Nikki Tanzer's Diary

Thursday, August 4, 2005 Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Monday, July 4, 2005 Sunday, July 3, 2005
Saturday, July 2, 2005 Friday, July 1, 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Monday, June 27, 2005 Sunday, June 26, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005 Thursday, June 23, 2005
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Monday, May 30, 2005 Friday, May 27, 2005
Thursday, May 26, 2005 Monday, May 23, 2005
Sunday, May 22, 2005 Saturday, May 21, 2005
Tuesday, May 17, 2005 Monday, May 16, 2005
Tuesday, May 10, 2005 Monday, May 9, 2005
Saturday, May 7, 2005 Week of March 21 to April 8, 2005
February to March, 2005 Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005 Monday, February 21, 2005
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 Monday, February 14, 2005
Saturday, February 12, 2005 Monday, February 7, 2005
Wednesday, December 1, 2004  

Thursday, August 4, 2005 I find myself looking at my pictures, reminiscing. I don’t want the memories to fade and get away from me. It already seems like such a long time ago. I try to remember often so that real life doesn’t “pull” me in and I will forget.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 It’s time to go home! This morning, we awoke for one last Malagasy breakfast of rice. We had a surprise, however; it was a rice flan-like dish. It wasn’t bad.
We ate and finished our packing. The minibus was loaded, and we were off on our two-hour drive to Mahajanga. The drive this morning was pleasant, and all the team members tended to be quiet. I think we were all soaking in the last time we would possibly see Madagascar and pondering on our two weeks in the Ampijora Forest.
We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 a.m. Some of us were staying at the hotel for the night, while the rest of the team was leaving tonight to tour Antananarivo for a few days. I , on the other hand, was going home! I spent four glorious days on safari in South Africa prior to arriving in Madagascar
During our last several hours together, we enjoyed food that was not rice and beans, practiced our bartering skills in the market, and hung out together one last time before we had to head to the airport at 6 p.m. On our way to the airport, we witnessed a minibus crowded with passengers that had at least six live goats tied to its top. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t accessible.
Our flight to Antananarivo (Tana) was late, so I was concerned about making my connection from Tana to Paris. Air Madagascar ensured me that I would make the connection, however. Once we landed in Tana, the flight representatives were waiting for those connecting to Paris. They hurried me through the process to ensure I was on that connection!  I was able to only give a quick goodbye to the others, and I was whisked off to Paris
The Paris layover was 2.5 hours, but it took the entire time for me to switch terminals, stand in line for my boarding pass, and go through security, where I was inspected twice! The flight from Paris was an hour late leaving the ground, so I missed my connection from Ohio into Norfolk, Virginia. I only had to wait three hours for the next flight, and I was finally able to call home and check in. It was so nice to hear my husband’s voice. I was able to catch him before he had driven too far to the airport, so he was able to turn around and go back home.  
My checked luggage didn’t make it to Ohio, but I didn’t care. I had made sure all my important items (gifts) were in my carry-on backpack.
This was some experience! I am so lucky I was given this gift. I will never forget the research, the people, the cultural experiences, and all the beautiful and not-so beautiful sights. I am quite a fortunate person and live in a fortunate country. I can’t wait to travel again and hopefully participate on another Earthwatch expedition. 
Virginia at last! I was in my husband’s arms by 8:30 p.m. This adventure was exciting, but I was glad to be home. 

Monday, July 4, 2005 We conducted our trap checks this morning and shut down two trap locations. Since we were leaving tomorrow, the team needed to ensure the traps were empty of bait and captures. We checked all cages to make sure we didn’t have one last capture, and then we closed the traps and brought back the bait. The second team that will arrive in two days will begin the whole process again for two weeks.
The afternoon consisted of checking the third trap grid and shutting down those traps as well. I stayed at camp this afternoon and finished my laundry and packing.
Tonight we all dressed in our lambas (sarongs) that we purchased the week prior at market day in the local village. After dinner, the women’s group from the village held a special folklore dance for our departure. It was wonderful! The songs and dances were beautiful as well as the costumes. The women’s group manages the research camp we are staying at and also provides our meals. They are paid a fee by the research staff for providing these services. 

