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I feel like there is so much that I want to write about, but I have been in the midst of a lot of big changes! I still want to record my journeys and experiences from the past few months and I think I will begin with the most recent and head backwards.
But for now, what am I doing? WELL, I have just arrived in New York City! What a strange place to study primates and other animals?! I am here because I am about to embark on the newest chapter of my life… the PhD. So, for the next 5ish years, NYC will be my home-base. It was a tough decision to leave South Africa and my great job, but long-term this is definitely my best option and is something I have always striven towards! In actuality, I’m in my dream program that I have wanted to be a part of since undergrad! Things could not have worked out better.
That being said, I kind of currently feel like Mimisiku from that old 90s movie, Jungle2Jungle.
I’m definitely having reverse culture shock going from the wide open spaces of a game reserve in South Africa to the concrete jungle. I actually got dizzy in a grocery store the other day and could not believe that a wrap cost me $6.50!?
The U.S. is expensive and of course I have to pick one of the most expensive places to live! Oh well. I was fortunate enough to be offered a generous funding package with my PhD and so once my paychecks start rolling in, hopefully I can cope better with this new pace of life.
I seem to be settling in okay with my new colleagues, and I am excited for classes to begin! I have also already been given a research project on the side on a really interesting topic. More on that once I get stuck into it all.
I think I’m going to survive New York :)
Today, 5 June is World Environment Day. This year’s theme is Think.Eat.Save. What will YOU be doing this year to decrease your food-print??
Learn more: http://unep.org/wed
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day celebrations is Think.Eat.Save. Think.Eat.Save is an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.
Given this enormous imbalance in lifestyles and the resultant devastating effects on the environment, this year’s theme – Think.Eat.Save – encourages you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empowers you to make informed decisions.
While the planet is struggling to provide us with enough resources to sustain its 7 billion people (growing to 9 billion by 2050), FAO estimates that a third of global food production is either wasted or lost. Food waste is an enormous drain on natural resources and a contributor to negative environmental impacts.
This year’s campaign rallies you to take action from your home and then witness the power of collective decisions you and others have made to reduce food waste, save money, minimise the environmental impact of food production and force food production processes to become more efficient.
If food is wasted, it means that all the resources and inputs used in the production of all the food are also lost. For example, it takes about 1,000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk and about 16,000 litres goes into a cow’s food to make a hamburger. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the cows themselves, and throughout the food supply chain, all end up in vain when we waste food.
In fact, the global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change.
Making informed decision therefore means, for example, that you purposefully select foods that have less of an environmental impact, such as organic foods that do not use chemicals in the production process. Choosing to buy locally can also mean that foods are not flown halfway across the world and therefore limit emissions.
So think before you eat and help save our environment!
Last weekend, I spent three days and nights doing “lion call-ups” at the reserve. We are working with the vet in order to administer contraception to three of our lionesses. While lions are slowly but surely becoming more endangered, their numbers are still a problem for smaller reserves. With insufficient space and number of prey species, an entire reserve’s habitat can be ruined if there are too many lions on the property upsetting the delicate balance. It is important to manage your numbers of animals to maintain them at a healthy balance, as they would be naturally. Due to this, we need to slow down the reproductive rate of our female lionesses.
A lion call-up includes taking a bait (a small dead antelope), dragging it around the roads up towards where you want to do the call up (to have them follow the scent) and chaining it to a tree (if it’s not chained, they will drag it away). We put a bunch of thornry brush around the tree so that they don’t drag it around and face us, we want their bums to face us in order to properly dart them (with anesthetic) from a short distance. We set up loud speakers in a nearby tree, facing up and out to make the sound carry, and play recorded sounds of the distress calls of either a baby buffalo or a warthog. All of these cues will hopefully call the lions in so that they feed on our bait, we can dart them, and once they are passed out, administer the contraception and take routine blood samples.
It all sounds exciting, but you need a LOT of patience for this! The sun is quickly setting to the very loud sounds of the distress calls blaring from the speakers. 2-3 hours of blaring animal distress calls is not an ideal sound. You sit on the back of a land cruiser as the sun sets, willing your eyes to improve their night vision. And it’s getting colder. However, it is all worth it when you get to finally experience the sights and sounds of the African bush and wildlife around you.
Only 1 out of 3 nights did the lions come towards the sound, but every night without fail, loads of hyenas came, which made for an excellent and unique experience! Whenever I have seen hyenas in the past, it’s in the headlights of a car as they scamper off. Otherwise, my only experience with him is hearing their fantastic wooOOoo-ing calls as I fall asleep at night.
The first night was the most exciting. A handful of hyenas start coming towards us and our vehicle, sniffing up the road, heading towards the sound of the distress calls. Small groups come from a few different angles and cautiously scamper past our vehicle. We sit in awe and watch them sneak around as I *try* to take some pictures in the failing light.
All of a sudden, they start to make cackling/laughing/chirping sounds, and look a bit distressed. We look to our right and see a young male lion has arrived. As cliche as it is, The Lion King has taught us all that lions and hyenas do not get along, and this is really true. As soon the lion shows up to defend his own prey, the hyenas get a fright and scatter. We are standing on the back of the truck, in awe of this beautiful lion standing in the sunset, peering at him to our right. Then, we hear more hyena laughing from a hyena quickly running towards us from the left. In excitement, we all turn left to see it running towards us only to be shocked to see that the hyenas are running because two more lions are running and chasing them up the road at full-speed. The lion spots us and comes to a stop just in front of our vehicle, probably upset we interrupted her chase. While we were all comfortable before standing on edge of the back of the vehicle with the hyenas, chatting and whispering about the events, this massive lion stills us. Quiets us. And we all slowly sit down.
The hyena-lion interactions happens for awhile longer, the blaring sounds of the distress calls turned off now, and just the sound of our own breath and the whooping hyenas is all we hear. We watch in amazement this spectacular interaction that only occurs when you spend an extended amount of time with wildlife (vs drive-by sightings on game drives). Eventually, the hyenas moved off, the lions went in for their bait, the vet darted them, and the contraception and blood testing went ahead as planned.
It was remarkable to be up close to these creatures, to hold their paw in your hand, to take your finger and tough their claws and feel how ridiculously sharp they are.
Time is of the essence because anesthetic eventually wears off. Things were winding down and some of the guests were loading back into their game-drive vehicle and we were finishing our sampling… a small crowd has gathered, mostly looking at the pictures they took. And then - one of the male lions jumped up. Not 5 feet from me. Though the worst thing you can do if you’re around a wild animal is run, mostly everyone quickly hopped away into and behind vehicles. I backed away, looking behind me to see the male lion rear up on two legs and take his other two and slow-mo jump onto the vet. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the vet calmly turned to the side, kneed him off of him, as the lion passed out again on the ground. It was a spontaneous recovery from the anesthetic but he quickly passed out again. But those 5 seconds were terrifying!
The other two nights weren’t as eventful in terms of lions as they did not get called-up as easily, perhaps apprehensive of us, or perhaps just not hungry enough to follow the sounds of distress calls. Without fail the hyenas came so at least we got to enjoy them sneaking around, and all their funny sounds that I had no idea they made (only was aware of their whooping one before this experience!). It was an excellent few days, and one that reminds me why I love being out in the bush. I am so thankful to be able to experience all of this!
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