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    Вы здесь » °•Поместье Сурикат•° » °•Сурикаты, и все о них•° » Изучение сурикатов


    Изучение сурикатов

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    1

    Изучение сурикатов началось с 1993 году около реки Кириман и продолжается до сих пор в разных частях заповедника. Под наблюдением находится расстояние охватывающее 100 километров

    2

    Под наблюдением находятся несколько групп животных. НО их не держат в неволе а наблюдают в естественных условиях существования. Изучается взаимодействие между наблюдаемыми группами

    3

    Радиоошейники ставятся не для того чтобы отследить конкрентное животное а чтобы отследить целую группу. Шейные ошейники лёгкое устройство сурикаты хорошо их переносят. Шейные ошейники весят 18 г. Их носят по очереди самец и самка ( только доминирующая пара) Нет правила по которому животное только одного пола может носить ошейник

    4

    Тонга написал(а):

    Их носят по очереди самец и самка ( только доминирующая пара)

    Восноовном это так, но не всегда. Это справидливо лишь для хорошо прирученных и устоявшихся групп. К примеру: в группе Hoax ошейник носила подчинённая VWF076 Tina Sparkle, в группе Starsky ошейник был у подчинённой Mozart, в группе PK ошейник был у доминирующей самки VEF124 Beebop и у подченённого самца VWM116 Rhogan Josh. В конце существования группы Commandos радио-ошейник был у подченённой самки Cho, после её гибили, она была найдена мёртвой под землей, остающиеся члены группы Commandos не могли быть больше прослежены, и было принято решение что группа считается пропавшей, вследствии того, что туберкулез  прогрессировал в группе. И т.д. и т.п.

    5

    Как назвать детёныша суриката? Это право человека который за ним наблюдает Поскольку имя детёнышу присваивает один человек это очень личное дело Многи сурикаты носят итальянские африканские и даже вьетнамские имена отражающие происхождение людей которые давали им эти имена

    6

    Сурикатов помечают чтобы было удобнее следить за ними. В большинстве групп каждый узор отображается только один раз. Но в некоторых группах например Вискеры один и тот же узор может повторится так ка одного раза недостаточно. Один и тот же знак может использоватся например для молодой самочки и старого самца. Этих животных очень легко отличить друг от друга
    Каждые 5-8 недель краситель меняется. Животные не чувствуют окрашивания в другой цвет
    В некоторых живтных вводится чип Эта микросхема имеет размер зёрнышка риса. Она помогает провести тест на отцовство
    Радиоошейник отслеживается на не очень больших расстояниях 50-300 метров

    7

    Изучаемая территория огорожена забором чтобы ничто не мешало изучению этих животных. Сурикаты могут свободно перемещатся по своей территории как это делают другие животные. Есть несколько групп которые живут за пределами заповедника

    8

    Сурикаты рассматривают людей в большинстве случаев игнорируют их. Но если люди случайно посмотрят им в глаза животные перекроют путь. Они не считают нужным взаимодействовать с людьми. Люди не опасны не питание не хищники не соперники они для сурикатов пустое место. Сурикаты обращают внимание на людей только когда чувствуют что их помечают. ТОгда они могут коснутся людей
    Шансы увидеть щенков возрастают в сезон дождей с ноября по май Однако в удачные годы щенки могут рождатся целый год

    9

    Сурикаты принадлежат Калахари. Их не рекомендуется держать в качевстве домашних животных по таким причинам
    1  Сурикаты - общественные животные они будут страдать от одиночевства так же как страдают изгнанные самки. Вы не сможете заменить им групу
    2  Сурикат будет защищать свою территорию. Он будет нападать и кусать злоумышленников ( В данном случае других домашних животных)
    3  Человек не сможет подобрать сурикату нормальную среду обитания и гарантировать правильное питание

    10

    Обозначения
    FSEEN - первый раз замечен
    SOES - начало или конец спаривания
    FPREG - первые признаки беременности
    EPREG - выкидыш
    BIRTH - самка родила
    BORN - рождение
    SLAC/ELAC - начало или конец молоковыделения
    EMERGE -заметили малышей
    1STMV - первый раз малыши вышли на поверхность
    1STFO - первый раз малыши кормились вместе с группой
    LOST - потерянный помёт ( малыши не вышли или были найдены мёртвыми
    EM/IMM - животные которые временно или на совсем перешли в другую группу
    LEFT/RETURN - животное которое не появляется в своей группе не более трёх недель
    GRPSPLT - расколотые группы которые провели ночь отдельно друг от друга
    APPROACH/DEPART- приближение другой группы
    GRPENC- встреча двух групп
    APPEAR/DISAPPEAR - появление или исчезновение членов группы попытка создать свою собственную группу
    DOMBID - бои
    SDOM/EDOM - начало и конец доминирования
    LSEEN - отсутствие взрослого животного более одного месяца
    APRED -исчезновение малыша ( тельце не найдено)

    DEAD - смерть животного любого возраста ( тело найдено и идетцификацировано)

