Friday, 2 April 2010

Darting 2010: Part A

As we approach the supposed end of the wet season, Botswana continues to receive regular rains in what is proving to be another good wet season. I am told that Central Kalahari is receiving its heaviest rainfall of the year while the Makgadikgadi has been receiving intermittent storms. The continued rains will be a further boost to zebra in the Makgadikgadi as they are able to make the most of grazing on the nutritious grass islands in the salt pans. I will soon be spending much more time in the Makgadikgadi with the zebra as the latest field season gets underway. However, it is first necessary to collar 10 random adult mares with GPS collars.

After the collars were returned to Botswana from Germany, where they have been refurbished with new battery packs, we headed down to the pans on the 26th March to try and collar 5 zebra. Putting collars onto random zebra mares is theoretically a much easier task than locating and darting a collared zebra so as to remove the collar. However, we did learn in December when we were removing the collars that zebra are much more relaxed first thing in the morning and will let you drive closer to them. We were therefore still up long before dawn to give us time to find a herd of zebra as the sun was creeping up over the horizon.

After persistent drizzle through the night we could not have asked for a nicer day with clear skies and, more importantly, relaxed zebra. These zebra were in groups of between 50-100 individuals and were happily grazing quite close to the research camp so we did not have far to go. When we were able to get close enough to dart the first zebra after only 10-15 minutes of effort we knew things were looking good.

The major challenge was for me to identify an adult mare and then to explain to the vet which one I was looking at. This might not sound to be a challenge but when all zebra have black and white stripes, and are stood close to each other grazing, identifying a specific zebra and explaining to someone else which one it is can be quite a challenge. I usually try to find an identifying feature that makes the zebra more noticeable and this is often to do with the stripe pattern or the colouration.

While a zebra is sedated and we are working to fit the collar and take the relevant measurements, the rest of the herd stay nearby and continue to graze while watching us from a safe distance. Often the sedated mare’s stallion will stay much closer, observing us while we work and waiting for the safe return of his girl.

Once we had successfully darted and collared a zebra we then moved a little further away to find a different herd of zebra and to start the process all over again. We had 5 GPS collars to deploy during this first trip which we achieved this in less than a day and a half. I only hope that when we head back down to the pans in a week’s time things continue to go well for us.

If you have any questions about anything to do with the darting process then please feel free to get in touch.