Week 2:
The Fine-Tuning

Cornell Fellow in Botanical Conservation

Gullele Botanic Garden | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

February 24, 2019

There’s nothing like taking a juniper branch to the face to remind you that you are, in fact, doing fieldwork. While the rough needles and bark definitely give you a sharp wake-up call, there is something rather thrilling about winding your way through dense undergrowth despite the looming dangers of low-lying branches, thorns, and twisting roots underfoot.


While last week Dr. Birhanu and I conducted some preliminary field walks to establish research sites, this week was all about the fine-tuning. We double-checked our methodology (we’re using camera traps to observe the bushbuck without disturbing it), and we made a list of five sites that the bushbuck is most likely to frequent. This week’s big accomplishment was setting up a camera trap at one of the sites; it’s our trial run in making sure the camera settings, angle, and general placement will actually give us some data.


Turns out that this week’s lesson is that trial runs are always helpful; while our camera placement was solid, a branch partially obscuring the motion detector on the camera resulted in no data being collected. Now we know that for all our other cameras, they need to have a completely unobscured view and that this open vulnerability might result in some security issues (the cameras have a higher chance of being stolen if they are sticking out obviously on a tree trunk rather than hiding behind some foliage).

In addition to working on the bushbuck research, I was also able to accompany the research team into the garden to check on some planting sites, a forest ecology project, and the current development of a structured garden called ‘the evolution garden.’ I’m quite taken by the evolution garden–while the terraces are still being built, once it’s done it will feature a trail up a hill that chronologically goes through plant species up their evolutionary tree from simple organisms to complex. It’s such a neat idea and the hillside the garden is being placed on is gorgeous!


Outside of the office, I’ve been having fun cooking with my little hotplate. My wot recipes still definitely need a lot of work, but I have found a peacefulness in meal-preparation (especially for the lentils–here, when you buy lentils in bulk, they haven’t fully been processed from the fields, so you need to sift through them and pick out small stones and seeds before you cook them. Who knew picking rocks out of lentils would be so relaxing?). I was also fortunate enough to pop down to a local cafĂ© for their fetira, which is essentially a sopapilla (light fired bread) with an egg inside all drizzled in honey. Beyond the fetira, I’ve also had my first taste of coffee here in Ethiopia and I’m afraid I might become an addict–it’s delicious!


Next week we’ll be hopefully setting up the rest of our camera traps and systematically begin collecting data. With the way research goes in the real world though, I’m expecting that we might need to adjust our sites or prepare alternative data collection methods. Only time will tell!

Addis Ababa from the Garden’s summit.

Talitha McGuire '19

Talitha is a religion and biology major from Flagstaff, Arizona.