    11

    Индификационный код ставится по таким правилам
    1 Первая буква ставится чтобы отличать животное от других
    2 Второй ( а иногда и третьей буквой) ставится буква которая обозначает группу в которой животное родилось или было замечено
    3 Третья буква обозначает когда животное спарилось
    4 Код заканчивается тремя цифрами которые просто выделяются последовательно

    12

    Кроме иденцификационных кодов животным присваиваются имена для повседневного пользования так как многим исследователям их легче запомнить чем огромное количевство цифр. имена щенкам присваиваются обычно лдям которые работают с группой в которой произошло пополнение. Полученое сурикатом имя редко меняется

    13

    Имя и иденцификационный код наиболее часто используются в заметках наблюдателей
    Иденцификационный код не содержит имени. Имя используется в повседневной работе
    Названия новых групп выбираются всей командой исследователей
    Каждый помёт так же помечается стандартным кодом
    Недоразвитые помёты также помечаются кодом но в конце ставится буква А

    14

    Пусть за меня говорят участники изучения сурикатов
    My name is Terry.  I have two grown children, and two small grandchildren, and I live in Denver, Colorado with my two kids who have not left home -- my cats, Sydney and Squeaky.  I work in a large law firm and have worked in law firms most of my life.  About 6 years ago, I had a life changing event that some might call a mid-life crisis.  My world and interests began to broaden, and I discovered a deep interest in the conservation of wildlife.  In 2007 I was already an avid Meerkat Manor fan, as the Animal Planet channel had become the outlet for my burgeoning interest in wildlife.
    When Season Three of Meerkat Manor began airing, and the reality of the meerkats’ harsh world was depicted in detail, I started researching the project itself in order to answer my questions.  I found the volunteer project sponsored by Earthwatch and immediately signed up.  Then I found this website, joined our ‘mob,’ and the harsh reality of life and death in the Kalahari was tempered by the knowledge I was gaining about the research.  Tim Clutton-Brock’s book also had been published, and all these discoveries solidified my desire to actually travel to the Kalahari to participate in the research and be a part of the lives of these endearing creatures for a brief time.

    I left Denver on August 31, 2008 on the Delta flight through Atlanta.  I was due to

    spend two weeks in the Kalahari, and then one week on a reserve in the Sabi Sands and Phinda Reserve on safari.  I ran into three of my fellow Earthwatchers on the plane to Upington – upon arrival, our leader, Sophie, was waiting.  Off we went to shop (treats for the reseachers and gifts for the children at the Vanzylsrus primary school), and then the long ride to the reserve.  When we arrived at the reserve, we had to brush the dust off, unpack and check out our rondavels – I chose the one named ‘Tolbossie,’ because it was the closest to the bathroom!  Dinner was prepared by our talented cook, Tina -- who speaks three languages, but primarily stays in the background.  Our other leaders, Dave Bell and Rob Sutcliffe joined us for dinner, where we had time for a “get to know you” session.  Then, tired and sand-dirty, we dropped into bed, with visions of meerkats waiting for us in the morning.

    15

    Тонга написал(а):

    Пусть за меня говорят участники изучения сурикатов
    My name is Terry.  ...

    Вот фотография Terry:
    http://img-fotki.yandex.ru/get/4214/meerkat-manor.1/0_22f06_8ec2abda_XL.jpg

    ... и список её дневника (в переводе):
    1 - Прибытие в ...
    2 - Лазулаи и обучение
    3 - Azteks и Commandos
    4 - Commandos и Drie Doring
    5 - Whiskers
    6 / 7 - Пикник / Elveera
    8 / 9 - Whiskers, Drie, Commandos
    10 - визит в школу, Kung Fu
    11 - Лазулаи, щенки Ацтеков
    12 - Ацтеки, Whiskers, барбекю
    13 - Whiskers

    Отредактировано Yossarian (2010-04-12 21:34:37)

    16

    The alarm went off at 5:30, but I was already awake and thinking about the first trip into the field.  We had time for a quick breakfast of cereal, one cup of coffee, and were on the road by 6:45 to see the Lazuli!  Sophie took my group out for this first session, and my stomach began to flutter knowing that we were finally stepping into the world of the meerkats.  When we got to the burrow, Axel was up, along with Machu Pichu, and that as yet unknown decision making factor left Machu Pichu as the day’s babysitter.  The pups were not yet out of the burrow as they were newly born, and I knew that I would probably not see them at all while I was at the KMP.  But there were other groups that had pups closer to emerging, so I consoled myself with the hope that I would have another chance.  We stayed in the field following the group for what seemed like a very short time.  Since we didn’t yet have any field duties, it was nice to just follow them and learn not to step on them!

    Back at the farmhouse, we first had a meerkat behavior session led by Fiona – she has such a great sense of humor that we were entranced within a very short time.  The rest of the afternoon was taken up with a project overview by Dave Bell, a safety talk (scorpions and snakes, oh my!), and finally, GPS training.  Then we were off to dinner at Rus en Vrede (the “Meerkat House”) where all of the meerkat volunteers live.  We toured the house, and were shown how the researchers keep the TB and non-TB bags and equipment separated to minimize the chance of cross-infection.


