A Travellerspoint blog

Final Week at Karongwe

Sunday 9th December 2012
If you remember last night was party night. There were a few sorry souls on Sunday morning as you can imagine, but I was not one of them.
Caught up with blogs, photos and washing throughout the day and then went on afternoon drive.
The drive was lead by Kaggie. We had found out from the morning drive that the Lions had indeed moved and were only about 200m from base as the Lion walks. We saw them pretty quickly and took the necessary data and made off for the Cheetah’s. I was Tlemming today, it is actually my favourite role, and we found the boys fairly easily. Kaggie walked in and found them just chilli’ on a Sunday. Kets was somewhat problematical. She had moved a fair distance in the day and we eventually found her north of the Makutzi River lying in long grass on the river bank.
On the way back we came across the Lions again. They had moved into a much more open area and actually got a good view of them and the interactions between them. The Subby is definitely chancing his arm, so to speak, with the Lionesses but it would appear that neither they or Zero are putting up with it. Zero put him in his place a couple of time. The change in the Subby in the three months I have been here is quite amazing. He will; certainly be a challenge to Zero in the next 12 months.
Monday 10th December 2012
Start of my last week here really.
It was off on drive with Jamie this morning with Amalie leading as part of her Biological Survey Course, I have to do the same thing this afternoon.
I again volunteered to Tlem and helped the other truck quickly by finding the Lions in the west of the reserve whereas they had last been seen heading east. The other truck then came back across to our side and we headed off to find the Cheetah’s. We found the Boys first, back in their usual area and we walked in to find them restless and on the move very quickly. We followed them and could see they were very very thin and needed to hunt soon. We left them to it.
Kets had moved but only about 200m and we found her after a bit of a run around as the signal was being influenced by the fence and some power lines. We walked in on her and found her lying down very chilled but couldn’t get a full; rating on her, so she may have to hunt soon.
The other GVI truck was having all the fun. They had eventually found the Lions sitting near a dam. A tourist truck on its way to take over spotted a Leopard nearby...guess what so did the Lions. They ran across to where the Leopard came out in the open and chased it up a tree.
We got there much later on to find the Leopard still up the tree with a row of Lions secreted in the bushes underneath; we could only just see one of the Lionesses. We ID’d the Leopard as poor old Scar. He has not had a good couple of months, first getting beaten up then chased by Lions!!!
It was back to base and we met the founder of GVI Richard Walton who talked to us all and spoke about some of GVI’s recent achievements and where he sees it going, interesting chap.
The afternoon drive was with Andreas. It was my turn to plan the drive as part of my Biological Survey Course. I had to find out where the animals were in the morning to plan our drive for the afternoon/evening. I had to ensure all of the jobs were covered on the truck, data (which I did), prey survival, conservation and vehicle checks. I then had to brief my little team on H&S, Emergency Action Plans and what our intentions on the drive were. I then had to direct Andreas where to drive and where we were to stop to carry out Tlem checks.
We went for the Lions first and found them on Omega Dam where they had been with the Leopard earlier, however Scar had escaped and was no longer up his tree. We then went off to find the Cheetah Boys. We had heard that they had killed a Bushbuck near to one of the lodges at about noon so they were relatively easy to find. They were sitting nicely by the road so we all got a good view of them. However, Kets was a whole different game. She lead us a merry dance around the NE part of the reserve. We eventually decided that she was sitting at the Wait-a-Little Horse Safari Lodge, an area we can’t enter.
Whilst driving around we did see another Leopard, a Jackal calling right by the side of the road and a Hippo walking across the Makutzi River. It was a huge bull by the looks of things and goodness only knows where he had walked from as the Hippo on the reserve live in dams not the rivers and there were no nearby dams.
Back to base for a debrief with Andreas about how I managed the drive, it appeared to go well.
Tuesday 11th December 2012
I went with Nico this morning and volunteered to do Tlem, that was my first mistake of the day. We were supposed to look for the Cheetahs but got redirected to look for the Lions as the truck assigned to them was asked to stay with a male Leopard found relaxed near a road. It was hoped that the vet could get to the reserve and dart him so we could fit him with a tracking device. To cut a long story short that didn’t happen but it still meant the truck sitting with the Leoprad for a couple of hours whilst decisions were made.
In the meantime I was up and down like a whores drawers doing Tlem checks. We calculated that by the time we got back I had done about 50 Tlem checks. All of the animals were being awkward and because of the overcast and humid conditions the signals were a bit strange as well. We did eventually find the Lions who were sitting nicely by the road so we actually found them.
