Friday, November 5, 2010

A final word of thanks in 2010

You know, operating the Toyota Enviro Outreach is a huge project. Especially since it partnered with iBOL this year (and will keep going with them until 2012).

Making it happen starts with good logistical planning and a proper base. That is Gerhard, Elmarie and Klipbokkop with its awesome people. Thanks guys.

However, that is only the beginning. The real lifeblood of the Outreach is Toyota South Africa and all the other sponsors. Doing what needs to be done means going to some remote places and when managing a team of more than 30 in a convoy of 12 vehicles, you don’t want to stress about reliability. That’s where Toyota leads the way. Thanks to the Toyota SA team who supported and joined us on the trip: Ferdi, Anthony, Anton, Mary, Sue and Leo.  We appreciate your commitment and taking time off your busy programs to join us in the veld.

But that’s not all. The Outreach is also supported by a whole bunch of other superheroes creating an infrastructure that makes it possible to sample 3544 unique species in 3 weeks – the single biggest contribution to the iBOL project so far.

To say thanks to all of you, the team got together and created the Toyota Enviro Outreach Graffiti Wall of Fame. Enjoy!

Clocking more species per kilometre with Toyota who will lead the way for the next 3 years.

There is a mega amount of species in the world. Megaworld will help iBOL get them and will look after this convoy’s special needs.

Be at home in a hotspot with Campworld’s comfort and ease.

The Jurgens trailers pulled their weight all the way.

With the Goodyear tyres we treaded lightly through the biodiversity hotspots.

To ensure you get all the species, go Cross Country specialised insurance.

When collecting in the succulent hotspots, National Luna kept them cool at minus 10 to the lab.

Total fuels made it possible to reach the Total environment.

Garmin – the GPS of DNA.

Varta is the volts behind the vaults of species in the environment.

The team at Klipbokkop produced true to form.

Goodbye until next time from all your Outreach Buddies.

PS. Gerhard has just left for a planning session with Toyota South Africa and UJ for the 2011 Outreach. Next week he starts his reconnaissance for the new route.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Goodbye and thank you for all the fish...plants, birds, reptiles and insects.

Group photo taken at Noup

So the dog has caught the bus. Quite a silly expression, really. Take it from this dog; we’re not interested in catching buses. We’ve got a lot of better things to do. But I guess it should be treated idiomatically. Meaning the chase is over. The impossible has happened. Mission accomplished. Something like that. 

I know I’m waffling, but it is in an effort to take my mind of what is really happening. Because I am sad. Tomorrow the long trek home begins. It will be the last few hours of being together with some very special people. It is so great to sit in Gerhard’s vehicle up front and see the convoy of Toyotas sliding seamlessly along. It has become a creature with its own DNA.  

Do you have any idea how great it feels to be part of this team? Just less than three weeks ago, we were a bunch of strangers getting together. Today I will go to war with these guys. There is Mashian the Russian, Sooper Cooper, Herman van der Sanbank the fisherman, Prof Mickie the magician, Bird Brain Bolt and Il Doctoré Olivier the tree hugger to name but a few. Olivier the tree hugger...hmmm, he’ll be known from now on as the Olive Tree. 

Be that as it may, I’ve seen specialists at work with dedication to do their bit to help the human race understand this awesome planet and all its inhabitants. With motivation and sheer guts. Energy and perseverance. But above all with passion. Not only passion to always be ready to collect samples or process them, but passion to help make the trip run smoothly. Have you ever seen a professor passionately helping to prepare sandwiches late at night for the next day’s lunch? I have. Yes, no prima donnas around here, but they’re all prima. 

Another prima subject is the total number of species. And the number is... (Drum roll please) but before I reveal it, I am sure it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest contribution to iBOL in such a short time.  

One more thing just before I reveal the total is to put it in perspective. If you remember correctly, the original aim for the trip was 1 500 species. Our team managed to top that total just over halfway into the expedition. That didn’t reduce their effort. They knew they only had so many days in which to do it. Remember, they are scientists. Facts and figures are all that count. They couldn’t double the days. So they doubled their effort. And more than doubled their original aim. And the total is... (Drum roll please) 3544. Remember, this is the total number of species, but there are more than 10 000 specimens going back with the convoy. 

And with this great news I have just decided not to be sad anymore. The Toyota Outreach will never end. We only, yes just only have 3144 species. And there are thirty seven trillion zillion species still untouched. The Toyota Enviro Outreach is committed to the iBOL project until at least 2012. Like my fellow celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “I’ll be back...”  

