I've always been a bit of a mystic when it comes to places (this is probably part of the reason I became a geographer). I often marvel at terrain, vistas, flora, fauna, and even (occasionally) the human-made components of the landscape. I'm always excited when I find art that captures some element of the aesthetic and wonder of a place. The screenshot above is captured from a video by adilblues on Vimeo that inspires me. I haven't seen all of these sights yet (perhaps one day), but I did stand in awe of the seascapes of Kenting on our first weekend here in July.
You too can spend watching 4 minutes of inspired wonder.
I was surprised to see how arid parts of Palawan are. As the road north of Puerto Princessa winds through the hills above the sea, the ground becomes rocky, and the land cover changes from mangroves, fruit trees, and bamboo to grassy tussocks and bushes. This is actually the first time that I've seen a landscape that looks close to arid in the Philippines.
Perhaps this is due to the relative isolation of Palawan from the other islands of the Philippines, which attracts less moisture and precipitation? Or perhaps this is simply due to my limited experiences at lower altitudes during my travels in the Philippines? The drive actually reminded me of the many drives we've done through the area between Morogoro and Mikumi in Tanzania.
Livelihoods in the area also seemed to indicate a more arid climate: pastures were fenced, and the grasses in certain areas appeared to be heavily grazed. Little evidence of agriculture, though the transition zones between the coast and the hills did have mango and other fruit farms.
Fascinating and surprising and another reason that I enjoy visiting new places!
Today marks our last day in Serengeti as we head back east through the Crater Highlands to Karatu. Everyone is well and has enjoyed seeing multiple leopards, lions, and servals as well as a cheetah hunt and some great elephant sightings! Stuck in the mud only once and hyenas in camp last night. Great memories and lots of fun!
"This much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to be healthy."
Forward to A Sand County Almanac
After months and months of not making progress on my graduate degree, I successfully defended my thesis research proposal in November, in spite of having yet to learn some of the methods that I'm hoping to rely on to assess land cover and vegetative change in my focus area.
I've been taking a course about how to apply raster analysis in ArcMap to examine social and ecological landscapes. After months of churning away, I finally figured out how to generate an NDVI image from Landsat imagery - significance here being that NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is one of the methods that I'm hoping to use to quantify biomass change over time. Here's my first shot at it:
Definitely a very rough first shot. Notice that I failed to remember to include a legend to inform you what you're looking at (basically, the lighter the color, the higher the biomass - the massive white areas are forests on the slopes of Mounts Meru and Kilimanjaro. The ranch that I'm focusing on is outlined in green (again, forgot to explain that). Also, I didn't mask for clouds, meaning the darker dots in the northeast corner of the ranch are actually cloud shadows...ooh, and I also forgot to include that the map is oriented traditionally with North being up.
Lots more of these in my future for sure, so I figured I had to enshrine my first attempt so that I can be embarrassed about its crudity later!
Here is the final output of the earlier map I posted a couple of days ago. In brief, it is the combination of a variety of weighted layers that might factor in to the decision for developing urban farms in the greater Pittsburgh, PA area. This is the final product of a group project for FORS 565 at Penn State, which included Kevin Sparks, Yooinn Hong, and Neil Brown. Contact me if you re interested in more specifics regarding the workflow and resultant map.
When Peter Jones bought Ndarakwai Ranch in the mid-1990's, it was heavily overgrazed. It had previously been a British cattle ranch during the days of the Tanganyika Protectorate, and the Tanzanian government began to manage the ranch in the 1960's. Since then it had fallen into disrepair and mismanagement, leaving hardly any ground cover, and few shrubs or trees. Since the land was privately purchased twenty years ago, the grasses are recovering and many of the native acacia species have returned and matured, and with the vegetation has come wildlife. We've seen zebra, impala, eland, warthog, wildebeest, elephant, genet cats, civet cats, blue monkeys, Syke's monkeys, vervet monkeys, baboons, and bushbuck.
While many parts of Ndarakwai have recovered significantly, understanding the many factors that contribute to landscape change in this environment is important to understanding how to successfully manage dry savannah environments. In order to understand this change, we identified 10 random points, five inside and five outside of the reserve, and had the students perform vegetation plot analysis around these points. They recorded the percent of ground covered by vegetation, recorded the number and type of woody species, and measured crown diameter of the shrubs and trees to determine how much of the ground is covered. After several dusty hours around the area and a couple of snake sightings (at safe distances), students returned to camp to analyze and present their findings.
These measurements can in turn be used to confirm data garnered through satellite imagery, and current satellite images can be compared to past images to examine the change in the distribution of grass and shrubs/trees over time. The vegetation plots that the students identified will also serve as baseline data when we return in future years.
Direct observation of the behavior of individuals and groups of animals is how many of the pioneers of animal behavior studies (Iain Hamilton-Douglas, George Adamson, Richard Estes, etc.) developed in depth knowedge of particular populations of large social animals.
One of the reasons that we have chosen the spectacular Ndarakwai Ranch to be our base for this first week of our course is that we have the amazingly rare opportunity to walk in the bush. This allows us the ability to observe wildlife without driving around in a noisy, dusty safari vehicle (which is, however, also fun). Yesterday morning we divided the students into two groups of four for animal behavior studies. This afternoon, one group will observe a troop of baboons for two hours and the other will spend two hours observing a group of impala. Tomorrow morning the groups will switch animals and then present their findings to each other, providing some contrast between the AM and PM activities of both populations here.
After a spectacular breakfast, we had a lecture from Anna Estes on the region, history, and savannah ecosystems. also, the owner of Ndarakwai Ranch, Peter Jones, stopped by to share the history of the ranch and his vision for the conservation of its resources.
After lunch, we had time for a short rest and then met for tea around 3 PM for a game drive out across the ranch. By the time we arrived at the treehouse to watch the sunset, we'd seen zebra, impala, elephant, eland, and wildebeest, along with a variety of birds, and a (non-poisonous) bush snake.
A former fashion executive with no formal conservation experience has begun a captive breeding program for the critically endangered South China Tiger...in South Africa...with the notion of eventually re-releasing them to their endemic range in China. The BBC has an interesting audio slideshow about the program. There are a number of components to this article that intrigue me, not the least of which is a rather sexy image of a tiger hunting hartebeest in the South African veld. I'm not saying that there aren't some serious potential critiques for the program, but these images certainly got my attention!