The Cheetahs were another thing entirely. Kets had travelled way up north, we eventually got signal for her but because of the distance and time we left her for the afternoon. The Boys too were awkward and we eventually found them in their favourite area, which we had checked earlier, we must have passed at some time in the reserve.
On the way back we saw a very weird event. We found an Olive Grass Snake (mildly venonmous) with its head stuck inside a poor Leopard Tortoise’s shell. It would appear that the Python had struck at the Tortoise’s head, despite it not being a usual prey species. It would then appear that the tortoise automatically drew its head and legs inside its shell trapping the snake. We saw the snake thrashing about trying to get free from the tortoise. After a number of thrashes it broke free and shot off at speed. We put the tortoise at the side of the road and hopefully it will survive but I doubt it.
We also saw a Chameleon walking across the road in broad daylight. I had it crawl up my arm and across my back, it has very sharp little claws to grab on with and when it wants to it can move very quickly.
Again we have no proper water supply at camp. The water pump has finally packed in and although we have a full header tank we are now not allowed showers or to wash clothes. We are hoping that the pump will be repaired in the next couple of days, but as they say here T.I.A. (This Is Africa).
The afternoon drive was with Jamie. We were tasked to find the Cheetah Boys and the Lions, the other GVI truck was looking for Ketswiri who has travelled to the far NW of the reserve. We found the boys fairly quickly and stayed with them in the bush for some time. We then went on to find the Lions. As we did so we saw a very large Rock Python on the road which shot off into the bush. It stopped a little way off the road and we were able to have a look at it although it hid very well in the grass. It was at least 3m long and pretty thick in girth, quite a creature, pleased I haven’t come across one of those whilst trudging through the bush!!
It is obviously snake day today. We saw the Grass Snake in the morning and the other truck had a Black Mamba rear up in front of them this morning. When threatened the Mamba can raise about a third of its length off the ground and can strike higher than that, and it is very venomous. They can grow up to about 3m in length but the one this morning was probably about 2m long, long enough for me.
We later found the Lions doing Lion stuff, lying around, although Zero did roll over one and Sub-Zero walked about 10m...tiring stuff being a Lion!!
We did go back to the boys as we heard from one of the tourist vehicles that they had made a kill. We found them just finishing of a newborn Impala lamb. All they left were the bottoms of its legs and its jaws, the rest had been eaten. We watched them bonding again after the kill by licking and cleaning each other. They then wandered off to digest their meal, with a small glass of port I am sure!!
We then had a general game drive and ended up down in the south of the reserve and saw Giggles, the matriarch Hyena running along in front of us with one of her pups. They ran back into the den area but we couldn’t go in there the other GVI truck sneaking in just ahead of us. They got to see the very young pups coming out of the den.
Wednesday 12th December 2012
Out on drive this morning with Nico. There was only Heinrich, Jesper and myself on the truck this morning. We were tasked with finding the boys and doing some conservation work on the reserve. The boys had not moved far and we just chilling out. It was quite funny to watch them, they were obviously so tired that they kept lifting their heads and then slowly falling asleep and when their heads lolled they would wake up with a bit of a surprise.
We then spent about 90 minutes working on one of the roads nearby, cutting back all the trees and bushes overhanging the road making it dangerous for people on game drives and us researchers. We did about 1km of road and there were a few blisters, thorns, scratches and bruises from our labours. I am still working on two big thorns stuck in my palm!!
We were then asked to help out finding the Lions who couldn’t be found by our other truck. We too spent some time searching with no luck, but did see a couple of Rhino, about the most interesting thing we saw all morning, bar the boys of course.
The afternoon drive was with Nico. We went first for the Cheetah Boys. We found them about 10m from where we had left them. We went off to help with the Lions who were being super elusive. We searched all over for them with no luck at all. We were starting our way home just after sunset when Charlotte shouted up that she had seen African Wild Cat down a small Spruit (a stream, usually dry and sandy) to our right. Nico reversed back and we saw a small grey cat lying on the sand. On second look to be honest most of us thought it was a grey domestic cat which had strolled into the reserve. Nico checked with his binoculars and was very excited to see his first ever Leopard Cub. We drove into the Spruit to find two 4 month old cubs. One was very nervous and hid, whereas the other sat on the sandbank watching us. A great sighting and a great spot by Charlotte considering the light conditions.
Thursday 13th December 2012
On drive this morning with Andreas. We were tasked with finding the boys and the Lions. The Boys were again relatively easy and Andreas walked in on them. Then the fun began. No-one had seen the Lions for a couple of days and there were physical tracks showing a general area they may be in. Well guess who Tlem duty, yes muggings, although I can’t really complain I did volunteer. We searched and searched. We had signal once for Zero and once for Maggi but couldn’t get any more signal when we tried. Round and round we went in the NE part of the reserve. Whilst doing so we saw Rhino and Elephant but no Lions. We did actually pass the Boys again. They were walking through the bush and obviously hunting again.
