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12 July 2011

Yes, I Jumped Out of a Perfectly Good Plane! (Video Below)

Mid-trip Nambia, a group of students booked a sky diving excursion in Swakopmund.  I randomly decided to go too after Erica said, "don't let money be an excuse."  10,000 feet, baby!

It was a long and tiring day because your body is pumped, but I had to wait to go last in our group of six.  We each went up individually with the only tandem instructor, Pip.  In a short short amount of time we all got really comfortable with Pip (I guess trusting your life in someone's hands will do that).  Two other guys jumped from the plane on my run.  So, four of us, plus the pilot crammed into the TINY Cessna 182 that was gutted and padded and felt the size of a bathtub.  Note:  the plane had no doors.  The two guys jumped at a lower elevation and they slowly stepped out on the platform and positioned their feet on the wheel, then pushed off.  This is where I started thinking oh shit!, what have I gotten myself into as Pip positioned himself at the door with only his leg blocking my fall.  Just move.  I scooted over to sit in front of him, basically on his lap, so I could be strapped to his harness.  This was the scariest moment as I was sitting at an open door with NO chute.  My muscles were shaking in my legs, but I calmed after I knew I was hooked to Pip and the chute.  Then, you simply position your right foot flat to the door and step out on a tiny platform with your left foot and he positions you forward and I brought my right foot out...there was a pause..and before you can think or catch your breath you are falling out of the plane!

It is surreal.  I honestly don't think your brain can process that you are falling to Earth.  I immediately put my head back and tucked back my legs as instructed and we had a beautifully smooth free fall looking directly down at the ground.  Your brain goes silent.  Calm.  Truly, no fear -- and then just as suddenly you are pulled up as the chute deploys and now in a standing position.  Now there is only awe as I looked over the undulating sand dunes and ocean and sunset.  I couldn't believe Pip and I actually had a conversation while falling, pointing out landmarks and such.  I never guessed I would be calm enough and rational enough to ask questions!  He let me steer toward our target landing circle and we even flipped a complete 360.  Then the landing -- as soft as stepping off of your bed in the morning. WOW. I was so thrilled I was hugging everyone.  The adrenaline rush is awesome and calming at the same time.  Awesome doesn't even cover it.

A poem on the wall of the Skydiving Club in Swakopmund, Namibia:

"I had the Thrill of My Life:
You Must Jump to Know,
No words can describe the incredible
Rush when the wind invites you to play.
You are One of
The Few.  For a brief moment you doubt,
but the doubt is short lived,
As gravity pulls you from the safety of the plane,
You understand, this 
Freedom.  No turning back now.  But who would
want to??  The dream
of human flight.
You know what it means to 
SKYDIVE."

video


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01 February 2011

Success!

Collared Dhole

Our first collared dhole!  Click here for more pictures.


I have been trying to capture a dhole (Asiatic wild dog) for attachment of a GPS tracking collar for over 5 years.  What a technical, time consuming, and complex undertaking.  There was the original set up of our project, finding a suitable location with a knowledgeable field staff, then a delay of a year simply to obtain research permits for Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, in south central Thailand.  Several grant proposals were required along the way to fund equipment and cameras.   First, we had to locate a dhole pack.  This meant long heat-filled days of trudging through the forest to check our cameras and get a sense of where wildlife was moving.  It is expensive to send manufactured live traps to Thailand, so instead we scoured markets looking for local materials and designed our own box traps.  Those traps had to sit out in the forest to lose human scent before cautions animals would venture close.  And if you do catch an animal, what next?  Of course you have to have an on-call skilled veterinarian ready because dholes are very susceptible to stress and overheating.  It is not so easy to fund and schedule a vet to stay in an isolated field site.  So, after delays and mishaps and years of groundwork, this time we were ready.  And we weren’t leaving anything to chance.  We prepared for various situations.  If it could improve our odds, I would consider it.

This led our team to visit the sanctuary spirit house.  We were informed by the local staff that we should first ask permission from the forest spirits before attempting to catch dholes.  My adviser, Nuch, performed the offering of incense and promised two pig heads if we were successful.

Just days into our trapping, during an early morning site check, we heard whining….a canid.  But, nope, no dhole…an Asiatic jackal.  Good, at least the traps were working.  At the end of the day, the staff joked that perhaps the spirits were confused.  Why did they send the wrong animal?  Did we need to bring a photograph to the spirit house?  See…THIS is what we want…a dhole is RED.  The RED one!

As it turned out, a few days later, on January 26th, it was indeed a dhole in the trap.  My assistant named the male “Suriya” which roughly translates as the time period of mid-morning.  Based on his teeth, Suriya is five to six years old.  We fitted him with a GSM/GPS collar.  This collar records his location on a set schedule and stores the GPS locations in the collar.  When Suriya ventures within range of a cell-phone tower, the data is sent directly to me.  I can monitor him from back at my desk in the U.S.

And we immediately made good on our promise of the pig heads.
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31 July 2010

Where are the Dogs?

Picture
 We have started fitting domestic dogs from surrounding villages with passive GPS tracking devices.  We plan to document their movements into Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary (KARN) and eventually determine the proportion of overlap in the home ranges of dogs and dholes.  This will help us perform an analysis of disease transmission risk.  My terrific field assistant, LungDaeng, is in charge of collar deployment and download while I am back at UMass for the fall semester.  He has never used a computer before, so teaching him to download and save a GPS file was an adventure in patience.  The key was for him to write the directions in his own words, step-by-step.  

Testing of collars in July showed active dogs that roam across the main sanctuary road.  The yellow lines on the above map show the path of a 10 year old female from 10-23 July, 2010.  The main road 304 of the sanctuary is visible west to east in white.  The red line delineates the boundary of KARN.  Forest to the west of the line is inside the sanctuary.
 

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