Sunday, July 3, 2005 I feel better but not 100%. It could have been worse, though, so I feel fortunate!
I resumed JBA trap checks this morning with Andrew and Deanna. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any captures today at any of our teams’ sites. Afterward, the three of us took a guided tour through the park on the “tourist” trails. We saw a big chameleon, lots of sifaka lemurs, and some brown lemurs that wouldn’t look our way. We observed a lot of birds and another adorable lepilemur. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to witness the wild orchids this time of year.   
This afternoon, Kirk and I conducted more global positioning surveying/tracking about 12 miles from camp. The GPS system was designed and is controlled by the United States Department of Defense and can be used by anyone, free of charge. The GPS system is divided into three segments: space, control, and user. The space segment consists of the GPS satellite constellation. The control segment comprises ground stations around the world that are responsible for monitoring the flight paths of the GPS satellites, synchronizing the satellites' onboard atomic clocks, and uploading data for transmission by the satellites. The user segment consists of GPS receivers used for both military and civilian applications. A GPS receiver decodes time signal transmissions from multiple satellites and calculates its position by trilateration.
Needless to say, we were quite hot and tired when we arrived at camp around 6 p.m. We did, however, bring pineapples back from the village! They are a treat. We could buy three for about US$1, and they are delicious.

Saturday, July 2, 2005 It wasn’t a fun day. I woke up nauseated and had stomach cramps, so I stayed at camp all day. I couldn’t eat anything but made myself drink water all day. 

Friday, July 1, 2005 Today, the back of my ankle is very sore from my boot. I've padded it with first aid gauze and a cushion bandage under my sock, but it is still sore. I’m going to try out my hiking sandals.
The JBA morning trap check resulted in a civet capture in the third trap. We needed another capture. Each day checking traps without capturing something gives you quite a dismal feeling. It is concerning that we didn’t have an abundance of wildlife.
The research staff wasn’t too pleased to see a civet. They mentioned that when civets move into the area, it is a bad sign. We also saw a lot of sifaka lemurs today. They are amusing to watch.
We visited the tortoise conservation program in the park this afternoon and then released the civet back in JBA. We ran into Mary, the U.S. Peace Corps volunteer for the park, and brought her back to the camp with us. She had dinner with us and then explained how the Peace Corps works and talked about her projects. I like Mary and really admire her bravery. She speaks Malagasy, French, and Spanish. She is quite interesting, and I feel she can make a big impact on this local village.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 Market day! After our morning trap checks (no animals), we got to go back to the local village and buy goods. We all purchased lambas (sarongs) and food!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 After breakfast, we divided up into our sub-teams to check our traps and conduct the other surveys. No captures today. 
After dinner, Pierrot gave us a Malagasy language and bartering lesson for tomorrow’s excursion to the village for market day.

Monday, June 27, 2005 Today I did the road-kill project, which is a survey of the main road (Rt. 4) to see if any animals were killed overnight. We conduct this survey daily. The research team is working with the national park to develop justification for implementing speed bumps and perhaps other means of controlling the speed on this road, which is very dangerous. It’s the main road through Madagascar, and the speeds people drive on it are is if you were in a professional car race.
Today, the team finds snakes, chameleons, and birds. We list the number and types of animals and the locations found. This is a fun project in that you can see the villages, the local residents, and the colorful scenery.
We had about five miles to finish and had only walked for an hour when we saw Luke in the truck. He was coming to pick us up because a fossa was captured at the JBA site in the first trap! A fossa is quite pretty, long, and sleek and has interesting feet, very long tails, and big teeth!
When the team has a capture, everyone heads back to camp so we can observe the data-collection process. When we come across a trap containing an animal, we back off to not irritate the animal any more than it is already and wait until Julie, the staff veterinarian, arrives. She and Luke are the only ones allowed to tranquilize the animals.
The tranquilized animal is carried out of the trap grid area of the forest and driven to camp. It is essential to get the measurements before the animal begins to wake. Luke and Julie are the main data collectors to avoid various measurement methodologies. They check the animal for a tag under the skin to identify if this animal had been captured in the past. The fossa today was a new capture!
The animal is measured from every angle and weighed. Julie takes fecal samples along with several blood samples, which will be tested for various diseases, general health, and DNA identification. The animal also gets groomed to search for ectoparasites. Today’s fossa was quite clean and didn’t have many fleas or ticks. Following data collection, the animal is released back into the forest where it was captured.
This afternoon’s trap checks resulted in the capture of an African wildcat at the JBB site. To all of our surprise, it looked like a regular domestic cat. All of the measurements that were conducted on the fossa were repeated on the cat.

