Saturday, February 16, 2008

Of kob, lion, a salt mine and ankole cattle

We are now half way through our time in Queen Elizabeth NP. The students have been quite amazed as they worked with the local cattle belonging to the villagers in the nearby community of Lake Katwe, one of 11 villages in the park. These cattle, which have horns over a metre in length, can readily be caught and held by two or three men so that bolld samples can be collected. We have already checked the samples and found that about 25% of the animals have the infectious diseases called brucellosis, which can easily be transmitted to humans. In people it causes a nasty condition called undulant fever. After visiting the cattle the students went straight on to the salt mining lake near the village and saw how this very ancient trade is started by the men and women who work in the pans, collecting the salt and shipping it out to market. The brine water is very corrosive and pople have a hard time wading in the solution for great lengths of time.

Our wildlife work has involved the capture and study of Uganda kob, a beautiful russett coloured animal about the size of a white-tailed deer, and yesterday, most interesting and exciting for the students, the darting of a 9 year-old male lion. This we did in conjunction with Dr. Ludwig Siefert so that he could continue his porgram of monitoring the large predators in the park. The lion's old collar was almost worn out, and the signal would only carry about 300 metres, so we got to him just in time.

Today we received two text messages telling us about the temperature at home. One said it was minus 37 Celcius, the other minus 35. This is about a 70 degree difference form what we are experiencing. Not too tough to take!

Tomorrow is make-and-mend day for everyone, so some will lounge at the pool, others will visit the bat cave (it has an estiamted 10,000 Egyption fruit bats
in it), and Jo and I willl snooze, read, and so on. I will try and add to mycollection of bird photographs if I can sumon the energy.

'til the next time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And now from Queen Elizabeth National Park

So, We finally got back to a spot where Internet access is available. Four nights in the amazing Kibale National Park in Western Uganda gave us sme relief from having to check in on a daily basis, and we had a wonderfultime there.

Our trip out of Kampala was much as expected. The traffic gets worse each year,and the slower it moves, the more pollution there is. I suppose it is just like many developing countires. More folks want a slice of the good life pie, more battered old Toyota mini-vans end up in the city-as-dead-end, and more and more fumes get into the air. The first 30 km took about 2 hours, and for another 30 km or so we struggled with potholes and slow traffic. Then the road opened up and we sailed along.

Eventually we reached Fort POrtal, but not before driving past mile after mile of slash-and-burn agricultural plots where people have tried to carve out a spot to plant some crops, mainly maize or cassava. Where we used to see black-and-white colobus monkeys in the small patches of remnant forest, we saw none.

Thence to Kanyawara, the Makerere University Biological Field Station that is
set in a beautiful grove of trees in its own special corner of the National Park. In Kibale there are 13 species of primate, the best known of all of course being the chimpanzees, of whichh there are several habituated groups.

Our working days consisted of early morning walks along well-established research trails to either examine trapped rodents, or help in the long-term survey of small birds that are caught in the mist nets that we use. We examine both tyes of animals for external parasites such as fleas and lice and collect a minute bloood samle to check for blood-borne diseases such as sleeping sickness or avain malaria. The rest of the days we engage in a series of seminars and worskhops, discussing a wide range of topics that include the ever-increasing elephant population and the incursion into the forest by poachers.

Out of time on this machine, so maybe more tomorrow.

Keep fit and I hope it is not too cold where you are reading this.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Kampala notes

All the students arrived safely, but exhausted, last night. The plan had been to head out to local farms this morning at 9.00 am and see how smallholding agriculture is done here, but the weather forced a change. Last night it rained heavily for several hours, and we had no chance of going with the bus. Dr. Ben Kanyima, who has taken our students out on these farm trips each year, was able to make a back-up plan when he got word that a cow needed inseminating. About 11.30 our crew headed off on their first daylight trip though the city. Because the side roads are impassable due to thick coats of red mud they will have to walk about one km from the roadside to the farm. For their sakes let us hope it does not start to rain again.

Tonight we meet our counterparts and particularly some of the students who will travel with us for the next 3 weeks. This is the annual icebreaker, and takes the form of a buffet meal at the College Inn, not far from the university.

Tomorrow we head off to Kibale National Park for some field work.

There is no Internet access at Kibale, so we'll see you in a few days.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Safe Arrival in Uganda

Feb 5th, we arrived safely in Uganda last evening, and are now comfortably settled at the Makerere University guest house.

Our time in Nairobi was interesting. The news continues to be ugly, but the messages are confusing. Nobody can understand why the opposition, under Mr. Odinga, have not filed an official complaint in the Kenya courts, because that is really the only way that a proper examination of the votes of late December can be re-examined. There is talk of someone having been brought in from the USA to disrupt the voting pattern and cause divisions, and this was apparently the same individual who was able to create disruption in Georgia.

Our arrival in Entebbe airport was tempered by the failure of our driver to show up, so we had to get a taxi and then find that our accommodation had also not been booked. We found a good substitute easily & are now at the Makerere University Guest house, where we have stayed before.

Tomorrow our students arrive and then we head of to work.

More soon.