Volunteer Trip South Africa
Tembe Elephant Park
Friday 6th January, 3.30 AM
Oh dear, I’m so tired. I really can’t survive on 4 hours sleep, at least not days in a row. And because I thought we were leaving at 4 AM, I woke up too late. Big mistake! No breakfast for me and no toilet time, which is a big deal as there are no toilets around.
I fell asleep in the truck. Picture this… Sitting on the open-back truck on the bench holding myself with one hand on the bar, rocking forward, backward, side-ways depending on the holes in the track. I just fell asleep, there and then. That’s how exhausted I was. Heather, our Canadian lady, was a bit worried I would fall, but I didn’t I just… slept and rocked and slept through it.
We were on our way to the north of the reserve towards the border of Mozambique, so we had quite a drive before arriving there. Hayden, wanted to put some camera traps. I woke up towards some exciting mumbling next to me, there was a herd of wildebeests, they have a funny shape though. It was very misty, so the view wasn’t great. We halted and they were coming from our right and were crossing in front of us, the formation was quite interesting, in between every adult, was a baby one. They were running, jumping. I managed to capture a few photos, mist and all.
The sunrise was spectacular. Half way through the morning, the sun came out, 1st time since we arrived in Tembe, it was heaven! Heather and Hayden put 2 camera traps up, 1 on each side of the track to capture everything that will pass by.
Close to the northern border, we stopped at an impressive bridge, Tiba hanging bridge. It’s made over a big swamp, you better not drop anything or fall off. The weather was gorgeous, blue sky, mist had gone and we could look over the area. We saw a black mass of something in the distance. My camera didn’t really reach that far, as I just changed lenses. But Hayden managed to capture something and it looked like a hippo, which is quite unique here. There was also a African Fish Eagle circling overhead.
We stopped off at a researcher’s camp to have our coffee and got joined by some nyalas. Cute little things.
At the northern fence, we scanned for different lions, and got some results, we tried tracking them, but they were hidden well in the thickness of the forest.
On our way back, we saw quite a few, rather fresh, white rhino tracks with a baby, we followed them as far as we could until they disappeared in the depths of the vegetation. We also saw some hippo tracks, which apparently is unusual that far from the water. I’m learning so much about tracking, the different prints. I’m very fascinated by it all.
During the afternoon, we saw impala bachelor herds, these are young males, who segregated themselves from the group and are going off on themselves until they are adult enough to go off on their own. They are so gorgeous, I could watch them all day.
At a certain stage, 2 guinea fowls were running in the middle of the road, instead of disappearing in the bushes, they were running away from us on the track, so we had to follow them.. that was funny. Some very young impalas and male nyalas came to look what was going on and leisurely sauntered in front of us, no care in the world.
We were actually tracking the lions, but distractions are everywhere. We came very close to the lioness and her 2 cubs, but she was comfortable resting in the forest and didn’t show herself.
Another encounter with a male elephant, quite close to the track, kept us from going on until he decided to carry on his journey.
We were going to another area of the reserve to find some of the other lions, on our way there, we saw a dung beetle in the middle of the track, so Hayden swerved to avoid collision.. or crushing it.
When you enter the reserve on every road there is a sign saying ‘Dung Beetles have right of way’, as they are very important to the ecosystem. We did swerve out of our way trying to avoid a dung beetle with his dung ball. This little creature, makes a ball from the excrements and this can be as big as a cricket ball, so quite a few times bigger than himself. Then they roll it with their back legs to wherever they want to be. A lot of the time you’ll see the female beetle on top of the ball keeping her balance, whilst the male is pushing it forward, which is actually back. Little grafters they are. It’s an interesting sight and we watched him for a while, jumping on his ball and sliding off to get in the right position so he could push his ball.
On our journey we stopped to gaze at more giraffes and their young and I saw a zebra, a little bit later I figured out that there was a little one hiding behind her. I love to watch the interaction between them and also how they react to us being there. They must’ve been at 60-70 meters distance from the car. Whilst driving a little bit forward, we saw that there was a big herd of zebras in the back. They do seem to hang out together them two species.
Back to the highest point of the reserve, I wisely decided to stay in the truck, as climbing on that tower isn’t my biggest strength. Hayden decided to take my camera and take some photos from up there for me. Lovely chap he is.
We were then waiting to see if the lioness would come out, when night was setting in, we had to go as it would take us 45 minutes to get back to camp. Another day it’ll be.
Zooming through the reserve in the darkness, we almost bumped into a big male elephant. If I thought that the others were close before, this one I could almost touch. We obviously scared him. Lights off, no breathing, I couldn’t even get the camera out as I didn’t want to make a single movement. His trunk went over his tusk, ears back, forward, flapping, step forward to us, shaking of the head.. it looked very intimidating and he could charge any minute. We moved slightly forward, the movement made him set a step towards us, I was closest to him, and could just see those tusks charging in to me. I don’t think I’ve moved this quick before. I just scooted to Tamara, who was sitting left on the bench. Not that it would have made any difference if he decided to attack us. The car would have flipped and we would’ve ended God knows where. We just waited until he seemed a bit calmer and moved inch by inch forward and drove off. I kept my eye on the back, he followed us with his eyes, but then decided he had better things to do.
The heart rate did go up. We arrived safe and sound at camp.
I won’t be able to upload all my photos, as I’m using my phone internet and I’ve already ran out of 5 GB within a week. So please check back middle of February for all the photos in the gallery.