I am now the proud owner of a white 1997 Land Rover Discovery with a 300 Tdi engine. Her name is Papa, after the staple food made from white cornmeal (mielie-meal) which is a reliable part of many African diets (and is also called pap, mieliepap, or ugali depending where you are). She is joining Ellie, a big grey Land Cruiser, as the second vehicle in the Elephants for Africa fleet.
Papa will be my mobile lab store room and fully equipped camping vehicle for visiting Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the surrounding villages for my field work, and will allow me to go off and do what I need to do when Ellie is busy doing elephant surveys.
Getting Papa was a bit of an ordeal – last week I flew from Maun to Gaborone with Hal, a friend of EFA, to make sure this car was suitable and drive it back. After two days of last minute repairs and fixes, during which time I tried to learn at least a little bit about diesel engines, we could finally drive away. We spent one more night on Hal’s friend’s farm with the pack of Jack Russell terriers, and then left at 5 am for the 900 km drive through the Kalahari back up to Maun. Thankfully, Hal was there to help, as we had a small fuel leak from a cracked rubber tube on the engine. Despite stopping to fix it up with some temporary plastic tubing, we made it back to Maun by 3:30 in the afternoon. The next morning Hal double checked the engine and I suited Papa up with her Research Vehicle stickers before I drove to Khumaga, across the ferry, and into the EFA camp, where I was welcomed by Kate, Mphoeng, and two volunteers, James and Andrea.
This week, Papa and I will learn how to drive on soft sand as we navigate the roads of the national park looking for wild ungulates and collecting fecal samples.