Friday, 10 June 2011

End of fieldwork

They say that every good thing must come to an end. With the removal of the final GPS collar on 4th April, almost 2 years to the day since the first GPS collar was deployed, the current fieldwork phase for the project ended. It was sad to say goodbye to the zebra that I have been following closely for the last two years but a relief that we were successfully able to remove all of the collars.

At the beginning of March the Makgadikgadi was incredibly dry, mosquitoes were non-existent (a very pleasant bonus) and waterholes were drying up. I began to wonder whether the zebra would have migrated prior to darting, really messing with my plans. I need not have worried though as the few small showers that taunted us were followed by a couple of bigger storms that passed through the park towards the end of March. The rain encouraged zebra out of the woodlands and back onto the pans and I swear you could even see the zebra smiling as the rain began to fall.

However, by the time we began the darting, the zebra had moved away from the edge of the pans to the centre of the park, an area that they hadn’t visited since November. This is the traditional end of wet season area and from here many of the zebra will make the short journey back to the Boteti. Others will head east and gamble on there still being some water remaining in the surface waterholes before they too return to the Boteti.

Thanks to the experience and skill of the vet, a little luck and sheer determination we were able to remove 10 collars in 5 days, a feat which didn’t seem possible after the first day when we were only able to find one collared zebra. We were also able to weigh all of the zebra with the heaviest zebra tipping the scales at 435kg! This zebra has a 5 month old foal at foot meaning that her weight is all muscle and fat reserves and, at more than 100kg heavier than what most books suggest is the average weight of a plains zebra, provides plenty of food for thought.

My trusty Landrover also knew that the end was nigh and with the arrival of more rattles and creaks it was telling me that it needed some time away from the harsh Makgadikgadi and the numerous aardvark holes.

I am now looking forward to the next phase of the project which involves the detailed analysis of all of the data collected so far. To do this I will return to Bristol to immerse myself in a world of papers, books and statistics to help understand what is happening within the Makgadikgadi. This is perhaps the most exciting phase of the project but one which will require a different set of skills to that needed for fieldwork.

Due to the current location of zebra within the Makgadikgadi, and the likelihood that they will soon return to the Boteti, I have decided to delay the planned Aerial survey until January 2012. This is to ensure that the survey will be conducted at the best possible time and in the best possible conditions. I don’t want to rush the survey now and have an estimate of the population size that is not reliable. If anyone would be willing to support this survey then all contributions would be gratefully received.

I would like to thank everybody who has contributed in any way towards the success of the fieldwork phase of the project. This support is greatly appreciated and has helped make the last two years so successful and enjoyable despite the numerous challenges.

As the write-up progresses I will keep you updated with new findings and interesting results. If you have any comments or queries about anything regarding the Makgadikgadi Zebra Research then please get in touch.