Dangerous antelopes

I am currently in Europe writing up my thesis. My departure from the island was catalyzed after a serious accident left me with a broken arm. One Afternoon after a day out in the field we (together with DD) were driving back along a forest road when an antelope hurtled into our moving motorbike. It came out of nowhere from a bush, and I went flying off the bike, when I put my hand out to break my fall I ended up breaking the radius bone below the joint. It was horrendous getting off the island. First I called my emergency air evacuation insurance company The Flying doctors or AMREF to ask if they could come to the island to collect me. However they refused to land on Rubondo saying it was too dangerous, even though I kept reassuring them that it was safe and that two private companies flew tourists to Rubondo on a daily basis. They informed me they could only pick me up from the nearest town, Mwanza, well the whole point was that they were an emergency service for those living in remote parts of East Africa, but I guess in the case of Rubondo they felt the airstrip was not safe to land on.

In the end TANAPA came to my rescue and organised a boat to take me off the island that evening, and a private car to travel to the nearest hospital which was in Geita, they even called the hospital ahead that night to make sure it was open and that someone was available to treat me. When I arrived at a quarter to midnight I was the only one there and the staff treated me by putting my arm in a splint and taking an x-ray. After my bumpy journey off the island–2 hours on boat as well as a car journey on a rough dirt road–I was in absolute agony and couldn’t fall asleep, unfortunately, the hospital pharmacy was closed and they couldn’t prescribe me any pain medication, so I had to convince DD to find a 24 hour pharmacy. He found one at a small private clinic, though sadly they only had valium in ampoules so that night DD learned how to give his first injection.

Several days later, I had closed surgery at a nearby hospital in Mwanza to align the two parts of my radius and push in my dislocated ulna. Unfortunately, the broken bones were not aligned correctly (you can see in the x-rays). When I visited a hospital in Dar es Salaam 6 weeks after the accident, the doctors there recommended that I have the bone broken again. So in the end I had to return to London to have surgery. And that was the end of my field work, well for a while anyway.

After a year or so away from Rubondo I am feeling nostalgic. So I have decided to continue writing more posts about my experiences whilst on the island.

Josephine_msindai_04_01_2014_photo2  Josephine_msindai_04_01_2014_photo1


liana land

The island is full of lianas, which are those woody vines Tarzan used to swing about on whilst in the jungle.


We know of 7 species on Rubondo, but I am sure there are more. Unfortunately, little is known about lianas because only recently did plant biologists become interested in them.


Lianas ascend to the forest canopy using other plants as support. They have relatively little structural support and allocate more resources to reproduction and stem and root elongation. Lianas remain rooted to the ground throughout their lives and often have special adaptations to attach themselves to their host and climb into the forest canopy. These adaptations include stem twining, clasping tendrils arising from stem, leaf and branch modifications, thorns and spines that attach the liana to its host, downward-pointing adhesive hairs, and adhesive, adventitious roots.

Lianas proliferate in canopy gaps and on top of the trees in the forest canopy. On Rubondo, lianas are abundant which partly explains why the island does not have a closed canopy forest. Because in gaps lianas can be extremely abundant and are able to block the development and closure of the forest gap, impeding the regeneration of seedlings and saplings of forest trees. 

Lianas have a particularly strong impact on the trees that they climb. Trees that are being climbed by lianas can undergo severe constriction, which may have strong negative impacts on water and sap movement in the tree. Prolonged constriction by lianas may finally lead to the death of the host tree. Lianas also compete with trees for water, nutrients and light

SO hugging a liana

Above SO with his arms wrapped around a liana stem

chimping around

We had a wonderful day in the forest with another chimpie sighting

It was late afternoon and we were searching for green nests because we hadn’t heard anything in the morning… when suddenly we heard chimps calling very close by, it seemed like we had just passed them. We headed in the direction of their calls and came across some recent poop which we scooped up into a tube. Then we continued walking along the hillside. Suddenly we saw a lone chimpie, he looked at us and continued walking towards the hilltop, towards that tangled mass of lianas.

I clambered up the hill top, slowly … bipedally, if only I could comfortably walk quadrupedally like chimps. As I reached the top and stared at what I thought to be a lump of rock in the distance, it suddenly moved and became a chimp!

He charged at me and I was rather afraid… but luckily it was just a bluff and he calmed down and then returned my gaze. After some time he even calmed down enough to rest supine on some vines… ahh these moments.


