Thursday, January 7, 2010

[Caitlin] dan gets shockingly close to the dingle-dangles...

january 7, 2010.

just the highlights for the moment.

1) dan. we got lucky today - two amazing dan moments! the first was when we stopped for an hour to watch several zebra harem groups. it was amazing to see these beautiful equids up close and personal, particularly with a resident zebra expert along to help show us novices what was going on behavior-wise. dan gave a great mini lecture about zebra social structure, which included identifying for us which individuals were stallions. how do you tell a stallion apart from his females? easy, dan taught us: look for the lunchpack its got between its legs! (iain's commentary: "that's not a male, it's got no nuts!")

dan's second highlight moment came when we drove along the road to some long-term exclosure plots. the barriers around these ranged from multi-layered fences to control plots to the oh-so-technical wire plus dingle-dangle set-up. the latter were set up to exclude elephants and giraffes but allow zebra and/or cattle into the plots. key to note about these exclosures - the top and bottom wires are charged, and can give the unwary visitor a nasty and, according to dan, memorable shock. despite our needling, dan refused to demonstrate the power of electricity on the first set of fences. we moved on to the dingle-dangle section after making a 37-point turn to avoid the black cotton soil, and dan bustled us out of the cars to talk about the exclosure. being careful to avoid the bottom trip wire, he grabbed ahold of the dingle-dangle......... "ouch!" and a quick jump backwards, followed by a rueful grin - apparently the soil underfoot was moist enough to transmit the current!

2) the renegade vehicle. here's what you've got to know about our trusty dusty somewhat musty vehicles - papa 1 (driven by dan) is a 4x4 with a pop-top roof; mama 2 (driven by tania) is a white minivan, also with a pop-top roof, that has a penchant to slide off the road into mud/lose its doors, etc etc; and papa 2/"shittest vehicle" (driven by iain) is a 4x4 with no pop-top and back windows that don't open. papa 2 is always trailing behind the others, stopping to look in vain for wildlife that we miss by being at the back of the pack. the general deal is that papa 1 stops at the animal, mama 1 stops with a semi-obscured view of it, and papa 2 gets stuck looking at some acacia brush. so today, we decided to take matters into our own hands when zen-master andrew spotted a hippo on the wrong side of a crossroads. by virtue of being the caboose, we threw the car in reverse and opted for the road less traveled - the side of the crossroad with the adult hippo and no radio contact with the other cars. as a result, we got to see the hippo up close and personal as it ran across the road only a few feet from our car! we subsequently made lengthy stops for a herd of mama elephants and their calfs, a juvenile tawny eagle, a baboon troop, a solitary giraffe, and a gorgeously sunlit pile of rocks. it turned out to be quite a successful strategy - spend lots of time admiring the wildlife and snapping photos, spend minimal time driving at high speeds along bumpy pot-holed dirt tracks, trying to catch up with mama 1 and papa 1 (whose radio broadcasts got increasingly irritated)!

3) how scared the computer scientists are of bugs. we're sitting in the library/computer room at the moment and there's a wasp flying around. the four biologists are sitting nonchalantly at their computers, working away. the four computer scientists alternate between discussing ad hoc networks, utm coordinates, and the importation of csv data points; and running away screaming (literally!) from a wasp that's flying around the room. every few minutes the wasp will come near one of them and there will be a flurry of agitation and fear as they leap around and discuss whether or not the wasp is likely to sting/bite/kill them if they stay on a particular side of the room. it's pretty hilarious.

over and out from here! gotta love africa - so nice to be in the sunshine rather than the brutual cold of either princeton of chigaco....

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