|Hillary Masundire and student Masego Kruger cut |
papyrus stalks after a long day in field.
We went out to do a night water quality sample under a bright half moon in the still, deep lagoon near camp. I sat at the front of the boat with Pete Ashton, head of the limnology team, and he showed me how to find the Southern Cross constellation.
"There are two bright pointer stars," he indicated with his finger, "which you can follow over to the cross."
The cross looks like a neat kite in the sky, much smaller than the Northern Cross I am used to. Sailors used to navigate by this constellation, but now we use the GPS. This is how we trace our position exactly back to where samples were taken that morning when plankton are less active.
Suddenly, there was a cry from the back of the boat. "The battery's gone dead!" someone exclaimed. "Where is the Southern Cross? Our spot was just a bit east from here." So using the stars, we found our way to the site using one of the most ancient methods of navigation.
PEOPLE: Leaders share concerns and hopes for the Delta.
TOOLS: Using field guides to identify species.
ISSUES: Fishing out the river?
SPECIES: Unique fish and 2-meter termite mounds!
As we beached the boat, our flashlight picked out two pairs of red eyes swimming in the reeds, a few meters away. "Kwana," says our driver, meaning "crocodile" (hear audio below). I now feel moderately fluent in survival Setswana having followed ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin's general advice to field biologists to "learn all the local names for potentially dangerous animals first." Pete waded out among the eyes to tie up our boat. "Cheeky fellows aren't they? They don't even move away."
Cheeky or not, I scramble up to safety on the dock without letting my feet touch the water.