News - August 27, 2015

'South Africa won’t let me back in’

Who? Diede Melsen, Master’s student of Biology
What? Thesis on the ‘giving up density’ of the Namaqua rock mouse
(Aethomys namaquensis)
Where? Lajuma National Park, Soutpansberg, South Africa

‘For my thesis I really wanted a subject that would enable me to do field work outside Europe. When the opportunity arose to go to South Africa, I seized it. That’s because I’d been to South Africa once before and thought it was a great place. I wanted to work with the rock elephant shrew (Elephantulus myurus), but when I arrived in South Africa, it turned out that it would be nigh on impossible to this species for my experiments.

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At that stage I chose the Namaqua rock mouse (Aethomys namaquensis). Another interesting animal. I studied the ‘giving up density’ of this species in locations offering various types of shelter. The ‘giving up density’ is the food density remaining at a given site when the animal decides to move on to another food patch. I also had to catch the animals in order to establish their density. I liked that I was able to work entirely independently. The only problem was that it sometimes rained a lot. It was the rainy season and that meant I could not always do field work. Fortunately, I was still able to collect enough data.

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While I carried out my research, we spent entire weeks on the Soutpansberg (Salt Pan Mountain), leaving only once a week to go food shopping. We were actually in the middle of nowhere and saw few people who weren’t also staying in the park. I have to say I loved that aspect and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet. There were other students on the mountain as well as a group of volunteers. They were all great people. As well as working on my thesis, I also travelled for three weeks, which included spending one week in Cape Town. I saw a lot of really cool animals, including cheetahs. I saw all of the Big Five except for the leopard. After my three months of field work and my three weeks of travelling, I flew back home. At the airport I ran into trouble because I had stayed longer than my visa allowed. I had previously tried to extend it but hadn’t managed to. I was eventually allowed to fly home but unfortunately South Africa won’t let me back in any time in the next twelve months.’