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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Crazy (Good!) Week

Helping with sheep herding
This last week has been a little crazy. Last weekend, we were invited to the Simien Lodge to have dinner and to schmooze with some ladies from the African Wildlife Foundation. It was a very nice evening - good company, excellent food, hot showers and comfy beds! Lots of treats. The two women were very interested in the park and the geladas, and it was quite an experience to talk to them. They are so well-traveled and so smart! They've worked on a number of high-profile projects in Africa, including the parks in Rwanda and the Congo where mountain gorillas live. It was very interesting to hear about their work, and to learn a bit about how conservation is put into action in Africa. In the morning, we took them out to see the geladas. Luckily for us, the monkeys cooperated and were easy to find! There were a few hundred sitting on one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the park, and it was a blast to spend some time there with the AWF women. They took lots of pictures and asked lots of really good questions, and everyone had a good time. Our day off ended up being a bit of a work day - we had to get up early and drive out to see the monkeys - but it was very neat to get to spend time with some movers and shakers! As they were leaving, they gave us their business cards, and it turned out that one of them was the president of the organization!! It really put their visit in a whole different light to know that they had found our site interesting and valuable enough to send their top-ranked member! After they left us, they went to Addis to meet with the head of the Ethiopian Wildlife and Conservation Authority, the ministry that oversees us. We are hopeful that we impressed them enough to have AWF invest in fixing and preserving the Simien Mountains National Park!

On Monday and Tuesday, we had regular work days. Ali and I have taken lots of ID photos and have been organizing them into a cheat sheet that we can take to the field with us. The identification is going really well, and I feel good about starting on some of the smaller units next week! It will be great to get my data collection really underway.

On Wednesday, we hiked out to a number of sleep sites and didn't find any of our monkeys. So, around 9:30am, we hiked back to the house and spent the day doing some of the backlog of computer work that has been building up. I organized ID photos of the juveniles, we typed up the fecal sample list, and Julie updated the behavioral observation program and the demography. Despite not being able to do observations, we got a lot done. In the late afternoon, we drove again to the Lodge - this time to give two nights of lectures to some Australian tour groups. It was a pretty wonderful experience - the group paid for us to have dinner with them each night, breakfast in the mornings, and a room at the Lodge for both nights! They were a really great group - a bunch of medical professionals who had been at a conference in Kenya and were doing an add-on trip to the highlights of Ethiopia. Julie and I made a powerpoint presentation, and we showed that, talked about our research and about basic gelada biology, and then answered a lot of questions. It was really fun to get to share our knowledge and our excitement about our work with a bunch of smart, interested people!

On Thursday after breakfast, we did some work in the morning with the units that live near the Lodge. It was great because we don't see them very often and they usually involve a lot of driving to find. Since we were already at the Lodge, it was very easy! Around lunchtime, we drove to Debark for our weekly shopping trip. Again, very good timing - the Lodge is about halfway from our house to Debark, so we saved again on driving! Debark was crazy, as usual. Lots of people and livestock on the roads, stressful driving conditions, and a host of other small problems - the guy we wanted to see at the park office was out, the post office was closed, etc etc. We did get to spend some time with the local Peace Corps volunteers, which was excellent. and there was both electricity and internet, so I got to check my gmail for the first time in weeks! I even got to miraculously chat with Sam online for a little while. And as usual, the Peace Corps couple's puppies were running around and being adorable. AND there were tomatoes at the market this week! So that was exciting too. All in all, a good trip!

Thursday night was another lecture to the Australians, with their second group of tourists. It went well and people had lots of good questions. This morning, we had breakfast with them and escorted their bus to some favorite gelada haunts. It was really gratifying to see them appreciate the information we had given them about gelada behavior, and to see that they were following our directions about how to approach the monkeys without scaring them. It was also really fun to walk around the tour group and answer questions while they had monkeys to look at! They left around 9:30am, so we still had most of the morning to do our real work. I got some more photos done, which was good. It will be nice to be finished with them and on to just collecting poop and observing behavior!

Julie strained her back while working, so I got my first opportunity to drive in Ethiopia! It was a little stressful but overall not as bad as I was expecting. It helped that we had had several days without rain, so most of the really bad ruts weren't muddy and slippery. I gained a whole new appreciation for Julie's driving skills - navigating ruts, mud, sharp rocks, cliff edges, enormous speeding trucks, errant livestock and a manual transmission is definitely a feat! But we made it home safely and our scout even told me I was a good driver. Hopefully I'll be able to help Julie out with the driving responsibilities now!

That's it for the moment! Three nights at the Lodge in a week is a new record - we have been very spoiled this week! Now that all our fun plans are over, it's nose-to-the-grindstone time. We will go to Debark for the Meskel holiday next Wednesday, but other than that, our plans are lots of observations and lots of poop collection from now until the end of October when we go to Gondar and Bahir Dar to ship off samples and do a big grocery shop. Hope all is well back in America - I miss you guys and think about you often!

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