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A pride of lions

A pride of lions

November 4, 2013

By Taylor Wells (Carleton College)

 

Trick or treat! It was Halloween week in Etosha National Park and it couldn’t have been more wonderful. Although Wyatt and I were the only ones who dressed up (as each other), we got to do some trick or treating out the car window, and we even made some ostrich eyeballs out of guava and custard for dessert. Overall it was a great day, but every day is a great day with this group. As we all sat together at the Okaukuejo water hole on Wednesday night, a pride of lions walked up. At first we were all just ecstatic to see so many lions in one place, but soon we realized that there was something special about this group: it was made up of six females and one male, just like our group. Of course it was amazing to watch the lions, but as I looked over at the others whispering to each other and staring intently through their binos, I couldn’t help but smile and think of how blessed I am to share this adventure with six of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. There is so much to talk about from our days in Etosha, as it was teeming with wildlife, but I also want to talk about each member of the group and the amazing experiences that we have shared.

 

The group at the top of the tower at Okaukuejo, Etosha National park

The group at the top of the tower at Okaukuejo, Etosha National park

 

When we started this adventure, there were only six of us, and we were missing a member of our elephant family. After a few weeks our group was complete when Mallory joined us at Wereldsend. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy transition, but Mal took it in stride and jumped right into everything. Whenever things get boring around camp, we can count on Mal to do something silly to make us all burst out laughing. There’s nothing better than having a dance party with Mal as we clean the dishes from the night’s meal. A little known fact about Mal is that she is an expert animal spotter. I love going on game drives with her, because I know she’ll spot things that I never would have noticed. My favorite moment with Mal at Etosha was when we were cooking breakfast and suddenly we heard an enormous roar in the distance. We instantly looked at each, dropped the pans we were holding and raced to the water hole to check for lions. It turns out that the lion was hidden in some bushes and we couldn’t see him. We returned to camp only to find that the fire had died and we had to start all over with breakfast, but at least we got our morning exercise! We might not have seen the lion that morning, but we saw plenty of lions in Etosha and we even stumbled upon a pride chowing down on a fresh kill. With Mal around I get to see a lot more amazing animals, like these lions, than I ever would on my own. Mal is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met and her enthusiasm is something we’ll continue to cherish for the rest of our time in the bush.

It is insane how much we have already learned on this trip, but we also make sure to have some fun while we’re doing it. I don’t know what I would do without my partner in crime and fellow Minnesotan, Maddie Norgaard. It’s always a good morning when Mads and I get the day off. It gives us some time to work on figuring out the lyrics to the llama song, do some bird watching, work on our group project, and of course, laugh our butts off. Mads and I have really taken to bird watching and there is nothing better than identifying a new bird. Due to our new enthusiasm about birds, we have started a game called “The Bird of the Day,” where we pick the coolest bird that someone saw that day and we all learn a little bit about it. I will always remember the first bird of the day, which was the Cape Wagtail, which just so happened to be the first bird that we had ever identified by ourselves. Mads and I have agreed that we must continue bird watching when we return to Minnesota and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve never met anyone like Mads. She gets along with everyone she meets and her desire to learn about how other people and cultures view the world is unparalleled. Every night at the water hole by our campsite in Etosha we saw black rhinos fighting. Mads and I decided that they were like middle school girls, because one minute they would peacefully be drinking water and then the next minute they  would charge at each other for no apparent reason. I’m in awe of Maddie and her decision to study aboard for a entire year in Africa, and I can’t wait to hear about all of her amazing adventures from her semester in South Africa.

Just like that pride of lions, our group only has one male, but Wyatt doesn’t seem to mind constantly being surrounded by girls. Wyatt is one of the most adventurous people I know and all of his experiences have made him such a mature and thoughtful person. Even though he is handling it well, being around girls all day can be difficult, so everyday Wyatt and I take some time to do what we like to call “bro time,” where we try to do more manly things (although they usually don’t end up being very manly). One of my personal favorites was the bro time when we decided to approach a giraffe to see how close we could get to it. We tried to creep up on her, but she just stared at us like we were complete fools. Then, when we got closer, she ran. When we stopped, she stopped. Yet we could only get within 100 meters before she would run. I think I would run too if I was standing downwind from a group of people who hadn’t showered in days. One afternoon at Etosha, Wyatt and I decided to head over to the water hole in hopes of seeing a cheetah (which, sadly, we haven’t seen yet). We found a nice shady spot on a bench and we had this mini grandstand all to ourselves. Wyatt curled up to take a nap in the space between the bleachers while I did some homework. During his nap, the stands slowly started to fill up as a group of elephants came to splash themselves in the water. People gave him strange looks. There was one large man who sat right in front of Wyatt, pinning him between the bleachers. Suddenly Wyatt sat up and I thought he had been woken up by all of the jackal noises, but he whispered to me that he had been dreaming about having his arm stepped on by an elephant only to wake up to find a man sitting on his arm. I couldn’t image this trip without Wyatt and hopefully he’s not too sick of us yet!