    I took time to get settled in my rondavel, download pictures to my laptop, and dropped into bed.

    17

    We had to be ready for the field by 6:30 today – the groups are getting up earlier, so we have to get up earlier too.  Mornings at Rus en Vrede are a little hectic – researchers picking out the vehicles for the day, and deciding which researcher was going to ‘suffer’ which Earthwatch group.  We broke into groups and my group was headed to the Aztecs with Kate.  I was so excited knowing I was finally going to see Zaphod and Monkulus!  While I did my field job for the morning, which was GPS tracking, I followed Zaphod and Monkulus around as much as possible while they were foraging.  I managed to get a great short video of Zaphod eating a huge scorpion.  That morning walking with the Aztecs was a privilege.  We followed them to a waterhole and ran into some eland, but all too soon, it was time to take their lunch weights and head back for our own midday meal.
    The lunch break today was welcome – I needed a shower, and it was warmer to take a shower midday.  September is late winter, very early spring in the Kalahari, so the mornings and nights were cold, but it warmed up to a nice temperature by mid to late morning.  Some of my fellow Earthwatchers were getting sick with a bad cold, so we were short on hands for the planned afternoon.

    Dave Bell was headed out to see if the Commandos new pups were up yet, and I was going to go with him!  We approached the burrow hoping to see a tiny head – and there they were – four tiny heads in the burrow entrance.  Karim and Everest were babysitting.  Two of these pups were believed to be DM Zorilla’s, and they were just a week or two older than the other two from subordinate Samba.  However, six pups eventually emerged – Samba had four and Zorilla had two.  These six pups should be out foraging with the group when the Friends visit – what a raucous sound that will be with six pups begging at the same time!  The only disturbing item about this time with the Commandos was noticing Karim’s face.  He had a lump on the side of his face that looks suspiciously like TB.  Dave said that they will keep an eye on it.  I worried about the pups and can only hope that the bump is a minor bite or the result of a fight and not that vicious disease.

    Another absolutely marvelous day in the KMP – how could tomorrow get any better!

    18

    Had to be up and out a little earlier again this morning.  We are back at the Commandos with Nate (one of my favorite researchers), and the pups are still very, very cute.  Eventually, the group decided to leave and the pups are not yet ready to forage.  Today we are doing foraging focals, where we follow an individual for 15 minutes while one person observes, and the other person notes down on a sheet various things the observer tells them about the meerkat’s behavior and what he or she is eating.  We noted some unusual and funny behavior – Coop began pup-feeding a subadult, who was squealing just like a pup.  It worked though -- Coop fell for it completely.  When the meerkats either urinate or defecate, we help spot this for the researcher.  I excitedly called to Nate that I saw a meerkat poop, so Nate asked if I wanted to learn how to collect it (it has to be a sterile collection).  I was so excited –hum, how do I explain that – that I got excited because I was allowed to pick up the poop??  People will look at me very weird when I tell them this.

    During our midday break, I had to learn how to use the washer – it works fine, but I should not have brought white socks.  The sand is ground into them and they will not get clean – next time, bring brown socks…

    This afternoon, we headed for what is known as “the Drie.”  The Drie Doring’s territory is a long flat expanse of the drie doring bushes (hence the name), and those bushes are hard to navigate.  They have sticky, sharp thorns that scratch your legs (note to self – do not wear shorts when you come to this group again).  We walked a long way to find this group.  Tracking is done in the afternoon, when the groups have wandered away from their burrow.  Since we stay with them until they go down for the night, we know where they are the next morning.  But in the afternoon, it can take a while to finally find them, depending on how far away they have wandered.  The DM Makonkie is very pregnant.  Subordinate Mist is also pregnant – but she looks like she will give birth after Makonkie, so we hope she and her pups are safe.  The friends will also have a bunch of pups at this group!  The only other notable event this afternoon is that somewhere in between all those drie bushes are my glasses!  We searched and searched, but no glasses.  Oh well, I didn’t really like doing bird scans anyway….

    19

    It is Saturday morning, and I have been here since Tuesday.  It is finally my turn to see the Whiskers.  Nate is taking us out this morning, and he has named the Whiskers new pup, Savuka, which means “we have arisen” in Zulu.  Naming of the pups is a big deal for the researchers, and it is obvious that Nate was delighted about his chance to name a pup.  Savuka is absolutely adorable, if a little spoiled – even somewhat of a brat.  He bites his family off and on – sometimes right on the mouth – so I could not tell if he was trying to play or if he just wanted someone to feed him.  Nugget is known as the ‘egg monster.’  She runs for the box the minute she hears the “hmm-hmm-hmm,” and pushes others out of the way to get a bit of egg.  While they were foraging, a heavily pregnant female from Sequoia was hanging around.  My notes say that it was Benzedrine – or that Nate thought that it might be Benzedrine.  The Whiskers war danced at her a few times and she eventually left the area.  When we did lunch weights, one of my other Earthwatch team members sat down, and Nugget and Oriole both climbed on her.  She did not have a camera, and my battery had been saying it needed recharging.  So Nate gave me some of his batteries to try, and voila!  I was able to take several photos for her (in spite of my jealousy).  I was squatting with my legs crossed, and Thundercat decided to come and swipe my knee – I was marked!!

