Catching spiders

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean.  So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay.  He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins! 

Tim enjoying an early morning kayak.
Tim enjoying an early morning kayak.
MWF office in Vacoas.
MWF office in Vacoas.

Then it was time for work. We took a cab to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation office in Vacoas to meet Vikash and go together to Reduit, where the National Parks and Conservation Service and the National Veterinary Services are headquartered.  We headed first to NPCS for a meeting to get permission to take spiders with us.  After executing an agreement that essentially put the spiders on loan to the Zoo, we headed to the Animal Health Laboratory.  Here we met with Dr.  Ramjee.  We had several permits to discuss with him:  first, the South African veterinary authority needed some forms in order to allow the bats to transit through Johannesburg on the return trip.  While studying all the permits I was carrying with me, Dr. Ramjee had a question I was initially unsure how to answer.  For a few minutes, it looked like the whole transport was going to unravel!  Then, it came to me that the question that Dr. Ramjee was asking was about a document that did not impact the import process but was one of the permits that we held at the Zoo in order to exhibit “injurious species.”  With that problem solved, Dr. Ramjee treated us to a tour of the Veterinary Laboratory and showed us all the latest equipment that they use to test for and treat livestock and poultry diseases.  The laboratory is similar to our National Veterinary Laboratories run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture but on a much smaller scale. The lab is set up to provide testing from a variety of important diseases of domestic livestock in house including the capability to do some PCR testing for several diseases.  It is simply too expensive and slow to send every test off-island to be processed so they’ve worked to develop accredited lab testing to provide a needed service for food animal biosecurity on the island. 

Meeting with officials at NPCS.
Meeting with officials at NPCS.
Mauritian Veterinary Services headquarters in the Animal Health Laboratory.
Mauritian Veterinary Services headquarters in the Animal Health Laboratory.
Ensuring all permits are in order with state veterinarian, Dr. Ramjee.
Ensuring all permits are in order with state veterinarian, Dr. Ramjee.


After our tour, we made arrangements to meet Dr. Ramjee  that afternoon at theGDEWSto supervise examination and crating of the bats.  We headed back to MWF headquarters to meet with the broker MWF identified  to help us make arrangements to with the airline to export the bats.  Unfortunately, we met with a few more paperwork hiccups, and the broker left to take care of them asap.  We were running very short of time. Our flight departed at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and we needed to have the bats and spiders at Air Mauritius cargo by 6 a.m. so there was no time for paperwork corrections tomorrow.  They had to be taken care of now.

More permits!  Meeting our Mauritian broker at MWF headquarters.
More permits!  Meeting our Mauritian broker at MWF headquarters.

By now it was close to 2 p.m. and we had an hour drive to get back to GDEWS for bat and spider packing.  We hurried there, quickly changed clothes, and began moving all the crates into position so we could start catching bats.  We assembled our equipment – scale, bat bands, fluids, and hypodermics to administer them.  Tim and I had decided to play it safe and give all the bats about 10-12 ml of fluids before we put them in the crate, to help combat dehydration on the long flights, should the bats not eat/drink well on the trip.  Then it was time to start catching bats.  We left that to the experienced crew.  They quickly captured bats with nets, held them while I banded them with a colored plastic bird band that fit like a bracelet around their thumb, passed them to Tim for fluids, and then weighed them before placing them in the crate.  Our bat catchers moved expertly along, and we could hardly keep up with them.  We quickly filled each of the six crates with five bats.  All of the bats had been healthy and all settled into the crates very quickly. We placed the bat crates in an office area for the night and left them to settle in and eat/drink.

Bat banding with Nadine from GDEWS.
Bat banding with Nadine from GDEWS.

Tim administering fluids in advance of crating bats.
Tim administering fluids in advance of crating bats.

Having overseen the successful packing of 30 healthy bats, Dr. Ramjee filled out our South African veterinary transit permit and prepared to go.  Before he left, I took one more look at the checklist of permits that Beth Bahner at the Zoo had prepared for me in advance and realized that I did not have the Mauritian Health Certificate!  I literally ran after Dr. Ramjee and caught him just as he was getting into his car.  He did not have the format for the health certificate with him but promised to go back to his office (well after office hours),  fill out the certificate, and take it to his house where Vikash would meet him this evening to pick it up.  Whew! That was close!  Having all the paperwork in order is ESSENTIAL to a seamless animal transaction and we had come very close to missing a critical document.
 
Crisis averted, we now had to catch and crate 48 spiders in less than an hour.  It would be dark soon!  Tim, Vikash, Nadine, and I all fanned out across GDEWS and began catching spiders. There were tons of them around – hanging in the centers of their beautiful golden webs.   Their webs are very sturdy and apparently have even been used for weaving clothing.  We were careful to enclose part of the web with each spider so that they had a something to support themselves on during the journey to the U.S.  By dark, we had them all packed and settled into another office for the night.  

Golden orb weaver spider gets its name from the golden web it spins.
Golden orb weaver spider gets its name from the golden web it spins.

Golden orb weaver spiders often congregate in large groups of webs making collecting them easier.
Golden orb weaver spiders often congregate in large groups of webs making collecting them easier.

We headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and pack.  We needed to be back at GDEWS at 3:30 a.m. the next morning.  I tried to suck up as much of the warm breezes and ocean sounds as I could before hitting the sack.  My last night in Mauritius.

10/02/2013 : Back in the States

It’s 6:30 a.m. New York time and we’re here. Our job now is to get back to the Zoo as quickly as possible.

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10/01/2013 : Heading back

We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well during the night – a good sign that they were settled in.

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09/30/2013 : Catching spiders

Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean.  So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay.  He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins! 

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09/29/2013 : Tourist Time

We took a long bus ride to Quatre Bonnes for the weekly market where we had a chance to pick up some souvenirs for family, friends, and coworkers. 

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09/28/2013 : Getting ready for the move

Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.

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09/28/2013 : Rare birds in Mauritius

The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens, with the exception of the bats. 

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09/27/2013 : Seeing an old friend

On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US 4 times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences.  She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ. 

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09/26/2013 : Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne.  While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with –because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.

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09/26/2013 : Touring Rodrigues

Very proud to be a part of an organization that has played such a major role in saving a species.

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09/25/2013 : Off to Rodrigues

Some more background on how the Philly Zoo became a champion for endangered bats half way around the world. 

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09/24/2013 : Some background on Mauritius

The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located about 1200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, which includes the principal island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (the only home of the Rodrigues fruit bat), and several smaller outlying islands and archipelagos.

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09/24/2013 : Arriving in Mauritius

I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago.  It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long.

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09/23/2013 : Traveling to Mauritius

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK airport in NYC for our flight to Mauritius by way of Johannesburg, South Africa.  We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.

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