Stories from the Field
A Track in Time
July 7, 2017
Today, we learned about tracking animals for conservation purposes. Tracking is important for conservation because having awareness of the surrounding dangerous animals is critical to protect the local farmers’ livestock and businesses. In general, in the past, locals have not showed a positive mentality toward these big animals (leopards, lions, etc.). In their eyes, it is a very disappointing and emotional experience to lose livestock that they raised, not to mention the financial loss. Lions, for example, are becoming more of a threat. According to Dr. Florian Weise (Flo), lions are coming up from rivers in Botswana toward farms for easy prey in the form of livestock. This is partly due to some of the local farmers’ lack of herding experience, leading to livestock going far from their paddocks. Livestock without supervision are highly vulnerable to attack from predators. Flo has been studying in Botswana for some years now and tries to make more advanced conservation strategies (such as better herding and tracking) appear more realistic to the average local farmers. Furthermore, he suggests that conservation is truly an issue originating from human activity and seldom from the animals themselves. His work aims to help farmers understand that not every big cat is a “trouble cat.” With various tracking techniques, Flo has persuaded some farmers to show interest and affection for “their” local cats, and some have come to even name the cats in their area. This tends to make the farmers care more about the cats and make farmers reconsider resorting to violence to solve problems.
Animal tracking can tell analysts many things based on predator movement patterns. Typically, an alpha male in a pack will be collared to get a sense of the entire group’s daily behavioral patterns. If an animal is mostly stationary (with a total daily walking distance under 2 km), it might mean the animal is injured, mating, pregnant, or even poached. If an animal is very active and travels a long distance throughout the day, conservationists might conclude that there are strong environmental pressures. Active territorial predators, such as male leopards, may be fleeing for new territory after losing in a dominance display. Awareness of animal threats, in the hands of local farmers, enables them to care more about disappearing species and forces them to be less passive in solving this pressing global issue.
Sand Boarding in Namibia!
July 12, 2017
Sunrise in the Desert
July 7, 2017
As we look back on our first full week of our African adventure and all the things we have experienced, many for the first time, we continuously remain surprised. From camping under the countless stars, walking side by side with cheetahs, going on game drives throughout the reserve, and hiking sand dunes in the heart of the desert, it seems we have experienced it all. In addition, we have had our fair share of struggles, such as cold mornings, long car rides, and frizzy hair! It has become evident to each student that every morning is another opportunity to do something amazing and unique.
After waking up during the early hours of the morning (4 a.m., to be exact), we raced the sun across the sand and mountains in order to get the best sunrise images. From there we traveled to Sossusvlei, where some students went to the salt flats to take stunning photos of the camel trees, while the other half prepared to trek up the tallest sand dune in the world, Big Daddy. The hike was a grueling hour straight up the dune (sand covering everything). As we conquered Big Daddy, we all became extremely hot. Once we reached the top, though, we realized it was worth it while staring at the sea of wind and sand that surrounded us. Every way we looked, the sand stretched further on and we felt on top of the world, but were also reminded us of how small we truly are.
After our stunning hike and photo session, we returned to camp and prepared to hike to Sesriem canyon, a stunning rock formation a few minutes from camp. As we hiked deep into the canyon, we stared up at the towering rock walls that surrounded—we were in awe. We saw beautiful nests as well as caves that dotted the walls.
While this trip has definitely pushed many of us outside of our comfort zones, to say the least, every day is another adventure and chance to grow as individuals. The memories we have made so far and experiences we have had along this trip will most definitely remain with us forever as well as hopefully encourage us to seize every day and make it our own.
Lions and Cheetahs and Meerkats, OH MY!
July 2, 2017
After a quick breakfast, Flo shared the work he is doing with lions in Botswana around the Delta River. He discussed the amount of success they have had by using GPS collars to track lions to let the villages know when their livestock may be in danger. This has not only improved the lion population count but also how the villages perceive lions because they now have a way to protect their cattle.
Then we headed to see bushmen who are a part of the San tribes people. These tribes have been continuing to fall in numbers since the government first fenced off their land and restricted which animals they could hunt, changing their whole way of life.
We were led by our guide, Mathias, into their camp and were instantly amazed by the community. There were two men, four women, and three young children dressed in traditional attire and speaking a dialect of San that has around 80 different click noises. They are very enthusiastic people, covered in colorful beads and very happy to welcome us, make us laugh, and take photos with them. They showed us several of their natural medicines including the acacia tree, which can be used to treat tuberculosis. The roots of another plant they showed us can be used to treat body pain and rotten teeth. We were then challenged to light a fire with just two sticks and a knife over some dry grass. Needless to say, the tribesmen were a lot more successful than we were. Next they brought out a couple bow and arrows, showed us how they hunt, and let us try to shoot our leader Patʼs hat off a tree branch, and although some of us got close, nobody was accurate enough to hit the target. Finally, we went back to the camp and looked at the jewelry that they had made, and many of us bought some of their decorative bracelets and necklaces made from ostrich shell.