One day this spring, a friend of mine mentioned that a friend of hers, named Leah Powley, was also going to Namibia. This summer I decided to take advantage of that connection and email Leah, and I’m so glad I did. We emailed back and forth this summer and it was so nice to discuss our excitement for the fall, as well as our apprehensions. Even over email I could tell that Leah was someone that everyone gets along with, but I didn’t realize what an amazing person she is until I meet her. Leah is one of the most calm and most put together people that you could ever meet. She is always on top of things and never wastes a moment. One of my favorite things is when Leah laughs. It is such an infectious sound and it always makes me want to laugh and smile along with her. There’s nothing better than when Leah sings and, as an added bonus, she sometimes even throws in some silly dance moves. As we drove from Etosha to Ehirovipuka we stopped in the town Outjo for a few minutes. We were all discussing whether we should buy some chocolate at the grocery store, but we opted to buy chocolate milkshakes instead. While we were slurping down our shakes, Leah headed to the store. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when she returned with a large bag of carrots, which turned out to be her lunch! Leah has such a desire to make a difference in the world and there is no doubt in my mind that she will succeed.

In the first month and a half that we have been in Namibia we have already learned over a hundred new species and sometime it can be difficult to keep up. We are getting better at identifying all the plants and birds that we come across, but sometimes we still get stumped. When this happens we always turn to Jessica. This group is made up of some of the most intelligent people I know, but Jess has a work ethic unlike like anything I’ve seen before. One of the most amazing things about Jess, of which there are many, is that she has an unbelievable memory.  Every day she blows my mind when she remembers a specific detail from a paper or book we’ve read, and I know that her intelligence and hard work will take her amazing places in life. Although Jess helps us out a lot with our school work, this is not what we associate Jess with. When I think of Jess, I think of a person who has a deep passion for everything in her life. Sometimes conservation biology can be a bit of a depressing topic and there have been times when some of us question if what we are doing is enough, but Jess won’t let us think like this. She is adamant that a few people can make a big difference in the world, and it is her attitude and spirit that will bring about real change and it is also what helps us to remain optimistic. I really enjoy when Jess and I go on point counts together, because when there are no animals in sight we start trying to rattle off of the bird and plant species that are around us. Jess is usually the one to identify the majority of them, but that’s okay because it is a great way for me to brush up on the species we need to know and we have fun doing it. Another wonderful thing about Jess is her sense of humor and all of her hilarious stories.  I’m lucky to call Jess my friend and I can’t wait to see where life takes her!

Before coming to Namibia I knew that there was another girl from Carleton on the program, but I had no idea who she was (turns out we were actually in the same genetics class last spring trimester – whoops!). Everyone told me that I would love her and they couldn’t have been more right. It’s impossible for me to put into words how important Marina is to this group. She is an outstanding leader who pushes everyone in the group to be their best. Even though we are the same age, I constantly catch myself thinking that Marina is way older than I am, because she is wise well beyond her years. She always seems to know exactly what to say in every situation. Her sense of humor is wonderful, but she also knows when it is time to be serious. Doing dishes at home won’t be the same without Marina there to check and make sure that I’m actually getting them clean. She also knows that good lighting is a key component in the dishwashing process, as she sets her headlamp to strobe. I’ve never laughed so hard while doing a mundane task like washing the dishes, but Marina knows how to make every situation fun. Early on in the program, we all determined our Namibian spirit animal and Marina was unanimously voted the black-backed jackal. We had seen a few of these jackals before our time in Etosha, but nothing compared to the swarms of jackals that visited our campsite in Etosha. For part of our coursework we all have to pick species on which we want to journal about and focus our attention on. Of course Marina chose the jackal for the mammal she would study in her species accounts, so it was a rough few days as she was constantly jotting down notes about the jackals. There were numerous jackals around our campsite, but we also saw jackals that approached lions and fighting rhinos without blinking an eye. Just like Marina, these jackals are curious and bold. It’s going to be tough to go home and not see these amazing people on a daily basis, but I feel so lucky that Marina and I will return to Carleton together in the winter.

As much as I miss everyone I love at home, it is difficult to think about saying goodbye to the group. These six wonderful people have become like family to me, and I couldn’t image sharing these experiences with anyone else. I know that when the time comes for us to go our separate ways, it will be tough. Yet, I know that we will all stay in touch as we go off on our on new adventures. At this point I just can’t wait to see what lies in store for us in the next six weeks!

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