Sunday, June 26, 2005 We get to visit the local village-town after this morning’s trap checks. I am looking forward to it. 
The morning trap checks consisted of ensuring all traps were set up correctly and were complete. We didn’t have any captures yet.
Today is Madagascar’s “Independence Day.” The town was busy, with women wearing colorful dresses and men wearing hats and carrying big walking sticks. We all enjoyed the festivities and were just as interested to watch the locals as they were to watch us.

Friday, June 24, 2005 We woke about 5:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. breakfast (rice and egg). We have two more members on our team, having arrived late last night.
Luke describes our goals for the next days. Today, we have to get the live trap cages out to the three trap grids. The trapping surveys are to locate the carnivore populations and trends in the research areas, collect anatomical data on each species of carnivore at the research sites, and collect carnivore scat samples for analysis of diet composition and content. The research trappings also provide measures of abundance of carnivores, especially the fossa, in the research areas.
There are about 40 traps that are positioned in the three trap grids, and it’s about a 15-mile walk to the grids. Each day, the team will split up into three sub-teams of approximately three members each. Each trap team is to see if there were any animals captured, feed and water the chickens (our live bait), and ensure the integrity of the trap. We will also survey the visible animals observed between traps and document the survey. We do this first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon. The teams get back to camp in the morning anywhere between 10 and noon. We eat lunch and have a two-hour siesta to nap, read, journal, laundry, shower, or do other things before we go out to the trap grids again. At around 6 p.m., we sit down to dinner and afterward will watch a movie, talk, or have some other event. 
We probably walked over 30 miles today. Luke thought that it was necessary to “test” us to know our limits. We were shown the trap areas while carrying the cages. 
The other tasks we will take turns participating in are global positioning surveys to create maps, domestic town animal checkups with Julie, the staff veterinarian, scat surveys within the research area, and “road-kill” surveys. 
I am hurting, with sore muscles, especially in my back and hips. Oh, did I mention that today we saw a lepilemur, which is a small gray lemur? He didn’t move—just hung out in his tree hole, waiting for us to stop staring.

Thursday, June 23, 2005 I woke to find red spots on my legs, but they aren’t itchy. Luke later tells me they are from “bed bugs,” most likely from the mattress. Lovely thought!  Julia, Elise, and I joined each other for breakfast. We were greeted by Luke, who had found Jack, Andrew, Kirk, and Deanna. We all sat back down and got to know each other for the rest of the day. 
We left the hotel around 4 p.m. to head to Ankarafantsika National Park, which is two hours away. The drive through the town of Mahajanga was busy, chaotic, and slow-moving. The police set up checkpoints as you leave and enter the town. I was told not to give them my passport if they should stop us and ask for it. They did try to pull us to the side, but Luke spoke with them for a few minutes in French, and they waived us on. 
During our drive, we saw deforestation and the local people who live along this main road. Unfortunately, this is a very dangerous road due to the high speeds people drive. We witnessed a casualty of the high speed. A zebu must have been hit by a vehicle, and it was lying in the ditch. I sure hoped the people would put it out of its misery and enjoy the meat rather than leave it lying there to suffer. 
We finally got to the campsite for dinner, which was white rice, lamb chops, and beans. We then chose our tents and hit the sack!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 I had the day to myself, so I ate breakfast at the open-air patio restaurant. I enjoyed a walk but didn’t feel safe walking too far into town by myself. It is difficult to communicate and purchase items. I enjoyed the rest of the day swimming and lounging poolside and reading. The hotel has great food, fortunately, so I enjoyed a great lunch. 
Later in the evening, I found Luke Dollar, the principle investigator for the Earthwatch project. We chatted over a beer while overlooking the ocean and sunset. Later, we found Elise and Julia checking in, so we all went to a local spot Luke enjoys for their burgers, shakes, and ice cream. After dinner and getting to know each other, we ended our evening knowing we had a big day tomorrow.    
Julia and Elise ended up sharing a room due to “hotel complications,” but not a big deal. I found Julia on my patio shortly after saying our goodnights, and it gave me quite a scare to see someone standing there! We got a big laugh out of it, though, when I realized it was Julia. She and Elise had locked themselves out on their patio. Fortunately, their room was only a few down from mine, and the balcony was wide enough to walk on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 I arrived today in Antananarivo, Madagascar! The greeting from customs wasn’t very welcoming. I don’t speak French or Malagasy, so we struggled to communicate. There was a lot of gruffness from the customs employees. 
I made my way to the airport bank and found the process not so tough. I exchanged US$50 for Madagascar ariarys. The exchange rate is one US dollar to 1,962 ariarys. 
Unfortunately, I have a long layover. My flight to Mahajanga was scheduled to depart at 5 p.m. It was delayed, so I didn’t get on the plane until 7:45 p.m. I was in the airport all day!  I probably should have stayed the night here and toured the capital city, but I didn’t want to miss a flight into Mahajanga the next day and then miss the team June 23.
I arrived at the Ambrovey Airport in Mahajanga about 9 p.m. The air temperature in Tana was cool, but it was warm in Mahajanga. I found a taxicab waiting for me. The streets to the hotel were cluttered with people, cars, carts, zebu oxen, dogs, and vendors. It looked like a festival was taking place, but this was normal.
The hotel is very nice, on the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean. My room has a wonderful view of the water and the pool. Finally by 10 p.m., I could somewhat relax. It is quite stressful being in a third-world country by myself and not being able to communicate with anyone. I enjoyed the patio and the warm air off the ocean with a glass of beer and then off to bed.

