Post by Stephen Suttle from Santa Clara University
Working at Mokolodi Nature Reserve has been one of the highlights of my time studying abroad here in Gaborone. Each day at the reserve starts with Jake and I waking up at the crack of dawn, catching a combi to the station as the fantastically orange sun rises higher in the sky. Once at the station we hop on a bus to Taung, which passes Mokolodi where we disembark usually with a few other reserve employees. Then the only standing between us and starting our day working at the reserve is a 1.5 kilometer walk to the entrance. After arriving at Mokolodi, we usually start the day by feeding the cheetah, or in the case of the last visit, the hyena.
Early morning cheetah and hyena feeds
After they have had their fill of a combination of rabbit, chicken, and impala, we set out on the next task we have been given for the day, which often is supplementary feeding for the grazing animals. Due the severe drought that Botswana is currently facing, Mokolodi is suffering a food shortage, as there is not sufficient naturally occurring grass to sustain the grazing animal populations, and this food shortage is compounded by other factors which prevent the growth of grass, like invasive species, topsoil erosion, and soil compaction. So to increase food availability for the rhinoceros, kudu, impala, eland, and several other species of animals, nutrient enriched hay is loaded up into the back of a pickup truck, and dumped at one of many feeding points around the reserve
In addition to supplementary feeding, I have been tasked with bush clearing, erosion control, and algae removal. Bush clearing is exactly what it sounds like, and consists of laborers from the village of Mokolodi clearing out invasive species, namely the sickle bush, using all sorts of tools including saws, axes, shears, and machetes. Erosion control is similarly arduous work, as rocks are collected from the around the reserve, and piled into sinkholes to slow the process of soil erosion. Although it seems tedious, it is some of the most vital work to the success of the reserve, as reduction of soil erosion leads to improved topsoil conditions, allowing grass seeds to germinate, restoring the native species and providing more food to the game on the reserve.
Last week I assisted with algae removal from the crocodile pond, because the entire surface of the water was covered with bright green algae. To remove it we dug a channel flowing out of the pond and flooded it slowly. As the top layer of the water flowed out of the pond, the algae was scooped up with nets. However we had to be weary of the crocodile as we cleaned, as it burst out of the water and attacked the net a few times.
Our crocodilian friend basking in the sun
My time spent at Mokolodi has given me a deep appreciation for wild animals, as well as the efforts conducted by many hardworking individuals to save these magnificent species. The Mokolodi Nature Reserve is a wonderful place dedicated to conservation, and also creates a multitude of jobs in the process. 88 employees work at the reserve, with fewer than 5 international personnel, so the majority of workers are Batswana, providing employment to the local community. It is truly a unique place.