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Notes from the Field: Gillian Gould - Lions in the Delta

Lion in Botswana

Today was a day of observations, which means we got to see a little bit of everything as we traversed the delta. But, today was especially memorable because it is the first (and only so far) time we have seen a lion! I came on this trip with an appreciation for all wildlife, but a strong drawing to these majestic big cats, and seeing them that close up furthered that love. These two males were so relaxed and calm, even with us being only 5 meters away from them. Sadly, the only time we usually see these animals is in captivity, and most of the time they are anything but relaxed. So, to see them in their natural habitat, so carefree, was an amazing experience.

I learned from local researchers exactly HOW special these big cats are to the ecosystem. They are the only big cats that are sexually dimorphic, group-living animals, and it is cool to apply this information to what I am actually seeing. The part I love the most about them, the mane, actually tells you a lot about the health of these males. Darkness is an indicator of higher levels of testosterone and longer reproductive lifespan, while the size of the mane indicates higher fighting success.

Lilac-breasted roller

We also got to see other amazing animals, including a jackal, multiple crocodiles, and a large group of baboons cleaning one another. We also did our bird transect to understand the diversity through multiple habitats and we identified 75 different species. When I say “we” though, I mean mostly Simon and Gareth while I frantically wrote the names down all spelled completely wrong. My favorite bird we have seen thus far is the Lilac-Breasted Roller because of its beautiful colors.

One of the other important things I want to share is how much culture this amazing place has to offer, even out in the bush. The whole crew has taught me so much about Botswana culture and life, including how wonderful and welcoming it is here. Mothusi, one of our guides, is one of sweetest and helpful people I have ever met. Any question I ask, either him or Gareth, whether it be 100 or 1, they are always willing to explain. I am happy to say I forever have friends here in Botswana, Africa.

All in all, it was another amazing day out in the bush and I couldn’t be more grateful and excited to bring this knowledge and passion back into my studies and life.

Gillian GouldGillian Gould is a junior at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Animal Sciences