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Leaving a footprint

We knew that we would have to alter the landscape of our land if we were to develop our camp. There’s no getting round it, toilets, showers, shelters etc need to be built and this is going to impact our environment. However the extent to which it impacts our environment was up to us. As such we’ve been plotting and planning how to make our buildings low impact.

The toilet and shower area has been a hotly debated topic. With all that water splashing around we needed to find a material, other than brick and cement, that would stand up over the test of time. Ideas were thrown around, the internet searched for inspiration until something on Pinterest jolted our brains.

So here we have it our very own gabion style toilet and showers. Using easily accessible materials we’ve made the walls of our toilets and showers out of rocks. Using just galvanised chainlink fencing and some smaller holed chicken wire we built a wall between eucalyptus poles which was then filled with aggregates. A few holes still need to be filled to keeping mischevous children from spying on each other, but otherwise we’ve ended up with some rather attractive and unique walls.

Not only are the rocks durable to the elements but the porous wall could make them in to  “living” walls, growing different plants or even herbs up them.

The shower floor was another issue, again what to use instead of cement? We fell back on good old recycling. Using the PVC from an old billboard we lined the shower pan, a drain was set in this and then it will be covered in gravel. Gravel has softer edges than aggregate which we worried might tear the material. It’ll be finished off with a few stone slates to make it a comfier experience for your feet and there we have it. A low impact shower using recycled material.

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Shower pans going in, they won’t climb up the walls so high and will be covered with gravel. Unfortunately the builders put a roof on the outdoor shower, it’s coming off though, as we’re firm believers of if you’re going to shower outdoors, it had better be done under the sky!

This method of construction allows us the freedom to change our minds further down the line if we want them located in a different area. It’s easy to disassemble while keeping the materials intact and able to reuse. Not only that, but with minimal cement used, only for setting in the posts, there wouldn’t be a trace of the structures within a few months. Win win we see it, time shall tell how it holds up.

Follow our Facebook page over the next few weeks to see the final result!

Our Slithery Friends

It’s a bit of a slippery subject this one as it inspires fear in so many of us but one of the main ethos of the camp is education so we felt we’d tackle it a bit here. Snakes. It’s often a question posed by visitors, are there snakes? There’s no beating about the bush on this one as they are an integral part of the bush. Yes there are snakes. I’m sure on a daily basis I must walk in the vicinity of at least fifteen serpents. And yet I can count on my fingers the number of living snakes I have seen on the land after living out here for three years.

Snakes are like any other animal, they’re scared of humans and want nothing more than to be as far away from you as possible. A snake will only attack in defence, it can’t eat you so what’s the point in wasting it’s energy on attacking you unless you are posing a direct threat to it. If there’s the option to flee a snake will go for that rather than attack. For venomous snakes it’s a big waste of resources to bite and inject venom, that venom took time and energy to make and it will take even more time and energy to replace. No animal, not even a human would waste that if it had the option not to.

A montane egg-eater, a gorgeous friendly snake at the camp. Harmless to humans, after all who needs venom to eat an egg?

A common misconception we come across is that black snakes are deadly. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Take for example this little beauty found one evening, a rather rare sighting, a Christy’s snake-eater Polemon christyi.

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Now as the name suggests, it eats snakes and it doesn’t use venom to do so. This is not to say that all black snakes are harmless, the burrowing asps look very similar and they are venomous. A safe rule of thumb is, if you’re not sure, keep your distance.

As the Christy’s snake-eater shows us, snakes can be very useful to have around. They can keep other populations of snakes in check and they can control vermin such as mice and rats. They form a key step in the food chain, feeding on lesser creatures and being food themselves to others. I’m sure the mongoose found at the camp enjoy a snake snack as do some birds of prey we see swooping around.

One thing which often scares people about snakes is the surprise factor. Snakes aren’t noisy creatures, often when you do come across them it’s a real surprise, perhaps shock is the better term. In these cases the snake is usually just as shocked as you and will try and get away fast. It may be that a snake drops from a tree or bush, you may disturb it while it’s catching up on a bit of sun bathing or you may stumble across it in some thicker vegetation. Can you spot the blind snake is this picture?

