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  • Rebecca Dannock

If two heads are better than one, then two field sites are absolutely better than one

Updated: May 25

I’m back in Namibia for 2023’s Bio-Indicator Project sampling. But this time, along with Ongava, I’ve also spent a couple of weeks at Okonjima Nature Reserve. While Ongava is dominated by mopane trees, Okonjima (about 200 km south) is dominated by acacias. This gives our project a second site within a different environment. Having samples from across Namibia’s diverse environments has always been the aim of ORC’s Bio-Indicator Project.

Rain plus open vehicles didn’t even dampen our spirits as we expanded to Okonjima Nature Reserve.

After conducting Ongava’s collection, I set off down the highway to Okonjima. This expansion is thanks to continued support from Nedbank’s GoGreen Fund and our collaborators at the AfriCat Foundation, namely their Director Karen Codling, who is championing the project in Okonjima. Over two weeks, Karen and I went on a reconnaissance mission to develop the species collection list for Okonjima and do trial collections, ready for a full collection next year.

Karen and I first set about choosing tree and grass species to collect at Okonjima, with help from experts within Okonjima and across Namibia. An important criterion for selecting species is that they are readily identifiable. There is no point in selecting species that are unremarkable and so are mistaken for other species. So, we went about looking for good bio-indicator species (abundant, respond to environmental change, well-studied etc.) and then refining the list by ensuring we could easily identify them. Up until this project, Karen and I hadn’t spent a lot of time checking out the green things in life (except herbs, which we both grow to fuel our culinary pursuits). I luckily had a head start, becoming a grass and tree enthusiast in 2022 while at Ongava. But this year, it was my mission to make a green thing enthusiast of Karen too. We ended the fortnight well and truly entrenched in all things leafy. It’s as the saying goes… you only find what you are looking for.

Identifying grasses and seed pods; collection of plum dung beetles; and Karen learning the art of collecting termites.

I was also able to take part in research and management projects to see how Okonjima operates. I walked with trackers and researchers working on AfriCat’s pangolin project (if I had a bucket list, seeing a pangolin would have been on it and I saw two!), and participated in a rhino and leopard vaccination programme. We also discovered that one of the collared leopards, Neo, had wounds and was growing so much that his collar was no longer a good fit. So, Neo was darted, recollared and vet checked where his wounds (given to him by another leopard in territorial disputes) were treated. The immobilisation also resulted in hard and soft tick collection for the Bio-Indicator Project.

Okonjima comes with its own challenges, and while I didn’t have to dodge pythons in waterholes like I do in Ongava, I re-learnt the fun of working in an acacia veld. Most acacias in southern Africa are covered in a variety of thorns. So, bundu (bush) bashing, on foot and in open vehicles, means a prickly experience. I spent hours extracting thorns from my arms, shoes (through to my feet) and clothes, and we had a few vehicle mishaps including a flat tyre, thanks to a sickle bush between us and a darted leopard. But these are the challenges that make fieldwork even more memorable!

Neo is getting vet checked, including tick removal; Nuka, whose darting resulted in a flat tyre, and one of the vaccinated rhinos with the dart still in.

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