News - February 23, 2012

A dead end in a swamp

Who? Robert Euwe, fourth year student of Wildlife Management
What? Studying how oil palm plantations affect the hunting grounds of jaguars.
Where? The little village of Kukra Hill, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
Why? ‘I wanted a graduation project which would bring the best out of me.'

'My aim is to investigate how large oil palm plantations affect the spread and diversity of large mammals (Jaguar prey). A hot topic given that oil palm plantations have become one of the biggest threats to nature over the past few years. I have been able to set up the entire study from nothing, and that feels great.
Every day, my guide and I walk about ten to thirty kilometres through different areas in search of target species. We walk through the plantation, fields or jungle. The treks through the jungle are very heavy going because sometimes we literally have to hack out a path with machetes. Sometimes you find out after three hours of hacking that the swamp you are standing in up to your knees really is too big to cross.
The palm plantation here is so huge that you can go for an entire day without seeing any of the two thousand plantation workers. I have to say I find it a strange feeling, the absolute calm with neat rows of palm trees as far as the eye can see.
It is not just the nature that makes my research project an adventure. A visit to the hospital was also quite an experience. When I limped in with an inflamed toe I was surprised to find I was being taken to the operating theatre straight away. After examining me for five seconds, the doctor decided: ‘We're going to operate; your nail has to be removed. In no time I had three sisters hurrying me to the operating theatre, one of them bearing a huge needle and offering the reassuring words "Thees will meek you go to sleep". I was speechless, and I decided I'd rather be operated on without an anaesthetic so that I could keep an eye on my toe.'