    In the afternoon, Kate took us to Kung Fu for the first time.  We had a hard time finding them, but eventually found them in an area of very long grass.  I was so afraid walking through that grass that I would step on one of them.  I was still being very careful when it was my turn for a good meerkat photo – my forever memory of “Ningaloo on my head.”  Kate had told us that Ningaloo had a propensity for jumping on people, so when he jumped on my shoulder and scrambled around, I froze.  My teammate snapped the photo of a lifetime for me.  How can it get any better than this!

    20

    We are supposed to sleep in today, but I am up at 6:30 catching up on my journal before I forget the little details that have made this journey such a rich experience.  We are having a picnic today on the Big Dune and then an afternoon game drive to help with a game count.  When I went into the kitchen, I saw an egg being boiled.  The work doesn’t stop on Sundays for the researchers.  Professor Clutton-Brock seems to have found the brightest of the bright to volunteer on the Manor, each of them having delightful personalities and the ability to interact with us in a very positive way.  The Big Dune is the highest point on the reserve.  The “wind had got up a bit,” so the fine red sand was everywhere – in the food, our socks and even my mouth.  Later, Dave gave us an “all you ever wanted to know about meerkats” presentation.  He was the photographer for that great picture on the website of the Whiskers running down a hill.   He said he was in the right place at the right time – what a shot!  Later, we went on our game count drive in an open “bakkie,” which I guess just means truck.  Sophie would yell, “mind the branches” when we got close to a camelthorn tree so that whoever was standing up in the back of the truck would duck and not get scratched by the branches.  Of course, I was so busy looking around and not paying attention that I didn’t duck once.  Ouch!  A good scratch on my nose and chin had me pointed straight ahead after that.  We stopped for sunddowners to watch the sunset – another lovely day on the Manor.

    21

    Today we didn’t meet until 8:30 a.m. for a biodiversity scan.  We were scanning for trees and large burrows that were being used by porcupines or ardvarks, and sociable weavers’ nests.  Thank goodness we didn’t see any of those because we would have had to count the entrances, and there can be as many as 70!  We also took a GPS marking of the mesquite that needs to be removed – it is a non-native species that sucks up the water, so the Project has teamed up with a South African water conservation entity who removes the mesquite and poisons the roots.


    In the afternoon, we went to Elveera, a rather large group.  Chibuku Skud looked pregnant.  We found them foraging near the main road, and it was absolutely hair raising watching them get near that road and start to cross.  A couple of cars went by, and we had to hold our breath each time.  Finally, I heard Jo Jo Hello make the lead calls to go back to their burrow, and we all sighed with relief when they all made it back safely.  At least today, I do not have to face any harsh realities of meerkat life.

    22

    I was thrilled to be going back to the Whiskers today with Nate.  It was a perfect morning, without the piercing wind, and warm enough that the layers had to come off.  At one point, as we were removing clothing because of the heat, one of my teammates put her hat on the ground.  The Whiskers group up around the hat and began mobbing it for a minute or two until they figured out that it was an inanimate object.  Then the  group found a tree with a hole at the base that they found very interesting, and I was able to film them running in and out of it – it was delightful to watch them explore and sniff around.  Maybe it was a genet’s home the night before.  Nugget found a bush for her turn at guard duty, and watching her balance on a branch smaller than a pencil was amazing.

    That afternoon, we headed back to Drie Doring.  Nate calls Finn MacCool “the devil.”  He showed us his index finger that was still black and blue from a bite Finn gave him that pierced to the bone.  Nate said that Finn is very territorial and sometimes actually chases the researchers!  We did not get chased, and the afternoon was uneventful.

    23

    This morning, we did a vegetation survey.  Using bisect (aspect) strings, we walked 200 points to identify the vegetation in our section.  Apparently, when Tim Clutton-Brock found the land, it was overgrazed, so his dream was to return the reserve to its native state.  He removed the domestic farm animals and introduced the native springbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, and eland, and these surveys are to check the progress of the return.

    Later, it was back to the Commandos.  Zorilla has a scar on her face that Dave said was obtained in a fight for dominance with her sister Kleintjie (pronounced “Klank ee” or “Klink ee”), which means “little one” in Afrikaans.  Karim must have been roving today, leaving only Cho babysitting.  His face looks just a little bit better.  He returned to the group near the burrow, but there was no dominance assertion by Miles – he just slipped in unnoticed.

    Tonight Nate and young Dave (a new researcher) are coming for dinner.  The researchers take turns coming over to our farmhouse for dinner.  They really seem to enjoy it and I guess they sign up for dinner visits depending on what is being cooked.  Tonight there is Cape Brandy Pudding for dessert, which is a favorite.  Tina is a fabulous cook!  I went back to my rondavel to a visiting gekko on my wall – he must live up in the eaves because he ran straight up there when I moved the curtain.  He probably thinks that I am the intruder…..

