By Jana Ptačinská Jirátová
A travel book, an adventure novel, a thriller or even a comic book. No, this isn’t a list of the most recent acquisitions to the university library, but a list of works we could create to capture everything that has happened during our last few months in Senegal. Although there have been a few changes in the significant positions, the NGO Derbianus Conservation which is involved in the Western Derby eland conservation programme, has not ceased to pursue their goals. They have sent a record number of volunteers and students from the Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences (FTA) Czech University of Life Sciences Prague to the Fathala and Bandia reserves and the NGO has achieved some great success in the form of twelve new calves.
In the beginning, there was a planning mission
This year’s course of events commenced in December at the traditional planning mission. Doc. Karolina Brandlova and prof. Pavla Hejcmanova took part in important meetings, during which they introduced both short and long-term plans to all the representatives in Senegal. Thus, they began to write the introduction to the diverse chronicles of the NGO for the year 2018.
The strategical project that sparked off a debate the most was the operation ‘Back Home’. It aims to transfer antelopes raised in captivity into the Niokolo Koba National Park and thus ensure their ability to adapt to the life in the wild. Some of the freed animals will be given collars to enable further monitoring. An adjoined goal would be to create a tourist-friendly pen in the national park where visitors could see the endangered and extremely shy antelopes under most of the circumstances. This project, which is demanding in terms of planning, finances and active cooperation and inclusion of all parties in Senegal, has been unanimously accepted and has become the future milestone of the Senegalese-Czech cooperation.
Unfortunately, neither novels nor real life do not always go as planned… A significant event that took place at the very beginning of the year has played an important role in our plans – there have been several changes among the directors of Senegalese national parks (DPN) and our plans had to be delayed for a while.
Identifications using both old and new techniques
As the Czech saying goes: one day you’re down, the next you’re up. Antelopes in the reserves really made our new year, since there were twelve new calves born between November and February (five in Fathala and seven in Bandia). This became a great challenge for our identification teams! Two students from FTA, Katerina Gasparova and Katerina Stochlova have set off to the reservation, followed by volunteer Jana Ptacinska Jiratova.
This year, the identification teams have been accompanied by a monitoring team for the first time. The members of the monitoring team were Meyer de Kock (PhD student of the FTA) Carlos Castillo and Zuzka Holubova (students of the MSc. study programme in Wildlife management in the tropics) and their aim has been to map antelope herds by using both terrestrial monitoring methods and drones. What we found out about our herds thanks to the air footage is fascinating! We were, for example, able to confirm our theory about a calf we were never able to observe before and we have been able to revise the numbers of animals in individual localities. It’s become clear that thanks to the drones, we can not only monitor the numbers of adult animals and calves, but also detect pregnancy and check the physical condition of animals.
Marketa Grunova, PhD student of the FTA, has taken on the coordination of all participants of this year’s missions. Without her enthusiasm, ability to improvise in the African conditions and talent for organisation, we wouldn’t be able to complete our antelope thriller. The result of the work of identification teams is a fully up-to-date herd-book, plenty of new pictures and video footage and the first-ever documented instance of a calf being fed by another antelope that is not it’s mother. This happened in Fathala and is a ground-breaking contribution to the international scientific community.
Monitoring of animals in the Niokolo Koba NP
For the first time since 2006, there has been a census of the animals in Senegalese National Park Niokolo Koba. Prof. Pavla Hejcmanova has been invited to the complicated operation, which she has joined in mid-February. Thus, she expanded our activities in Senegal to another location. She could enjoy the view of the national park from above for about a week. The observed animals were recorded into a special monitoring app which is also helpful to calculate density and distribution of large animals in the park.
Dan Barta visited the reserves
The cherry on top of all activities of the NGO Derbianus Conservation was undeniably the arrival of a Czech film crew to Bandia and Fathala. The team led by Dan Barta, both a singer and a biologist, is working on a series of documentaries for the Czech Television called ‘Czech People Save’ that is supposed to introduce the dedication and efforts of Czech explorers in the field of environmental conservation. The series is going into distribution this autumn and one of the episodes is dedicated to our antelopes, who did a great job presenting themselves to the crew in all their splendour!
For us, however, the cooperation with a professional film team was an entirely new experience. And this part of our activities in Senegal could be best recorded in the form of a graphic novel. African conditions and never-ending changes to the schedule have resulted in many situations that put a smile on our faces and many that became rather difficult to deal with and both will hopefully contribute to a true image of life in Senegal and our efforts there.
Final stocktaking and a positive prospect
The year has scarcely begun, the antelope season is coming to an end and the site of the story of the NGO Derbianus Conservation is slowly moving from work in the terrain back to offices and classrooms in Suchdol. We are coming home with the sense of work well done and newly tested methods and tactics. And we are excited for the twelve new players in the antelope colours who, or so we hope, will soon reach their ‘BACK HOME’! Keep your fingers crossed for us and for them!