Equipment review!

Our data collection is coming to an end. We are extremely thankful for all your support and help during all this time. We would like to give some advises and reviews of the equipment we used in the field to people who will start soon their own project.

Computer. There are many good computers that work perfectly for extreme fieldwork conditions. Unfortunately these computers are quite expensive and I couldn’t buy any of those. I choose Lenovo T400, with a long life battery (9 hours), which worked well for the first 9 months. My mistake, when I received it the screen sometimes was shacking strangely. If I turned off and on again the problem disappeared. Well, as you can imagine I receive it too late (grant related problem) and I was worry that if I send it back to be checked, then I would not receive it back in time. After nine months it crashed. It didn’t switch on anymore. I couldn’t send it anywhere, thus I tried with a local technician, who couldn’t do anything. I’m still protecting the computer in a dry box hoping to be able to recover the data and programs stored in the hard drive when I will be back. This was my mistake, be sure to have time enough to check all the equipment, and bring with you external hard drives (I did it and saved my life!) and why not another small computer (no more than $300) in case something bad happens to the other…

This wonderful software allowed us to record fast and precise behavioral data. The software is free, you just have to explain how it will be used. It is extremely simple to use, you can create your own database and your data collection sequence. At the same time other data are automatically associated to any data entry as, for example: GPS positions, bearings, time, date, observers, trackers, and so on. It can be installed in several models of PDAs or other Windows devices. You will also not loose any data, even if something happens to your computer or PDA’s. Cybertracker stores automatically your data, and backs it up as well.
Where you can find it:
The people working for Cybertracker are extremely helpful, I contact them several times, since my knowledge of electronic stuff is really zero, and they answered me every time not only when I had serious issued, but also when I needed answer to very simple questions. A special thanks goes to Louis Liebenbergall and Carike Pepler

The biggest problem to use PDAs for fieldwork has been always the time of battery life, and preciseness of the GPS position. Well, Trimble Company has resolved all these issues. Trimble built several devises extremely precise and waterproof for any range of prices. I bought 2 Trimble Juno, since my budget didn’t allow me to buy the most sophisticated and accurate PDA-GPS of the same brand. Juno worked perfectly. It gave mostly less than 10m of error in GPS position (and if you have money you should absolutely buy the antenna, which will give the opportunity of reduce the error to 3meters, if your data need to be so precise). The battery last for 15 hours, thus not bad at all!! If you need longer life battery, for example if you do transect in the forest for weeks with no access to any power source, you should buy more batteries and maybe a portable solar panel for recharging them in the forest.
I bought them from Waypoint Technology Group, Jonathan Cobb, my seller person, has been very helpful, always present and extremely effective when I really needed help.

Imrasat BGAN terminal and Mackaysatellite provider.
We could send pictures and videos (at least until my computer crashed) and upload our blog, using the best satellite option, the BGAN. Yes, is a little expensive, but gave the possibility to send big files and work perfectly everywhere. At Mondika we used in the past several others satellite connections (Turaya, Iridium), but none worked so well as BGAN did. Under any sky condition, it was always perfectly connected. The transfer of data is exceptionally fast.

The only problem I encountered were dealing with the provider, that unfortunately, I chose.
1. They sent me the antenna without testing it. In fact when it arrived I tried and didn’t work. I contact them and with the help of the technician (very helpful person) we couldn’t figure out what was the problem. Well I sent back the unit, the technician discovered that they didn’t unblock the sim (how can you forget….they told me that they didn’t know that BGAN Imrasat blocked the new sims…..who should know if not them???). In addition, the unit that came back didn’t work properly anymore. The switch on/off power button didn’t work and since the unit came back 2 days before I was leaving for Congo, I had to leave like this, and for the entire year and more I had to close it taking off the battery. When I told them the problem, they just wash their hands saying that maybe happens something during the transportation……mmh.. who should be still responsible???
2. The problems didn’t finish. The person I made the contract with, left the company in the middle of my contract. When we talked at the beginning she ensured me that after 1 year of contract I could use the unit for other three months without signing another contract for a year and paying a monthly fee and the MB I will use. Well, the contract was going to end and someone else from the office sent (to an e-mail address that I couldn’t check regularly, when I told them to use a specific e-mail address for any important communication) that the 2 year will start automatically in a week. I became furious. After a week of exchanging e-mails, no solution seemed to be possible until they propose me what I agreed at the beginning. I have to thank Kate Lauther to find a solution that allowed us to use the connection for the last three months.

Generator Yamaha
Since at Mondika there is not electricity and for my project I had to charge a lot of stuff, I brought a generator I could trust and also transport from the USA. Yamaha EF1000iS is great! It weights just 12 kg, less noisy, very practical, it gave us hours and hours of power. The only problem is to find gas not mixed with oil in the part of Africa we are. Bring with you few spark plugs, buy in a big city good oil for it, and you should be fine. The other thing is the generator is designed to run on unleaded gas which isn’t available here. It works fine on leaded but the air filters go black really fast.

Marantz PMD671
To record the gorilla calls, we used one of the best field recorders. It’s not so small as the more simple models of the Marantz, but has several features that were very helpful. It runs with normal AA batteries, but also with rechargeable NI-MH batteries. The recharger worked very well, but it takes around 3 hours to charge them again. You can also use the actual recorder to charge them.
For microphones go for Sennehiser, they are really good in the field!

Bring with you enough silica gel and dry boxes to store everything, it will make last all your equipment for all the necessary time you will leave in a very humid and hot climate.

I hope this post will be of use for those are willing to start their projects somewhere. Have fun and enjoy the forest and its animals!

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