    24

    It is Thursday morning, and we get to sleep in today again.  We are going to the Vanzylsrus school this morning and having lunch at the Vanzylsrus Hotel.  So, after packing two vehicles – one with Earthwatchers and the other with gifts for the school, we started out toward "town." 

    If you blink, you will miss it – there is a petrol stop, a liquor store, and a small grocery store with a very limited selection.  The school handles 400 children from the surrounding farms and small towns, and about 100 of the children stay in a dormitory on the school grounds.  There are combined classrooms, sometimes 3 grades, depending on their skill level.  Their teacher said about 80-90% of these children are affected one way or another by HIV.  The 100 children living in the dorms were removed from their homes for a variety of reasons, including abuse.  We met the teacher of the classroom we were to visit, who is also the sister of the woman who owns and runs the hotel in town.  The children seemed very excited to see us, and while most of them do not speak English, they know how to say, "me, me" and "one more, one more" as we took their pictures over and over.  They recited a poem they have learned in English and sang us a song, and it was time to leave.  What an experience--heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
         

    The hotel in town is an oasis in the desert.  I can't quite describe how it is decorated – but the décor is fabulous.  Sort of a neo-modern blend of vivid colors and handmade items, the theme of which reflects the area – giant metal scorpions and large flowers and birds hand-carved into the cement walls.  It was fascinating and very beautiful.  We had a great lunch, and the owner let us look in the rooms.  My favorite, of course, is the "Meerkat Meander" room.

    Then back to the reserve for a short rest, and back to work.  In the afternoon, we went back to Kung Fu with Kate, and it was to be the last time I was to see Ningaloo and the rest of this group.  It was sad to be saying goodbye to them.  I realized that my time was getting short – only 2-1/2 more days with the meerkats.

    25

    Friday.  The alarm went off too soon this morning – I have become lazy with the sleep-ins this week.  It is windy again and chilly, and I would rather stay in bed.  But this was to be my last time with the Lazuli, so I quickly shrugged off my sleepiness in favor of spending quality time with Machu Pichu, Young, Wollow and Axel.  Machu Pichu's scar from the snakebite seems to be healed, and while he may not be one of the handsomest meerkats on the Manor, he is one of my favorites.  I was able to get several good close up photos of his scar, and I am posting some here. 

    Once the group began to forage, there were a series of predator alarms, including the sighting of a rare martial eagle.  Meerkat eyesight is amazing!  The group would go on alert, peering up into the sky, and we would look up straining to see what they were looking at, but would see nothing.  By the time we could see what they were so alarmed about, they would already be down a bolthole!  Nate said it appeared there were several lactating females, so hopefully, there are a lot of pups, and there is probably a mixed litter below.  All too soon, I had to say goodbye to the Lazuli.  I consoled myself with the news that we could choose whatever group we wanted to spend time with on our last two days in the field, as long as a researcher was going to that group.  It was to be a hard choice – Whiskers and Aztecs are my favorites, but then there are all those pups at Commandos – I decided not to decide yet.

    After lunch, we went to the Aztecs burrow – and the pups are up!  There are four of them, and they are adorable.  I got out the extra camera batteries in my backpack, because I knew I would need to take a lot of videos of these adorable babies.  After being in total awe of the four beautiful offspring of Monkulus for what seemed like such a short time, we had to leave and find the rest of the group who were out foraging.  I would just have to come back to see the pups tomorrow.  It was still windy and chilly, so we were certain that once the group finished foraging and made it back to the burrow, they would go down immediately and there would be no chance of seeing the pups again today.  Oh well, I had no problem making up my mind where I would spend at least part of my weekend time in the field – I just had to get more time with these pups.

    Back at the reserve, I did a little negotiating with the other Earthwatchers, and finally had my group selection done for Saturday and Sunday.  I’ll spend my last two days in the field with the Aztecs and the Whiskers.

    26

    I am so excited to go see the Aztec pups this morning!  Then as soon as I realize this will be the last time I see Zaphod and Monkulus, a sharp sadness hits me.  I have elected to spend this afternoon’s session and tomorrow morning’s brief session with the Whiskers.  So this morning is my last time at the Aztecs.  It turned out to be a beautiful morning – still a little windy, but we were able to spend a fair amount of time at the burrow with the pups before the group decided to go out and forage.  I know that I will always have my memories of this time, but it is just so hard to say goodbye to this group.  Especially Zaphod – regal, dignified Zaphod.

    Our afternoon break back at the farmhouse was very hectic – we have a lot of people to feed tonight.  Tina is off today, and all the researchers from the meerkat house are coming to dinner for the braai, so we have a lot of kitchen duty to get done.  I peeled sweet potatoes and chopped as many vegetables as I could, but Sophie did most of the work while we were in the field.  Pretty soon, the kitchen began to smell wonderful and the mood was getting very festive.  This braai (which just means barbeque) is something that all the researchers look forward to and this was to be our final party where we show our appreciation to them for helping us with our meerkat journey the past couple of weeks.

