Base camp is the living breathing heart of a conservation expedition. It is from here, that daily plans are formed, and where the daily activities culminate. It is home where you eat, sleep, work, socialize and ‘clean’. It is where you live. And it can feel like a bustling city after returning from several nights away.
This is a quick insight in to some of my most memorable base camp moments.
• Madagascar – Almost every day we would venture out, discovering hidden patches of forest and collecting data on the creatures within. Often we would return to camp with a selection of animals for further examination, to be measured, marked and released the following day. These moments at base camp, with the whole team mucking in to collect the required information, helped to build my passion for wildlife research at a young age.
• Peru – a base camp onboard a research vessel named Lobo de Rio in the heart of Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. I was here collecting data on the dragonfly fauna. Often I would return with envelopes of dragonflies and isolate myself within the library. The ‘library’, in the loosest sense of the word, was a small wooden room with some lighting and electricity for a few hours each evening, and a work surface. I would spend several hours collating my database of dragonfly species with the mosquitoes for company. For me, these were times of progress, catching these beautiful insects was the easy bit. Afterwards I would emerge and return to upper deck for dinner and a game of cards, and to hear the day’s stories from the rest of the team.
• Oman – the Office of Conservation had kindly provided a pair of night vision binoculars. Darkness descends early during the Oman winter and after filling up on ration pack and rice, and armed with a cup of tea we set about exploring the steep wooded valley sides next to base camp. Within a matter of minutes we saw two eyes shining brightly from the top of a palm. Approaching quietly, we grew closer and closer. Whatever it was seemed fearless of humans. We soon identified it as a Small-spotted Genet. These small carnivores are from the Viverridae family, one of the most primitive families of carnivore, looking much like a cat but with a longer snout. Over the following weeks these little critters grew more and more confident until they barely flinched in torchlight. Also suspected guilty for unexplained thefts of food supplies.
• Madagascar – it had been my 19th birthday celebrations the night before at Camp Guttata. The following morning I was lying in my hammock on the edge of base camp. After hearing the splashing and cracking of leafy branches, it was a common occurrence that a troop of Sanford’s brown lemurs would appear in the surrounding trees, picking their way along the branches, foraging for fruit and berries and showing only slight interest in the scientists below. This morning was different however. Perhaps it was my horizontal position hanging a few feet above the ground, or the lack of movement from the slightly hung-over humans below, but their curiosity brought them down to the understory directly in front of my hammock. I managed to get the attention of a couple of fellow scientists who watched on in silence from the camp table. A female descended further and sat herself on a branch within a foot or so of the hammocks securing rope; about 2 metres from my feet. She then proceeded to just sit there staring at me, as if investigating my purpose for several minutes, before moving back up the trunk towards a bundle of papayas, from which she picked one and began tucking in. I will never forget this magical encounter.