Eventually I got reasonable signal on both Maggi and Zero near to Confluence Crossing on the Makutzi River. We followed that up and eventually found them near to one of the gates on the western fence line near the staff quarters. We could only see the Sub Adult but the Tlem showed that Maggi and Zero were secreted nearby in the bush.
On the way back we heard some strange noises in a bush near to where a female Impala had darted off from. Andreas went to see what it was and found an Impala lamb stuck in the bush. Normally we would not intervene as nature should take its course, however, the hole into the bush had clearly been cut by human interference, hence the fact that Andreas assisted. Basically he scared the Impala to break free of the branches holding it and it ran off towards where Mum had last been seen, lets hope they met up.
The other GVI truck was very lucky and saw two sets of Leopard Cubs whilst we were hunting for those blasted Lions.
During lunch we were told that a male Bushbuck had been found dead and was going to be taken to the Hyena den so that a good study could be made of all the animals there. The carcass had been dumped near to the den but it had been decided to put it a little further away.
A few of us then went down to the carcass and acted as look out whilst Jamie and Turner attached it to a chain and dragged it to a more open area for us to watch later. The Hyena had already started to eat the carcass. They had done the usual thing and eaten the tail and entered the body cavity that way. There was almost a perfect circle where the tail had been and another hole between its legs where they had obviously eaten the genitalia to gain entry too.
It did look a little strange dragging a huge carcass behind the truck. Bushbucks are a very smelly animal anyway but a dead one smells even worse. I will be on the truck going to study the Hyena tonight before our final party.
We went down to the carcass with Kaggie and unfortunately to get the best view we were downwind, nice!!! The aroma was none too pleasant. After a very short period of time Giggles came to the carcass and after walking around and checking started to attack it again. Her strength is amazing. She was able to pull the carcass that two men had earlier had to pull to move it. She eventually dragged it about 10m throughout the evening. She was joined by her pups and some of the other adults who I had not seen before. They all had a go at the carcass. When it got dark we had to turn on the spotlight and that attracted the mozzies and every flying insect around. It was quite difficult to concentrate when you are being flown at and eaten. We all ended up with coats on and blankets around our legs, not pleasant when it’s hot. However, got some great sightings of Hyena.
The carcass was observed all night by a relay of GVI staff. Later in the evening if the Waterbuck wasn’t enough Giggles turned up with an Impala foal and ate that too, no wonder she is so fat.
We got back at about 2100hrs for a braai and a few drinks. Despite the fact that everyone is leaving this weekend it was a subdued party with very few staff around as they had to cover the Hyenas. Despite that a good time was had.
Friday 14th December 2012
My last full day at Karongwe. I had a nice lie in and then left at 0815hrs with Ben to get some supplies. The reason I was going was that I had discussed with Andreas that as a way of saying thanks I would like to buy some equipment to help GVI and future volunteers. It was agreed that I would buy some equipment for conservation work. As a result Ben and I called at a local Hardware store and I bought the equipment on their wish list.
We then went to Wildebees Lapa, the place we went to last month for Brunch. We picked up all the food for breakfast and took it back to base. After a lovely cold buffet brunch we had our Secret Santa presentations. Whoever picked me knows me well and bought me a little bottle of red wine, very nice.
My final drive was with Nico. We were asked to look for the Cheetah Boys who I most wanted to see before I left. We found them fairly early on and walked in on them. They obliged us by lying about, sitting up, walking about and yawning during our 20 minutes or so with them. We eventually had to leave and I must admit to being a bit sad at saying goodbye to them for the last time. It has been an absolute privilege to walk with them in the bush and witness the most intimate parts of their lives, grooming, hunting, feeding and mating. I did not expect to get so close to them, what an experience.
We then drove around for a while before meeting the other truck for drinks and nibbles at Chisomo Pump next to the river. We watched the sunset and then slowly made our way back to base for our final dinner together. We had the usual monthly awards this time done by Laura. She thought up some fabulous awards for staff and volunteers. I was awarded the GVI Trolley Dolly Award for providing snacks and drinks to everyone on my truck most days.
I then showed the “Best Of” photos collected this month and the best photo as voted for by all of us. It was a great photo of a Leopard in a tree taken by Cheonghwa, it won by a mile. My photo of a Giraffe, put forward by the group who decided which photo should go forward from each volunteer, came joint third.
I then concluded my packing and eventually went off to bed.