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It was a surprise to come across this little one on an afternoons walk.

While a blind snake is very harmless I was very cautious around it as at the time I was not 100% sure of what it was. Snapping a few photos is a great way to ID a snake accurately. Often you need photos of the head and body scales to accurately ID a species.

Thanks to the internet there is a wealth of information ready and waiting for you. Social media has allowed experts in the field to link to the general public, providing accurate, up to date information for education. A great example of this is the Facebook group, The Snakes & Reptiles of East Africa. A tool used every time we have a snake or other reptile find.

In essence we encourage you to fight your fear of snakes, fight it by arming yourself with more knowledge. Get an idea of the common snakes in your area and learn how to tell them apart, paying particular attention to learning which are venomous and which are not. With this information you can become a teacher yourself and help others through their fears.

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This spotted bush snake wouldn’t harm a human…..but a gecko is another matter entirely!

Galloping Giraffes

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the Park these past few weeks getting involved  with giraffe research. Fifteen giraffe were translocated from Murchison Falls NP to Lake Mburo in July 2015. A sub-species of Northern giraffe, these Nubian giraffe are doing really well in their new home.

The main aim of the research is to learn where they are moving in the Park, what they’re eating and learn a bit about their relationships with one another. The last time we watched them one male had an injury. His front left leg was swollen and he was limping a lot. It was really interesting to watch the other 3 males as they stayed near him, often touching him with their noses. Were they concerned for him as a friend or interested to find out just how weak he was as a rival?

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Apart for the current injury the giraffes have been doing really well and are often spotted by visitors to the Park. With such a small population it’s possible to know each individual and follow them closely. They are fascinating to watch, a very curious animal, often coming closer to get a better look at you.

While we’re all eagerly awaiting the arrival of a calf (seeing as their gestation period is 15 months it’s no surprise one hasn’t been delivered just yet!) it’s been great to spot and observe these great giants and we’re now well versed at identifying the different individuals. It will be interesting to see how this project develops over the coming years.

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A vigilant Mystery watching us.

 

A Week Without Walls

Well it’s been a mad whirlwind week, one filled with wildlife, adventures and education!

We hosted the International School of Uganda for 3 nights at the camp on Tuesday. Every year in this school all the students from 6th-12th grade head out on an excursion. Some go to wander the hills of Fort Portal, others head to Jinja to enjoy some time on the river Nile and one class comes out here to Lake Mburo. This year we had 36 students with 6 teachers and 2 bus drivers descend upon us for what turned in to the most fun camp we’ve ever done.

While students were expected to learn new things on this trip they were also very much expected to have fun. The obstacle course saw its maiden run. While Andy and Penny, our previous volunteers, had all but finished the course, our new volunteers Joanna and Daniel put the finishing touches to it. They were responsible for getting the kids out and about the course, poor Daniel was the one to demonstrate how to army crawl through the last muddy slog. The kids were knackered and muddy at the end of it but had enough energy to cheer on their teachers as they too took on the mud. All got cleaned up fast enough afterwards with some time on the slip and slide. Despite the yelps of pain as they bumped down the slope they came back again and again to the top and launched themselves down the watery, soapy slide.

Our trip in to the park held a great surprise for them. The python which had been spotted earlier in the week was still in residence in the dam. While it had regurgitated the baby waterbuck it had eaten, it was still a very impressive sized snake. It was a special sighting for one student who kept his snake guide close to him through out the whole trip. That evening around the campfire he read out the information on pythons to his eagerly listening classmates. We were lucky enough to spot at least one giraffe, Batgirl, on our drive out of the park. The students got to fill in the observations sheets used by the giraffe researchers giving them a practical taste of wildlife research. These sightings combined with the hippos and crocs they spotted on the boat trip gave them a wildlife packed park experience.

Being out of a classroom, interacting with classmates in a different setting and seeing real life uses of the information they are learning in lessons is such a valuable asset to education. We had a student apply their mathematical skills to determining if Usain Bolt could out run a hippo (he can’t), they navigated using the cardinal points something which often causes confusion in class (writing on papers and walking the directions are two very different things) and they showed empathy towards each other, supporting one another in a setting outside of their comfort zones.

