VOLUNTEER TRIP SOUTH AFRICA
Tembe Elephant Park
Thursday, 12th January 2017, 4 AM
Today is full moon, instead of complete darkness, we have some natural light coming in the forest, a lot of shadows which were mistaken for hidden animals.
It was a chilly morning, so we were all wrapped up well. I take my breakfast smoothie with me as my stomach needs waking up first, when trying to put some extra water in there on the very bumpy road, I thought I had it steady, when Hayden decided to swerve to the left on to the grass and the water went everywhere and over me, except in the shaker. Well, that was a good giggle, there I was, sitting with soaking wet trousers. Thankfully the sun was coming up and it would be dry very soon.
We were driving up to the northern fence, checking camera traps that we’ve put there last week when we saw some fresh leopard tracks, whilst following them, we saw a Suni breeding pair, mum, dad and a wee tiny baby Suni. I definitely want one, they are so adorable.
The leopard tracks went into the woods on my side of the truck and we can’t scan for them as they don’t have collars on, so we tried to see if we could see him, on the ground, in the trees, nothing. We drove on, Hayden was picking up speed as he would’ve most likely disappeared, I was still watching on my side, hoping to catch a glance of something that resembled a leopard, when he was right there, in the open, sitting in his full majestic appearance, looking at me. As the others weren’t paying attention anymore, I was the only lucky one. He was… well, I don’t have words to describe him, big, beautiful, fabulous print, and looked more awesome than any photo or video I’ve ever seen. I’ve got his image clearly in my head, although there was no photo-moment opportunity. As I didn’t expect to see a leopard, I got too excited and I wrapped too hard on the window and spoke to loudly to stop the car and reverse. By the time we reversed, he was gone. We still looked for him for another 15 minutes, but he was elusive as ever. Afterwards I got told off to be quieter.. yes, I know, but, I saw a Leopard, what do you want? Surprise, excitement.. it’s hard to contain. Oh this trip was just getting better by the day.
We made our way to the Tiba hanging bridge, when we saw a Red Duiker, they normally travel alone or in pairs as well, as they are also monogamous. They are not easily to capture, as they are quite skittish and aren’t tall either, a little bit bigger than a Suni and they can get easily mistaken for one too.
AS the rangers were tracking prints near the bridge, we decided not to go on it, not to ruin any tracks they were looking at. So, I did some bird watching, and saw a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. I love the colours of the birds, some have beautiful colours just sitting, but most of them, once they spread their wings, the colour scheme is fabulous.
Coffee break was over and we headed towards the swamp, where we saw a lot of lion tracks. They were obviously there during the morning and we missed it. Hayden was gutted. During our trip, we got a verbal tracking exam, there were Mongoose tracks, very small. On our way back a monitor lizard passed our tracks.
The afternoon, went by fast, driving the beautiful road to the swamp, a lot of open space, impalas and a male nyala with his harem, he obviously done well for himself as there were at least 14 females there, and 3 male nyalas fraternising with the crowd.
The swamp got burnt 1,5 years ago, to get rid of the shrubs, unfortunately part of the fire spread out and burnt part of the swamp that should’ve stayed intact and according to our monitor there are still fire pits in places.
We tracked for lions, the male M25 and F76, the female with 2 cubs, but didn’t get any signal. We just sat at the swamp for a while, always in good spirit, we are dealing with animals the end of the day, not with robots. So they come out when they want to come out. There is a lot of ground to cover, they can wander wherever they want in the reserve. We passed the time with some balancing acts on the bars of the truck and watching the sunset, which was am-a-zing.
It was a very warm night, we went back to camp and as the electricity was gone, we’ve put a candle outside, Hayden went for his guitar and serenaded us for a couple of hours. What a lovely way to spend an evening. Even the mosquitos enjoyed it, and my blood.
It’s goodnight from me, looking forward to another day in the outdoors.