Monday, July 2, 2018

All roads lead to... Maun.

   Our second safari of the trip is over and so many memories were made. We arrived back in Maun on Thursday after spending four nights in Khwai. We started off our safari with a bang and on our first morning drive we were able to see a pack of African wild dogs feasting on the remains of an impala kill. On the very first night in Khwai, we had two elephants walk right through our camp while we were all sitting around the campfire. The elephants were plentiful and often walked right in front of our vehicles. We lost a juice box and a salad dressing to the monkeys that inhabited the trees surrounding our camp, but for the most part, they were welcome entertainment. Our nights were filled with noises from the hippos grunting, lions roaring, monkeys screaming, birds screeching, and hyenas howling. The game cameras we had set up in camp were able to confirm that hyenas were strolling through our camp during the night. Some other highlights of the trip were seeing a lioness, a leopard (for some of us, two!), and having a pack of wild dogs swarm around our cars, and then watching them (this time unsuccessfully) hunt an impala. This trip was also a bonanza for our lovingly deemed “Bird Nerds” of the group, who spent the trip spotting and identifying a variety of birds in the area.

   Now we are getting settled back in Maun, finishing up presentations and lectures. Last night, we set up a projector in the main tent and had a movie night. Madagascar was the movie of choice featuring all of our friends we had just seen on safari.

   This morning, we had the pleasure of meeting Milton, a man from Zimbabwe that now lives in Botswana, and makes a living selling his bead artwork and other handmade crafts. Milton patiently taught us how to string the beads on the wire and then how to wrap them into simple flowers and keychains. Our work was nothing compared to the impressive pieces he has created, but they were made with love and a good bit of laughter. 
Sitting in a circle with Milton learning how to bead.

One of the friends we made while in Safari.

Splish-splash, I was taking a bath.

Wild dogs being wild.

The all seeing eye.
Snuggled up for movie night. 

Meet the researcher (student)!

Hi, my name is Shawn Evenson I’m a senor at the University of Texas at Austin. Fall of 2018 I’ll graduate with a degree in geography with a minor in geology. I would like to thank the COLA Bernard and Audre Rapoport Endowment for helping found my study abroad in Botswana. Triumph motorcycles should be mentioned as I had to sell mine to finance the rest of the trip. With my last semester at UT approaching, I’m looking forward to spending the summer with the bright minds of my classmates and the instruction of Dr Meyer. This will be a great opportunity to get boots-on-the -ground research that will help distinguish my resume and deepen my understanding of vegetation and climate.

Meet the researcher (student)!

   Hello all! The name’s Kelsey. I am a rising junior studying Environmental Science with a focus in Geography. I am also minoring in Sociology and earning a certificate through my honors program, Polymathic Scholars. After college, I hope to either join the Peace Corps for a few years, or go to grad school. Some things you should know about me are that I love cats (sorry, they’re better than dogs), my favorite biome is the temperate rainforest (it has the best weather—cold and rainy), I want to live in a tiny house, and I am an introvert. I am very excited for this trip. I love to travel and learn about new cultures, so studying abroad was always something I wanted to do. Since I have never before been to Africa, this program seems like a unique experience that I could not pass on. I can’t wait for the safaris that we will be going on and all the photos I am going to take. I would like to thank my parents, Carrie and Dewey, for supporting me and allowing me to come on this trip. I know that they were a bit hesitant at first with me travelling to Africa. I also wanted to say ‘happy graduation!’ to my little brother, Garrett. I am sorry I had to miss your graduation, but I am so proud of you. I know that my older sisters would not like it if I did not mention them, so here it is: Lindsay and Hannah, you’re really cool sisters. Also, tell Turbo and Teddy I say ‘hi’ and give them a pet for me. I love all of you guys and I’ll see you in six weeks. Peace (*peace emoji*).

Meet the researcher (student)!

Hi! I am Virginia Preiss, a senior Sustainability Studies major and also a 4th year Track and Field athlete. I am very excited to explore Botswana and analyze the impact climate change is having on the ecosystems and local people. I am most looking forward to learning about the culture and history of the San People and how they have adapted to this changing land and the evolution of their livelihoods. I would like to thank Dr. Rapoport for funding generations of young scholars finding different ways to change the world. I would also like to thank my loving church and family and friends who graciously contributed to making this dream a reality. My final thanks go to my parents for doing all they can to make this wonderful experience happen for me and for always supporting my endeavours no matter how far away they take me. Cheers to Botswana!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Study Abroad Botswana: A Non-traditional Student Review

     The study abroad program in Botswana is exceptional. The onsite lecture and instruction time is unmatched by other programs. I would also argue that none of the other programs offer instruction on a location that is so closely related to Texas. It is well worth the investment of your time and money.

