we went out to shop and getting things done before leaving for Serengeti. After another week in the house, the Professor showed up, and soon we were ready to go! We were also joined by Dr. Julius, which we had met from our class trip last year, for the journey into the park.

The Professor had caught a cold in Norway, which he generously gave to me… So, I have been coughing and sneezing from time to time, but I’m almost free of it now! The people here are really friendly, and our house maid, which cooks and washes for us, made me a special little blend one morning for my coughing! She doesn’t speak too much English, so we are forced to learn at least some Swahili. Elias, our companion in the field during the whole stay, is a positive and nice guy! Always laughing and smiling! And the head of the research centre, Dr. Robert, has shown that to be a good supervisor for us down here. Heidi is our designated driver, and has proved to be great so far! So no worries there! We are still learning the maintenance of the car, and we’ve already had some minor repairs… Twice! So, except for a not too friendly car radiator and a shitload of tsetse flies, everything has started out great!

But the really exciting stuff down here is the animals! And we were met by a group of 15-20 lions when we first came to the house we now call our home! They had taken a buffalo just outside and were just hanging around some 50-40 meters away from us. The morning after the hyenas came to finish up the leftovers. But almost every evening so far, the lions have come back, hanging around roaring. And just last saturday night the whole group where present, and as we were just watching them, we saw a few of them coming fast paced towards us! We all ran towards the house! But we soon realized they were only cubs. Not small cubs, more like adolescent, so they gave us a scare… They stopped some 20 meters away from us, just watching us, before they walked away. It was a real kick!

The elephants are the main reason for us being here in this remote paradise, and we’ve already had 3 days in the field! The first day in the field was a drive around the area we live, with just the 3 of us. We came over a herd of 42 elephants, and as the rookies we are, we couldn’t do anything but watch them… Gathering data would be hard to say the least… But we met a couple of other smaller groups which we successfully collected data from! The second day was the first in what is to be many of our 2-day trips through the Western corridor with Elias. We gathered more data, and to top it off we saw a cheetah posing on a log, but it sadly jumped off into the tall grass before we could take any pictures… We have now returned home on this 3rd day in the field, and are pretty tired…

Up until now, Heidi and I have collected 10 dung samples from different elephants, and it’s amazing to be working with such amazing creatures! Lisa has also been doing great on gathering her foraging data! But of course, they are wild animals, and don’t always do like we want them to… Except some waiting games with these giants, we feel we’ve been lucky so far and hope that this trend will continue in the future!

So that’s the first words from us down here in the Serengeti! And we’ll soon come back with more, and hopefully with some adjoining pictures! Until then, kwa heri!

Håvard