Walking through Rubondo forest is dangerous not only because we have hippos and elephants roaming around– we saw 2 elephants this morning on the road– but also because many of the trees and small shrubs here have thorns on them; the caterpillars and ants bite and sting us, and occasionally we also bump into the odd snake or two.

This hairy fella I stroked for several minutes, his hairs didn’t sting, so not all hairy caterpillars are dangerous. Although I wouldn’t dare touch the one below… because his spikes scream out Hatari!

The fella below I managed to accidently brush against my cheek one wet morning…it stung like hell, and left me with a rash for several days.

The palm spikes are about 3 inches long and v. painful, apparently they contain poison.

These samplings of the crocodile tree are always catching my legs in the bush.

A visitor in July unfortunately managed to impale her hand on a crocodile-tree spike whilst trying to catch herself from falling; her poor hand swelled up. This is what they eventually become (see below).

Luckily we haven’t experienced any bites from snakes…

Rock python

Here a Rock python

(photos of python by J.S.)

and Jameson’s mamba

(Photo by J.P)

The team

We recently had a visit from a professional photographer Mr RK  and he took some great pictures of my gorgeous team…

Before we set off for the forest we have to ensure we take all the correct equipment… headlamps for those early mornings, a compass in case we get lost and or the GPS battery runs out, a GPS to mark the points of those all important chimp sightings, walkie talkies, binoculars for closer observations, and a notebook.

SO has spotted something in the trees.

A chimp kindly left us a sample, we carefully collect it into a tube for DNA analysis 

The must do Reservoir Dogs walking pose


We all love photos of baby animals, so I thought I should start the year with this post. Actually it happened in 2012 and I was away from Rubondo at the time but luckily some of my colleagues at the national parks service shared their photos with me.

In August, a young male elephant was lost in the forest, and wandered to the Kasenya ranger post in the northern part of the island. The rangers were not sure of what to do with the elephant, but TANAPA HQ instructed park staff to look after the elephant. The rangers tried to make sure he wasn’t eaten by the resident crocs by gently coaxing him away from the water. He was a feisty little elephant so it wasn’t that easy to get close to him.

Eventually after a few days with the rangers the elephant found his mother and the rest of the herd.


A monkey of no importance

Last week we found a young vervet monkey on the beach under a mango tree. The poor thing had a huge black eye and was bleeding a little. I assumed it must have fallen out of the tree; it could only crawl using its arms and appeared not able to walk using its back legs or move its tail. I picked it up in my arms and took it to our house. Along the ten minute journey through the forest it desperately tried to bite me. I called him Antocha, after my old pet monkey Anton which our family kept when I was four years old. Antocha didn’t want anything to drink, but he was happy to eat chapati and tomatoes. We placed him inside a tent to rest. Antocha required medical attention but I am not a vet so I spoke to the park ecologist. Unfortunately, vervet monkeys are numerous in Tanzania, I was told that if he had been an elephant or better a rhino I vet would have been called immediately from the Serengeti  but injured monkeys are of no concern. We kept feeding him at regular intervals, in-between work in the forest, he particularly liked porridge. On the second day he seemed to have perked up, and this time managed to get a good bite out of my thumb. It hurt quite a bit and became swollen. I was worried about rabies and tetanus for some few days. I was told that I couldn’t get an injection against tetanus at our island clinic; the nearest hospital is 3 hours away by road from the mainland. On weekends the hospitals don’t do tetanus injections, so I would have to wait some few days. Luckily I checked and I had been vaccinated against tetanus in the UK, so hopefully I should be fine. Rabies is extremely severe and doesn’t stay dormant for too long in its host, most infected animals have an onset of symptoms within 3-7 days, by doing a quick examination of Antocha’s external appearance I guessed that it was unlikely to have rabies. I could be wrong of course.

Sadly after 4 days Antocha lost conciousness and appeared to go into a comma. He died 2 days later. One of the guys at the tourist camp told me he had been in a fight with a colobus monkey over mangoes. Poor darling.

I didn’t take any pictures of Antocha because it was too upsetting.

Black Kite






Rubondo has a large population of black kites  (Milvus migrans) who often fish on the shore close to our house. I hadn’t realised how beautiful these birds are until I started to photograph them and caught some pictures of them in the sunlight. I am not sure why they are called black kites, since they are clearly caramel brown. But we have more of these than the fish eagles. Enjoy!