For the past two months researchers Rob MacFarlane and Leah Sampson have been working with Kai Collins, Group Conservation Manager for Wilderness Safaris, on updating the wildlife monitoring data that is collated annually for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana. This involves carrying out herbivore transects, bird transects, predator monitoring and updating the Predator Identikit Database so that this information can be used by the Department of Wildlife to conserve threatened species and wildlife populations.
Rob and Leah travelled through some of the Wilderness Safaris areas in Botswana as they carried out the Standardised Wildlife Monitoring Protocols developed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Leah Sampson and Rob MacFarlane
Chitabe – The circle of life, by Rob Macfarlane
I consider myself exceedingly lucky that I have seen a rich multitude of habitats and environments across the globe: temperate and tropical; terrestrial and marine; from the mountainous Honduran jungles to Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef. Throughout all of these experiences and adventures the common feature has been an unwavering motivation to immerse myself in nature, to observe and to feel, to set myself free in the wilderness. Flying out of Maun Airport, in northern Botswana just after lunch on Thursday the 2nd March, the realisation that I was to experience the wonders of the natural world once again slowly started to sink in. Our four-seater, ‘single prop’, old school aeroplane struck me as decidedly miniature compared to today’s long-haul international jets which comfortably seat several hundred, yet the intimacy of our charming little contraption was the perfect medium from which to view the Okavango Delta for the very first time. We flew over an interconnected latticework of waterways, reed beds and permanent swamps, dotted with a plethora of green islands, grasslands and bushveld. Never have I seen such a spectrum of green and blue, never have I seen such captivating, unspoiled beauty.
My partner Leah and I spent the next two months moving between several Wilderness Safaris’ camps, focusing on the various environmental monitoring methodologies that contribute to the scientific aspect of Wilderness’ conservation effort. We focused on bird transects, herbivore transects, big cat identification and wild dog identification. We also set up a digital data set for each camp regarding the kill frequency of prey species by each of the prominent predators that occupy these habitats, giving us a picture of the dietary focus for leopard, lion, cheetah and wild dogs. Our week at our first camp, Chitabe, was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Nothing had prepared me for the sheer volume of life that exists in this place. Within four days we had encountered over 90 bird species and more than 20 mammal species. Every single one of these operates and functions in a slightly different way, interacting with everything around it in seemingly simplistic harmony. The colours, the behaviours, the shapes and the sizes all vary before your eyes, each individual species occupying its own niche, fitting into the vast network of life in its own unique way. Together, interacting and coexisting, these species serve to demonstrate the underlying brilliance of biodiversity and abundance.
Unfortunately, the only thing that can match the raw beauty of Okavango Delta’s complex biodiversity is the constant brutality that characterises the struggle that each and every species goes through on a daily basis in this harsh and captivating ecosystem. Already in our short time at Chitabe we unwillingly came across death. We encountered a leopard mother who had lost her cub, potentially to a venomous snakebite, potentially to a disease. One will never be able to read the mind of an animal, but the look in the eyes of the mother, who refused to leave the area of her deceased cub for at least 24 hours, expressed feelings of confusion, pain and sorrow on a deep primal level.
The very next day we encountered a different female, this one shuffling around the top of a dead leadwood tree, unable to find a comfortable position in which to digest what appeared to be a meal of massive proportions. Her face appeared content, if a little annoyed that her earlier indulgence was slightly more than she had originally thought. In this fight for survival a full tummy is a full tummy and the contrasting encounters with these two equally impressive female felines perfectly describe the struggles that all life goes through in the Okavango. It is raw, it is real, it is nature. And I absolutely love it.