Down the rabbit hole

4 June 2013, Paris France:

After a ca. 3 hour flight from El Paso to Atlanta, and another 9 hour flight to Paris, I am now waiting for my flight to Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  That flight will be an additional 8 hours.

This blog will document and update my students, colleagues and the general public about the first of many expeditions to the DRC, which is starting now.  These expeditions are being funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation entitled, “Collaborative Research: Biotic Inventory of the Amphibians, Reptiles and Associated Parasites of the Central African Lowland Forests,” a collaboration that includes many colleagues in the USA, Europe and Africa.  In a nutshell, I am traveling to the DRC for the 7th time to study the herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) of this poorly studied, but biologically diverse country.  Because of the lack of biodiversity inventories in the area I am traveling to, I expect to find many new species, and to investigate the role of rivers as part of the ancient processes that have caused speciation in the Congo Basin.

Because I will be quite isolated from modern amenities such as electricity and the internet, I will attempt to use a satellite modem (i.e., BGAN unit) to blog as the expedition takes place between now and its termination on 21 August 2013.  Engaging my students and the general public in the expedition is part of the “Broader Impacts” goal of the grant.  The idea is that if American taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the expedition, then they should be informed of the work, and in this case, that will occur as the expedition is in progress.

As a novice to blogging and the use of satellite modems, I have encountered several technological difficulties with this website, the solar charger for the BGAN, and other computer-related issues (including simple things like changing the font for this blog!).  The outstanding IT folks at UTEP, including Michael Gutierrez and Mike Pitcher, have helped me work around some of these problems, and I am grateful for their efforts.  However, if any issues come up in the middle of the rainforest, I will be on my own, and thus, the blog may be irregular or nonexistent depending on the issue.  I will do my best to write regular posts, and hopefully post a photo or two as I find interesting animals, or encounter the fascinating scenic beauty and people of DRC.

Here’s the plan:  I will arrive in Kinshasa late this afternoon, and depending on what is happening with the logistics, may stay in a hotel there for a day or two.  Joining me will be my veteran Congolese collaborators and field companions Chifundera Kusamba, Mwenebatu M. Aristote, and Wandege Moninga.  Wandege had the misfortune of being bitten by an atractaspidid snake (genus undetermined until I can examine the culprit personally), and apparently his arm is badly swollen.  He refused to miss the expedition because of this, and I am told he is recovering well.  In the coming days, we hope to visit a small forest reserve just east of Kinshasa, and then return to the city so that we can plan the more ambitious part of the expedition.  From there, we will get in a boat and travel north along the Congo River, surveying along the way, until we reach Mbandaka.  Then we will move everything into a dugout canoe with an outboard motor and head east along the Busira and Salonga rivers until we reach the northern sector of Salonga National Park.  I am aware of only one herpetologist who has been to this area before, and we are bound to find some very exciting things.  I will try to post a map of DRC to show the location of the park.

Thanks for your interest in my blog.  You can see more information about me and previous expeditions on my website:



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