This is not the before, it is the after
And until we meet again, I’d love to leave you with some great words, but Neil Young took it right out of my mouth:

We’ve been through
Some things together
With trunks of memories
Still to come
We found things to do
In stormy weather
Long may you run...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quotable quotes from Buddy’s Buddies

Sunday's River Mouth
There are many fishes in the sea
I hoped to collect 2 species of very special molluscs – they are special because they are giving us identification nightmares. We were fortunate to find more than anticipated. What a great treat! I cannot wait to report on the results. I suspect it will be novel results - Prof Herman v/d Bank, Dept. Zool., Univ. Jhb. 

After two weeks of sampling in three biodiversity hotspots we collected some two thousand samples of invertebrates which will be used for DNA barcoding. It is a privilege and honour to have this great opportunity, sincerely -Mark I. Cooper, MSc.

Thanks to all the sponsors that made this outreach possible - Gerhard Groenewald. Project Manager.

Fish with 2 parasites
This was stepping into a different universe, allowing one to walk side by side with weird and wonderful people who unlock the brilliant detail of Creation in a way that constantly takes ones breath away. Awesome and humbling experience - Mimi van Deijl Winner of Cape Nature Draw.
Citizen scientists unite, we will make a difference. Rubbing shoulders with world class scientists from South Africa and Canada and the best of the best in their fields, from snakes to plants, insects to fish, birds and frogs was a privilege and an opportunity - Thank you Gerhard and Elmarie! Renier Balt, Citizen Scientist.

To ring birds and collect blood samples in the three biodiversity hotspots in South Africa is the 
Isa with whale skeleton
privilege of only a few.  It was mine the past few days – and to be in the company of a handful of dedicated scientists collecting samples for barcoding was a great experience. Unforgettable - Arnold vd Westhuizen, Researcher:  Animal Demography Unit, UCT.

The Toyota outreach has been a total revelation. To see so many dedicated people at work from the different fields both scientific and journalistic has been wonderful to see. Thank you all for this great opportunity, one that will remain in my thoughts for a long time - Richard Greenfield, Researcher and Technician Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg. 
This experience recruited me to become a citizen scientist, with a soft spot for birding. No longer is it only the forest that I see, but now also the individual trees, birds, insects and animals in it. Living for just over two weeks with people with such knowledge and passion for their profession was really a life changing experience - Ernst van Deijl (Citizen Scientist Recruit)

Jeffries taking a plant sample and tagging its location with a Garmin GPS
For me the most wonderful experience was how people from different backgrounds and experiences can work in a group to achieve a common goal. The spirit and enthusiasm was fantastic. I can’t even start to express the “vibe” in the camp.  A special thanks goes to Gerhard and Elmarie Groenewald and their team, without the logistic support and constant encouragement we would never have achieved our goals. I also want to thank Cape Nature, Northern Cape and SANPARKS for all their help and assistance and especially Toyota and the other sponsors making this expedition possible - Michelle van der Bank, Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, University of Johannesburg

The Giant flightless dung beetle
I had a great experience with my second Outreach. I spent three weeks in the field meeting and learning from scientists and people from different backgrounds and origin. The trip gave us the unique opportunity to slowly fulfil the goal of the IBOL project. Finally, as plant person it was wonderful to discover new places in this great country South Africa and to observe many beautiful little flowers and to hug large trees. Many thanks to Gerhard and Elmarie, Toyota and everybody that made this experience possible - Olivier Maurin. Post Doc fellow at the Botany and Biotechnology Department at the University of Johannesburg.

Thanks for helping SANPARKS
Being part of the Outreach has been one of the most exciting experiences in my life and in my student career. I had the opportunity to be part of a research team with people of great field skills in various biological fields. I was also amazed to discover how beautiful South Africa is. I am really thankful to Toyota, to everyone involved in this program, and to my supervisor Prof. Michelle van der Bank who gave me the opportunity to join the plant team - Bruce Lububi Kyalangalilwa. MSc student, Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnolgy, University of Johannesburg.

An exciting eye opener to the field of research in the field, meeting a team of experienced and 
renowned scientists helped me to acquire vast skills in the area of biological sciences. I am grateful to my supervisors Prof Michelle van der Bank, Dr Olivier Maurin and all the sponsors of Toyota Outreach 2010 for awarding me this great opportunity of my life - Jephris Gere. PhD Student at the University of Johannesburg in the Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology.

