William Masse | Monday, February 12, 2018
“A Fabulous Experience”
This was the third Earthwatch that my wife and I have done, and it was the best of the three. This is saying quite a bit, because the other two were wonderful.
Mankwe is a relatively small wildlife reserve about 2 hours northwest of Johannesburg. It is in a beautiful setting. The reserve was established by Dougal MacTavish almost entirely on his own. I had the good fortune of spending a few hours patrolling with Dougal. His is an amazing man with an amazing story, His daughter, Lynne, is basically the business manager of Mankwe. She is also an amazing person; kind, patient, friendly, warm, and a true force of nature.
The setting of the main camp is on a dammed part of a small river. It really is lovely. All sorts of birds make their home on a small island in the middle of the lake. They put on quite a show, especially in the morning and evenings.
The work we did was collecting data on how de-horned rhino's cope without their horns. The de-horning does not hurt the rhinos; in fact the horns are similar to our fingernails and grow back. But, it's hoped that by de-horning the rhino's, they will be less attractive targets for poachers. We did a number of detailed observations of the rhinos whenever we found them in the park. We also collected dung for study, set out dung-beetle traps, counted and identified different types of dung beetles, and did basic data entry. Even though it was around 40 degrees Celsius every day (about 104 degrees F), we remained fairly comfortable in our work. The dung beetle work was really interesting and a lot of fun. Getting to know the rhinos was amazing. By the end of our time at Mankwe, we were able to begin seeing the different personality traits of the individuals.
In the meantime, we observed all the other animals living in the preserve; giraffes, warthogs, sable, waterbuck, and many many others. They showed us basic tracking techniques; we set up cameras at water holes. It was a great experience.
The best part were the people. Besides Dougal and Lynne there is a small group of employees and volunteers who are collectively some of the smartest, nicest and most dedicated people one could every hope to meet. Melissa, the volunteer coordinator, is a young English researcher with boundless energy, knowledge, and patience. Both she and Lynn not only made sure that our work was accurate, but went out of their way to show how the work we did really contributed to the research. Very gratifying.
And the work they are doing is very important. This might have been the best part of the entire experience. We got a glimpse into the day-to-day running of a wildlife preserve. We were introduced to the decisions and trade-offs that must be made to conserve wildlife in the real world. Working with these dedicated researchers and conservationists was broadened by view of the true challenges impacting the preservation of endangered species.
My wife and I hope to return to Mankwe. i highly recommend this expedition.