The not-so-glamorous side

I am back in Cape Town from my most recent field work. I apologise for not posting another blog post in between, the past few weeks were jammed packed.

@octodragon mentioned wanting to hear about the not-so-glorious sides of field work. It is not nature documentary picturesque all the time. For the past 2 months, I have woken up between 04h15-05h00 every single morning – weekends do not exist in the field. Field work days are much longer than office days, and filled with tough, physical labour. From hammering the poles that support the cameras into rocky ground using a sledgehammer, my hands had blisters on top of blisters, but you cannot stop when you have a job that needs to get finished. Some days I would be out for 14 hours only to get back to base camp and have to spend another 2 hours working on cameras and getting equipment ready for the next day. I have worked on 43 degrees C (109F) days with the sun beating down on you (I have pretty much permanent shirt sleeve and sock tan lines), 90% humidity days, rain, wind…. All of it. (Thankfully, it doesn’t snow here like it does back in Pennsylvania, I do not miss those days of working outside in -20C or lower. Give me 43C any day!)

What else? Oh, this may be obvious to some of you, but maybe not all would think of this – there are no proper bathrooms out in the bush when checking cameras. You just have to be wary not to back yourself up into a thorn bush – trust me, that is not a pleasant place to get stabbed with thorns! I would also often go days upon days without seeing or speaking to another human (which honestly, I do not mind at all sometimes). It is a big culture shock coming back to a bustling city after living in the bush for a few months. You miss out on things back home – while I was out in the field, my sister gave birth to a little boy back in America. I will not be able to meet him for a few more months, but my family knows that I am perusing my passions and understand that that entails missing many important events, holidays, birthdays, etc.

Obnoxious insects? Mozzies (mosquitos) have always had an affinity towards me, and it is not uncommon for me, despite spraying myself head to toe in replant, to have upwards of 40 plus mozzie bites at any given time while in the field. Luckily, ticks do not seem to like my blood as I rarely have had any tick bites. However, many people have shared stories with me about taking off their pants after work only to find that one of their legs is entirely covered by ticks. Lyme disease is not a worry here, but tick bite fever is. I find them delightful, but I shared my room with large baboon spiders and geckos that climb up the walls and sometimes lose their grip only to fall on me as I am trying to sleep. Most camps are surrounded by fencing to keep wildlife out and provide a safe zone, however a few nights I was woken up to naughty elephants that decided a fence was not going to stop them from smashing through to munch on the trees just outside of my room.

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Baboon spider

Now all that being said – I am not complaining one bit because this is just all part of the experience and I not so secretly enjoy every single aspect of it, even the non-glamorous. And for me, it is all completely worth it for the opportunity to contribute to conserving this planet’s incredible species. This is what I have dedicated my life towards and I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. And I delight in being able to share my experiences with you!

Take down at my survey site went smooth. I managed to retrieve most of my cameras within one day. Some rhino poachers broke into the reserve and the anti-poaching rangers tracked them all day in 42C finding where they broke in and what paths they took. Luckily, the poachers were unsuccessful though! I often inquire if the reserves have trouble with poachers and am very sad to hear that not a single reserve I have spoken with has not had some issue with poaching. Poaching is a horrible act for an irrational belief that rhino horns and big cat bones posses magical and medical qualities. The next day to collect my walk-in station cameras, I was joined by two armed rangers, not just for protection from wildlife, but to provide protection from the most dangerous of all animals – humans. After collecting my final cameras, I proceeded to download all the images from the past two months and then prepared the cameras for their next survey in the following week. I packed up all my equipment, loaded up the bakkie, and said my goodbyes to the place that I have called home for the past two months. After driving 8 hours back to the Panthera storage unit to swap around gear, I joined up with another colleague and we headed 5 hours away to two more survey sites. We spent the week setting up the other two surveys before heading back to Cape Town. Another field technician will be running these surveys. One of the survey site we set up was absolutely incredibly beautiful! It was hot and dry – my perfect climate! The landscape was incredible with koppies and the most picturesque sunsets. Thanks to the over abundance of elephants in the area, there was many wide-open spaces where you could observe so many different species. Much different than forested area I had just come from. Within three days, we managed to spot all of the Big 5 including the best leopard sighting I have ever experienced.

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Driving between stations during setup my colleague stopped the bakkie and pointed up into a nearby tree. There she was. A stunning female leopard was casually sitting midway up the tree observing us. She was very calm as she regarded us for a few minutes. Eventually, bored of this funny wheeled animal and it’s two occupants, she gracefully ran down (not leaped from) the tree trunk.

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She sauntered across the front of our bakkie in the cool manner that only a cat can do before disappearing off into the bush. It was incredible and the most perfect end to a wonderful field session.

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