Monday, 11 May 2009

Rain in May!

Hello to you all from Botswana,

In the UK the weather has a nasty habit of being entirely unpredictable with the sun shining one moment and raining the next. I thought that wouldn’t be the case here in Botswana but I was apparently very wrong. In the last week the weather can’t seem to make its mind up what it wants to do and this has provided some unseasonal rain storms. These rain storms have meant that zebra’s in the Makgadikgadi are able to stay in the open grasslands of the eastern Makgadikgadi for longer than usual. This doesn’t really help my research but it is great news for the wildlife out here.

I should first update you all with the progress of the project and the work that I have been doing in the last few weeks since 9 zebra were collared. I am now back in my camp at Leroo La Tau meaning that I can escape the chaos of Maun and I am able to spend time in the field when necessary. I would like to thank everyone at Leroo La Tau and Desert and Delta Safari’s for their support and generosity in allowing me to be based here. I have been back in camp since the middle of April and I will be spending the majority of my time until the end of November here.

During April I was able to conduct the 10 vegetation transects that need to be done during every three month season with the help of Tania for a few days and then Steven who will be assisting me for the next few months. These vegetation transects are 15km long, situated along the length of the Boteti riverbed and are perpendicular to the Boteti riverbed. By conducting these transects it is possible to assess the abundance of different grass species in different habitats across the whole of the zebra’s dry season home range. This means that it is necessary to drive through some of the worst vegetation that the Boteti has to offer in order to complete the transects which inevitably leads to the odd puncture and the reshaping of the Landrover’s bodywork. I’m just glad I only need to do them once a season!

From the beginning of April zebra’s started to be seen along the Boteti for the first time in 2009. Throughout April the zebra numbers gradually began to build which enabled the first behavioural and observation data to be collected on zebra’s within the riverbed. However the 9 zebra which I had collared remained grazing in the east for the whole of April but I was beginning to anticipate their return to the Boteti. Indeed on April 30th one of the collared zebra began to migrate west and made it to the Boteti river 36 hours later having walked nearly 50km. She stayed in and around the riverbed for the next 24 hours, and then it rained. With this unusual rain storm arriving she decided that instead of remaining in the Boteti she would return to the open grasslands in the east where there is better grazing available and where she still remains.

A second collared zebra had also made the decision that the quality and quantity of water available in the east had decreased sufficiently in order to trigger the migration. However she didn’t quite make it to the Boteti before it rained. Having travelled about two-thirds of the distance she decided to turn around 180 degrees and head east towards where the rains had fallen. There are currently very few zebra here in Boteti as there continues to be intermittent showers which are often very localised.

For the next few days we are going to focus on the collection of water samples from the 17 artificial waterholes that are located along the length of the Boteti riverbed that is within the fence. We will take some measurements in-situ while also collecting samples for more detailed analysis at the HOORC in Maun. These water samples will be collected every three months for the next year which will create a detailed picture of water quality and availability for wildlife within the western Makgadikgadi.

The next time I complete this Blog I hope to be able to tell you the names that have been chosen by children from Khumaga school for the collared zebra. This will mean that it is not just Mosetsana (Mo-seet-sana) that has a name as well as a number. I am also hoping to collect the correspondence letters from the children in Khumaga to children at Lanercost and Hayton Primary Schools.

That is all for now but I will try to keep you updated a little more regularly now that I am settled here in my camp. I will also try to get some more photos uploaded to the gallery shortly.

Till next time,