Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Friday, May 21, 2010

First Full Day in Shingwedzi

Well, well, back in the Kruger again. Though it is a world away, I am beginning to feel at home again. After arriving in the park, the first hour or so is usually spent scouring the bush for wildlife. It’s very comparable to looking for a needle in a haystack, especially when the savanna is as lush as it is now. During my OTS semester, the South African summer had just begun and we watched as the trees and shrub went from dead and dried to green and lively. Now, at the end of summer, the grasses have grown tall and thick and spotting wildlife is particularly challenging. Of course, spotting an elephant remains as easy as finding a bowling ball in a haystack, but the animals that really don’t want to be spotted (big cats, reptiles, birds etc.) are very well hidden. After some time, it gets very tedious and your eyes begin to play tricks on you. During the drive to Shingwedzi we were able to spot elephants, giraffes, zebra, warthogs, a hippo, and a giant kingfisher (that was practically posing for us on a bridge) among other birds.

Once Sarah and I arrived, we ate a late lunch and were thrown right into the mix. The other four REUers (there are six of us in all) gave us an introduction to the overall theme of our combined work and Karen (one of our professors) outlined the potential projects we could choose from. Altogether, we are focusing on the effect that elephants have on vegetation structure and the reciprocal effects on various types of organisms (birds, bats, rodents). I chose bats as my focus. Laurence and Dax will mentor my project. Laurence was the director of my OTS course and Dax was a professor for the OTS course that was completed in early May. In a nutshell, I will be recording bat activity for two hours at fixed locations along a riparian zone after sunset (the Sabie River in KNP). These locations represent different levels of elephant disturbance. I have a lot of literature reading ahead of me. I need to determine which vegetation characteristics drive bat community shifts, and then decide which characteristics I want to focus on, but I am looking forward to becoming an “expert” on the subject. So far I have been reviewing papers, taking notes, and bouncing ideas inside of my head. The real fieldwork begins when we leave Shingwedzi and get to Skukuza. As my workload increases, the depth of my posts will certainly decrease, but I will do my best to stay on top of it and keep those reading informed of my experiences.

(5/21/2010) Morning game drive: three lionesses harassing a hyena; later on a male lion chasing the scent of the females – too dark to take any photos; good snapshot of a vervet monkey sitting by the side of the road; spotted an eagle and a hawk as well but I don’t have bins (binoculars) and I’m not enough of a birder to remember their names. It was raining during most of the drive, and our seats in the GDV (Game Drive Vehicle) are open to the elements.

At 4 PM ten people from our camp played ultimate frisbee on a muddy field in the rain. It felt wonderful to get the lungs and legs working again. You’d think we were a bunch of “swamp things” when we had finished; we were covered head to toe in mud. I wish more than anything that we had snapped a picture. It would have been priceless. It was raining so hard that we were able to wash off in the downpour.

On the ride back to the camp (<1 km) a male lion crossed the road. It may have been the same individual from the morning game drive. We followed him for a bit until he eventually took a seat fifteen meters into a dense thicket. A clearing in the brush provided the perfect vantage point to admire his regal countenance. We sit and exchange stares for a few minutes, and then the group decides to try and find him tomorrow morning on a game drive. That lion was one of the most beautiful things I have ever laid my eyes on. It sounds ludicrous, but I had an overwhelming desire to step into the thicket and touch him. This whole event occurred less than 100 meters from my tent.

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