Preliminary work at the Kalahari Meerkat Project

After an exhausting and… interesting (I believe this is the politically correct term) road trip Arpat and I finally arrived at the Kalahari Meerkat Project research station along the dry riverbed of the Kuruman River, South Africa.

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The following day, despite the lack of rest (this is what happens if you end up digging your car out of the sand at 2 am on the previous night!) we were up and running and all excited about the idea of testing our three brand new GPS radio collars for meerkats. We soon realized that the collars were too big to fit around the neck of our tiny sand-digging friends. Surely enough there is nothing that a sharp swiss army knife can’t adjust (even MacGyver had one!) and so we opened the collars, reorganized the main components (GPS unit; ZigBee for bidirectional communication with the collar and data transfer; VHF transmitter; main battery) and sealed everything back together with a generous amount of duct tape.

The next day, with the precious help of Lewis Howell who captured and safely anesthetized the animals, the collars were proudly sitting around the neck of three merkaats, which, in turn, proudly showed off their new necklace. We unfortunately experienced some issues when we tried to remotely download the data but hey, it would be too easy if things would work out fine at the first attempt no? So we did some more tests and soon the two weeks of our preliminary work got to an end. We easily removed the collars from the animals, which did not show any sign of stress or damage caused by the 25 g collars, went for a last sun downer with people working at the project and got ready for the trip back to Johannesburg. There is a saying that says errare umanum est, perseverare diabolicum, surely enough even the road trip back to Johannesburg airport was…interesting. This time we did not have to dig ourselves out of the sand we simply managed to almost miss our flight!

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We are now back in Zurich and in the process of solving the software-related problems that we experienced in the field when we tried to download the data and are looking forward to start the main part of the project.

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