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Wildlife abounds, but jerboas?

Posted by , on 29 March 2012

This morning after a breakfast of fermented tofu on steamed buns, boiled peanut and rice soup, spicy strands of seaweed, and a plate of mixed onion, peppers, and tomato in vinegar, we headed off in the jeep in search of the right kind of desert for jerboas. I knew one of the places where we’d trapped animals with snap traps before, so we went up the highway to some of those dunes and walked around for a bit looking for tracks. It rained last night, so where we could see tracks they were too dampened down by the rain to tell if they were jerboa or gerbil. There are a lot of gerbils around here (aka sand rat or jird). Nasty critters. So we decided to go back to the jeep and loaded up with 50 traps, peanut butter, and a bag of oats to walk along a trail and set live traps for the night. Every 20 steps I scooped some bait into the trap with a stick and set it, and at every 5th trap we placed a flag to mark the line so they wouldn’t get lost. I hope they don’t get trampled by goats or stolen by herders since those are borrowed and will be expensive to replace. But fingers crossed we have more than gerbils by morning. The driver said there was no reason to mark where we started since he’s sure to remember. I took note of the surroundings just in case. Road marker 535 between the radio tower and the big blue sign – past the third herd of camels on the left. Of the two humped variety.

On the way back to the field station, we stopped by a yurt on the side of the road to see if we could persuade people to do some catching for us tonight. It was an older Kazakh couple who were crouched over a goat in a pen as we walked up. They must have thought we were an obnoxious group of tourists since while I was just pleasantly smiling and doing my best to put them at ease, my colleagues were eagerly snapping photographs. It was something to see though – the woman was in a red/orange/pink brocade jacket with coordinating scarf over her head, and she and her husband where holding a goat down on the ground so her two newborn kids could nurse. The poor little things couldn’t have been more than a day old and still had recently dried bits of afterbirth attached to their fur and incompletely resolved umbilical cords. One was stronger than the other and kept pushing his sibling away. Neither could get firmly up on all four feet and kept stumbling forward on their ankles before toppling flat on the ground. I hope they make it but they seem so vulnerable and stand only maybe 10 inches from the ground. It’s a tough life out here.

We asked about jerboas in the area, and the woman said she thought she knew what we were talking about and had a dead one. She led us over near the remains of a fire where it seems the animal had been attracted to the light and was killed. Gerbil. Stupid stupid gerbil. So we thanked her and drove on to the local forestry station since I knew we had hired a family to catch for us before who work at one of the forestry stations. The men at this station knew the animals, said yes we are in the right place, they are further into the desert, and there is a family at the field station further away who we should talk to. I have a good feeling these are the people we hired before, and we are headed there tomorrow to investigate and negotiate. Fingers crossed…

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Categories: Lab Life

3 thoughts on “Wildlife abounds, but jerboas?”

    1. Jon, you’re funny. I’m finding myself adding what I eat just for you. Thanks for posting comments. It’s nice to have company way out here.

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