All in all the students, teachers and camp staff were all happy come Friday. It was an action packed few days, one we hope the students remember for many years to come.

 

Camp Developments

It’s been a busy week at the camp as we prepare to host the International School of Uganda next week for a three night, four day programme.

Enshama and Stefano got to work opening up the forest and lakeside paths once more. Things do grow fast out here and especially down by the lake where water is always abundant.

The lakeside path takes you along the edge of the land, where papyrus grows tall, tree’s are draped in creepers and where plenty of hippo activity can be seen. It’s remarkably peaceful on this short path and teeming with life. From the splashes of purple and yellow  of the wild flowers, to the birdlife which flits about you, it’s a completely different environment to anywhere else at the camp. It’s worth your while to sit quietly for half an hour and watch the goings on. With such a different habitat comes many different birds, from the wetland species such as the papyrus gonolek ,to the forest loving orange-tufted sunbird. If you’re a birder or in search of some peace this is the place to sit.

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The forest loop takes you past some of the fruiting fig trees, a popular haunt for many birds. You should walk carefully here as birds are best spotted on the path ahead of you, enjoying the clearing in the forest, scooping up insects, having dust baths and partaking in a spot of sunbathing. Some times the yellow winged bats will take flight at your appearance and take off down the tunnel that is the forest path.

Hopefully the kids next week will enjoy this part of the camp as much as we do!

If you’re wondering what happened on the camera trap since last week, take a look at our Facebook page. Lots of activity along these paths at night!

Another Week, Another Calf

Well it seems that Nathan wins the bet again.

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Friday morning came, Nshama conceded and announced that Ngabo would give birth today. I spent the whole day checking on her, seeing how she was doing, eagerly anticipating the camps new arrival. At 4pm Enshama and I went to check the herd down by the lake but failed to spot her. After some searching around we found her in the thick lakeside bushes. Another bull to join the herd but a bit of surprise with it. We all believed she had been mated by our beautiful Ankole bull, but lo and behold, a black and white calf! A fresian bull had gotten to her! Despite this surprise he’s still a gorgeous little thing, it was an endearing scene  watching him totter after his mother up the hill.

A herd of zebras visited the cows salt lick this morning getting a cheeky lick in while the cows were away. It’s not only the zebras who like to nick a bit of salt, but often even the hippos will come for a nightly salt fix.

We hope to catch some nightly hippo action as the camera traps are back up along the forest paths near the lake. We’ll check them tomorrow morning to hopefully get a glimpse of the nights happenings, hippo or other wise. It’s great fun to set them up and it’s not a job you should rush. It’s such a disappointment to look at your photos and realise you’ve only captured a glimpse of a portion of animal because it was at the wrong angle. However this afternoon it tried my perseverance to get the camera up in the right place as there were hundreds of safari ants. There ensued a lot of hopping about, stamping of feet and the occasional yelp as one reached the soft skin of my belly! The things we do in the name of nature!

 

 

 

 

Busy Busy Camp

This week sees our volunteers Penny and Andy hard at work painting camp signs and building our obstacle course. They’re out of their tents just before the sun rises to make the most of the cool morning before the heat beats down and forces their retreat to the cool shade. Hands are blistered, legs are scratched and necks are red, all good signs of hard work!

Our other team of builders are working on the foundation of the main area, the pace at which they’re going we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s only a week before the roof’s on and it’s ready for action! The camp is a buzz with activity, matching our bees in their hive.

The birds keep singing and the crickets chirruping making the camp chorus a pleasant background to all the bustling work. A marsh harrier is swooping over the camp these days, providing entertainment as drongo’s and starling’s dive bomb it, trying to chase it off. Herds of impala have been frequent visitors to the land while zebra are often spotted nearby, always keeping a wary eye on the two legged creatures who stop and stare at them.

Only yesterday we welcomed a new member to the herd, a happy healthy bull. Nshama our herdsman was off by one morning in his prediction of the birth, Nathan got it spot on. Bets are on for our old girl Ngabo to give birth. Nathan states she’ll calve within the week but Nshama thinks it’ll take longer, perhaps even in to February. Time will tell who’s got the best prediction!

 

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Enshama with Ngabo, the bet is on!