Saturday 15th December 2012
Up at just after 0500hrs, washed and showered and had brekkie. We said our goodbyes at just before 0700hrs and got driven to the gate where we met our transport. The five of us, Laura, Sue, Charlotte, Alejandro (a six month intern who has come back to Karongwe for his last week) and I, then set off for Johannesburg.
We arrived at the airport at noon and after talking for a while went our separate ways. Sue is flying off to Cape Town to continue her tour, Charlotte flies to the UK tonight, Alejandro starts his long journey back to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and Laura and I are staying at the airport overnight before I head off to Durban and Laura flies to the UK.
Laura and I are planning to meet up for dinner this evening but have found our hotels are a bit apart so logistically that may be a problem but we shall see.

Posted by Neil Craig 03:56 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Penultimate Week in the Bush

Monday 3rd December 2012
Nice lie in this morning and finished packing for the mountains. Loaded up the car which carries our stuff up there and we jumped on the Quantum (mini-bus) for our trip into town. Bought a few essential supplies for town and then got a lift to the bottom of the mountain and transferred to the truck we will use up there all week.
Arrived at camp there, unloaded and then picked up the traps etc for the survey areas this week. These happen, by chance, to be the same as I had in my first week here, so at least I know where they are. It is just over 7 weeks since I was last in the mountains and the difference was quite amazing. Because there has been far more rain and sunshine everything has shot up, even the undergrowth below the trees. One thing that hasn’t improved though is the path up to the rain forest site. That is much slippier in parts and has eroded a little so it feels a little more precarious and the drop looks a lot further!! Indeed after the first full day one member of staff and a volunteer didn’t go up the path again because I think they felt unsafe, probably a good call.
After setting and baiting the traps it was back to base a relax, dinner and bed.
Tuesday 4th December 2012
The cabins are much as I remember but the bed I got was quite comfortable, if a little short. Slept not too bad but was woken by rain and frogs overnight and bees buzzing the morning. There are thousands of them in the grass at the moment taking nectar from the grass flowers. The noise they make is amazing although they are hard to see believe it or not and never seem to bother us whilst walking about.
After breakfast it was off to the traps. Unfortunately the rain came in and we got a smidge wet whilst checking all the traps. We found 5 in the various traps and did all the usual measurements etc.
Fortunately enough in the afternoon the rain eased up so we didn’t get wet for our afternoon checks, although we found no rodents at all.
Wednesday 5th December 2012
Woke up to bright sunshine today. We went and checked our traps and found one very poorly shrew in one of Laura’s traps. Just as a quick aside our team this week is Viv and Turner as staff, with the volunteers being Cheongwha, Laura, Sue, Charlotte and myself.
We rescued the shrew and took it back to base to help it recover, which it appeared to do at first.
As the weather was so nice Viv decided to take us down to the Blyde River to swim and have lunch. The water was much faster flowing and deeper than when we were down there three weeks ago. Still did the rope swing a couple of times and managed to wash my hair and body, the showers not being available at mountain base this week so far.
As we started to prepare our sandwiches for lunch the skies suddenly darkened, the valley we were in is very deep so we couldn’t see too far. We decided to pack up and make for camp. Good decision. Within 5 minutes the heavens opened and we got pelted with hailstones and then heavy rain. We got wetter going back to camp than we had it the river. The storm raged for about 3 hours and then just as quickly it cleared up again and the skies cleared. Because the weather was so bad when we were supposed to go out only two intrepid heroes went to the open site to release any animals caught and the rain forest area was left, it deemed to be too dangerous. By the way I was not one of the heroes!!
A sad footnote is that the shrew did not make it I am afraid.
Thursday 6th December 2012
We went to the rain forest as soon as we could in the morning and found one shrew in one of my line of traps a little wet and cold. We kept her warm whilst we dealt wiuth the other caught animals and then left her in a pile of little blankets hoping she would warm up and make her way home.
When we went back in the afternoon she had made off which is a good result.
We had a bit of excitement whilst back at base when a Police helicopter landed behind our huts, I obviously went to speak to them and had a nice chat with the pilot and a Police Forensic Scientist who was one of the passengers. They were trying to fly to the Forestry Offices further up the mountain but low cloud had stopped them. Believe it our not they asked me the way to the offices...I thought they would have had a map or GPS or something. Anyway after an hour or so they took off, followed my directions and hopefully they found the offices!!! As a strange coincidence they were the crew who found the lost walker the previous week. They had been grounded by technical problems and when they got airborne with their heat seeking camera they found him. He was a Polish Entomologist and the story about glasses and bee stings is all true.
