Thursday, March 6, 2008

update, a bit delayed

Finally got to a place where I can get at a computer that is not running on molasses. So it's the 7th March & I have not updated anytng for almost 3 weeks, so here are a couple of entries from the diaries of our Uganda activities.

They are in reverse order so that they give some degree of logicality.

I may have chance for more input in a day or two & will be able to relate some other excitements, including our return visit to the school, another school visit to The Equator Highway Primary School, where there are 46 registerd AIDS orphans and some surprising animal work.

Sunday 17th Feb.
R & R day.
Late breakfast, with the extra treat of French toast that we had asked for.
Most students went to the local Catholic church to see how services are conducted here. They turned out to be in the majority, there being only five adult locals at the service, with a few small children. After lunch about half the students went off to the pool at Mweya Lodge and will no doubt spend the rest of the day relaxing there. The rest took off on an expedition to see the bat cave that is crowded with an estimated 10,000 Egyptian Fruit Bats.

Two other species have realized the potential of a cave full of fruit bats. There is a resident python that lives right inside the cave and no doubt reckons that he is in some sort of packed lunch heaven. He certainly doesn't have to move far for a snack! Then there is an African Fish Eagle that hangs about in the trees just outside the cave. Lunch-on-the-wing as it were.

Jo and I took the day off. I went for a wander and then while she read and sketched I checked out the hedges and flowering trees on the everlasting search for that perfect bird picture. Things went slowly at first, with the gorgeous red-chested sunbird males always not-quite-right, or with the iridescent dark green of their heads buried in a flower at the crucial moment. The came one of those Eureka! moments. A flash of green and white in a bush, and I realized that I had a chance to get a close-up of a Klaas's cuckoo. They are fairly common throughout much of East Africa, but are usually cryptic and dive ever-deeper into the foliage if one approaches. This one was different. He was quite unconcerned about me, and I was able to fire off about 60 pictures in rapid succession as he hopped about picking up scraps of who-knows-what, grabbed an unsuspecting insect and generally posed as if to the manner born. Sometimes the sun highlighted the amazing emerald green of his back and head feathers, and also showed up the bronzy colouring of some of the back feathers that are not described in the bird books. When I figure out how to send pictures to the blog I will add one or two, but the last time I tried it was a bust. That effort took place in Saskatoon, with the privilege of high-speed, and here that is not an option. Here a sort of fast crawl of something only slightly better than dial-up seems to be the norm. There is some form of Wi-Fi at the lodge, but even that is agonizingly slow.

Friday 15th Feb.
This is a double activity day. The students and I are off on a school visit while Dr. Ludwig Siefert goes looking for lions with his field assistant, James who is sitting on the roof of the Nissan Patrol holding an antenna aloft and turning it slowly to see if he can pick up any signals.

We have been supporting the tiny village school at Kasenyi, which lies on the shore of lake George. in various ways for a few years, and one feature of our visit has been the annual soccer match. The children have worn the uniforms that we donated three years ago, and we look like a bunch of ruffians, clad in our field working clothes. We have never beaten them at their own game, although we did manage a draw one year. This may be something to do with the fact that we usually field only two or three players who have ever played the game before.

This year we have brought along several gallons of paint, as the classrooms are badly in need of some maintenance. It is a sad fact that the local government education department seems to provide no funds at all for upkeep after building schools. As this one is several years old the walls are decidedly grungy, covered in the accumulated grime of many pairs of hands and the dust and dirt of passing cars and general neglect.

We get stuck into the paint job, with rollers and brushes, while Jo and Jean-Felix one of our students, a Congolese vet who is working with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program in Rwanda entertain the children with games and stories. Then it is time to give away the gifts we have brought. Colouring books, crayons, pencils and toys. The kids soon get into the mood of things when I show them how to make a pair of glasses from two pipe cleaners twisted together.

As we wrap up a call comes in from Ludwig. James has heard the "blip blip blip" in his earphones and they have found two big cats lying about 100 metres apart in some heavy thickets. Time to go looking for lions!

There are two males that hang about together, but also tend to separate for a few days at a time. Both have radio collars, but one is perilously close to its sell-by date, and its transmission signal can only be picked up inside a range of about 300 metres, which is not much use when he might range over an area of many square kilometers. Luckily his chum has a new collar and can be found at considerable distance, as long as he is not hiding behind a hill.

We soon get near to the lions, and Ludwig's first task is to make sure that they have not moved together while he was waiting on the track for us to arrive. They are even further apart than at first, and so, after some manoeuvering to get a good shot away our boy is beginning to feel the effects of the drugs. The students have drawn lots to see who would actually fire the dart, so one happy Canadian will have a story to tell round the dinner table.

For half an hour we wait to see if our patient is asleep and safe to approach. The trouble is that as the drugs began to take effect he chose to crawl into a particularly heavy patch of thicket and there is no way we can be sure that he is deeply asleep or safe to approach. After we have thrown all our water bottles into the bush, and a variety of other heavy stuff, Ludwig charges the thicket, engine gunning, to see if there is any reaction. Then he goes in carefully with James, carrying a long stick as prod. Finally the student team assigned to today's work is allowed out of the vehicle. When Ludwig touches the lion, he at once growls, and the ensuing retreat is something of a prat fall scene, as if from an old Charlie Chaplin movie, with everyone piling back into the 4 wheel-drive. However, it was really no more than a last objection, as the lion does not move at all, and a tiny top-up dose takes that final edge off.

The test of the work is pretty routine. The collar is soon changed and tested, blood samples for disease study are collected and the student team makes a thorough clinical examination of the whole cat, using exactly the same principles that they know so well form the clinic table in Saskatoon. Because this is likely to be the only lion on which we will work all of the students come forward to take a close look, paying close attention ot the mouth of this particular lion as he has several broken teeth and a few ulcers. He has definitely not been flossing before bed-time!

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