Researchers and Farmers
During my resent visit to the USA I had the opportunity to visit different research centres, specialists, doctors, professors and of course farmers from different states and experiencing first-hand the conflict between humans and predators.
After the trapping course in Indiana I boarded a plane to Western USA, the idea being that for this part of my journey I would travel between the states of Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.
Just before landing in Bozeman Montana, looking out the window I immediately fell in love with this new environment and the beauty of nature, looking at it from the air. This was absolutely amazing looking at the picture perfect mountains, beautiful pine trees with the tops of the mountains all covered in snow.
For this part of my tour I would do a lot of travelling by road in the beautiful countryside. In Montana at the Bozeman airport I collected my rental vehicle which was a Subaru, something different to that we are used to in South Africa, not the vehicle that much, but getting in on the left hand side of the vehicle then with the gear lever on your right was something to get used to.
I got the hang of that pretty quickly but the main focus point was to stay on the right-hand side of the road and to understand the road signs which were looking different, especially the speed sighs which were all indicated in mph and not km/h like in South Africa.
Understanding my Subaru and the new environment with all the new rules that came with it I quickly had to learn but I was now more than ready to hit the road. It was a great feeling leaving the city of Bozeman behind and finally set out to the countryside, an adventure that I waited for and planned for such a long time.
Driving from Bozeman south to the state of Idaho I was amazed by the beauty of nature and the unspoiled wildlife, this off course forced the Subaru more than twice to a standstill next to the road, giving me the opportunity to reach for my camera and capture a permanent memory.
From Bozeman to Pocatello, the town in Idaho which would be my next stop was roughly a six hour drive. Landing at five o’clock in the afternoon at Bozeman I knew I would not make it all the way to Pocatello but my aim was to travel as far as possible before dark. With no bookings done beforehand for this part of my journey this was quite a battle to find a place to stay for the night. After three unsuccessful attempts with everybody fully booked I finally arrived at a guest ranch right next to the Gallatin River where I could settle down for the night. With only the snacks and drinks that where served on the plane my stomach was aching for something to eat. Luckily for me the overnight place also had a restaurant.
After my first taste of some Bison steak and an unfamiliar looking and tasting beer my stomach was happy and I was more than ready for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I greeted a beautiful sunrise through the front window of my Subaru as we left well before sunrise. After leaving behind the beautiful high mountains covered with the pine trees I was now entering a totally different landscape with the evidence of agricultural activities everywhere to be seen. Being a farmer myself I thoroughly enjoyed feasting my eyes on the countryside are feeding my brain. I could not help but to bring the Subaru to a standstill next to two farmers chatting alongside the road at the entrance of their ranch.
After introducing myself we were chatting, laughing and farming across the borders from the USA all the way down to the most southern tip of Africa. Thoroughly enjoying this conversation it was unfortunate that my planned scheduled forced me back into the Subaru and on the road again.
In Pocatello I visited the manufacturing plant of the M44, a device being manufactured to assist with the control of damage causing predators. I was taken on a very interesting tour through the production line where the different stages of development and construction of this device was demonstrated.
The next day I was heading south again to the state of Utah to visit Dr Julie K Young who was managing the coyote research centre in the town of Logan. The “Millville Predator Research Facility” is an institution where research is performed on more than a hundred coyotes in captivity.
Coyotes were held in big well maintained areas and most of them were kept as breeding pairs in their own enclosures. Between the different enclosures watch towers are available where researchers and students can sit to observe the behaviour of these animals. Different experiments were done here to test the effectiveness of non-lethal control methods, like “fladry”.
Pictures of coyotes at the Millville Predator Research Facility
With more than enough space to run around this was my first close up encounter with a coyote. It was a wonderful experience getting this close to a wild coyote, looking and sounding almost like our Black Backed jackal back home in Africa. Although a very beautiful looking predator, coyotes were a huge problem for livestock farmers in the USA, similar to the conflict between their twin brothers, the Black Backed jackal and livestock farmers in Africa.
After my visit to the research centre I turned east to the state of Wyoming. Sticking strictly to my schedule, or at least so I thought, until Mother Nature decided otherwise. Driving through the town of Jackson up north into Yellowstone I was stopped by traffic officers just outside Jackson telling me that the road up north has just been closed because of heavy snow fall.
Turning around I studied my GPS to get me around this diversion and back on track as soon as possible because I still wanted to meet up with my appointments in the north of Wyoming. Although the GPS quickly found an alternative route this was also no solution because again just a few miles to the south of Jackson there were traffic officers stopping me and warning me about the danger of possible heavy snow storms and advised me to turn back to Jackson and rather find a place to stay for the night. This was easier said than done because the town of Jackson is the Mecca for tourists and snow skiing. Unlike me, that was only concentrating on my schedule, these tourists were all patiently waiting and carefully watching the weather forecast, planning on heading for Jackson for the early winter snowstorms to enjoy their first skiing adventure for the winter season. After some intense search I finally found a motel where I could spend the night. Needless to say the next morning my Subaru tried to hide from me under a thick blanket of snow and I realized there is no way that I will get her out of there. With the roads still blocked I would spend my day in Jackson. My planned visit to two farms in Wyoming unfortunately had to be cancelled.
I took the opportunity to explore this little town on foot and talked to the local people; this also gave me the opportunity to meet some tourists from all over the world. In the end it was a fruitful experience and some time to give my body a good rest and to recover from all the flights and the hectic schedule to try and reach all my appointments.
It was only late afternoon the next day that I could get back on the road. The road north was still closed and I had to make a huge detour, first to the south to try and get around the snow then back to the north.
With this detour I also had the opportunity to drive through the National Park of “Yellowstone” and had a quick stop at the famous geysers and especially the biggest of them all, “Old Faithful”.
This was a lifetime experience to stand there and watch this thrilling burst of water and gas shooting meters up in the air, truly one of the great wonders of nature.
More pictures of Yellowstone and the geysers
Back on the road this time heading for Montana and the town of Livingston to meet up with my next appointment, Abigail Nelson. Abigail is working with the Montana fish and wildlife service’s and has done intense research on predators and the struggle with the conflict between predators and humans.
In the area where she is working most, the conflict has been between farmers and wolves. I joined her, driving around in the countryside visiting farmers who had problems with livestock losses due to predators.
This was quite an amazing time meeting up with people, especially farmers in a different country with exactly the same problems with livestock and predators. Exchanging information and advice with everyone still seeking for the correct way of assisting both livestock farmers and predators.
This second week of my USA tour was personally a highlight and an enlightened journey, meeting people across the globe seeking the same answers in resolving this ancient but still uncertain conflict between humans and predators.