During the afternoon we collected all the traps and washed them all (60 in total) before packing for our journey back to Karongwe in the morning.
I have managed this week to introduce my fellow volunteers to the card game of Niggle and we have had a few good games this week.
Friday 7th December 2012
We drove up to the Forestry Office for 0700hrs and picked up our guide Lengolie (phonetic). We then walked the Bush Pig trail (+/- 5km, feels further though when hot and humid) in very nice weather. Actually learnt that the forest isn’t actually a true rain forest it is described as an African Mist Belt Forest. The Mist Belt refers to the belt of mist around the mountain from which the majority of the precipitation comes. Learnt some more stuff about the forest.
Just as we got back to the truck the skies opened again and I got pretty wet driving back to camp. However, as it cleared up again I was dry by the time we headed back to Karongwe. We stopped in Hoedspruit for the last time on the way back and picked up the last of our supplies....that is code for enough beer for a week!!!
We had not showered all week and on the way back heard that our base was waterless. However, by the time we got back some water was available although it has transpired that the pump pushing water from the borehole is actually not pumping properly so we will be without full water until it is fixed, hopefully early next week.
Got back had a shower, unpacked and then found in our absence that we had got electric lights finally installed at base. I now have a light in my room and all the showers and toilets are lit too. We did however find at dinner that having lights on the veranda has a disadvantage of attracting all the insects from miles around. Despite having insect repellent on I got majorly chowed during the evening and have bites on my legs, hands, arms and the back of my neck!!!
Not much has happened at Karongwe this week other than the brief love affair is now over and the Cheetah Boys are off on their own again as is Kets. The Lions have ventured south and were not a great distance from our base on Friday evening.
Got a new buddy in our room for my last week. Rhi, an Australian lady has joined GVI as the replacement for Viv whose 6 month period comes to an end soon. Won’t be able to just get dressed and undressed in my little dorm now I have a lady to consider.
Saturday 8th December 2012
Back into Research Drive routine this morning. Got up at 0410hrs and as we have no assigned duties this week I volunteered to do Tlem on Ben and Rhi’s truck this morning. We went after the Cheetah’s and found Kets pretty easily and had a nice walk into her. The Boys however proved more problematic.
We located them on Tlem and started walking in but they were obviously on the move. We tried to catch up but 4 legs are quicker than 2 in the bush. At one point I was concentrating on Tlemming when I walked around a bush to come face to muzzle with a horse, we had come across the horse safari people, I must admit my heart missed a beat!!!
Eventually the Boys lay down and we found them, the GPS told us we had walked 600m into the bush, take it from me it felt at least that far it being very hot and humid this morning.
After that we had a general game drive and found a fairly sizeable Leopard Tortoise. We didn’t see much else except normal game, but had a great drive non the less.
Whilst out and about we heard the other GVI truck find the Lions and they are now very close to Base. Indeed so close we can get them on the Tlem from our veranda.
I washed my clothes when I got back and because the Lions are so close I had to be escorted to the drying area in case one of them had moved closer still and was a little hungry, what a surreal experience.
Went on afternoon drive with Jamie leading but Andreas decided to also come along for the ride as well as Rhi. We were tasked with finding the Lions. That was not too difficult at took about 15 minutes. They had not moved all day and although we could get signal for both Zero and Maggi we could only see Zero lying flat out in the Karongwe river bed. A little later we went looking for what they had killed earlier in a nearby drainage line. Jamie had seen Vultures sitting in a tree there when the Lions were about. Jamie, Rhi and Andreas went off on foot and found two Zebra legs, that was all that was left. It was a full grown Zebra so will have satisfied our 4 Lions for a day or so.
We then drove further into the south of the reserve and did some more tree and bush clearing from a couple of roads to make it easier to use.
We then decided to see if we could find the new Hyena den. As we did so we came across another overhanging tree so started to clear that. Andreas remembered there was an old den just around the corner so he went off on foot to see if there was any activity. Within 30 secs he was back. He had found them, as he walked around the corner he was met by Giggles the Hyena matriarch who glared at him. We drove around and found Giggles doing a very good Lion impression by just lying around. Her three pups were just wandering around and came right up to the car and one of them sniffed at the door just below me. We got to see Giggles suckling them despite them being about 8-9 months old now. It would appear that there are two females and one male in her litter. The male, as is usual in Hyena society is much smaller and is definitely the outcast and spend little time with his sisters.
We left them alone and went back to check on our Lions who surprisingly enough had not moved a muscle, well perhaps one swish of a tail, hard life being a Lion!!!
