Friday, August 18, 2006

Back in America

Well I landed today to a great welcome from the Watsons, Team Houston, Mom, Chris, Mrs. B, and Aunt Peg. Thanks for the kind words of encouragemen throughout the trip. I'm very happy to be home.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back to the Planes

Well its Tuesday evening and the final full day at Ziwa is winding down. Tomorrow I leave here at 1:00 to head back to Entebbe. It will take some time with traffic and I need to make some stops (I HAVE to have something to read on the plane!). My flight to Brussels leaves here at 11:10pm. I then fly to Chicago after a 5 hour layover. I am still debating if I want to leave the airport still with all the new security measures. In Chicago I have a 6 hour layover before heading to Portland. I land there at 8:50pm and will be greeted by Chris, Mom, Saundra and Aunt Peg. I can't wait! Thanks again to everyone who commented and stayed in touch with the blog! Love and miss you all. Talk to you soon!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mating in Action

Now this is a scientific trip, so showing all aspects of Rhino life is necessary. Some of you mentioned preference to not view mating rhinos, but I'm sure others are interested. Here is a tasteful example of Taleo and Bella.


Some days are hot and lovely. Others are cold and wet. This is why we dress in layers to monitor the rhinos. This is me, sitting on an overgrown ant hill taking notes and locating with a GPS.

PS Rooneys: Are there hours of Swahili radio in Germany?

Ngamba Chimps

I made it to and from the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary all on my own. I made a few mistakes along the way, but nothing major and I am back safe at Ziwa. The Chimp trip was different than I thought it would be. We headed out on a traditional boat for the 90 minute trip to the island (it is in Lake Victoria). My reservation had me tagging along with a group of 21 people touring together. I sat at the front and since we were going against the current got completely drenched. The island was beautiful and so was the weather. We had lunch, played some volleyball, and then settled in for the tour. It began with a presentation where we were informed all the chimps here were orphaned and in some condition other than the wild. They were brought here to live out the remainder of their lives. The females cannot concieve, they are all habituated to human touch, and come in at night to sleep in enclosures. They said this was to ensure the animals aren't sick or injured. Their meals are supplementedc four times a day, twice in th observation area. This is where we went and when the food was thrown over the electric fence separating us, they just appeared. Out of the forests they came running and chanting and hooting and throwing sticks. They calmed down, ate, mated, fought, and went back into the forest. It was all very weird and amazing and interesting at the same time.
Two more days here for me! Love and miss you all.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mating Day

Friday was apparently the day Bella came into estrus (aka in heat). From the time the rhinos woke up at 8:30 until I left them around 5:30, both males wouldn’t leave the poor girl alone. Taleo definitely established his dominance after Moja failed to successfully copulate in the morning. After that Taleo was right by Bella all day and gave snorts and false charges in Moja’s direction if he got too close.

Rhinos have very interesting anatomy in that their pubis bone is reversible. This means by moving certain muscles the bone will move allowing the male genitalia to point either towards the head or towards the buttocks. This enables the dominant male to mark his territory by spraying backward, but still be able to mate with the female. Before mounting, the male will rest his head on her rump, right above the tail, or move his lips along her side. If she is willing to mate at this point she will move her tail out of the way and allow him to mount. In Moja’s case, he doesn’t spray so mounting can happen faster. The problem is he is too short (height wise) for the anatomy of the animals to match up. Taleo should be able to copulate with Bella but since he is so young, hasn’t mastered the process yet. Occasionally he will mount Bella from the side or lay on her when she is trying to sleep. She just continues eating or sleeping while the males follow her. When he does mount properly, he is not close enough or not skilled enough, for the prehensile appendage to find the right place. He will stay mounted trying for upwards of 15 minutes, meaning Bella is carrying all that extra weight! (Once today Taleo was mounted and Bella was grazing. They have poor eyesight and she stepped down a hole. Her left front foot fell in, then her left hind foot and since Taleo was mounted, he stepped into the same hole with both feet as well. The rangers and I had a laugh watching them, they were like dancing umpa-lumpas going up and down and up again).

I am told that Taleo has previously been successful in copulating. However, since Bella was receptive to mating it means she is definitely not pregnant. Had she already conceived she would have refused to let the males mount her.

Well, that’s the lesson for today! Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to add later. Love and miss you all!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rhino Monitoring

Rhino monitoring is different than I expected, but still very neat. I meet up with the rangers around 7:30 and we call on the radio to see where the rhinos have spent the night. Once we have a confirmed location they set out on foot (if it is far I get a ride on a boda boda because I slow them down a bit). From then on we follow them around and observe their behaviour. The rangers are having fun learning all about American culture and the tidbits of rhino knowledge I have. We also talk to the visitors when they visit. (They park a car and then walk to where we are because the rhinos are very skittish around cars).

The rangers I am with are Charles and Francis. They go through about 18 months of training, but it is split into 6 month segments. Charles carries a sub-machine gun and is licensed to have it. (Private citizens cannot own guns in Uganda). They are very funny and friendly and we are all getting along nicely.

The rhinos have become fairly accustomed to our presence. Taleo is the dominant male. He is very big and has the longest horn as well. He is always the last to get anywhere, but the first to be up and eating. Moja is the other male and subordinate. His name means one is swahili since he was the first captured. Bella is the female we hope is pregnant. She is very protective of Kori and can be hot-headed. Kori is the smallest and female. She is about 3 1/2. It has been great wandering the bush land for 10 hours a day and no injuries to report! (I know you are all surprised by that!)

This weekend I'm headed to Ngamba Chimp Reserve and I'll try to keep everyone updated! Love and miss you all