Cameras, Customs, Camping and Conferences
After multiple trips to customs to get the camera traps cleared they were finally delivered to the WWF-Kenya Nairobi Headquarters. Unfortunately, this was a few months later than expected as processing all the necessary paperwork was slower than we hoped. But they were finally here! We then spent the best part of two days unpacking and repacking the cameras for transport to the Maasai Mara. 250 cameras take up a lot of space and they would not all fit in at once, so I planned to do two trips. I have done the drive to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi a number of times, but this was the first time I was actually driving, thankfully the drive went quite smoothly, and the car did well considering how much weight it was carrying.
After arriving at Talek Bush Camp, the main base for the field season, there was a lot of work to do with sorting out the cameras and the car to start deploying cameras the next day before Dan flew home. He unfortunately couldn’t spend any more time in Kenya as he
needed to get back to the UK. It was then full steam ahead with setting up the cameras. I started in Naboisho where I was working with a very helpful ranger called Wilson. In the first two days we got the majority of the cameras done but I then had to make a quick trip back to Nairobi to pick up the remaining 150 before we could finish. Naboisho is a beautiful conservancy to the northeast of the main National Reserve and I saw lots of wildlife whilst driving around, including a handsome male leopard we bumped into one lunch time. Once we had 50 cameras up in Naboisho it was then on to Olare-Motorogi Conservancy (OMC), OMC is smaller than any of our other sites so I was only able to set up 34 cameras, but it is equally as beautiful as Naboisho.
The next site on the list was the Mara Triangle which is much larger than either of the previous sites and so the camera grid only takes up a proportion of its area. It is also a two hour drive from Talek and so the plan was to camp in one of the public campsites. These campsites are completely open to the wildlife and have very few facilities, so it was going to be three nights of going without showers and waiting until it was light to go to the toilet! After the first night whilst preparing lunch to take out in the field we were visited by some overly curious warthogs who seemed to like the smell of pesto pasta (who doesn’t!?). This was not the most exciting animal encounter of the day either. Whilst setting up the first camera of the day in an area with long grass we disturbed two buffalo who must have been lying down when we drove up. Thankfully the ranger responded quickly and the buffalo thought better of coming to investigate. The Mara Triangle is a new area of the Mara to me and I really enjoyed exploring more of it, there is huge variety in a relatively small area. The Triangle also gets the most rain of the Mara and it seemed that the short rains were starting to kick in to action with heavy showers most afternoons. This added another complication to the next wildlife encounter, although this time we never actually saw the culprits. On returning to camp (in the rain) we discovered that our tent was flattened. On closer examination it was clear that both of the poles had been broken, we have no evidence, but we are fairly sure it was baboons as they are well known tent destroyers in that area. Thankfully there were other researchers nearby who had a permanent camp who graciously offered to put us up for the remainder of our stay, it was actually a lot more comfortable than the original tent!
From the Mara Triangle the next on the list was Mara North. The team there showed real interest in the project with both the manager and the warden joining me to see what the project was all about. Mara North is quite different to the other conservancies with more people and different terrain. There is also a public main road which passes right through the centre of the conservancy which made finding suitable locations for the cameras a bit trickier. However, we managed and left having set up 46 cameras.
It was then time for a trip to Nairobi again for the Kenya Wildlife Services Annual Carnivore Conference. Even though our project isn’t just looking at carnivores we are hoping to get more information on specific species that our partners have said they are interested in so this was a great opportunity to publicise the project and hear about other research going on in Kenya, plus after over 3 weeks dashing around setting up the cameras as quickly as possible I was ready for a change in pace. It was a great turn out at this year’s conference and I had some very interesting conversations over the two days about the project. Being in Nairobi was also a chance to get a few errands done, particularly getting some things fixed on the car as all the off-road driving had not been kind to it! One of the main things I had to do was buy a new tent, hopefully this one will be more baboon proof on the next camping trip! The time in Nairobi was over pretty quickly and it was then back to the Mara to start the first round of battery and memory card changes!