Back at base it was final Saturday party night and we had a few drinks and then off to bed, I could hear some partying until the wee small hours, but not too loudly, I wonder what they will look like in the morning?

Posted by Neil Craig 01:48 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Week 10 in Karongwe

Monday 26th November 2012
Base duty today with Cheongwha. It was a later start that usual because of the town trip, there being all the volunteers hanging around until after 0800hrs so we couldn’t really start on the kitchen and bathrooms until after they had left.
It was a usual base duty day, cooking, cleaning, washing, washing up etc.
The day passed quite quickly especially as I started work on my Biological Survey Research proposal during the afternoon. I had to use the little grey cells which is always taxing. I am doing a proposal about bird surveying to identify whether the eco management of the reserve is working or not. Sounds very technical, but you can take it if I am involved it ain’t. It is quite interesting though looking at some of the background reading.
I don’t think I have updated you on the female Leopard that turned up on the reserve. Well she has now managed to escape from Karongwe and she is now nearer to the mountains and appears to be doing well.
Dinner was Chilli con Carne and although I say it myself with Cheongwha’s assistance we made a mighty fine meal, one should never waste meat when it’s served here.
Tuesday 27th November 2012
Up at 0410hrs and very tired, for the first time I nearly went off to sleep again. Anyway, off on drive with Nico as leader. I have won Tlem duties gain, although I do actually like doing it and never thought I would get good at it. I know you shouldn’t self congratulate but I think I am actually quite good at it, thanks to the tips from Ida and Lewis in particular.
We looked for the Cheetah Boys first. We spent about an hour chasing their signal which was very flaky and we could never seem to get closer to them. This indicated that they were on the move, it being a cool cloudy day they were probably hunting. We eventually got off the vehicle with Nico and went on foot. We walked for a fair distance with me trying to indicate a direction on foot with the Tlem, not always easy with trees and shrubs. We set quite a brisk pace and I then spotted them walking about 50 yards ahead of us. We managed to catch up and had a very leisurely stroll with the boys along roads and through the bush for the next 30 minutes or so. One of them threw up a hairball at one point and poor old Amalie won vomit collecting duty. It was a pretty awesome experience, just the Cheetahs and the five of us following them in the wild. One of the highlights of the trip so far.
We then went looking for Kets and she too was a bit tricky to find but yet again we had indications where she was and drove past her sitting near to the road. We stood with her for a while and then she walked a little way, although a bit stiff to start with she seemed to be walking OK. She then sat down to rest. We stood nearby and she then got up and came a little bit closer to us. She was only about 5 feet away by now and totally chilled. We didn’t want to stress her too much and left. Again a great experience.
We then spent about 30 minutes starting the repair on an off road track created by GVI a couple of weeks ago. That entailed chopping branches down to block the entrance so it wasn’t re-used and others to cover the first 50 yards of the track to help the grass re-establish itself and as it was on a slope to help prevent water running off too quickly on the flattened grass.
It was then a slow drive back to base via Big Croc Dam, one of my favourite spots on the reserve.
The afternoon drive was with Jamie. Our vehicle was again tasked with finding the Cheetahs. I was of course still on Tlem. We did find both Kets and the Boys. Both involved walks into the bush but both were reasonably easy to find, although the boys were in quite long grass and we were almost on top of them before we saw them. They weren’t bothered and didn’t move a muscle; well one twitched an ear occasionally. The rest of the drive involved trying to find prey species etc, however, we didn’t see too much.
The other GVI truck managed by pure chance see Elephant, Leopard in a tree and then an Aardvark, luck of the draw and being in the right place at the right time.
We got back and after dinner and a bit more work on my Biological Survey it was bed again.
Wednesday 28th November 2012
Off on drive this morning with Andreas in charge looking for the Lions. We eventually found them way up North and actually doing something. We found the ladies walking along a road with Zero following. They walked for some distance and we were eventually caught by Game Drives and they took over, not many good photo opportunities as they had their backs to us most of the time, it is impossible to overtake Lions in the road...they are such road hogs!!!
We then got a call that a female Leopard and her cubs had been seen. We managed to get a brief sighting on Mum and the cubs, about 9 months old, although my view was slightly obscured by trees, although some on the truck managed to get some great shots, again, the luck of the draw. Believe it or not within 30 minutes we had another call to Leopards. We sat at a viewpoint over the river and were rewarded within 30 secs with a female Leopard coming out onto the bank well below us and saunter along. Although it was a distance view it was great to see a Leopard in the open for a change.
We then spent some time nearby as another Leopard had been seen with her cub at a nearby dam. Despite about an hour of searching we couldn’t find her. On the way back we had a daytime view of a Chameleon, great spot by Andreas.
