VOLUNTEER TRIP SOUTH AFRICA
Tembe Elephant Park
Saturday 7th January, 3.30 AM
Today’s aim is to track the new pack of African Wild dogs, the rangers told Hayden that they’ve seen them near the Mozambique border, not where we were the other day, another part, near the north-west. As we can only follow the roads, we need to be patient and hope for them to come out to have a sighting. With the tracking collars, we can pinpoint them to a location, sometimes as close to 50 meters. It doesn’t mean we’ll see them, as the forest is like a wall.
It had rained all night, and it was overcast when we left at 3.30 AM, we arrived at the northern border without seeing any animals, they must be hiding from the weather. Who can blame them?
We triangulated their position, and moved back to the fence line, where we saw a hole dug under the fence. So there is a big fence, space for vehicles to drive and the electric fence. We counted 2 dog tracks coming in the reserve.
The map below is the entire Tembe game reserve, the biggest part is not accessible to those who come on safari, but as we’re part of the conservational team, we are allowed everywhere with a wildlife monitor. The only people who are allowed to go on foot, are the rangers, they check the fence line every morning and evening for forced entries, and follow tracks and APO (anti-poaching organisation). I’d love to have the opportunity to go with them one day, but that won’t be for this time.
On the north-west of the map, there is a ‘dead-end’ road that goes in the reserve from the fence line, at the end of that track is the beacon. Normally in that area between the fence line and the road on the other side are the dogs, but it’s a vast area, so if they’re in too deep, we won’t get a signal.
All of a sudden the heavens opened up, rain gear on, but after 4 hours driving and tracking in the rain, I was not a happy bunny, I got soaked to my underwear, my water resistant hiking shoes felt like I had walked in the sea, I was cold, wet, tired and definitely not my happy-self. I just wanted a hot shower and my bed. Forget food, I wasn’t interested.
Back at camp that’s exactly what I did and I resurfaced around 14.00, feeling better and guilty of being in such a grump, I decided I needed some hearty quality food. I put my music on, and started cutting up vegetables, my big pot was simmering on the stove when the rest walked in. Good old decent lentil and speckled bean casserole with loads of different veggies and potatoes and to give it a kick I put in Chakalaka. South Africans and people who have lived here, will know what that is. It’s a can with a mixture of finely chopped veggies, herbs and spices and it is hot & spicy.
I thought I make enough so I have for a couple of days, which was obviously not counting on the fact that everyone loved it. Even our reserve monitor who has never eaten lentils before, was enjoying it and asked for seconds.
After a good hearty meal and making the decision I was going to stay behind in camp on my own the following morning and do some data inputting, I was feeling much better. In the afternoon, I sat in the front with Hayden, as I had no dry warm clothes and shoes to put on.
We went back to the area where the dogs were signalled and they were very close, we heard a killing, but unfortunately they never showed.
On our way back, we almost drove up to a male elephant walking in the middle of the track towards us. Another heart-raising moment. We backed up and waited until we thought he moved on. As it’s pitch black, you go by the sounds, because if you switch your lights on and he’s still there, the peaceful situation might change. The rest of the journey to camp was without excitement.
I’m looking forward to a good night sleep without the alarm going off at 2.30 AM. There are no days off at camp, the monitor works 30 days and has 10 days off, so we shouldn’t complain to do this for 2 weeks and change camp, which is actually a day off.