    We still had to do our field work to do in the afternoon, so after our kitchen duties were done, it was back to the Whiskers.  Jess was our afternoon researcher, and I was looking forward to spending time with the project historian.  Jess is the one who does the life history report each month.  After Jess suffered all of our questions while the Whiskers foraged, I had a wonderful moment.  The Whiskers started to head back to the burrow for the night, and Jess asked if I could help her by scribing the weights in the Whiskers weight book.  I was nearly beside myself – what an honor!  I told her, "now my handwriting will be forever in the Whiskers records," and she laughed and said, "yes, yes, it's the little things."

    Later, the braai turned out to be a lot of fun - the food was good, and the company better.  I went to sleep tired but not wanting my time on the manor to end.  That sadness is creeping in again.

    27

    It is Sunday morning, and I will soon spend my last hours with the meerkats.  It is very windy and chilly again.  Yesterday, the other group of Earthwatchers who worked with the Commandos witnessed a burrow move.  They reported that it was complete mayhem -- pups were being dropped everywhere, and it seemed like a disaster.  But the Commandos eventually pulled it off and got everyone to the new burrow.  I am now off to see the Whiskers for the last time (heavy sigh).  Fiona is our researcher this morning, and she is very charming and delightful to be around, so maybe that will make this last trip easier.  The Whiskers were very skittish and seemed to jump and bolt underground for no apparent reason.  It was the wind – it was hard to hear anything, and there were several drongos around making alarm calls to see if they could steal a meal.

    As the morning progressed, the Whiskers were foraging closer and closer to the meerkat house.  I knew Fiona was giving us a little extra time with them, but it was clear that everyone was getting tired of the wind, so we had to say goodbye.  We slowly walked to the meerkat house where our ride back to Gannevlakte was waiting -- I blinked very hard as we drove away, so that no one would see me “crying.” 

    After dinner, we all headed to our rondavels somewhat early – we had to be up at 5:45 am to make the long drive into Upington, but wouldn’t you know it – I could see a storm coming in the distance!  The lightening was still far in the distance, but it looked like the long flashes were striking the ground.  I had been hoping for rain for the entire last two weeks and it was finally coming on my last night in the Kalahari.  I fell asleep wondering if we would see one of those fantastic thunderstorms that can hit the desert suddenly and with Thor-like fury, but if it happened, I didn’t hear it.

    The next morning, after hugging Sophie and again having to blink very hard, I was off to the next part of my adventure – my safari to Sabi Sands and Phinda Reserve.  Even with so much to look forward to, my heart was heavy leaving the meerkats.  This has been the experience of a lifetime for me, and I just have to figure out how I can come back……

    28

    Monica's diary

    a







    My name is Monica and this was my first Earthwatch Expedition. I fell in love with the Meerkats the very first episode, of Season One-Meerkat Manor, and decided that 2008 was going to be my year to “walk with the Meerkats”, and I did. My background and education is Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science, which landed me in the engineering department, of a tele- communications company. But my first love and passion has always been animals. Besides owning several dogs, our property recently certified, and is officially posted as, a Wildlife Habitat.

    Our trip to South Africa, my husband David also made the journey to the Kalahari Meerkat Project, was an incredible vacation and a valuable learning experience. Not only did we get to walk with the Meerkats, we got to walk with the Researchers too! It was an experience I would whole heartedly recommend and I am most definitely planning to do again.

    Click on the links below to read my diary of the expedition:

    1 - Are we there yet?

    2 - We're off to see the Whiskers!

    3 - Who's Been Sleeping in My Burrow?

    4 - The Lazuli

    5 - The Aztecs

    6 - Life in General

    Upcoming installments:

    The Elveera -Just say "NO" to the road!
    The Drie Doring: New Heights in Scent Marking.
    The Kung Fu
    Whiskers and The Rover
    Squirrels Dig Burrows Too
    Catch-All: Birds and Plant Eaters

    29

    The decision to join an Earthwatch Expedition, to actually be able to walk with the Meerkats, was made early in June of 2007. The following month, when the 2008 expedition dates were announced, I immediately sent in our deposits, securing two spots on Earthwatch Expedition - Meerkats of the Kalahari - Team Two.

    Seemingly overnight the dream had become a reality. We were going. We were going to Africa! We were going to Africa to work with the Meerkats! Over the next few months as each detail was finalized, and there were quite a few details to finalize, the time remaining to plan and organize was coming to an end.

    At 7:30 a.m., on Sunday morning May 18th, we were officially on our way to the Pittsburgh airport and the start of our long awaited adventure. We would arrive at our rendezvous location, the Upington airport in South Africa, the morning of May 20th. There we would meet Sophie, a researcher and also the on-site Earthwatch coordinator, for the Meerkat expedition. The remaining four Earthwatch volunteers, and our teammates, were arriving on the very next plane.

    We were a full six-member team. Besides David, my husband and an engineer with Westinghouse, there was a married couple from the Bahamas, Dyane an independent small business owner and his wife Linda, a corporate financial attorney, a photo-journalist named Dale and Jack, a retired school teacher also from the Pittsburgh area. What a diverse group of people! Such varied backgrounds and educations and yet, here we all stood, united because of the one common thread that we all shared. The Meerkats.