It was almost 1100hrs when we got back, tired but what another good drive. You just don’t know what is round the corner on drive, sometimes it is frustrating if you don’t get a good view, but I have learnt that another will pop up again soon....well hopefully.
Afternoon drive was with Nico as our leader and we were tasked with finding the Cheetah’s. We very quickly found little Ketswiri who was chilling out in a nice shady spot. About 500m away, as the Cheetah runs, we found our Boys, likewise chilling out. It would appear that Kets had made her way across the reserve towards the boys, is their love in the air? The afternoon had cleared up to be nice and sunny and it was nice to see the Cheetah’s in nice dappled light. It is amazing how they fade into their environment and can be so difficult to see, like all the cats.
We had some great sightings on some summer migrant birds during the afternoon such as the Pygmy Kingfisher, Broadbilled Roller and others whose names I can’t remember... We did have a funny little moment on the truck when I looked down to find a very pretty looking red and gold moth perched on my lap, shall we say right above a certain part of my anatomy. Being a dedicated photographer I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity so started taking close up photos. Nico, on spotting what I was doing got quite excited and wanted a photo too. So he got his camera, leant over the side of the truck and leant over my lap with his camera and started to focus on the moth. The strangeness of the situation of a man focusing a camera on my nether regions then struck us all and we all burst into laughter, not before Jesper managed to take a photo of Nico and I in a very compromising situation!!!
The rest of the afternoon and evening consisted of prey research and general observations around the reserve. A lovely chilled evening with no pressure to find our research subjects as they were all found quite quickly between us and the other GVI truck out. We had a beautiful sunset over the mountains, followed almost immediately by the full moon rising a bright red colour on the other horizon all watched from Big Croc Dam. It is moments like that which make everything worthwhile and why South Africa keeps calling me back, soppy I know but it’s true.
Went to bed tired and happy.
Thursday 29th November 2012
Momentous day today. I finished my penultimate packet of Malaria tablets, which means home time is getting closer and in fact I will be home 3 weeks today.
Went out on morning drive with Viv today. Just before that I stood in the garden at base looking at the sun rise at 0430hrs thinking, its nice and warm and clear blue skies...it’s 0230hrs in the UK and the sun, if it’s seen won’t be up for another 5 hours and it may not be quite as warm...but I still want to go home...well in three weeks!!
When we first started looking for signal from the Cheetahs we heard two Hyenas calling to each other. Where we were was probably 5km north of their known den, so it shows how far they range at night. We looked but couldn’t see them.
We went straight for the Cheetah’s again and we found that Ketswiri had indeed met up with the Cheetah Boys. Indeed Viv walked into the bush to find Kets and Jabu sitting alone, with no sign of Djuma, he perhaps had shown some discretion and walked away to leave the lovers alone. Both were completely relaxed with each other which tends to suggest that naughty things might be happening, time will tell.
The rest of the morning was spent assisting the other GVI truck trying to locate the Lions, who to say the least were very elusive, indeed bloody invisible. They will be our priority this afternoon. Whilst driving along at one point I failed to get low enough to duck under a tree. The tree caught my elbow and I was unlucky that it was a thorny tree. I managed to pick up four nice hooked thorns in my arm. We stopped whilst I performed major surgery to remove said thorns from my arm. Ouch.
The afternoon drive was lead by Nico. We only had one truck out so we squeezed 6 volunteers on the back and one taking data in the cab, a bit of a squeeze, but more eyes to see things. We set off first of all to find the Cheetah’s to see if love was in the air. We got Tlem signal for them in the same area and started to move in on foot. Just as we did so we heard Kudu alarm calls about where we estimated the lovers may be. As a result the pair appeared to move and a follow on foot in the bush started. We eventually caught up with them some 400m into the bush. That may not seem far but in the heat and trying to get through thickish bush and scrub it seems a lot further. When we caught up with them Kets was very relaxed but Jabu was very nervous of our presence and kept looking at us and for the first time heard his making a growling type sound, more like a grunt type sound. Kets kept standing up walking a few yards then sitting down. She would then roll over a couple of times and Jabu would sit nearby looking at her and making the aforementioned noise.
It would not appear that anything had happened between them as yet. Cheetah’s unlike Lions are not brought into oestrus by mating, they mate only a few times whilst the female is receptive and then go their separate ways. According to Nico it would appear we witnessing Cheetah foreplay and they are building up to the event. Kets is very relaxed in Jabu’s presence, if she was not ready to mate there would be far more friction between them. A few weeks ago Kets was found with the Boys but when they were seen together she was boxing them off and both boys were there, this time things appear different.
