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

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hello to all in KImi land

This is Christopher. I know big disappointment. For those of you who don't know me I am kimi's boyfriend, and am writing this for her. Currently the internet is down so Kimi has not been able to post anything. She is working with the rangers tracking the rhinos this week. There was a slight problem with the cameral bag not being waterproof, so no pictures for a bit. She does have access to another camera through the preserve. I just talked to her this morning and all is well. She just wanted everybody to know that she is having the time of her life. When I talked to her she was in great spirits and looking forward to seeing the Jane Godall wildlife preserve. If the internet stays down I will let everyone know.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Murchison Falls


The Trip to Murchison Falls

This trip turned into everything I hoped it would be. The only thing I could have asked more was to have better weather, but if that’s the worst I’ll take it. Everything about it; people I met, animals I saw, scenery I took in, and the experience I had is irreplaceable.

I was picked up on the roadside at the Ziwa Sanctuary entrance around noon on Friday. Squished into the back of another matutu, we began the four hour journey to camp. We stopped over for lunch in Masindi and forced down the food we ordered. They were out of almost everything so the majority of us ordered vegetarian pizza. This turned out to literally be a pita bread with vegetable soup poured on top and sprinkled with cheese. As we pulled into Red Chili’s (the tour name) camp everyone was excited. Everyone was assigned a partner and a tent and we settled in.

The first day was just for traveling so we ate dinner, drank some soda or beer (depending), and watched an amazing show. Our stay was on the top of a hill on the coast of the Nile. Around 6:30 or so a lightening and thunder storm began to develop across the river. We sat and watched as the dark clouds rolled in and the lightening strikes shot down from the clouds. It wouldn’t reach our camp until 11:00 or so, so we enjoyed the display of Mother Nature for quite some time before she forced us into our tents.

Saturday morning we were up very early. Our first adventure was a game drive through the park to see the animals it had to offer. The storm from the night before was still hanging around, so it was gray and drizzling. Some people were concerned we wouldn’t see any animals, but we put on a happy face and returned to the matutu. The roof popped up so observers could stand and take pictures that way. This proved invaluable for viewing and picture taking. We had to load 6 buses onto an old ferry to get across the Nile. It was a strange sight and I’m impressed we stayed afloat. Once across we headed off for the park. It started off slow but turned into the best car ride I’ve ever had. We saw varieties of waterbuck, reedbuck, and hartebeest. Then there were cape buffalo and some more oribi. This was neat and all but everyone was waiting for the flagship species. By the end of the trip we had seen and photographed lions, warthogs, leopards, giraffes, monkeys, and elephants. At the half way point I realized I had spent the entire ride behind my camera. It was not a disappointment, but I wanted to really experience Africa. So for the ride back to the riverside I put my camera away, climbed to the roof of the matutu, and alone enjoyed the air, scenery, animals, smells, and sounds of Murchison Falls National Park. Giraffes and reedbuck crossed our path, a lone bull elephant tore a tree to shreds, and snowy egrets flew overhead. That was something I would never forget.

We had about a 90 minute break for lunch before heading out on the launch. This was when we took a boat ride up the Nile to the actual waterfalls. Along the way we saw baboons, hippos, and crocodiles. They were everywhere and popped up right next to the boat when it was least expected. The falls themselves were magnificent, but it wouldn’t be until Sunday when we would really experience them. That night crisis struck for me. Somehow my memory card and malfunctioned and lost all my pictures from the game drive. Its long and kind of complicated so I wont go into details, but when I get home Chris and I are going to work with Lexar to try and reclaim them. Until then, one of the girls I met on the trip was generous enough to lend me her card and I’ll mail it to her in the States when I return.

Sunday morning we packed everything up and went to the top of the Falls. It was another gray morning and the clouds were threatening to rain. It was not an easy hike by any means, but well worth it. The water moved through the river and down the falls with a force I had not experienced. The closer we climbed the louder the water flowed. I was in sheer awe of the area and its power. Soon this ended and we were caught in a downpour. We ran back up to the matutu and made our way home. Great trip and exactly what I needed.

