Rick is in Africa to see elephants. Read his previous post, Botswana.
May 4, 2009 (Monday)
You may remember from my previous post when I mentioned the lightning and thunder off to the south of us. Well, by dinner time that huge lightning and thunderstorm was right above us. As the wind blew in and the rain started to fall, we ran for our tents, dinner in hand. I can not recall the last time I was in a tent during a massive all-night lightning and thunder storm. Though I did not get much sleep, it was an amazing experience that was wonderful to have.
Around 2 or 3 in the morning, things finally stopped. It was so very quiet; I cannot even explain how odd the complete lack of sound was for me. Then there was the darkness. Because of the clouds, no moonlight came through, creating darkness that would not allow me to even see my own hand in front of my face.
Due to the storm, Dr. Chase and Kelly informed us that the elephants would have definitely moved south, away from the river. They do this because when water is available from rainstorms, there is no reason to stay near the river. Thus we will need to obtain new satellite information to get updated locations on the elephants we are going to track by radio signal once we are in the location obtained by satellite.
To get that information, we drove in from the field today, a little over an hour’s drive in the Land Rover. Once they obtained Internet access, they were able to log into a system that allows them to get the exact location of the elephants that are collared. The system refreshes every few hours, so there might be some changes from the last satellite upload to present time, but it does give us a solid starting point.
Dr. Chase and Kelly showed us how they obtain the information for the elephant’s location. When we had that information, we headed back to camp to look up the positions on their mapping program.
On our way back to camp, through the Chobe National Park, we noticed an adult leopard tortoise crossing the dirt road. Kelly was nice enough to move the slow-moving guy to the side of the road to prevent him from getting hit by a vehicle. Shortly after that we spotted white-backed vultures and the endangered lappet-faced vulture, a beautiful bird regardless of what other people say, in the trees. With a bit of investigating we noticed marabou stork in the area, too. Traveling a little further we saw it, an incredibly large pile of vultures eating away at something. In time the larger lappet-faced vultures pushed the white-backed vultures away, and we saw that they were devouring the remains of a juvenile (or young adult) hyena.
From there we headed back to camp to prepare for our afternoon of trying to track an elephant that was last located about 30 to 40 kilometers (about 18 to 25 miles) from camp. We grabbed the needed gear and loaded everything into the Land Rover.
We covered well over 65 kilometers (about 40 miles) in the afternoon, primarily west of camp and a bit south into the hills and the edge of the teak forests that are found at a slightly higher elevation. Dr. Chase navigated the area like one of us driving to work. Though there were no street signs, he knew where to turn and what trails took us to the destinations we were in need of getting to. All the time Kelly had the headset on, her arm reaching high above her head as she used her other hand to adjust the frequency in hopes of hearing a “ping” to let her know one of the elephants was in the area.
The terrain was stunning, and the surrounding wildlife was beyond what I imagined. Though there were many animals, we found no elephants by sunset. The decision was made that tomorrow we would have to spend the entire day in the field. We would need to drive far enough to find the elephants that were still south of the river enjoying the waters collected in the pans (watering holes).
Tonight is an amazing contrast to last night’s experience. There is not a cloud in the sky, so the moon and stars are not only magnificent, but you can see fairly well without your flashlight. The sounds are quite different too; there is constant noise between the barred owl we have in camp, dozens of other calls from birds, amphibians and mammals. Most striking so far has been the hyena calls and the snorts and bellows of the male impalas that are rutting right now. A lucky man am I, to have such a symphony to fall asleep to!
To support our elephant conservation work in Africa and learn more, visit the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.
Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.