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Adamhill in Namibia

Namibia 2010

I've just got back from one of the most amazing journeys in my life - it was only two weeks long but it's changed my perspective on life massively!
I headed to Namibia at the end of October as a guest of Land Rover and Biosphere Expeditions. I had won a competition to go on a two week expedition where I would be doing conservation work with big cats, specifically Leopards.

When I arrived in Namibia I stayed in Windhoek for the night before being picked up by the Biospehere team in 3 Land Rover Defenders (what else?!). They took us directly to the Ongo's farm which was the research site. The journey in itself was a experience, the roads in the city were new and smooth, as we got further out some cracks appeared, then they were broken, then there was no tarmac, just dust and gravel and finally the 'road' disappeared into little more than a gap in the bush. Suddenly I realised why they needed to drive the Landy's everywhere...

We were briefed at base camp about the sort of jobs we would be doing to aid the research, it all seemed like brilliant fun. Over the next two weeks we would be:
  • Checking Box Traps - large automated humane traps that shut as an animal enters.
  • Checking Photo Traps - Automated camera's that take pictures, day or night, of any animal that passes.
  • Tracking - With a local tracker following paths in the dust or looking for Scat (droppings)
  • Telemetry - Using a VHF tracking ariel to locate a collared Leopard (Lucy)
  • Foot Game Count - Walking a few KM looking for game animals
  • Vehicle Game Count - Driving a lot of KM in the Land Rovers looking for game animals
  • Meeting local people - Encouraging tollerance and conservation amongst the local population.

    The two weeks were action packed, starting at 6.30am for a group breakfast to be in the Land Rovers ready to head out on our daily tasks by 7am. Every single activity was awesome, checking the box traps and the camera traps were the most exhillerating as that involved real possible contact with the big cats.

    The camera traps provided lots of animals for us to look at, even if Giraffes, Oryx, Kudu, Aardvark, and birds were not the main focus they were still great to see. One Aardvark liked the camera so much he decided to dig his burrow right in front of it... for 4 hours... and 400 pictures...!
    We did get some photo's of the Leopards, 4 in one frame at one point! As well as Caracal, cape fox, hyaena and other small predators.

    The box traps, like the camera traps, were in remote locations where the animals might be passing, away from Human contact and smells so one of the most fun bits for me was the fact that just to get there might involved an hours good offroading (although it was a marked route) in the Land Rover. The box traps are baited with dead baboons to tempt predators into them. But catching something is not easy. During my expedition the Biosphere team decided on setting up a new trap. This was delivered on the back of one the Landy's to the spot where we'd seen four Leopards on the camera trap - surely one of them would go in?!
    'Cleo' as we named her was an 8 month old female Leopard who was curious enough to tip toe into our new box trap. The catch was very exciting for the whole group, at the time I was out doing Telemetry when I heard a frantic radio message from the cab of the Land Rover. We already knew something good had happened, we had that feeling. We all jumped back in the double cab and I drove back to base camp as fast as the road would allow.
    Later that day when the heat had subsided a little Cleo was sedated and lifted onto the tail gate of the Defender to be used as a impromptu vetenary table. Jenny, a vet and expedition leader, with the guidance of Ulf, a wilderness vet, took blood and disease samples as well as drip feeding in fluids - my time to shine - holding the drip feed. Unfortunately little Cleo was too small to place a GPS collar on, when she grows the collar would become too tight.
    So Cleo was released to find her mother again, but she wasn't happy. Upon her release she doubled back and came striaght for us, luckily we'd anticipated she might be a little peeved about being prodded so we had used the winch of the Landy to open the trap and we were safely inside. This didn't stop Cleo trying to maim us - she jumped on the bonnet and attacked us through the windscreen - am I glad that thing held firm! Eventually after growling, scratching and trying to bite the landy she realised she couldn't get through and off she went.

    The vehicle game counts were also particularily interesting, again if not only fot 4 hours of driving the unstoppable Land Rover through the bush, up 2000m mountains and back down again. Along the way you could see some of Africa's amazing animals, Giraffe, Oryx, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Kudu, Springbok, Steenbok, Clipspringer, Eland, Baboons, Mongoose, Rock Hydrax, Jackal, and not forgetting the two semi-tame Rhino's that live on Ongo's.

    As well as the Rhino's there is another tame animal on Ongo's, possibly the most photographed Leopard in Africa. Induna was raised by Ulf and so is tame, he is a gorgeous cat that you can't help but love. A true highlight of the trip was going to meet him. We took the landy into his area and he soon joied us on the back, sitting at our feet or jumping onto the roof rack to get a better view. To be so close to such a powerful yet graceful animal was truely humbling.

    All of this however was dwarfed in comparison to the experience of meeting the local people, and especially the local children. I am a school teacher, so children are my life and passion. And when I met the local children from the near by Township of Katatura I was blown away. We visited their school - a hall with no resources, more of a meeting space - and brought them back to Ongo's. The children were wide eyed with wonder, firstly at the Land Rovers, they'd hardly seen, let alone been on such vehicles and they were so happy and proud to be stood up on the back, waving at their passing friends.
    Then at the farm the animals, despite being so close, were like alien creatures to them. They'd never seen Kudu, Orys, Warthog or a Leopard - and Induna didn't fail to make an appearance! Not only that the children were fascinated by our camera's, sunglasses, watches, all the things we take for granted.
    Back in Katatura we took a walk around the township with a local translator, the people there live in, what I'd describe as tin sheds, with no electricity, no running water and a 3x5m house for 6 people. Yet they're happy and content people. As well as proud, a local women invited us into her house, what an experience, she was so pleased of her home, it made me feel so guilty for wanting a home with an office, or garden or spare bedroom. She was just happy to have a curtain to split the living and sleeping areas.

    The expedition came to an end - my last chance to drive the amazing Land Rover - before the sad farewell to Africa. I am now more aware, more open, and determined to do more to bring equality, for the animals as well as the humans around the world.

    Thank you Biosphere for the Expedition and Thank you Land Rover, without your vehicles it wouldn't have happened.

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