Year 13 student, Maisie Sheath, reflects on her trip to Malawi this summer with Operation Wallacea:
“On the 22 July, a group comprised of six Year 12 and four Year 13 students travelled to Malawi, southeast Africa, on an Operation Wallacea expedition in order to carry out biological research in the country.
The trip was split into three parts; we spent the first week in the capital city, Lilongwe, staying in a research centre with expert volunteers. We were given lectures by the researches and then taken on practical work, studying bats, small rodents, birds, insects and carnivores. We travelled into the city at night to set up bat traps and to track jackals using radio technology. We visited hyena dens, woke up at 5.00 am to carry out bird surveys and participated in scat labs where we identified what hyenas had eaten by analysing hairs found in their scat. The researchers had established a community outreach programme to teach local villagers about the importance of these animals to the environment and to encourage them to react appropriately when faced with animals that pose a threat, such as hyenas, and we attended one of these meetings. It was particularly interesting to learn about the superstitions surrounding these animals which lead to people killing them, such as the belief that hyenas are witches and bats vampires, and how the researchers attempt to combat this through education.
The second week was spent in a dive centre in Nkhata Bay, on the shore of Lake Malawi, which is an African Great Lake and the most biodiverse on the planet. Those who were not qualified at diving participated in a PADI training course which, once completed, allowed us to dive anywhere in the world. Those who were qualified took part in research on the fish species in the lake, the majority of which are different species of cichlids. We had lectures on what makes Lake Malawi so diverse, the geography of the area and anthropology linked to the Great Rift Valley. We visited the local village market to see how fish caught in the lake were being sold, and monitored how many of each species were there, so to prevent overfishing.
For the final two nights in the trip, we travelled to Liwonde National Park where we stayed in bamboo huts inside the park and could hear animals roaming around us as we slept. We were taken on a boat safari where we saw many hippos, varying species of birds, crocodiles and elephants by the water. We also went on a land safari where we saw a cheetah, waterbucks, buffalo, baboons and warthogs.
Not only did we gain important scientific knowledge, but the trip taught us about the unique culture of a beautiful country. Overall, it was an incredible experience and enjoyed by all of us immensely.”