     That said, lets look at practical matters. There are a few items that should be added to or qualified on the packing list. The mattresses provided are two inches thick and if you’re unaccustomed to sleeping on the ground I recommend a sleeping pad. There will be 16 people and one clothes line, quick dry towels and clothing are a must. Bring pants that fit loosely over the top of your shoes and shoes that go over your ankles. The majority of plants here have thorns or hooks that you need to protect your skin from. Even the grass seeds use nasty methods of distribution. It is the grass seeds that make it necessary to seal off your ankles in order to keep painful seeds from working their way into your shocks. Your shoes should also be leather with very small or without ventilation holes. When the group goes on safari, there will not be an opportunity to do laundry, so bring at least five to seven changes of clothes. The temperature fluctuates a lot in the Kalahari. You will have to dress for three seasons in one day. This makes a light day bag necessary. Your book bag will do, or a pack that has a water bladder and fits a couple of layers of clothes and snacks would be better. Only pack work cloth that your are willing to throw away, the work doesn’t last long, but the potential to roughen your clothes is there. When it comes to electronics, you must make a judgment call. The scenery is spectacular and this may very well be a once in a lifetime event. Risk does exist, so on the low end, bring a camera that preforms better than your phone and on the high end whatever you can afford. I would like to have had brought a thermal spotting scope and my wife’s  nice camera with lenses, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of loss or damage.   

     For the non-traditional student there are social and physical considerations. Extensive travel can be demanding on your body. In addition to the long plane ride there will be dozens of hours spent traveling off-road in 4X4 vehicles. If you have a limiting spine injury, you may wish to travel elsewhere. I highly recommend beginning a conditioning program months in advance to mitigate the physical fatigue of long distance off-road travel. The social aspect is the same as on UT campus. Where the difference comes in, is that there is no let up or refuge from it. You will be with your classmates around the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six weeks. I am very thankful to have some of the most polite, courteous, and respectful UT students as my classmates(a heartfelt thank you for a job well done to my classmates’ parents). With less courteous classmates, the synergy of personalities could be an issue. The time spent away from family, friends and your personal space must be factored in your decision to come to Botswana. For me, it was worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Shawn Evenson

Riding the 4x4.

Elephants in Khwai.

Hook'em Horns.

Hungry Hippos.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Meet the researcher (student)!

Hello!  My name is Kiara, and I’m a senior geography student.  For as long I can remember, I have been fascinated by wild animals and knew from a very young age that I wanted to help the environment as much as I could. 

Given all this, I am extremely grateful for the chance to study in Botswana this summer.  Being in a world that is at once so familiar environmentally and quite different culturally is an opportunity  that I know will help me become a better and more knowledgeable environmentalist, capable of helping to solve some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. 

I would like to thank Dr. Rapoport and Randy Diehl for representing and providing financial support through the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation for Multidisciplinary Studies and the College of Liberal Arts Competitive Scholarship respectively.  More than anything, I would like to thank my parents for supporting me in everything I do and for fostering my love of the outdoors and wildlife.  All those hours spent at the zoo in Kansas, the bird watching, and the trips we took as a family to various national parks and the rainforest of Costa Rica.  I would also like to send all my love and gratitude to my sister Marley for being the best listener and friend.  I wish you all the best in your academic journey and your own adventures, Lovely!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Safari in the Kalahari

Well well well, it has been quite a week for the Botswana ’18 crew.  Yesterday we returned from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and are staying for two nights in Maun at Camp Kitso.

About our recent adventure:

The CKGR is enormous, so much so that we were only able to explore the northernmost portion of the reserve.  The region is patterned with valleys formed by ancient sand dunes, which has resulted in a huge compositional diversity of vegetation.  Some valleys were dense with tall grass and thick shrubs, while others were seemingly endless expanses of short grass.

For three days we drove around looking for Kalahari wildlife.  Springbok, gemsbok, and steenbok (aka the three ‘boks), were very common.  We were all amazed by the beauty of the gemsbok, or oryx, the agility of the springbok, and the large, black eyes of the tiny steenbok, which looked at us with surprise whenever we drove past them.  We also saw honey badgers, black-backed jackals, and bat-eared foxes.  Everyone was amused by the ground squirrels, which squatted with their little beer bellies, eating the grass that surrounded their burrows. 

All of us saw giraffes and we felt very small when we drove near them. 

To top it off, a handful of us were fortunate enough to see a Kalahari lioness walk purposefully across the savanna to greet her two adolescent cubs.  She passed within 5 feet of the vehicle, and we were in awe of her presence and strength. 

Yesterday was our TA Francisco’s birthday.  We celebrated his 25th with chocolate cake and plenty of laughter.

We’re off to Khwai, where we’ll be able to tour the Okavango delta for the next four days! 
Springbok walking with gemsbok in the background

Springbok males fighting.

Lioness walking across the savanna.