A lot of friends and family have been asking me, “I know you’re out in South Africa, but what exactly are you doing?” so I’ve decided to give a more in-depth reply rather than just saying “research”. Below is a day-by-day blow of my time out here!
4h00: Wake up. I have to put my recording device at a new location each day and I need it recording before a game drive would ever start their safari, which is around 5h00. In order to beat them all, I have to get up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at the crack (or really, even before the crack) of dawn.
4h15: I am out of the house and driving to one of 20 locations around the reserve where I am placing my recording device. 10 of the sites are along the paved road while 10 are along the northern and eastern gravelotte fenceline. Depending on where the device is, it can take me as little as 15 minutes to get there or up to 45 minutes. During the time I get to see a lot of nocturnal animals I might not see otherwise. I have seen the male lion calling and monitoring his territory, porcupine, bushbabies, hyenas, civets etc.
5h00: I arrive at my pre-determined site and set up my stand (see photo). The stand must be 25m from the road and 1.4m in height off of the ground. Depending on the site this means the stand will either be right next to the fenceline, or tucked away back in the bush. No matter what I try to disguise it a little bit so that it’s not too visible from the road.
5h30: Arrive back at base. By this point other staff and volunteers are up and getting ready for 6h00 research drive. I have a cup a tea with them and pester them with how tired they look (I have found, while I’ve been out here, that I am a morning person. And while other people are just waking up, I have been up for 2 hours and wide-awake. They find this irritating. I find it hilarious).
6h00: Most days some other staff and I will grab Zuri, the base dog, and go running along the gravel road which borders the reserve. A nice 45-minute run to get the day going is sometimes all you need! I’ve been lacking an amazing running partner while in New York, which is why it is so nice to have Zuri as my running companion!
7h00: Back at base to start work! After a quick shower (or not, depending on if the water tanks have warmed up yet or not) it’s time to get focused on my work.
7h00-12h00: Depending on when the generator goes on and how much battery power I have, I am usually found in front of my computer listening to the road recordings from the previous day or analyzing some more data. I have also been assisting GVI with their maps and datasets.
12h00-16h00: My recording devices need to be swapped midday. For the most part they can last the entire 14 hour period, but I like to make sure that the whole day is recorded, so I will go to my site and swap them out. During this time I have seen elephants, cheetah, rhino and a whole smattering of other wildlife!
At the same time I have been helping with Wendy Collinson’s road kill work! She is looking at the impacts of roads on wildlife mortality. Following her protocol, I drive around the reserve 5 times a week and record any road kill I come across. That includes the location, the time and some photos in order to identify to the species level. So far I have found black-backed jackal, yellow-billed hornbills (Zazoos), scrub hares, and even a cow (the cow doesn’t really count though)!
16h00-18h00: I usually am charging one of my recording devices for the next day, listening to more of the road recordings and organizing whatever I have been working on.
18h00-19h30: Usually I am relaxing, either reading a book, helping cook, making donuts (!) or drinking a beer with friends. Anything to wind down from the Go-Go-Go of the day.
19h30-21h30: Dinner is usually served around 19h30 and then I have to go collect my recording device after, leaving me more opportunities to see nocturnal wildlife
21h30: I am exhausted and happy. I usually collapse in a giant heap onto my bed in order to start all over again the following morning!
Obviously this changes depending on what else I need to do or how I can help out around base. I’ve been lucky enough to take volunteers on a couple of drives here and there to find the focus animals, which will continue throughout my time here. I was even lucky enough one morning to find Tsavo, our male leopard, with an impala kill in a tree, the three adult lions and their four cubs on a wildebeest kill, and the male cheetah coalition. A trifecta of cats!
Overall, it is very hard to complain about life! I have some really great interns and staff here who are helping me out as well and had opportunities to see old friends and catch up with life in the bush. I even was able to attend the South Africa v Wales rugby match in Nelspruit, which was EPIC.
Summary: Fieldwork is exhausting but amazing and I might never come home.