NWRC International Field Work Stories

Expect the Unexpected


Stories from International Field Work

photo of giraffe and zebraWhile working in the Philippines, Mike Fall and other researchers used closed-circuit television to observe rats in the rice fields. Set up outside under coconut trees, researchers made videotapes for several hours each night. This drew the attention of local villagers, many of whom had never seen television before. “By the second night, we were drawing crowds of 40 to 50 people. These people were very concerned about the rats on TV eating rice. A rat would come up to a rice plant and these farmers would wave at the TV screen and shout, ‘get away, get away.' These people never quite got the concept that what they were seeing on TV was the rats right out in their own field. It was amusing, but it just illustrated for me the problem we have introducing technological things into these kinds of cultures.”

In a letter dated November 17, 1981, William Smythe, with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, described to DWRC researcher and friend John DeGrazio the difficulties of doing work in Africa. “Things haven't changed much over the last 10 months, you make haste slowly here, very slowly. The chronic shortage of gas doesn't help. I just bought some gas on the black market for $6 a gallon, it's normally $5 through legal sources, photo of jeep stuck in mud when it's available. It took me 6 months to get my project vehicle, and I had to self drive it down from Djibouti. That was one rough, hot, dusty trip; I only got stuck once, in deep dust . . . ” Driving conditions and project vehicles are a recurring issue in many documents, images, and stories about international field work, from expensive gas to vehicles stuck knee-deep in mud!

During a 1985 trip to Kenya to conduct the first secondary-hazard study related to phenthion and quelea, Jean Bourassa experienced a hair-raising encounter with the native wildlife. While conducting field telemetry about 10 miles from camp, he walked over a small hill only to encounter a group of female Cape buffalo with calves. Cape buffalo, “known to harm helpless and weaponless technicians” can weigh over 1,500 pounds and are considered one of the most dangerous mammals on Earth. As the buffalo began to make aggressive posturing, this “scared technician, very slowly, walked backwards until out of sight of the small herd.”

Another story of Jean's from Kenya concerns entertainment while in the field. “Crocodile Camp,” a permanent camera-safari camp for tourists, lay about 5 miles from the researchers' camp and was the only place to get a cold beer. Every night at 9:00, safari camp staff turned a large spotlight on a nearby riverbank. Several 20-foot crocodiles would appear from the water to fight for large 2-foot bones thrown by the staff. Tossing the bones up in the air, the crocodiles would then catch them in one fell swoop, swallowing the bones whole. Jean still is unsure where these bones came from as hunting is illegal in Kenya.

photo of grass hutOn a 1992 trip to Morocco to train Moroccan biologists in conducting field research, Jean acted out a scene from “MacGyver” by fixing a vehicle with the sparse items at hand. “Doing telemetry work about 15 miles from camp the vehicle bottomed out on a deeply rutted road.” Looking under the vehicle, Jean noticed oil pouring from a dime-sized hole in the oil pan. Using the resources available, he collected the oil in a large water bottle and sealed the hole with a hot-melt glue gun, rendering the vehicle operational enough to drive back to camp before darkness fell!

History of the International Research Program


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