Snakes number X
It is a non-vicious cycle, and I can’t quite remember how it started. Was it perhaps a love for herps (i.e. reptiles and amphibians) that took me to exotic destinations? Or was it the love for far away destinations that took me to find exotic herps? Whatever the case – I owe it to my friends in low places that once again provided me with the opportunity to experience a lekker adventure. Viva the herps and thanks to everyone else – Marius Burger, Snakeman alias Frogman alias Reptilian. 

What more can I say. Except cheers ‘til tomorrow...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The backbone of our DNA

Camping with Howling Moon tents
Masha and Renier
The Howling Moon science lab

There is a time drawing closer that I don’t even want to think about. The end of the 2010 Outreach is approaching... 
Hendrik and Donnovin
Every year it is the same. The group gets together on day one and is not at team yet. They eye each other, trying to remember names and designations. Everybody tries to look busy, but really only sort of gets in the each other’s way. Gerhard is scratching his head, trying to figure out who to put together in the vehicles. 

While all this is going on, there is a team of just three guys methodically sorting out the Hiluxes and Fortuners. It’s amazing, when Hendrick, Donnovin and Eric begin, there is a mountain of stuff that looks like a complete 4x4 Megaworld store next to the vehicles. You look at it and you look at the packing space on the bakkies and think, nope, this time they’re not going to get it all on. Next time you walk past them, the pile of stuff is basically gone. And there is still place on the vehicles.
There is a complete home-from-home village loaded. With a Howling Moon tent for everyone. Enough National Luna fridges to keep enough food frozen or fresh and for water, cool drinks and other stuff. Met eish, ja... Pots, pans, gas cookers, water, wood, you name it. Plus a power supply system with inverters et al capable of coping with laptops and recharching cameras for 17 scientists and a bunch of journalists. Not to mention Foeta and Anel bringing the whole SABC along...
Isa cooking with gas
Erik and Donnovin
Then we travel. The convoy of 14 vehicles is no joke to control. Radio procedure boxes the vehicles in. Imagine refuelling at a garage. Two rows of vehicles, filling up one by one on one account. 

Somewhere along the way we pull over at a picnic site for lunch. Out come the sandwiches, cold meats, fresh fruit and more. Somebody had to prepare that. I’m coming to that. 
A few hours later we arrive at our campsite, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That’s the great thing about Gerhard. He scouts like crazy before the actual trip to find a place away from everything, offering a paradise of fauna and flora for the scientists. And he works with contacts. Thanks to Sanparks and Cape Nature, the Outreach was treated like royalty. 
We had to drive through Port Elizabeth to get to our perfect spot in the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot. But Gerhard landed us in the middle of nowhere and at first the spot looks beautiful, but barren, unlived. Not home. Then in less than an hour the guys build a village. Once again Hendrick, Donnovin and Eric shuffle stuff around to make a kitchen and a social area appear. Asterix and friends, eat your hearts out, this is a real village. 
But that kitchen that they’ve constructed is the heartbeat of it all. That’s where you’ll find Elmarie and Isa, feeding the Outreach. And yet again, Asterix eat your heart out, your wild boar is no match for their masala chicken, waterblommetjiebredie, steak and ostrich braais, snoek and crayfish. 
Klipbokkop Girls (Alida, Delouise, Isa and Tanya)
Thank you Klipbokkop team for looking after the Outreach. Come to think of it: I’m tired of the limelight; tired of being a celebrity. If you’ll have me, Gerhard and Elmarie, I’m retiring on Klipbokkop straight after this Outreach. 

View the route we travelled today:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Monkeys in the mist

Plant team from University of Johannesburg and IBOL
Monkeys in the mist
One, two tree, and it's sampled

Watch out, there's a Russian defecting
This morning when I came out of my tent (of course I sleep in a tent, what kind of dog do you think I am?) I wanted to go straight back in again. I suspected to see Sigourney Weaver coming out of the forest any moment. However, neither did she nor any guerrillas appear. You see, we don’t have guerrillas in South Africa and Sigourney lives in America, but of course you knew that. On the other hand, we do have vervet monkeys in the Knysna forest, but I guess you also knew that. What you maybe don’t know is that vervet monkeys are a lot smarter than guerrillas. They don’t come out in this miserable mist.

