Wednesday, November 24, 2010

news from the field

The past few days of DR data collection have gone well but have left us all exhausted. We wake up by 6 every morning and are out in the field by 8. My group spent the past two days in Elerai-Rupet, a large sanctuary that is dominated by dense vegetation, some elephants, and giraffes. As we did our transects we'd have to battle chest-high grass, acacia mellifera (a very thorny and painful plant), ticks, and, of course, the African sun. When the vegetation is thick, like it is in Elerai-Rupet, the visibility of our transects is extremely limited, which means the width of our transects is small and we have to do quite a number of 1 km transects to reach our goal of surveying 40% of the sanctuary area. So we've walked at least 21 kilometers in the past two days - it is pretty cool that I can go hiking in late November! 

Both yesterday and today we only saw one species in our transects - Giraffa camelopardalis. We saw 13 in just one transect yesterday and saw a herd of 20 today. You would think that giraffes are incapable of being discrete, but actually all of our sightings have involved seeing a few and then realizing that they are joined by a bunch more that are hidden by trees and each other. It is fun to giraffes because they all turn and stare at us for a long time as we approach them, the they finally turn and run off in a line (watching a giraffe run is quite entertaining). 

One more note about today, which is unfortunately not very pleasant. After we had finished our transects, we were walking back to the main road, following our armed guard because he knew his way through the sanctuary. We came upon the carcass of an elephant, which we later learned had been killed by poachers about one week ago. We saw how large it had been and that the face was gone - the tusks are taken for ivory and everything else is left. This is the reality that wildlife conservation faces in Africa. Conservation is at the center of a struggle between the needs of humans and the needs of animals. We hear many stories from our guides and armed guards about incidents with poachers and always are disgusted by what we hear. But, the sad truth is that poaching is what some people have resorted to in an attempt to make a living in this undeveloped area. We also have to remember that the elephant we saw today had most likely ruined numerous families' crops and maybe even killed people. We’ve been exposed to these inconvenient truths all semester and all of us wish we could think of a panacea. That is definitely out of our hands, but I am so glad that our DR projects will be providing information that can be utilized by community officials and researchers to improve the problems. As we continue to work on our DR projects I'll try to write about the other two projects - all three of them are really interesting and pertinent to what we've learned about all semester.

I hope that everyone has wonderful Thanksgivings! We will be celebrating tomorrow because we have a non-program day. We have a 5k Turkey Trot planned for the morning, as well as an American football game and dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, etc! Enjoy your time with family and be thankful for everything that you have, even Maine's cold weather (I miss it)!

Kwaheri, Catherine

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