VOLUNTEER TRIP SOUTH AFRICA
Tembe Elephant Park
Friday, 13th January 2017, 4 AM
Waking up with a full moon and a very warm morning is pretty amazing. After only being 10 minutes on the road, we saw some black rhino tracks, we all jumped when we heard the sound of an elephant just behind us, we didn’t see him as it was still dark and it’s amazing how they blend in for such a big creature.
It can be quite exhausting getting up in the middle of the night and being out for more than 10 hours every day, it does catches up with you. So once in a while someone just falls asleep en-route.
We got greeted by our very friendly giraffes, a Grey Duiker and a longhorn insect which landed on Heather and who freaked out a little bit, I moved it to the roof of the car and got wound up that its bite or sting can make you blind.. Hmm, good colleagues are obviously hard to come by.
It was a quiet day for the rest, I think we got quite a lot of excitement the rest of the week, so the tracking of the lions resulted in pin-pointing where they were from the tower, the highest point in the reserve, but again, no luck in seeing them, although they were less than 700 meters away.
Upon popular demand, I made the chickpea mango casserole again, but with a twist as I had some papayas that had to be used up, I added them too. Everyone had seconds. It is one delicious dish.
We had a day of visitors today, a little scorpion was on walkabout in the kitchen, it looks more frightening than it is, we just left it and it went back outside. And in my room I got a pet ghekko who came out, he normally lives in between the roof and the ceiling. As the roof is made of metal, I hear him walking around most nights, but he keeps my room clean of insects. That and my mosquito net give me a sound night sleep. It’s just the monkeys who are very noisy, they jump from the tree on the roof, it sounds like someone is dropping a heavy weight on the tin roof every time.
Today was quite uneventful, 2 more days before we change camp.
Saturday 14th January 2017, 4 AM
I almost managed 6 hours sleep, and then I was interrupted with the electricity coming back on in the middle of the night, my middle of night, must’ve been midnight I guess. I must’ve left my light on, and I got blinded by too much light. 2.45 AM up we go and another interesting day ahead of us.
I definitely feel the difference, my body is coping so much better with the few hours sleep and long hours in the field. And the ‘free’ time I’ve got, is spent either cooking, washing, blogging, sorting through the hundreds of photos every day (I actually managed to take 900 photos one day), data entry and a shower here and there.
The sunrises and sunsets here in Kwazulu-Natal are just breath-taking, every morning and every evening I have to snap a couple of photos. The giraffes think the same, as they are always the first ones out to greet us, they’re still adorable, even though I must have seen close to a hundred by now.
Off we went to track some Lions and African Wild Dogs, we got a signal for TEPF76, which is a female with 2 cubs and she’s normally accompanied by her sister. A little bit further we managed to get a signal for TEPM25, the dominant male, who is very good in avoiding detection since they moved his brother to another reserve. He will need to move as well soon, if they find him.
Three young female elephants were out to play as well, they were just beside the road. When we say young, they must’ve been between 20 and 30 years old. One of them was so close, if I would’ve reached out, I could’ve touched her. So our noise levels were very low, she got a bit agitated with the clicking of the camera, which I wisely stopped. No point getting attacked.
This morning was just getting better and better.
On our way to another part of the reserve, we bumped into 3 females and 4 cubs. We’ve been tracking lions for almost 2 weeks, managed to see Nyanga on Monday and now 7 lions together. On closer inspection, there was one lioness with a collar on, we tried tracking, but her collar must’ve died. We needed a good visual to see if she was branded and some markings on her body to determine her identity, however she was quite skittish and disappeared in the woods. Not the other two though.
We were so spoilt, one of the females came to the road and decided she wanted to watch us, like we were watching us, a yawn, move to a better position, another yawn. She was approximately 20 meters from us. Her sister stayed at a safer distance, but was also watching us. Both lions are respectively 1,5 and 2,5 years old and the daughter of Thandwa, a lion which hasn’t been seen since December 2015. She has now 4 new cubs, they are approximately 3 months old and absolutely adorable. We managed to spend almost 20 minutes in their proximity.
When they moved away, we turned around as we still needed ID on the collared lioness, and we were lucky enough to see her again and snap enough photos to see that, indeed she was branded and therefore could ID her as Thandwa.
No need to say, we were all on a high after our morning session.
Back at camp, I had to go through my 300 photos of lions I took and get them on the office computer, then data inputting the tracking of the different animals of the last week. And cooking for the crew as I suggested jacket sweet potato with lentil/bean with veggies filling. Eating vegan is very easy even if you are away from home, as long as you can cook yourself.
No time for a nap today, too much going on. It’s a good thing my body has acclimatised and I can actually survive on 4-5 hours sleep now, without feeling constantly exhausted.
For the afternoon/evening session management had scheduled a call-out, this entails an unfortunate nyala being shot for bait and left, whilst we parked our cars at 25-20 meters from the bait. The manager was their too with his rifle and strict instructions were given how to behave and what and what-not to do. Safety is always on the top of the list. As you can imagine, we didn’t want to be on the wrong side of a hungry lion.
Off we went to where we saw those 7 lions this morning, hoping they were still in the area, as they can cover a lot of space within a few hours. We were going in a double-cabin truck, nobody allowed out in the open, although our windows stayed open. We put a screen up, and tied up the bait on one side of it. When questioning the reasoning behind the ‘fence’, it was to prevent them to drag the food away and keep their flanks, backs towards the trucks, so that in a couple of days the vet can come out and dart one or more lions to put another tracking collar on. These call-outs will be done a few times over the next week or so, with the trucks there, to get the animals accustomed to them but nothing will be done, they are allowed to feed in peace and walk off again.
Once the bait was in place and Hayden has driven his truck forth and back over the track with a bleeding nyala leg dragged behing it, we put the vehicles in their spot and put the speakers on top of the roof, with a distressed young warthog playing to call in the lions.
Let the waiting game begin..
No shouting, no loud voices, no flash.. apart from the shrieking of the poor distressed baby warthog calling out. After 20 minutes, we got radioed in from Richard, the manager that elephants were approaching rapidly at 9 o’clock.
The sound went off, and a herd of very unhappy female elephants and a baby came charging towards us, not running, but walking quickly. They obviously heard the distress call as well and were smelling the blood and came to the rescue. We were briefed about that, that this could happen. If you look at this VIDEO, you can see their behaviour, and they were not happy. I counted 7 elephants in total.
After 10 minutes hiding behind the trees, they moved on, more distress warthog calls were played and another elephant, this time a big male came to the ‘rescue’. We kept on playing a few more times and at 21.00 we called it a day.
We were back at camp at 22.00, and first call of action tomorrow will be checking out the bait if it’s still there and looking at the tracks.
It’s been a long but very good day, looking forward to a couple of hours of sleep now.