Student - April 8, 2010

Hunting for droppings in South Africa

Matthijs Broere drove out ruthless thieves and wrestled with rhinoceroses. This MSc student of forest and nature management was out and about doing field work in wildlife reserve 'Welgevonden' in South Africa.

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'I researched into how different herbivores choose between food and safety. The choice could be influenced by direct and indirect predatory risks. I looked especially at areas where gnus, zebras and impalas can be found, and areas where they are not. As we did not want our presence to affect the location of the animals, we did not search for the animals but for their droppings. I have recorded a total of eleven thousand dung piles. Noting down so much dung became tiresome after a while, but I was never bored. You could come face to face with a rhinoceros at any time and then again, witness giant vultures hunting down a warthog.
Lion's head
'Our jeep hurtled daily through tall grasses, hobbling across hidden burrows of earth hogs. Once, both rear wheels of the jeep lost contact with the ground. We had to radio for help on two occasions when the wheels were stuck in an earth hog burrow. Many lions roamed the area, and we had to stay close to our 4-by-4 all the time. We were always alert during the hunt for droppings. I once saw a lion's head appearing suddenly out of the tall grass. We ran like a bat out of hell back to the car. That ended our search.
Football horn
'I stayed with another student in a big villa in the middle of the wildlife park. We had an enormous grill on which anything could be barbecued, be it cow or kudu. Lying in bed, we could hear the deep bellowing of elephants in our garden. On one occasion, I saw a lion pacing outside the house. A leopard wandered into the garden on another occasion. One day, I was in my room when I heard rumbling sounds in the kitchen. Assuming that my housemate was there, I went to take a look. I saw a bavian sitting on the microwave oven and another on the kitchen counter. As I frightened them away with a big football horn, one of them ran off with a pineapple and a loaf of bread.
Knocked over by an elephant
'I also went along on several trips to treat injured rhinoceroses. One rhino was knocked over by an elephant and had an open wound big enough for the lower arm of the veterinarian to fit into. The vet removed grubs from the wound and sprayed something on it. Although the animals were drugged with a substance which could kill more than 40 human beings, they still tried to get on their feet. We then had to use a rope to pull the rhino off its balance. The animals have all recovered since then!'

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