Greetings from Botswana!
Written by Henry (Hank) Dodge, (Colby College)
Hello world! The students of the 2017 spring semester arrived in Maun on February 2nd after over 20 exhausting hours of travel. As we were greeted by our enthusiastic (and awesome!) instructors Kaggie, Ben, and Sixteen, we all finally were able to let the realization that we were going to spend the next three months in Africa sink in. Our group of eight consists of four males and four females hailing from states all across the country including: Montana, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
On Day One we were picked up at the airport and drove to our campsite just outside of Maun. This would be our home for the next four days as we got over jet lag and learned about the work we would be doing this semester, as well as the academic program that would supplement our fieldwork. After short introductions (and a few naps here and there) we headed over to the Okavango River Lodge for a relaxing dinner on the river and more opportunity to get to know our instructors and each other. We ate well and everyone crashed early after a long travel day.
Day Two was highlighted by more camp basics (hashing out a cooking/dish duty schedule) and other miscellaneous tasks around camp. We also had a chance to go into Maun and buy some essentials for the field and see more of the town we were living in. Day Two was highlighted by a special presentation given by Round River’s partners at the Okavango Research Institute and the Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks. These presentations emphasized the significance of the ongoing efforts of Round River, as well as the impact the work has on the local communities who manage the community trusts around the delta. We all left the presentation not only with a greater understanding of the work we would be doing for the semester but also with a greater appreciation for the opportunity we have to contribute to an incredible conservation effort.
Readings for each class were handed out on Day 3 and we had our first lectures in Conservation Biology and the Natural History of Botswana as well as a lesson in Setswana from Sixteen. The preliminary lectures gave us a better understanding of the Okavango delta as well as a way to better communicate with the locals. Ever since the first Se tswana lesson we’ve been practicing! On Super Bowl Sunday we had the chance to go birding with Jamie, a local guide who is a friend of our instructors. Although we just walked around the area where we were camping, we were able to find some incredibly beautiful and rare birds including the Thrush Nightingale and African Emerald Cuckoo. Jamie was also so knowledgeable about every call that we were all able to learn a lot of valuable information that will help us in the field. The rest of the day was spent getting ready to go to our first concession (NG34) and that evening we went to a cultural presentation in Maun that informed us about the local customs and traditions. We spent the night dancing and playing traditional games before returning to camp to a feast prepared for us by our instructors.
On Monday we packed up camp and hit the road. One of our three trucks (Franklin) was still in the shop so we had to squeeze into two and hit the road to our first field site. As we navigated the wet roads we were able to see our first glimpses of African wildlife. This year has been one of the wettest years ever in the Okavango Delta and it showed as our cars had to navigate lake sized puddles and submerged roads on our way to camp. We set up our tents and the rest of camp as dark clouds started to move in and eventually the sky opened up and it rained all night.
We heard lions calling during our first night in the field and in the morning we woke up to three elephants hanging out just a few meters from camp. All of us are itching to start going on transect drives and recording data. It’s already hard to believe the semester has only just started but we’re all stoked to call this amazing country home for a few months. More updates come in the next few weeks!