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1973 Kalahari Expedition

The term ended with some real grotty Marandellas weather and we all spent the night in Ellis.

The journey there
We were up early next morning and after a hot shower and a hasty breakfast set off for Enkeldoorn, swaying over the narrow bridges on the short-cut.  Forty miles out of Bulawayo the Chevrolet truck broke down and we had lunch and commented on the truck. As seems to be the custom aeons were spent in Bulawayo. 
At about 4.30 we raced off to the Plumtree Arms with several close shaves in the setting sun.  There was the usual delay at the Botswana border-post and then we continued to Francistown.  Soon after we stopped and kipped by the road-side.

The cold woke us up and after a breakfast of coffee and steak sandwiches we drove to Orapa where we saw some vast vehicles.  We bumped on to the Mopipi Dam and had lunch and a swim before going on to our camp site.  Camp was pitched in the boiling heat and after some initial chaos the Expedition had really begun.

The expedition gets down to business
Of all the activities that take place bird collecting (Murdering according to J.W.G.) is the most important.  One afternoon we went to some nearby pans and saw about two hundred duck. Another (wet) day we drove down the (dry) Botetle and some mud pans.  We saw some ostrich and springbok, but not many birds.  One morning I was woken by a cockerel - how infuriatingly mundane!
We went to Botetle again along Mr Foggin's "M 5" and descended some large tank traps - ant bear holes.  We combed an area of bush - a later group killed two large puff adders and a mamba where we strolled in reckless abandon!  We chased a goshawk in the jeep. P.J.G. became frantic as our group loosed of twelve shots before we downed all of it - writing up is a necessary evil.
The Mammals Section traps each evening.  Many fingers were caught.  The line would be checked and taken in the following morning.  Mr Brodsky was a very early worker and talker!  In the cool of the early morning numb fingers become clumsy and 'mammals' was not popular.

Pete Ginn's Great Mongoose Hunt
One amusing interlude was P.J.G.'s great Mongoose Hunt.  We went to a ground squirrel warren and after blocking up some holes a jeep was detailed off to gas them out.  The jeep bristled with gunmen and dozens of mongeese etc. were expected to race out.  Nothing happened.  Finally the exhaust gasket blew and we moved in with picks and shovels.  After hours of fruitless labour a gallon of petrol was poured down the hole.  The resulting flame was spectacular but fruitless.  Digging proceeded more carefully after some large scorpions were encountered. Some squirrels escaped; one was caught as camp mascot!
Night shooting was also a facet of 'mammals'.  This could be quite exciting.

Bird banding
Bird banding was done in groups or communally.  The group outing was better fun.  We would set up the nets and then do what we liked until some birds flew into them.  We shot at bottles with the.22 and at doves with the.410.  We had roast dove for lunch.  Rory MacD. polluted the atmosphere but did not achieve much else with his shots.  Gus Glanville was duped into taking a vicious barbet out of its bag while we sadists died laughing!  One afternoon P.J.G. decided we should net vast amounts of waders on the pans.  We set off with Mr Foggin and got lost.  When we reached the pans some of us paddled about doing botany with Mr. Tyres as the nets were being set up.  Some shots whistled up at geese.  About three hours later, after wading through the infinite slime and sharp rock in the freezing blackness we had caught exactly fifteen birds !

The least scientific pursuit was botany under the intrepid J.T. This consisted of racing out to some God-forsaken bit of bundu and collecting any plant in sight.  Boredom was inclined to set in and J.T would get most frustrated.  He would grab a gun and stride out and annihilate some innocent little bird to relieve his pent-up feelings.  Alternatively he would make sour comments about the elder members of the expedition.
Back at the camp the plants had to be pressed and all their blotters and flimsies changed.  As the most notable feature of the expedition was continuous high wind this was quite a job.

Camp routine
Duty lasted from 1.00 p.m. to 1.00 p.m., and this is how a typical day went.  Either the donkeys or your group leader woke you up at 5.30 a.m. to make a fire and coffee which had to be served to the masters at 6.00 or else! Then bread had to be made. And another task was water collecting. The drums were filled laboriously at the well and then all that was going to be drunk had to be boiled what a job! Supper was the main meal of the day and required organisation and skill. I must say suppers were usually delicious. Wood collecting was done by everyone.  Mr. Foggin was catapulted into a thorn bush once when the branch he was breaking suddenly snapped.

JT hits a cow and a couple of locals
Other incidents stand out. J.T. took a wild shot at a fleeing sand grouse one evening and managed to hit a cow on the far side of the pan.  Two locals were also similarly affected and vociferously compensation.  Showers each evening were an ordeal as the ersatz shelters, made of tatty old tarps, were no protection against the piercing wind.
No account of the expedition would be complete without mention of the pleasant evenings around a blazing camp fire, with P.J.G's tall stories, J.T.'s astonishing repertoire and N.V.'s complaints about the radio.  We would sit there with a good supper inside and a cool beer about to join it and laugh and laugh.

One would not, perhaps, gather from Standish-White's account that the expedition was anything but a glorious lark.  To put the record right the following facts are recorded.  The expedition identified 163 different species of birds.  Some of these were sightings only but in most cases the birds were collected and measured.  106 mammals were collected, representing 21 species in all.  The mammals included the first Black-footed Cat (Negris nigripes) recorded in Botswana as being found pregnant.  Rats, bats and shrews not included in the above totalled 56 - a meagre result compared with last year's 350.  The herpetology section collected 29 different species of snakes and lizards.  The botany section collected 125 species of plants, besides carrying out a survey of the plant life in five areas round the camp.

This is but the baldest condensation of the Collection reports published in the last issue of Wagtail, but it serves to show that besides the fun a great deal of valuable scientific work also goes on in these annual expeditions.

Peter Ginn

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