Sorry it’s taken me a while to write another blog, but I’ve been busy (and a little lazy). I’m going to fast forward a bit to last weekend, then backtrack to the start of the goat project for next blog. Since the last blog, Laura (a vet who is one of the co-directors of the goat project), Brittany, and Lena all joined me and we made our way from Entebbe to Mbarara where we would be based for summer. After a week on the project (again, stay tuned because I’ll go into that on the next blog) we traveled to Queen Elizabeth National Park for the weekend to work with Dr. Siefert, a vet who runs the Uganda Carnivore Program.
Dr. Siefert is originally from Germany, but has been living in Uganda for almost 40 years working in QE park studying and working endlessly to protect the wildlife in the area. His prime focus has been on the dwindling lion population that has been a target of poachers, and poisonings by local farmers frustrated by the lions attacking their cattle. Dr. Siefert asked us if we could help him start up a goat pass-on project in two of
Not the same as water buffalo, as pointed out by Dr. Siefert.
the communities in the park so we spent the weekend with him visiting the communities and meeting the members, and assessing the land so we can tailor the project to their needs, as the environment is quite different from the ones we have been working with around Mbarara. One of the biggest challenges we will have to overcome is risk of dangerous wild animals attacking the goats, as leopards and lions live in the area. Also, the grass that is a staple of the goat diet here is also one of the favourites of the elephants, so we must plan to have the goats and the grasses well protected. We are taking all the information we gathered in the visits and are preparing a training day for a few select members of the community to help them get ready to receive goats in the following months.
Aside from the community visits we spent our time following Dr. Siefert around the park trying to absorb every word he said, as he is a wealth of knowledge and incredibly inspiring to listen to. Our first night we all had dinner together, talking about everything from problems in the park,
Ugandan politics, religion, and of course wildlife, that is, until our dinner was interrupted by a wild elephant running through the outdoor restaurant. African problems, am I right? I should also mention, we were staying in the park among all the wildlife, and this would not be the only encounter we would have with these massive creatures over the weekend.
Later that night Brit and Lena went to bed early, while Laura, Brendan (Laura’s friend who tagged along for the weekend) and I decided to hangout around our dorms and watch whatever wildlife decided to pass by and have a couple of beers. Very early into the night we saw a small herd of waterbucks, a couple of warthogs, and a hippo wandering within a few metres from our dorms. We made sure to stay very still and quiet, crouched in the shadows to avoid scaring (or pissing off) any of the animals. Eventually, an elephant comes out of the bushes and is just hanging out across the way from us. We all sip our beers and try to stay out of his sight.
I turn to Laura and Brendan and whisper, “this is
We all quietly whisper how amazing this is… and I’m not sure if the elephant heard us or saw us, but he quickly turned to face us. We all got really quiet and no one moved; he definitely knows we’re there. Suddenly, his ears go up and he starts charging straight for us!
Laura panics, “quick, move! Go! Go! Go!” and we take off running into the night and scale the nearest building as fast as we can trying to get out of his line of vision. Panting, and scared shitless, we’re hiding behind the dorms, and I’m literally thinking I might actually get trampled by an elephant. All the stupid things I do, and this is how I’m going to go.
Laura turns to me, “Shit. Shit, shit, shit, this is bad. Real bad,” and takes a big swig of her beer. I can’t think of a more appropriate time for some liquid courage. After waiting for a few moments, Brendan didn’t come running behind us and so far we don’t hear any screams from being pulverized by an angry elephant so this is probably a good sign. We slowly start
to move back to find him, scanning the area for spots the elephant (or hippos, or lions or whatever else for that matter) may come out from. Brendan is still standing in the same spot as before; I guess when Laura and I went running we actually spooked the elephant and it stopped running and turned to go in the other direction. Thank god.
After finishing another beer, and in my opinion, narrowly avoiding death, we all decide to head to bed. Just as I was crawling under my mosquito net, Brendan knocks on our door, “there is a mom and baby elephant out here now.” I’m up and out the door in half a second - so fast that I don’t even bother to get dressed or put on shoes. Now I’m outside, barefoot hiding behind a tree watching them walk by. Laura panics as they get close and runs for our dorms a few feet away, slightly alarming mom and now she is looking in my direction. Damnit, not again, why do I never learn my lesson?? I’m holding my breath for what feels like an eternity, trying to blend into this tree like there
Dr. Siefert and some of the community members
We brought them napier grass cuttings and taught them how to plant them as feed for their goats
is no tomorrow, because if I make the wrong move, there might not be. I decide not to run, partly because I don’t want to initiate a chase, but also I’m at a bit of a disadvantage being barefoot. And, if any of you had high school gym class with me, you’ll know that I’m no runner. I just wait it out and eventually they wander off into the trees. Ok, now it’s time for bed.
Well, by this point I’ve had a couple of beers or so, and I have a tiny peanut bladder, so of course at 4am I wake up feeling like I’m going to burst. Now, normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but the bathrooms are a ways from the dorms and because there are so many wild animals in the park, using the bathroom is a team effort. Safety in numbers, after all. I wake Laura up, and we look out the window. Hippos everywhere. Shit. Well, lets check out the front door, more hippos. We are completely surrounded. Now, in case you don’t know, hippos are one of the most aggressive animals in Africa and have no problem tearing a stupid
Canadian traveller to pieces just because nature called.
“You’re not going out there. I won’t allow it,” Laura tells me.
“I’m seriously going to piss myself,” I beg.
“I don’t care. You’ll get killed.”
I look out the front door again just to be sure. Yup, there are at least three hippos within a few feet of me.
“There,” Laura points to the wash bucket. “Go in that.”
Well, beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. And with that, Laura and I got even more comfortable with each other that night.
The rest of the weekend was filled with game drives and lion tracking; Dr. Siefert needed to change the radio collar on one of the lions so we tagged along. Unfortunately, despite tracking for over 5 straight hours, we never found the lions, just lots of elephants, which still wanted to charge us. We’ll likely have the chance to go back to the park again this summer, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to get my hands on a lion. However, despite the tracking being a bit of a bust, it was still one hell of an exciting weekend!
Next blog is the goat project. I swear I have actually been working here! 😊
PS scroll down for more pictures!
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