|Aerial view of Okavango River Delta, Botswana Africa.|
"There are hippos in the camp," said AquaRAP safety officer Mark Nordin. Not the most comforting words to start off my first night camping in Africa, listening for the telltale sounds of hippos: snorting and trampling. Compounding my fears was the sighting of a puff-adder snake in the latrine the day we arrived at Shakawe. "Use a torch (flashlight) on the trail as these snakes are often right in the path and camouflage themselves well," added Mark.
There are hippos
in the camp!
We survived till daybreak to share stories of the sights and sounds of the night – a sitatunga grazing in the phragmite reeds at the edge of the river, monkeys around camp, snoring scientists and a myriad of birds singing at dawn. And then there were the large, flat hippo tracks, the only signs of this two-ton visitor. I'm sure he'll be back. Luckily, our camp mascot, "big dog" (an elderly, miniature Doberman pincher), keeps watch for hippos and according to the camp masters can, "herd them back to water."
PEOPLE: Meet Dr. Karen Ross, field biologist.
TOOLS: Learn about the nets used for sampling fish.
ISSUES: Sometimes solving one problem causes others.
SPECIES: Find out what happens when you lick the fish!
After days of travel and anticipation, it's finally AquaRAP's first day of sampling. We woke at our camp along the Okavango River to very cool weather (it's winter in the Southern Hemisphere), about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and overcast skies. The word from Maun, the town in Botswana where the team first met, is that rain is heading this way. So much for the shorts I've packed.
There are four main teams heading upstream today by boat. The scientists are divided into groups that will survey fish, plants, invertebrates, water quality/limnology, and birds. At each site, scientists will record their georeference point (using a handheld GPS unit), habitat type and other observations, then begin sampling.
When the scientists return to camp at the end of the day, there will be a flurry of activity as specimens are sorted and prepared for travel so they can be further identified and analyzed at laboratories. There are large supplies of sampling containers, formalin (formaldehyde), plant presses and insect trays ready for use.
Back at camp, we're uploading the day's reports and images and testing the satellite phone, which we'll use to transmit these reports. We'll see if the weather cooperates with us or not.
— Reported by Lani Asato
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