Logistics of Fieldwork
By Anne Hilborn, Apr 17 2016 08:06PM
Still March 2014
Most of the research in Serengeti is based at Seronera, which is a small settlement in the center of the park. It boasts the headquarters for the parks authority (Tanapa), a lodge, support housing, a small shop, an office for the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and a bit further off, the research center. Each project has a concrete 3 bedroom house build by the Germans in the 60’s. For example Cheetah House is next to Lion House, and over the way from Disease House. The 60’s were a plush, raging time of hot running water, electricity, and tennis. Today the houses have taps, but no running water, the tennis court is crumbling, and we get generator power from 7-10 pm. At least that is the theory. When I was here from 2004-2007, there was probably 9 months when the generator was actually working. Thus almost all of the houses have solar power systems of various fanciness. When I arrived at Cheetah House 5 weeks ago, the solar power wasn’t working, the house internet was out, and the fridge had been broken for months. Fixing things in the Serengeti is never easy. Materials and supplies have to be brought out from Arusha on the monthly resupply trips, and people who know how to fix things are rare (I am not one of them). Thus a technician had to be flown out to readjust the satellite dish for the internet (we suspect baboons had been jumping on it and put it out of alignment). I hauled out 3 massive solar batteries from Arusha (they liberally splashed acid all over the back of the car during the trip), but needed wires sent out from Arusha and help to set them up. Thankfully so far other people have had similar problems at the same time, so I have been able to split costs of getting people and materials out here. It really drives home how little practical skills I have to attempt to set something up or fix something and then realize I have royally buggered it up in the attempt. The solar system is a case in point. Because I blew the charge controller trying to swap the batteries out myself, it took even longer to get power during the day. But I am happy to report that I managed it and now I have power and therefore internet ALL DAY LONG. Crazy.
I haven’t been able to do anything about the fridge yet, so have basically become a reluctant vegan. Eggs and ultra heat treated milk are the only animal products I brought out. While I acquired a tolerance for warm coke last time I was here, it would be nice to have cold drinks. And cheese. Mmmm cheese… The options are to fix the broken propane fridge, get a new one, or get a solar powered fridge. I priced a new propane fridge at about $700 + $40 a month in fuel, which seemed a bit steep. However when I looked into a solar fridge (fridge, 2 batteries, a solar panel, a technician coming out to install it etc..) I got quoted over $4000. Ouch. Looks like it will be propane after all.
The lack of fridge means the vegetables go off rather quickly, and you quickly readjust standards when it comes to what is edible. My general attitude is that if it isn’t completely moldy, it can be salvaged. A few weeks ago however, I found an unexpected creature in the carrots. Not sure what it was going for but I'd never had a millipede in the veggies before.
The end of February was tough on the cheetah finding front. I had 20 days to find 20 different cheetah groups. Sometimes finding cheetahs is fairly easy, and sometimes trying to find them becomes a slog of 8-10 hours of driving a day, desperately trying to figure out where they might be. There were a lot of cheetahs at Ndutu in February, and because there were so many tourists there, I stopped looking for cheetahs and just started looking for clumps of cars clustered around cheetahs. Despite that, the last couple of days of the month were a tense sprint to find 3 sightings in 3 days. In the end I failed and only got 17 for the month.
Etta chills out in the Big marsh at Ndutu in southern Serengeti
Solar System: Fixed!
Cheetahs: Not quite as abundant as I’d hoped