    After a very nice lunch and an opportunity to pick up a few grocery items, we headed out into the Kalahari, on what was to become a three and a half hour drive. (Insert the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme song here.) The first hour was smooth and uneventful, then, the pavement ended. Seriously, the pavement ended. At this point, we stopped, got out to stretch our legs and to use the last chance rest stop. And trust me, even if you just “think” you might need to use the facilities, use them!

    The second part of this journey, and the longest, is unpaved sand and dirt, in a seven passenger Land Cruiser, hauling a trailer filled with luggage and newly purchased groceries for the next two weeks. Even though Sophie’s driving skills are excellent, the transition, onto the dirt road is rough one. I kept thinking, “So this is how it feels to have fillings in your teeth shaken loose.” And I kept waiting for the “rough” patch to settle into what I have experienced, in Pennsylvania, as driving on a dirt road. In hindsight I laugh! That was as good as it got! And after several days on the reserve it became the norm. Amazing how your perception of normal changes.

    We arrived at the farm, no worse for wear, with just a hint of dust on our clothing, hair and luggage. Okay, you could shake your head and the dust would fly. It reminded me of one of my dogs, who had just taken a dust bath and was shaking off the excess, before being allowed to come back into the house. Note to self: Keep head and arms inside the vehicle at all times, with the windows up, on the return trip.

    Arriving at the complex in late afternoon, tumbling from the car, grabbing our luggage then heading back to the rondovals, the smell of something wonderful cooking permeated from the kitchen out into the breezeway. Dinner! We made our way around to the other side of the farmhouse, to the area of the rondovals, where we finally had a chance to unpack and settle in.

    The rondovals are clean and more spacious than I had anticipated. There was a sink with cold running water, a table with a small lamp, a chair, a clothing wrack and a six drawer dresser. Also, a trunk containing additional throws was placed next to the bed, and served as a substitute nightstand. The bathrooms were in an adjacent building, just several paces from the rondovals, complete with hot running water and flushing toilets.

    After meeting with Sophie, in the “living room”, we moved onto dinner, which was as delicious as the earlier aroma had promised. There wasn’t much discussion after dinner that first evening. Everyone was tired. The next morning, before dawn, we would be meeting with our appointed researcher and moving out to visit with our very first Meerkat group. Just the thought of an African sunrise, at the Whisker’s sleeping burrow, was going to be enough to keep me awake the entire night! Or so I thought.

    Once I changed into my sleep wear, pulled the blanket down on the bed, opened the curtains letting in the light of the full African moon, and as I looked out of my rondoval I realized my eyelids were no longer supporting the ‘open’ position. I immediately fell asleep, much to my surprise, with visions of meerkats running through my head.

    My last thought, as my head settled onto the pillow and the light of the moon illuminated my room, was:

    Are we there yet? Absolutely!

    Click here for next installment: We're off to see the Whiskers!

    30

    That first morning the wake-up-call came early, very early. It was still dark, it was chilly bordering cold, and there were no televisions, or radios or local weather channel reports. “So what?” you ask. Well, there I stand in my rondoval without a daily weather report, mentally struggling with wardrobe options so as to dress wisely for the upcoming day and its activities. How cold was it now? How hot would it get? Was it going to rain? Would it be overcast, with the possibilities of a shower, or a brilliant sun with a cloudless sky and searing heat? Gulp! We had 45 minutes to dress, prepare and eat breakfast, and then make our way to the Meerkat burrow before they emerged to face the warm, morning sun.

    The answer to dressing was, “Dress for the moment, but have room in your backpack for discarded items, when the temperature rises, or additional clothing if it cools off.” And that was the plan for each and every day that followed.

    After a quick bite we all pile back into the Land Cruiser and head out, to the Rus en Vrede farm, driving through the reserve and not needing to be seat belted in. Seat belts are a requirement off the reserve and on the main roads shared with locals and farmers. More on the roads later.

    This morning’s visit to the burrows had the six of us divided into two groups, with one group going to Whiskers, the other group visiting the Lazuli. I was going to the Whisker’s burrow along with Jack and David. (I was quietly jumping up and down inside my head!) Actually, I was screaming inside of my head and I was sure everyone else could hear. But, no one seemed to notice, so I started practicing the “hmmm-hmmm-humm” habituation call. Hey, I wanted to be prepared and not scare the Whiskers into next month! But then everyone kept asking me if I needed water, and I realized that I was scaring the other Earthwatch volunteers, so I stopped making the habituation sounds.

    Once we arrived at the farm house, we were introduced to the researcher that would be taking us to the Whisker’s burrow, Dave Bell, and he then informed us that we would be walking to the burrow. Walking? Yikes! Did he really just say we were walking? Wait, there are vehicles available, I can see them, they are right over there, off the porch under the car port. I need to get a little closer just to be sure of what I heard. Yep, we are walking. Okay, I can do this. But the desert looks so vast and the dirt road that we are headed for appears to extend, in either direction, for miles. Okay, just breathe.