Monday, May 30, 2005 I went to see the animated movie Madagascar today.  It was very cute and funny and interesting to see the portrayal of the elusive fossa.

Friday, May 27, 2005 I received an email from one of the team members—Isabelle from Paris. She sent us her travel itinerary. I also sent the team my travel itinerary. Over the weekend, I received the same from Elise, Andrew, and Jack. So far, though, my travel itinerary isn’t matching anyone else’s, so it seems I will arrive early into Majunga and have a day by myself to possibly sightsee prior to meeting the rest of the team on June 23.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 I received the list of volunteers participating on the Madagascar expedition. I can’t tell age ranges; however, there are a few participants from the United Kingdom, a couple from Australia, one from France, and a few of us from the United States. There is a total of nine volunteers confirmed so far.

Monday, May 23, 2005 Travel insurance was accepted and paid for today, and my calculations of upgrades and extensions were confirmed.

Sunday, May 22, 2005 I registered my personal travel and Earthwatch expedition with the U.S. State Department’s online service. 

Saturday, May 21, 2005 I created a binder for my husband and mother with copies of my trip information, itinerary, extended travel insurance information, passport, visa for Madagascar, and travel health vaccinations.  They can reach me in the event of any emergency and fax copies of a travel document if I have an issue.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 A family friend called to ask if I would discuss my trip with the elementary school she works for upon my return.  I gladly agreed.

Monday, May 16, 2005 One month from today I will be on my way to South Africa!
This weekend, I purchased camera film and batteries. I again read the expedition briefing and the airline permitted and prohibited items and size/weight of packages.  I’m getting nervous and anxious over the packing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005 I completed a couple more items today:
  • Submitted Earthwatch liability/release form, personal history, and itinerary form.
  • Worked on getting extra travel insurance.
  • Coordinated some details with my safari consultant regarding my arrival into Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 17.  A representative will greet me at the airport to ensure I get through customs and to the shuttle that will take me to the lodge for four exciting days of safari. 

Monday, May 9, 2005 I ordered hiking socks and a comfortable, packable travel skirt for the trip.

Saturday, May 7, 2005 I purchased a sleeping pad, insect repellant that was 100% DEET, and some first aid supplies at the local army/navy supply store. These places are great!
I reviewed all my gear so far.  I still need a few more things, and then I’ll practice packing my bags this upcoming week.  This type of trip is a big undertaking. There are a lot of good resources and products that help you avoid over packing.