After meeting the San tribe we split up into two smaller groups—one went to learn about GPS collar tracking and the other went to learn and observe Flo and Larissa Slaney, the National Geographic experts on the trip, demonstrate and speak about their work with FIT (Footprint Identification Technique). The technology, using the hind left paw print of a cheetah, is able to determine the cheetahʼs age and gender and can identify individuals if they had been previously entered into the system as well as who they are related to. Larissa showed us how to identify which was the left hind and how to tell if they were female or male and told us the difference between feline and canine prints.
After a quick briefing on how to react around the animals, we were able to enter the enclosure where the cheetahs were being kept. In the enclosure there were four cheetahs, three of which had been raised in captivity their whole lives and were incredibly friendly and one that was quite timid. We reached a large sandpit and after taking many pictures we began to rake and prepare the area to get fresh tracks. Larissa lured Oddie, one of the cheetahs, with some meat to the sandpit. Despite a mild issue when all four cheetahs tried to get the bucket of meat we managed to get two clear left hind paw prints that we could use. Larissa showed us how to correctly measure and scan the print.
When our lunch break ended we went to meet the veterinarian. She gave us a presentation on anesthesia, the materials, different drugs, how to take care of a sedated animal, and the side effects. Then we drove up to another cheetah enclosure where we got to see her dart a cheetah, Tarra, and then we got to do a medical checkup on it by taking its temperature, respiration rate, and heart rate before moving it to a crate we had prepared in order to transport it to its new enclosure. On the way back to the house we managed to see two beautiful lions. We ended this incredible day by watching some amazing lion footage taken by Flo that he had been showing to villages and communities in Botswana. After such an exhausting day in the sun we all fell asleep in preparation for tomorrow’s adventures.
The Great Adventure Begins
July 1, 2017
To start our first full day in Namibia, many of us decided to wake up early, at about 6 a.m., to watch one of the famous African sunrises, which did not disappoint! After packing backpacks and making sure to bring plenty of water, the entire group was ready to hit the ground running. We kicked off with half the group setting camera traps by water holes, and the other half tracking down cheetah radio collars (harder than it looks!). We learned how to position camera traps to spot the fascinating wildlife and also how to track them using radio telemetry—pretty much only an antenna, wire, a receiver, and a transmitting collar.
After lunch, we split up into small groups to do a game count and document everything we saw: zebras, giraffes, warthogs, baboons, ostriches, and more. As we went along in the trucks, each person contributed to documenting the species, how far away they were, and how many of them were in the area at the time.
After our drive, groups watched the sunset either at the house or off their trucks, a great end to a great first day.
Check out our photos!
Sand Boarding in Dorob National Park
March 3, 2017
After five hours of driving we finally made it to Swakopmund, a coastal town in western Namibia with a strong fishing community and constant fog rolling in from the ocean. During the afternoon we went to Dorob National Park to practice and master the fine art of dune sand boarding. With properly waxed boards and the appropriate technique one can reach speeds up to 54 km/hr while safely cruising on powder-soft red sand.
The Watering Hole
February 28, 2017
Yesterday was our first of three days’ stay in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. After a long drive from our campsite in Damaraland, including a brief stop at a supermarket along the way, we arrived at the Okaukuejo campsite around 2 PM. We will be at this site for two nights before we travel to another site (still in Etosha) for our last night of camping on this trip.
Photo Gallery: Wildlife of the World
February 4, 2016
Students on our Expeditions have the opportunity to get up close to spectacular and often elusive wildlife in remote parts of the world. By opting to focus on Wildlife & Biodiversity or Marine & Tropical Conservation on assignment projects, the get to explore wildlife and their habitats with naturalists and biologists, delve into underwater ecosystems, and contribute to ongoing research and conservation projects in the field. Along the way, they capture incredible images of the creatures they spot, and here is just a small selection of some of our favorite shots!
Purva’s College Essay, Namibia Conservation in Action
February 9, 2015
NGSE alum Purva Nagarajan, of Fort Meyers, Florida , traveled on our Namibia conservation in action program in 2013. Purva wrote her college essay about performing a medical examination on a cheetah (her favorite animal since childhood) during her NGSE trip in Namibia. She hopes that ten years from now she’ll have a job that combines her passions for veterinary medicine, global health and photography.
What Conservation Means to Us…
August 20, 2014
Goie more! (Good morning in Afrikaans!)
As our time in Namibia draws to a close, it’s hard to believe all the things we’ve seen, learned and experienced! We’ve had the opportunity to work with many organizations- hearing about their work and sometimes even assisting them! From exploring the ecology of the desert dunes, to visiting a large (and very loud) colony of Cape Fur Seals at Cape Cross, to learning about 2,000- to 6,000-year-old rock engravings at Twyfelfontaine- a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to visiting the Damara, an indigenous cultural group from the northern regions of Namibia, to hearing from park rangers who fend of rhino poachers, to spotting an adolescent cheetah cub and mother as the sun sets
Wrapping up in Namibia’s N/a’an Ku Se!
July 2, 2014
N/a’an Ku se is a private reserve outside of the capital of Namibia that was created to serve as an education, tourism, and conservation center. Five days ago, the National Geographic Student Expeditions group arrived in N/a’an Ku se and since have been learning about the reserve’s efforts to rehabilitate injured wildlife, conduct research on animal behavior, and facilitate the continuation of San Bushmen tradition.