Love you all!

I Saw Hippos!

People of Murchison

I met some amazing people on this trip. What they had done and/or are doing with their lives is great.

Hans was the first person to greet me and one of the funniest people on the trip. He is a Kiwi in the New Zealand Air Force. He ended up stationed in Southern Sudan for six months and was on leave trying to see more of Africa. He’s about ten years older than the rest of us and quickly became Grandpa Kiwi.

Kristen was my fellow American in the bus. She was in Uganda working for the World Bank for a month after a month in Tanzania. She is a Harvard Graduate student studying Economics in the area of Evaluation and Monitoring. Formerly a professional backpacker, she has been to 55 countries and also spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching students in Western Africa. She is the kind New Yorker who lent me her memory card.

Robin was my roommate and a Canadian. She is in her first year of medical school and doing a 4 week practical stint in Kampala. She took everything in mind and eyes open and was a joy to have on the trip.

Xavier and Nikki
These two were not in our matutu but we spent a lot of down time with them. They knew each other from school in Kampala and Nikki was showing him (and her parents) the sights. Nikki is from Holland and doing Master’s research on the social and sexual lives of Ugandan men. She is a cultural anthropologist and had some interesting insights. Xavier was my fellow tree-hugger. He was in Uganda cross breeding bananas and looking and the different ecosystems in which to grow them. Xavier hailed from France and we all had quite a time attacking everyone’s different countries.

These people definitely added to my trip and helped make it everything I could want.

Who's Who of Ziwa

I cannot believe I have already been here for 18 days. Only 10 left! This might be a good time to let you know a little bit more about the people whose names appear on the blog.

Yvonne is the Executive Director of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. She hails from Holland and has been in Uganda for 5 years. The first year she was working for the Ngamba Chimp Project down in Entebbe. She was an interim General Manager there when she was presented with the opportunity to take on the Rhino Project. She is in her late thirties and lives in the house next door to the Volunteer house. She and her husband have three dogs, three donkeys, and two horses. They are moving to France in November where they own a dairy farm and can retire. She will continue to work as a donor correspondent and the main contact for accepting and recruiting rhinos for the project.

Bruce is Yvonne’s husband and the General Manager of both Ziwa Ranchers and the Rhino Project. He has worked here for almost 11 years and saw the very beginnings of the Rhino Project. Bruce is from South Africa and has three daughters that live in Kampala. He and Yvonne met here and were married this last February.

David is the Education Officer and also lives with me in the Volunteer house. He is 26 and a native of Uganda. He received the equivalent of an AA degree in Tourism Operations from the University of Kampala and worked for the Ugandan Wildlife Education Center before moving to Ziwa.

Juliet is the other employee of the Education Department. Their main task is going to schools in the area to give presentations on why it is important to save the rhinos and to tell the children what a rhino actually is. These presentations are free to the children and they are all invited to come to the sanctuary with their families. Juliet also lives on grounds in a building just next to the Volunteer house.

Those are the main people I interact with. Of course that will all change this week when I go out with the rangers to see the rhinos. Love and miss you all!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I'm Off

Tonight we had visitors for dinner. I went to walk next door to eat with Yvonne and the rhinos were mingling with the cows! Their over night pen is about 30 feet from my porch, and there they were. Cool huh?

Alright everyone, I’m off to Murchison Falls to see all the animals I came here to see. The waterfalls themselves are supposed to be beautiful as well. I’ll be gone for three days, so don’t panic if you don’t see a post for awhile. Next week is my turn to spend time in the field with the rhinos and I’m hoping to get some great shots. They are mating right now so we will see what happens. Don’t worry I will post with discretion. Love and miss you all!

I have pictures but this thing is touch-and-go...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Women Crafters

I only went for one day to meet the local women. We decided I wasn't much help since I couldn't speak the language; apparently being a mzungu I was a bit of a distraction as well. I did meet this group of women though and they thought it would be funny for me to put on their necklace and take a photo with them. We obliged and it was very cool.

Vervet Monkey

Kimi Goes For It

Kimi Giving a Demonstration