Week of March 21 to April 8, 2005 I coordinated my air travel through the Alcoa travel group. I explained the complex itinerary to Alex, who was a great and knowledgeable travel agent. After several days within an almost three-week period, we finally pinned down the arrangements.
I had to coordinate my personal travel with the Madagascar expedition, and getting to a remote area takes a little longer due to the irregular flight patterns. Thus, I had to back up all my travel plans by a day in order to get to Madagascar at least one or two days early. I will arrive in Majunga—the town where we will meet the expedition team—late in the evening on June 21. If the flights are canceled, this will give me June 22 to travel into Majunga. 
Alex and I had a great time pronouncing Antanananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) and Majunga or Mahjunga.  I also worked with my safari travel agency on the internal flights for my personal travel, and they were of great assistance.

February to March, 2005 I conducted several weeks of research on both Madagascar and taking a safari in Africa either before or after the expedition. A safari is my dream trip, so there wasn’t a chance I would travel this far without taking some personal time to do one. After several agonizing weeks of research, I selected the travel agency and destination. The travel agency I decided to use is a conservation-based company that owns its own private lodges. I selected Ngala Lodge in Kruger National Park in South Africa. I’ll be on safari June 17 through June 20 and will depart South Africa June 21 to head to Madagascar to meet the expedition team on June 23 in Majunga, Madagascar.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 I attended an Alcoa conference call today to discuss the Earthwatch expeditions. I also received the last of all of my necessary shots.  They were given in the arm, with some in the muscle and others in the subcutaneous fat tissues.  Here was my shot schedule:
  • February 24, 5 p.m.: Polio & influenza shots.
  • Feb. 28, 7 a.m.:  Rabies #2 shot.
  • March 8, 7 a.m.:  Meningitis and typhoid shots.
  • March 15, 7 a.m.:  Hepatitis A, tetanus, and diphtheria shots.
  • March 22, 7:30 a.m.: Rabies #3 shot.  Ouch! This one hurt.
I highly recommend using a specialized travel health group/doctor if you have any chronic health issues. I have rheumatoid arthritis, which is controlled by a very effective drug program. However, this drug program can compromise the immune system. The travel health registered nurse was competent and had a great understanding of the interaction of drugs, immune system, and areas in which to travel and not to travel. Based on this information, I had to limit my travel choices in Africa to four countries. This was a tremendous help and also reassuring.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 I received the official offer letter from Earthwatch today, which I filled out and submitted to acknowledge my acceptance. I am used to lots of paperwork since the environmental compliance world is heavy on the paperwork/documentation.

Monday, February 21, 2005 Following an appointment this morning, my doctor gave me his approval. 
I next visited a local travel health group for the vaccinations.  I received the first vaccination (one of three rabies shots) and felt slightly dizzy and nauseated upon arriving to work. It was nothing to complain about and subsided after I ate a late breakfast.  I faxed Earthwatch my health form with my doctors’ approval.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 I received an introduction email from Elise Jeffrey, an Alcoa employee in Australia. She will also be participating in the Madagascar expedition.

Monday, February 14, 2005 I received the health form from Earthwatch today.  I need to get a doctor’s review and approval.

Saturday, February 12, 2005 I began researching and shopping for gear and clothing. I pulled all appropriate items out of my closets and drove my husband nuts all weekend.  
I found several items at a local outlet. I had seen these items online and in catalogs, and they were quite pricey.  I paid $11.00 for shirts, pants, and other outdoor items that normally sold for $60.00 or more.  My mom taught me right!

Monday, February 7, 2005 I submitted my final application on December 29, and today the email I had been waiting for finally arrived.  As soon as I opened it and read “Congratulations,” I bolted out of my chair and jumped up yelling “Oh my—I got it! I got it! I got it!”  My coworkers thought I was crazy (well, they probably think that anyway, but I confirmed it). They didn’t know “what I got,” but all came running over to see what the excitement was about. I was hugging everyone, and everyone was congratulating me. They heard me talking about this dream trip the entire previous year.  After a few minutes, someone asked, where are you going? We all finished reading the email to find out I was being sent to Madagascar.  I was thrilled and elated! I immediately called and emailed my husband, mother, father, and brother. Needless to say, everyone was just thrilled.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004 Today I received the Earthwatch application from several of my coworkers who knew I was waiting anxiously for it. I had been working on the answers to the questions since earlier in the year.

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Carnivores of Madagascar

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.