I like to tell people that my job is taking pictures of giraffe. I tell them this not just to make them jealous, but in a very basic sense it's true. I use photographs to identify individual giraffe from a catalogue of hundreds of giraffe documented in the Okaukuejo area of Etosha. I can then link individuals to longitudinal data like age, range, associations (familial or otherwise), and behavior. These data build upon prior research of giraffe in Etosha and provide a solid foundation for long-term studies.
If I have perhaps made you jealous, don't worry, my job is not just taking pictures of giraffe. I have included some of my least favorite side jobs in the list below:
1. Hunting down the missing car battery for my Land Cruiser. Where did it go? A very cool looking Land Cruiser was sponsored to my by the Namibia Nature Foundation for research in the park. But when I arrived the battery was curiously missing having disappeared in someone else’s car. It took a couple of days to rustle it up in a rather strange and dramatic introduction to Etosha.
2. Changing flat tyres, six to be exact. Flat tyres have been a constant battle for me since I arrived. I never had to change a tyre by myself before coming to Namibia and if I do not leave Namibia as an expert on giraffe I will certainly leave as an expert on changing flat tires. A piece of advice to others beginning fieldwork: just because you have a car jack doesn’t mean it works.
3. Fighting off a jackal that used my tent as a chew toy. There are several resident jackals in Okaukuejo and I generally do not mind them. I am happy that they are just about the only thing that lives within the camp’s fences and baby jackals are adorable. But waking up to a jackal playing with your dwelling crosses the line.
4. Gecko relocation, from my bed to 20km away from my bed. For the record, catching a gecko is harder than you might imagine. They are very fast.
5. Waiting, waiting, waiting for that giraffe to turn around. Clear pictures of both sides of a giraffe make it much easier to identify them. Generally, the giraffe make this as difficult as possible. They give me wonderful views of their behinds, stick their necks in trees, walk just out of reach of my lens, and stand to one side for ages. I can’t make them move but I can wait, so that is what I do.
The best and worst thing about fieldwork is that there is no typical day on the job. I would be worried if there was one.