In May and June of 2007, 13 undergraduate students from Northern Michigan University are taking a field course in Zambia. Most of the students are majors in the Biology department, and all of them will be doing short field studies of their own design while on the ground in Zambia. The group will be making a stop in London on the way, spending four days seeing Zambia/Africa-related British sites (Burton's tomb, Livingstone's artefacts at the Royal Geographic Society, the British Museum of Natural History, etc.) and adjusting to the time change. The course is being led by me, Dr. Alec Lindsay, a professor in the Department of Biology at NMU, and Dr. Jackie Bird - a parasitologist in our department. We have made this blog so students can hopefully post notes thoughts, pictures and discoveries to the world. This should allow classmates, teachers, family and friends to share in their insights and keep track of their travels. Not only that, but viewers of the blog can add comments to posts - please do! We would love to hear your thoughts. Zikomo!

02 June 2007

Hippos, lions and flatdogs

Well we have been without internet for quite a while, and lots has happened in the interim. Fortunately, there have been no major mishaps – a few minor ones not worth describing. Okay, okay, I am sure that may make you wonder about the mishaps, so I will share this: we had two work sessions on the clutch of the our transport, an oil leak, a minor allergic reaction to too much sun and a thorn embedded in the foot of a foolish youngster who decided to go barefoot. All told, the whole group (including our bus and our trusty drivers, Chanda and Kelvin) is in fine shape with the help of limited mechanical expertise and a good field medical kit.

Enough about the mishaps. Since leaving Livingstone and Victoria Falls, we have traveled back to Lusaka, up to Kasanka, back to Lusaka and then up to South Luangwa National Park, where we now reside in camp. Here is a brief account of those experiences – the students will undoubtedly add their thoughts with a bit less excessive verbiage.

While in Lusaka (both times) we stayed at Eureka campground – which is about 10km outside the city proper. A great location close enough to the city that we could drive in for supplies, yet be camped in a wildlife park that had giraffes, zebra, impala, bushbuck and many species of birds. People got their first looks at a bushbaby on a brief night walk into the bush and were able to return to their tents and head off to the ablutions for a shower (“ablutions” is a new term for some here).

We then drove 600km up the Great North Road toward Kasanka National Park, but on the way we took a small diversion to the palace of Chief Chitumbo. Dr. Bird and I went and talked to the chief, to request he guide us to the Livingstone monument located at the site where Livingstone died and his heart was buried (that's the students and the chief in the picture). We gave the chief some small gifts and then he came out and met all the students. He asked for a picture, which we took with him, then loaded him into our vehicles and headed off on the 25km trek through his chiefdom to the monument site. On the way, we asked him lots of questions about his people, his role as chief and the general state of affairs for his villages in modern Zambia. It was an eye-opening experience for all – he has 300,000 people in his chiefdom, he spends three months a year checking each village (traveling by bicycle on dirt roads with his entourage of bodyguards and advisors), he holds court every Friday (almost exclusively to try and to punish people accused of witchcraft) and he has traveled to England to see Livingstone’s gravesite in Westminster Abbey (same as we did!).

After that we set up camp in Kasanka and took some nice driving safari’s of the park. This park is much more remote and undeveloped, so we had the run of the campsite for the most part. Although in a rugged setting, there were local Bemba men hired to look after us – starting fires for us in the morning, gathering wood, boiling large amounts of water for us to use in a makeshift reed-walled shower. The ungulate, bird and insect life was well accounted by students on their studies, and we left with good feelings of success.

On the way to South Luangwa, we ended up staying one night in Lusaka (Eureka campground again) and then one night on the road in Chipata at Mama Rula’s campground. The bus ride was hot and the road (the Great East Road) was really rough and it was clear that despite everyone’s best intentions, the levels of gumption were running a bit low. As if this were not enough, the final 120km from Chipata to S. Luangwa is a rough dirt thing, full of rocks, ruts, washouts and lots of dust. It took us four hours to ride that road, but at the end was Flatdogs!

