BLOG –28th July 2012

By: Liz Winterton

Elephant Jigsaw

On 18th July I cycled to Mulaushi to teach the girls in the Science and Maths Club. Rather than focusing on Pure Science I decided to spend the afternoon discussing elephants and their conservation.

Surprisingly, the girls knew very little about the African elephant, and our discussions about what elephants liked to eat raised the topic of human-wildlife conflict; their first answers were unfortunately maize and pumpkin. Within the surrounding area of Kasanka elephant human-wildlife conflict is still prevalent despite efforts to combat it through the community development scheme of building chili fences; elephants dislike the smell of the chili/used car oil concoction and will stay away from the fields, therefore eliminating crop-raiding.

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A chili fence

This conflict was clearly shown to me back in April when we found the fresh carcass of a sub-adult male elephant close to camp. Unfortunately, after examination by ZAWA they concluded that the young animal had been shot, presumably by angry villagers, and then wandered into the park to die. Although an extremely sad event, the death is proving an excellent tool in conservation education.

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The elephant upon discovery

After carefully observing its decomposition over the last months, and getting camera-trap footage of visitors to the carcass (including many visits by elephants) we have now moved the bones to Mulaushi where I have been given the job of resurrecting it. 

So, this was the task last week; fit the bones back together again. We had fortunately managed to collect the majority of the bones before they were taken far from the carcass by scavengers such as the side-striped jackal, so we thought the reassemble would be a relatively easy task. This was unfortunately not quite the case even though we were working from a picture of a skeleton found through trusty Google! Eventually, we managed to reassemble in into the semblance of an African elephant. Now the next task is to somehow fix it all together; I think we will need professional help!

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The completed skeleton

Sarah has a baby girl

As mentioned in my last posting, we were expecting Sarah to give birth in these coming weeks. Unfortunately not the twins I was hoping for, but on the 21st of July she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, mixed in colour with a black/grey head and white body. This now brings our total to 8 with 4 white, 1 grey, 1 black, and 2 mixed comprising of 6 girls and 2 boys.

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Sarah with her infant at 5 days old

The Life of a Baboon Researcher: Part I

So, as we are now advertising for my replacement (unfortunately I have to leave in December) I thought it was an apt time to give a bit more of an insight into the daily life of a baboon researcher, and explain more about the immediate surroundings and beautiful ‘office’ that is Kasanka National Park. This week I’ll start with camp and Kasanka… 

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Being my first time in Africa, I had little idea of what to expect of the country, but after living in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo for 9 months I was pretty sure I could adapt to the culture and was looking forward to tasting the culinary delights I assumed would be plentiful.  Although daunted by the isolation factor of living in a national park I was looking forward to the challenge of ‘living in the bush’, and was unfazed knowing I would be living in a tent for the next year (whilst most of my friends and family were horrified!). 

Not one to thoroughly research a country before embarking on an adventure, I had imagined that Zambia, like the Africa you see on the television, would be a country full of savannah grasslands with the odd acacia tree thrown in. So I was extremely surprised when I got off the plane and saw lots of green trees! This theme continued when I reached Kasanka after a 7 hour car journey. The slight panic I felt realising that it wasn’t the 2 hours away I had imagined, and my nearest ‘town’, Serenje, was a full 1.5 hours away and didn’t even contain a supermarket, was completely forgotten about when we arrived and were quickly swallowed up by the beautiful miombo woodland. 

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Kinda camp

Kinda Camp is situated 20km inside the park boundary, 8km from park headquarters and the stunning Lake Wasa. Currently, camp contains 3 nsakas (reed huts with thatched roofs) comprising a kitchen, dining room and lab, a large safari tent, a smaller tent for guests, 2 shower areas, and to my delight, a fully functional flush toilet! Although pretty much in the middle of nowhere it’s pretty luxurious, and definitely not the rough tent living I expected;  I even get running water and hot showers courtesy of our wonderful camp attendant, Desmond! And the piece de resistance is our very own private hide with spectacular views looking out over the Musola swamps, made even better by being a mobile network hotspot. We get electricity courtesy of our solar panel, and are currently enjoying the vegetable harvest our little garden has produced; nothing too exciting, but getting to eat lettuce after 7 months without it is pretty thrilling!

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View from Kinda Hide

Arguably the best spot in the park (in my opinion anyway!) we are situated next to the famous Fibwe hide previously voted the best place in Africa to see the elusive Sitatunga, and through November to January we get to witness the biggest mammal migration in the World, when the fruit bats descend into the musuku forest a mere kilometre from camp. Also situated a short distance from the Kasanka river, it’s a beautiful place to go for a ‘sundowner’ with the other Kasanka expats and watch hippos, crocs, sitatungas and elephants on the river bank.

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View along the Kasanka River

As well as having the baboons on our doorstep we are often visited by our ‘international clients’ as Desmond calls them, the local group of Vervet monkeys. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t see a new animal or curious insect, but on a daily basis you’re pretty much guaranteed to see puku, bushbuck and a huge variety of bird species. 

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Vervet Monkey, Puku, Bushbuck

Basically it’s pretty idyllic, and a beautiful place to live.

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