Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another Gabon season ends

It has been another wonderful few months in Gabon this Fall, and as always there are many people to thank for enthusiastic support of my work there. First and foremost I thank the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Wildlife Trust, WCS – CCRP (Marine Program), the WCS Gabon Program (Africa Program) and the government of Gabon.

In particular, the following individuals provided invaluable support and assistance: Buddy Powell, Cyndi Taylor, Susan Kahraman and Julie Hughes (Wildlife Trust), Tim Collins and Howard Rosenbaum (WCS-CCRP), Lee White, Romain Calaque, Alden Whittaker, Tomo Nishihara, Rich Parnell, Angela Formia, Christian Tchemambela, Josie Demmer, Ruth Starkey and Leonie (WCS- Gabon Program), Rombout Swanborn (SCD), Solange Ngouessono and Augustin Mihindou (Gabon Ministry of Water and Forests), Bas Huijbregts and Bas Verhage (WWF), Christian Otando and Jean-Alain Pambo (Sette Cama Safaris), and John “DeDe” Mboumba (Ibonga).

The fundraising effort continues and I plan to apply for at least 9 different grants this coming year in order to fund GPS tagging/tracking and genetics work to get a clearer picture of manatee population distribution throughout Gabon and throughout the species range (from Mauritania to Angola). This is the next step after the past 2 seasons of preliminary surveys throughout Gabon. Fundraising could be a fulltime job if I didn’t have another fulltime job! But I’ll keep at it because I think the work is important, the species needs all the help it can get, and I appreciate all of you who help me with it.

Photos of a few folks:
Bas Verhage (along with some delicious grilled fish at a local restuarant in Gamba)
DeDe and I in Gamba (yes, I've covered the countryside in WT t-shirts!)

Alden and Angela

Josie and Tomo

Late night happiness at Pongara
On the spur of the moment the other night I decided to join friends Miguel, Josie, Ruth and her 2 friends from England on an overnight to Pongara National Park, across the estuary from Libreville. Pongara has one of the world’s highest densities of leatherback sea turtle nests and right now is the peak nesting season. Some of you may not know that I have been involved with sea turtle research as well as marine mammals throughout most of my career- either as a secondary part of my job or as a volunteer. In Florida I volunteer monitoring Loggerhead nesting from June-October each year, but I’ve never seen a live Leatherback and have wanted to see one for many years.

So we took an afternoon ferry across to Pongara and stayed at a house there that WCS friends kindly loaned us. At 10pm Ruth and her friends headed out to the beach (about a 20 min. walk up to a point where the estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean) and found 2 turtles on their way back to the sea after nesting. They called us back at the house and Josie, Miguel and I set out. Over the next several hours we found 2 leatherbacks nesting and were able to watch the entire process. It was fantastic! Not only are they enormous, but to watch an animal that has existed for literally millions of years nesting so instinctively was fascinating. Well worth going to bed at 3am!

Photo below: digging the nest one flipper-full at a time. Both the turtles we saw were tagged (you can see the silver tag on the right rear flipper below). I found out the following day from my friend Bas that one of them was tagged in 2003 in Gamba, which is several hundred miles south of where I saw her!
Eggs being laid into the nest. The last eggs were much smaller and probably were infertile. You can see one of the larger (normal size) eggs on the right side of the photo below.
Josie, Miguel and a nesting leatherback.

Heading back to the ocean after nesting. She will lay several clutches of eggs during the nesting season.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What do marine biologists do for vacation? They go to the desert! I just spent a fantastic week in the Kalahari Desert at Kgalagadi Transboundary National Park, which is in the northwest corner of South Africa and includes portions of Botswana and Namibia (hence the name). A group of 8 of us drove up from Cape Town (15 hours) and stayed at three different parts of the park... at each site we stayed in nice bungalows complete with BBQ grills, a pool and in 2 cases a blind overlooking a waterhole. We saw fantastic wildlife every day, so I'll mostly let the pictures speak for themselves:
We saw lots of Oryx (Gemsbok) and not surprisingly this was originally named Gemsbok Park.

Lioness resting in the shade right by the road.Springbuck. These were everywhere in large herds. They do gorgeous leaps when they run.

Wildebeast herd too shy to come all the way in to the waterhole.
Giraffes were re-introduced to the park a few years ago, so we are lucky to have seen about 20 of them. They were definitely one of my favorite animals there. So graceful!

Pale Chanting Goshawk. We sw lots of these birds and they often feed cooperatively with honey badgers. We saw 2 honey badgers at night with a cobra they had killed, but I wasn't able to get a photo. Spotted Hyena eating a Red Hartebeast carcass; there were actually 4 hyenas at this kill.
We saw lots of Black-backed Jackals throughout the park. They reminded me of coyotes and were really neat animals.Kori Bustard, a very large and very cool bird.
Kalahari Tortoise, which is pretty rare.
A group of ostriches at a water hole. The ones laying down are having a giant bird bath.
An Oryx carcass in the road. We saw lots of carcasses, some from kills, some (mostly Eland) that had died as the result of dehydration during the dry season.
Yellow Mongoose
Sunset over the water hole at Nossob.
Our very fun group at breakfast! Gill, Sal, Hilde, Tim, Ken, Marco and Christina. Definitely the trip of a lifetime.