Going solo — Keafon

My first week has been filled with many batty experiences as I followed Ruan around the Reserve. As I entered my second week, it became time to cut loose the apron strings and put what I’ve learned into practice by going solo. I was very excited but also nervous; will I be able to spot them amongst the tall grasses in the field? Will I recognize the different individuals? Do I still recall their foraging spots and how to get there? Will I even remember my way back to home base?

For my first task, I was assigned two of the most ‘easy going’ individuals: Bruce and Donna.

Bruce with his brand new collar

Bruce with his brand new collar

With the use of a VHF antenna receiver, I was able to track Bruce within 10mins, and he happily came running towards me as if to say welcome. I was glad my first session had gotten off to an easy start. But not for long, because thirty minutes into the session, a herd of cattle came rushing down our way, heading for a nearby watering hole. They stopped in their tracks when they saw me and glared rather angrily, because Bruce and I were clearly in their way.

These are not domesticated animals, and there were several calves in the herd – another cause for concern, because their horned mothers can protect them quite aggressively. I needed to think fast. Losing Bruce was not an option, but I had to give way to this grumpy herd of cattle. The second I took a step to the side, the entire herd broke into a run, hurtling down the hill towards us! Bruce was startled and immediately took flight into the bushes. I too, took to my heels, searching my mind frantically for any cattle-defense lessons I might have come across. There were none, so I hid behind a tree as the herd rushed by and down to “Lake Victoria”. My heart was still racing minutes later, but calm was restored rather suddenly, as soon as the herd reached its goal. Bruce appeared far less disturbed than I was, and we spent a lovely evening together, not getting lost too badly, steering clear from the hoofed and horned animals on the reserve.

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About Keafon

I’m privileged to be part of this growing group of enthusiastic and hardworking young scientists making their mark in the interesting world of carnivore research. My previous research was predominantly on invertebrates; firstly with spiders on sub-Antarctic Marion Island for my Honours degree and then with invasive Argentine ants for my MSc at Stellenbosch University. Batties are therefore my very first encounter with the mammal world and my project is aimed at exploring both physiological and ecological factors influencing stress levels in female batties. While I look forward to sharing my experiences with you, I'm also thrilled to have been selected from a nationwide competition to blog about my PhD journey on SAYAS (http://sayasblog.com/).