Narina Trogon (Apaloderma narina)
What you maybe also don’t know is that Arnold and Renier recorded their first red chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) of the season this morning. This cuckoo migrates to the tropics in our winter time and come back in spring. Looking at the kind of spring day we had this morning, I’m sure this cuckoo must have thought it was cuckoo to come back. Nevertheless it was sitting somewhere in the forest canopy telling the world it was here. In Afrikaans they call it the Piet-my-vrou. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s something wrong there. How can you call your wife Piet? Maybe Griet-my-vrou would have been better. Apart from Griet, they also spotted a few Knysna Loeries but apparently they are extremely camera shy. Renier however managed a great picture of a Narina Trogon (Apaloderma narina).
One, two tree, and it's sampled
“Froggie went a’ courting and he did ride a-hum...” Frogman was singing as he walked into the misty forest. Who is Frogman? you might ask. The same as Snakeman with an identity crisis. He sampled a Southern ghost frog, Clicking stream frog and a Cape river frog. Froggin’ good, I’d say.

The tree hugger hugging
Most importantly, however was the effort by Il Doctoré Olive and his tree team. There are 75 different tree species in the Knysna forest he told us this morning. Tonight he and his team sampled 51 of those. Maybe they could have done the whole forest if he didn’t go and hug each one first. Just joking, Frenchy, C’estmagnifique…

So from monkeys in the mist to elephants in the myth. We didn’t see the famous, ever illusive or non-existing Knysna elephant. So we’re off to Addo tomorrow to see what we can find there. Sooper Cooper is getting ready to do a DNA sample on one...

This is Buddy bloggin’ off.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Looking back and looking forward

A farewell gift from Klipbokkop

A close-up of our gift

The Toyota Enviro Outreach is like a chameleon. Just look, we’ve got red bakkies, white bakkies, golden, silver and more. 

No seriously, like a chameleon’s eyes we are looking back today with one eye at the first two stages that have been completed with results way above expectations and at the same time we’re looking forward to this final stage with the other eye. 

Mother Nature blessed us with a sunrise this morning that will make any jigsaw maker red with envy. Shortly afterwards Gerhard gave the call and the convoy started up. 

Sooper Cooper snipping a sample
We didn’t get very far – in fact just about two kilometres from Klipbokkop and still on the resort – when we had a farewell bonus. A big black mole snake was curled up in the middle of the road. Sooper Cooper was there first, but Snakeman Marius stopped him. Although a mole snake does not have poison, they can hurt quite badly. Especially one as big as this. Unlike other snakes, they have four rows of teeth which are not round and hollow to inject poison, but flat and sharp like knives. When they attack moles (and the males sometimes each other), they bite and turn their strong, rigid bodies, slicing flesh. 
Snakeman catching the molesnake
Bye-bye, we're off to the forest

A farewell gift

But Marius the cool cat whipped the snake out of the road and allowed Sooper Cooper to nip a piece of the tail to serve as a DNA sample. While everybody was watching this concert, I saw Masha quickly bouncing into the veld to also get a last bonus Klipbokkop flora sample. 

What I didn’t mention yesterday is that Michelle, our first lady from UJ (University of Johannesburg) went back to UJ yesterday to do a presentation on what South Africa is doing for iBOL. The good news is that she couldn’t stay away from the action too long. She’s back with us tonight and she says:

“Yesterday I attended a meeting to develop a strategic plan for the barcode of life programme in South Africa. The workshop focussed on the development of a plan for the expansion, co-ordination and promotion of Barcoding in South Africa, and the identification of a mechanism and structures to take Barcoding into the future. Twenty participants attended the workshop. The Executive Director of IBOL, Dr Peter Freedman, and the Executive Secretary for CBOL, Dr David Schindel also attended. I presented the University of Johannesburg’s barcoding programme and also the Toyota Outreach Trip.

Camping at last at Diepwalle
“The Good news given to me by David is that UJ has been shortlisted (only two on the list) to host the International Barcode of Life conference next year. This will bring at least 400 barcoders to SA. Exciting! The other country is Australia.  Yet again, another SA vs. Australia contest that needs resolving. I am sure we’ll be top dog.”

Look trees Il Doctore
Top dog, hmmm... I like that one. Don’t worry Mich, I’m sure all the Aussies can barcode are... wait I’m not going to say that, otherwise Il Doctoré will want to count them to fall asleep.

Tomorrow the forest fun starts. Goodnight!