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  • Writer's pictureJuniper

Off to Namibia with my first scholarship (2015)

I sent off my first scholarship application in December 2014. It was for the Anglia Trust Foundation Scholarship (£750), which was open to all ARU student, to compliment our studies. As Africa has been on top of my 'dream destinations' I spent days looking for courses online and was shocked by the costs of such a trip. Then I came across BRink ( which seemed to be the cheapest field course.

My scholarship application focused on the fact that I have been learning stats and experimental design but now it is time to get 'crucial' practical skills. I applied for a Field Biology course for three weeks and another two weeks volunteering in Kuzikus Nature Reserve.

Little did I know how this application would get all other scholarships rolling in the upcoming years. First, I had to learn how to jab myself with vaccine to save money. Then I booked the cheapest flights - London to Munich, Munich to Budapest (24h layover), Budapest to Istanbul, Istanbul to Dubai, Dubai to Cape Town and Cape Town to Windhoek (Namibia)!

Prior to my trip I was warned 'not to talk to anyone' or 'smile at anyone' while I am travelling alone... Naturally, I made friends with the stewardesses right away and ended up on business class on an Emirates flight!

These are snippets of my 'Field Biology' report from 2015 what we got up to in the Namib Desert

The aim of the current study was to document and compare distribution patterns of larger mammals in Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve in the Namibian Kalahari Desert. This region is described as one of the Earth’s last wilderness areas.

There are three types of habitat within its 10,500 hectares: savannah, bush and sand dunes. These are considered as local biodiversity hotspots surrounded by cattle and sheep farms (Reinhard et al, 2010).

Distance Sampling

There were 23 transect lines in the superimposed grid over Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve (Figure 1.). A total of four transects ranging from 1,100 to 1,250 m in length were surveyed in savannah habitat and four in bush habitat. All transects align North to South with a minimum distance of 500 m apart. The start point of the survey was chosen according to the wind direction to walk against the wind to reduce animal disturbance.

The first group was responsible for animal detection, recording species, their number, herd structure, possibly age and sex of individuals and measuring the angle and distance from the transect line in order to obtain data for a distance sampling analysis.

The following species were recorded: oryx, (Oryx gazelle), two species of wildebeest (Gonnochaetes sp), springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), blesbok (Damasliscus dorcas) , zebra (Equus sp.), ostrich (Struthio camelus) and giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis).

The second group conducted the vegetation surveys. The starting points of the latter were 400 m apart, behind the first group not to disturb the animals. The species of trees and shrubs were recorded in a 28 m circle in order to describe species distribution and density per 0.75 ha around the starting point. Then grass species were recorded in a grid (5 m x 5 m) in 3 different spots in the circle.

Results 1. Distance sampling

After completing the surveys of eight transects, data was processed in Microsoft Excel and the wildlife abundance was calculated by DISTANCE 5.0 programme. In total 12 species of larger animals were observed (N=451) which were on average 9,620 m away from the transect. The density of the animals were higher in the savannah (7.6/km2). One species was solely found in the open savannah (Connochaetus gnou) and five species were only observed in the bush savannah (data not shown here).

In DISTANCE only the springbok data were sufficient to carry out data analysis. Estimation for natural population (N) with 95% CI, varied from 642 to 1523 individual for the area of Kuzikus Reserve. After completing a t-test with SPSS to assess which habitat the springboks prefer was not significant (t74=0.1, P>0.05).

2. Vegetation surveys

Kuzikus mainly consists of African savannah ecosystem, represented by Acacia spp. (A. erioloba, A. mellifera, A. hebeclada, A. jaroo) and non-Acacia trees such as Boscia albitrunca and Prosopis glandulosa, an invasive species. Grasses that dominate the landscape belong to the genera Stipagrostis and Aristidia. The most abundant woody species was A. mellifera shrub in the bush habitat (N=16). The use of savannahs by domestic stock and game animals influences the composition and dynamics of vegetation. This change in the vegetation is characterized by a general decrease of cover and a relative increase of annual grasses and shrubs which affects ground-dwelling rodents greatly.

Small mammal trapping

Two sites were used for small mammal trapping, each presenting a different grade of bush encroachment (bush and savannah). Within each site, 120 traps were placed in a grid, each 10 m apart for 3 trapping nights (20/08/2015-23/08/2015). Trap-time temperature ranged from 4°C in the night to 14°C in the morning. Bait compromised a mixture of peanut butter, beef extract (Bovril), crushed acacia seeds and bread. The traps were set in the afternoon (4-5 pm) with bait and left open until the following morning (8-9 am) when they were emptied and if the capture was successful, the mouse or gerbil was sedated with ether on cotton wool, weighted, the length of hind feet was measured along with body and the tail length.

In total 32 small mammals were caught of which 28 were hairy-footed gerbils (Gerbillurus paeba).

Insect trapping There are 800 species of beetles recorded in Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve. Darkling (Tenebrionidae) and ground (Carabidae) beetles are the most speciose insects in arid savannah ecosystems. During the course, plastic pitfall traps were used and were checked daily for four weeks. Specimens were exposed to ethyl acetate fumes within a plastic tube. Identification to family level was carried out by using INTKEY programme and Insects of South Africa (1985) identification book. Participants were required to produce a key for different groups of beetles during which beetle thorax had to be described and illustrated thoroughly and exact measurements were taken. We also invented names for the unknown specimens before their real names and classification was determined. Light trapping was used on 10 nights.

End of report.

My cultural shock was pretty bad on my way back to Europe. I had a five hour layover in Johannesburg and I was surrounded by TVs, screens about the news. This was the year that Hungary decided to build fences around its border due to immigrating refugees...

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