Good bye Madagascar
Our last blog we were immersed in a little fishing village in south east Madagascar, now it seems almost two months have past already and we are now based in Zimbabwe so there’s a lot of catching up to do!
After the last update we spent another month onsite in Andavadoaka with the next group of enthusiastic volunteers, doing more diving and community projects and another highlight was free diving for fish with a couple of locals. This expedition we specialised in Benthics as we’d already dominated fish in the previous expedition! With Benthics we learned soft & hard coral, algae and invertebrates.
When our ten weeks volunteering with Blue Ventures had finished, we had almost a week to travel up north to the capital Antananarivo and had a relaxing time, and saw another chameleon and the cutest tiniest mouse lemurs! A great end to a truly spectacular experience in Madagascar – the eighth continent!
Zimbabwe was our next chosen destination and we were to embark on our next adventure – a hyena internship. For ten weeks we will be joining the three year study which will look at population size, dynamics, recruitment, home-range, prey preference and contact with livestock. The interaction between lions and hyena will also be studied, as these species are major competitors both known to limit population growth within their populations.
Hyenas are one of the most misrepresented animals and certainly the most underrated carnivores! Most of this stemmed from Disney portrayal of them in Lion King as stupid, but studies have shown them to be extremely intelligent and outperform chimpanzees on cooperative problem-solving tests!
We are three weeks into project now and based in a lodge just outside of Victoria Falls, and a stones throw away from the Zambezi National Park, where we have been conducting most of our research. Our time here will primarily be to focus on the hyena project, but also overlap with the lion encounter, community and photography volunteers.
Day to day on project
Having spend six months on a beach working on marine projects, it was great to be back in familiar ground in the African bush, hearing, smelling and seeing all the things we love. This time however is was the end of the summer, the rainy season, and the landscape was very different, dense bush and long grasslands filled the horizon.
The Zambezi National Park is home to the four of the big five (no rhino), where lion is rarely seen, there’s occasional buffalo and elephants are common, then there is the usual suspects: impala, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, warthog, kudu, waterbuck, baboons. We regularly drive along the zambezi river, where hippo and crocodiles are often sighted.
Searching for the clan
Before we arrived on project they had a clan of hyenas located, but as the wet season hit, the grasses got long, the clan moved on from their den, so unfortunately the team lost the hyenas. In light of this and again before we arrived the team worked hard to try and collar a hyena, and if you’d like to read further on how they went about this, click here to read an article written by Bob, the principal researcher on the ALERT website. This collaring attempt was unsuccessful, and it seems the hyenas were outsmarting the team.
Collaring a hyena
Our third week was an exciting one, and I’ve dedicated a separate blog to this here.
Occupancy surveys and camera traps
A couple of techniques we use to monitor the biodiversity and mammal distribution in the park is occupancy surveys and camera traps. In our first week we picked up some interesting photos which you can see here. This is another short piece written by Bob, the principal researcher we work alongside and talks in more detail about this if you are interested, it also features a photo of yours truly!
This is something we try to do once a week, and as bird lovers is something we thoroughly enjoy! They are conducted slightly differently here to what we are used to in past projects. Before we would choose one spot in a park and log all birds heard and seen over a ten minute period, then repeat in another designated spot.
On this project the protocol is we stay on the vehicle and drive at walking pace, and stop whenever we here or see birds, and do this for a couple of hours. Having logged over 150 bird species in our three months spent in South Africa we recognised a lot of the same species, but we quickly saw some amazing new birds and in breeding plumage for example the Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah and the Shaft-tailed Whydah, also some migratory cuckoos, including the Dideric Cuckoo. We don’t always have the time to photograph these birds, so below is some illustrations taken from my bird app (from left to right in the order they are mentioned above).
Lion Encounter is an active conservation program that is passionate about ensuring a secure future for the African lion. Lions have seen an 80-90% decline in the past 20-30 years and they are Africa’s first genuine program to ethically re-introduce the offspring of captive-bred African lions back into the wild. So once a week we join the other volunteers and clients and walk with these lions, which makes for some great photo opportunities!
There’s plenty of other things we get involved in on project, which maybe I’ll talk about in my next blog – like orphanage visits, game counts, wildlife human mitigation, and at some point we will take a visit and see the Victoria falls themselves!
Chameleon – having left Madagascar we thought we’d seen the last of the chameleons, but on our way back from game drive we saw this little guy crossing the road, so we got out and helped him off the road.
Otter – another cool sighting was seeing a couple of otters fishing in the Zambezi river.
Vultures – in Victoria Falls there is a daily vulture feeding spot, where it provides a regular and safe food supply for them, where numbers have plumetted and poisoned carcasses have depleated numbers.