Kai Westwell from Kilmuir north Skye has only ever seen crocodiles in a zoo, but he is now 9,000 miles away in Madagascar tracking them down at night.
The nineteen-year-old ecological and environmental science undergraduate at Edinburgh University last week began a five-week research expedition with Operation Wallacea, a network of American and European academics which conducts fieldwork on endangered species and habitats all over the world. He set off for the island earlier this month, flying from Edinburgh to Paris and then direct to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.
He will be camping for much of it, going out in a boat at night with a spotlight to count the crocodiles on the tiny island of Nosy Be, just off the north west coast of Madagascar. Getting there involves a 16-hour drive in an all-terrain vehicle, which will take him through the dry forests of the Mahamavo interior, where he will also be counting spring-tailed lemurs and chameleons as part of his research expedition. A wooden shack in the village of Mariarano, which he’ll be sharing with the rest of the ream, will be his home when he’s not camping.
A former pupil of Portree High School, Kai volunteered for the trip, choosing Madagascar over Honduras, South Africa and Indonesia, which are also surveyed by Operation Wallacea. He will also be completing his Professional Association of Diving Instructors course in scuba-diving and is already a qualified pilot, having learned with the Skye Flying Club.
“They have a training pool level with the ocean so that’s where I’ll be learning,” he told the Free Press before he left. “I’ll also be helping to conduct 3D mapping of the seabed, including coral habitats, when I’m there. But deforestation is the main issue on Madagascar. I have only seen crocodiles behind glass and I’m looking forward to seeing them for real. They are most active at night so that’s when we have to go out.”
With no phone signal or wifi for most of his visit, Kai will have to wait before creating a photo-diary of his excursion.
“I’d like to thank the Isle of Skye Rotary Club and Inside Out (outdoor clothing shop) for helping to fund my trip,” he added.