And so here we now reside, in Flatdogs Camp (link at the right) which sits right on the banks of the Luangwa. As we stepped off the bus, vervet monkeys scattered into the trees and hippos gave their deep rumbles from the river. The cool shade of the mahogany trees was welcome respite for setting up tents, and within minutes people had their swimsuits on and were cooling off in their (chlorinated!) pool. By the evening, everyone was adjusting to the pleasant change of environs, sitting along the Flatdog’s bank, watching the full moon rise while hippos, elephants, impala, baboons and puku began heading down to the river in the dark. Everyone agreed it was a perfect place to settle in for the next four days.
The next day (yesterday, as I write this) we all rose early at 0500hrs for the first of two safaris into the park itself. We loaded into two open-topped Land Cruisers, with trained guides at the helm, and headed off into the park where we saw many ungulates (students recording numbers, behavior, and GPS locations of several different species) along with warthogs, cape buffalo, giraffe and many bird species. Perhaps the highlights of that safari were when the elephants came within 20m of our vehicles (that's Constance with an elephant in the background), seeming not to care much at all about our presence. Then we also got word of a lion pride (shown at left) that was hunting – one group got to see some of the hunt, but then the lions (one male, three females and two older cubs) settled down for the hot part of the day and our guides pulled the vehicles within 5m of the lions and we got some great moments observing them in close proximity. It was truly remarkable to see these animals in their natural habitats rather than just a zoo.

After a few hours off in the afternoon for swims and naps, last night closed with a night safari into the park, where we saw many of the same suspects as earlier in the day. But we also got to see a leopard (fairly rare to see - shown at left in a blurry night photo) on a stalk for some puku and some geese (the stalk was unsuccessful). Perhaps even more dramatic were the two male lions we happened upon on the drive out! Each male (one is pictured at left licking himself) was on either side of the dirt road, and as we sat and spotlighted the guys, they began to exchange 30 seconds of dramatic roars! It was phenomenal, and many of us caught the whole exchange on video. The night lighting pictures don’t look so great, but in person the whole thing was truly dramatic and remarkable.

We finished with a nice dinner at the restaurant (a welcome change from days and days of beans and rice, peppered with peanut butter and jelly) and turned in for the night. Oh, there were some other remarkable finds in the night by our bug crew who set up a black-light – a giant cricket (shown at right - the largest in the world, whose chirps can be heard up to 1.5km away!) and a giant assassin bug (the red-spotted bugger whose bite can deliver a painful wallop that lasts for days).

Today is a day without safari and students are busily observing bee-eaters, geckos, monkey behavior, etc. for the final bits of data collection on this trip. We have another day of safari tomorrow and then we begin odyssey of a trip home - the drive back to Lusaka (ouch) and the flights to London and Marquette. Hard to believe it is nearly over, and I am not sure any of us are ready for it to end just yet.



Anonymous said...

Good to finally know you got to Flatdogs.

I have a suspicion that there is only one photo of Jackie and it has been pasted into the different locations. -Wil

What is the MQT ETA?

JMM said...


Could it be any cooler!


Cynthia said...

Dr. Lindsey, Thank you so much for a superb job putting this wonderful adventure together for these students. It has been great reading these posts and even enjoying their adventures vicariously. It will be interesting to see how the research projects evolve into final reports. (I'm assuming I'll see at least one.) I can't wait to hear the stories firsthand and see the pics and treasures. Maybe I'll get to see Zambia one day.
Cynthia Kustin

Suzanne said...

Hi Alec,
I agree with Cynthia, great idea to put together this blog and I have enjoyed reading it. Good to hear the students are having a great time and getting some data as well. Photos are terrific too! Have a safe trip home.

Suzanne Williams

Anonymous said...

Wow how cool is this!
You did it!!!
We are really happy to find this page!