Beginnings of Research
Written by Stacie Wright (University of Vermont)
We’ve spent the last week in the bush in Sankuyo. Here we did some bird monitoring and practice herbivore drives. In the mornings we woke up around sunrise and left to do the bird drives around 6 am. This time of the morning is best to see and hear birds because they are very active in the morning. One of our vehicles is in Maun for repairs, and we’ve been making due with two trucks in the field. This has been an experience in itself of what fieldwork is like: plans do not always go smoothly and constant adjustments are needed.
On our bird drives we would stop every 200 meters and get out of the car for 5 minutes and record every bird we saw or heard. The first few stops were difficult to recognize where all the calls were coming from or what all the birds were, but by the end of the drive we were getting the hang of it. We’ve also been learning and practicing for the herbivore monitoring we will be doing. When we’ve seen an herbivore we stop and use our range finder, compass, and GPS to record the distance away the animal is, its angle from north, its coordinates, and the sex and age of the animal if it can be determined.
On Wednesday we went to Wild Dog Camp, a research facility near our camp that is operated by the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (a local NGO that conducts research on carnivores in the area). Their staff talked to us about the projects that they were working on and how they try to involve community members to raise awareness about the importance of their work. This was a really cool experience to be able to meet actual researchers in Botswana and learn how their work is important for the country by involving the communities, in contrast to many of the private researchers who come in to do personal research and then leave. I am really happy that this program allows us to meet many interesting people who give us insight into many aspects of life in Botswana. We’ve so far met Bonty, a Botswana writer and learned about the culture from her, the researchers at Wild Dog camp and John Mull, a Zoology professor from Weber State University in Utah.
We’ve been getting used to the camp life as well. We have been fortunate enough to have seen many elephants pass by our campsite. We’ve seen them at the water hole right next to our camp site. We have the perfect spot to sit and look out over the savanna and watch them. One morning I woke up to an elephant right outside our campsite – it was the first thing I saw when I stepped out of my tent! One of my favorite parts of our first week in the field was falling asleep to the sound of lions at night.
I am very excited to visit villages and meet more Batswana (the term for anyone from Botswana) and learn more abut the culture and what life is like here. I think that is one of the important aspects of this program that makes it more meaningful. If we just came to this country and did field work for three months and had no interactions with the people who live here, it would not be as meaningful. Here we have an opportunity to connect with the people and do research that will actually benefit the surrounding communities.