    The walking turned out to be way easier than I could ever have anticipated. It is flat, for the most part, the pace is moderate, and the finish line is the Whisker’s burrow. The Whisker’s burrow, how cool is that? As the days progressed, and the body and mind adjusted, the walking became a pleasure.

    For the first visit to the burrow, the walk was relatively short, since they had bedded down in a burrow very close to the farm house the previous evening. We arrived before the Meerkats were up, which was the plan. Now, waiting at the burrow as the sun was beginning to rise, we had the opportunity to witness the beauty of the sky and the landscape as it came into focus, in the pink twinge of morning light. And just then, for a brief moment, a head appeared taking a quick look around in all directions, then “poof”, quickly disappeared back down into the burrow entrance. The heads, bobbing up and down in the burrow entrances, would repeat itself several more times before it was deemed warm enough to finally get the troops up and out of the burrow.

    When the Meerkats finally did emerge, they stood facing the sun, some a bit more unsteady on their feet than others. And then, there was Ella, standing on tip-toes scanning the horizon and checking the sky for hungry aerial predators.

    My first impression of Ella, the new dominate female, was a very positive one. She is a beauty. And, she is large for a female, weighing in at a weight usually associated with a male, and the researchers have noticed this too. So I was laughing as Ella was refusing to get into the scale for the morning weigh in. (You go girl!) Weight is just a number and doesn’t define who you are.

    Okay, for a meerkat it just might. It seems that once a meerkat becomes a dominate male or female, there is a hormonal change, a change that allows them to become larger and heavier than the other meerkats. This being said, Ella was still having nothing to do with the scale box, or the researcher’s coaxing with water and crumbled egg. Finally, Dave (Bell) the researcher, started to reach for Ella to lift her by the base of the tail onto the scale. The look that she gave him was monumental! Um, maybe more like murderous. So, being the wise field researcher that he is, Dave decided to list Ella’s weight as “refused to be weighed.” I’m going to try that at my next doctor office visit!

    While the Meerkats were sunning themselves, and still yawning, it was the perfect opportunity for Dave to refresh their dye marks. After everyone had finished warming up, and taking their turn on the scale and receiving their spa treatment, it was time to move out.

    The Whiskers had a very productive morning of foraging. We made a huge circle and ended up very close to where we had started out five hours earlier.

    Axel has proven himself as a reliable sentry and excellent forager. He is a very healthy and alert Whisker male. I watched, and photographed, as he demonstrated his skill at cleaning off the bitter taste from millipedes’ outer skin and his success at defending his meal from Rhogan Josh. Axel and Rhogan Josh both scaled, and guarded from, the very sharp camel thorn bush that grows almost everywhere! Yes, I will share those amazing photos. Axel also submitted to Wollow, who appears to be assuming the “dominate male” position, since Machu Pichu’s brush with a snake. Although he survived the snake bite he is no longer with the group. (In the days to come we will see him again – more on that later.)

    Busta is ill. He has lost almost half his weight and often stops to rest while the others continue to forage. At the time of our expedition he had not been diagnosed with tuberculoses and he was not presenting with any swellings or lumps. Busta was still alive and keeping up with the Whiskers on the last day we say them. Nugget and Beaker did some play fighting and then came Juno, Marico, Oriole and Sabota! These guys were “all” play, all the time, and loving every minute of being young. Rufus was also spotted doing guard duty, on and off in a very thorny bush, but did manage to forage and fend off drongos.

    The most surprising event of the morning was the encounter with the Forked-Tailed Drongos. They are a shiny sleek, medium sized, very black bird with red eyes. Most are banded, colored bands attached to their legs, and are also part of an ongoing study at the reserve. But this morning, we felt as if “they” were the ones, studying “us”.

    As I was watching what Ella was doing, I felt a rush of air by my ear and turned, to come face to face, with a forked-tailed drongo. Just hovering in place and staring at me. But Ella had caught a scorpion and the crunching sound had the drongo moving out to hover above Ella. The Meerkats basically ignore the birds. But because it was a really good foraging patch, and the crunching sounds must have carried, a “flock” of forked-tailed drongos were assembling in a nearby shrub. Then, they decided to give the Earthwatchers another once over and started literally getting in our faces. It was interesting. Okay, interesting only if you hadn’t seen the original Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”. Dave radioed, to the researcher who is studying the birds, to let them know how many had congregated and where.

    All in all it was an amazing first morning and I really didn’t want to head back in for lunch. But, the Meerkats had all been weighed, again, to get their mid-day weights after foraging, and it was time to head back to the farm house.

    After lunch and a brief nap, we reassembled in the farm house to meet with Sophie and learn what was to come next, in our ongoing Earthwatch adventure. The rest of the afternoon would be spent learning how to operate the GPS handheld units and gathering for yet another delicious dinner and great conversation.

    As I prepared for bed that night, I couldn’t believe how fast the day had gone, and how early 6:00 the following morning would be arriving. Honestly, I was tired, but I fell asleep with a smile on my face and Ella and Wollow and crew all appearing in my dreams. That was a good night!

    Click here for next installment: Who's been sleeping in my burrow?


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