We followed them for some time in the bush and eventually left them to it. We then had a long walk back to our truck, but we used the roads which made it a bit easier, but it was still tiring, it being a hot and humid afternoon.
We then went Lion hunting. They remained as they had done in the morning, elusive. However, just as we were about to head for home we found signal for them in a patch of the reserve exactly between where both teams had searched in the morning. They were apparently in a river bed again and could not be seen. That was probably why they weren’t found in the morning, when they are in riverbeds the signal can be very weak and unless you almost have a direct line of sight you will not get them.
We also saw a new species for us all tonight. Heinrich spotted what he thought was an Nyala on the opposite river bank but when we looked through camera lenses and binoculars it was actually a Bushpig. This is quite an elusive creature too so we were pleased to spot it.
As we were quite far north in the reserve it was then a long drive back through the reserve, getting home at almost 2000hrs, but a great drive.
Friday 30th November 2012
Last full day of my moustache. I never thought I would say this but I am actually looking forward to shaving it off at the end of Mouvember. Off on drive at 0500hrs with Jamie. We went straight to the lovers and I was Tleming this morning. We got signal for them and off we went again into the bush. They had moved a little bit during the night but not far. They were still together and no Djuma. The atmosphere was completely different this morning. Jabu was far more relaxed in fact although he was lying, as usual with his legs crossed, with his head up pointing towards Kets he found it very hard to keep his eyes open and kept nodding off. The considered opinion was that they looked like a couple in post-coital bliss, not that I would know what that looks like!!!
We stayed with them for a little while and whilst doing so spotted an unusual thing nearby, termites above ground starting a mound or a feeding tunnel.
Although you see hundreds if not thousands of termite mounds around the reserve you almost never see termites. The mounds are effectively the ventilation system for the nest, most of it and the feeding tunnels are underground, effectively it is like an iceberg, most of it you can’t see.
Indeed the termite is the creature with the largest biomass on this and all other reserves. The biomass of a creature means the combined weight of all of the individuals in one species. So even if you put all 21 elephants together their combined weight will not equal the combined weight of all of the termites, quite a thought really...and it’s easier to see an Elephant.
We left the happy couple and went and did some conservation work, the other GVI truck being assigned to the Lions. We drove along a couple of the roads and cleared all of the overhanging branches. This was done in the cool of the day, although it was still quite warm work. Only managed to get a few thorns in my hands and arms today.
We then went off to do more research particularly re our prey species. We ended up at Big Croc Dam and Jamie took us to the south of the water an area I had not been to before. We got out of the vehicle and had a walk down to the water’s edge. We had seen Hippo at the far end of the water as we had driven up. Within 30 secs of standing there three Hippos came steaming around the corner, in the water, to check us out. They made it known they were not happy with our presence by their bellowing and snorting. Jamie quickly took us away from the water’s edge and we stood about 30m away. The Hippo were joined by others and soon we had about 10 of them in varying sizes all staring at us from just off shore.
Although I know that Hippos are actually the most dangerous animal in Africa, by the number of people killed, but I had always seen them in a benign state before. On this occasion they certainly sought us out and certainly I think if we had stayed at the water’s edge we would have been in some trouble. Great experience though.
For the first time in almost a week the sub adult Lion was spotted not too far away so we went to see him to get some data. Sue has christened him Sub-Zero, he being Zero’s son, not bad for an Aussie bird!!!
We had a rough idea where he had been seen and as we pulled up we just saw him running at two Giraffe. It was a half-hearted attack and I think he had been sitting there and they strolled past and he couldn’t help himself.
Jamie told us that some time ago there were two male Lions on the Reserve, Zero and his brother Felix. Unfortunately for the prey species they were a good hunting double act and in particular they specialised in taking down Giraffe. They were so good and successful that Felix had to be moved to another reserve.
Back to base then after another successful and exciting drive.
The afternoon drive was with Nico. We went straight away for the Cheetah’s. We picked up Ketswiri’s signal straight away, but there was no sign of the boys on Tlem. Laura was doing Tlem this morning but when we went on foot to find Kets she asked me to do it as she prefers not to Tlem and walk in the bush, she has nearly come a cropper a couple of times whilst walking along with the aerial above her head. We followed the signal into the bush for about 200m but suddenly I lost signal and had to hunt round again and suddenly she was behind us. Although you can get back signal sometimes (an echo of the signal from 180 degrees from where it actually is) it was not that, she must have walked past us in the bush. We turned tail and it appeared she was moving quite quickly. We exited the bush almost next to our vehicle and then I spotted her sitting just off to our right about 30m into the next block.
She was panting indicating she had just been walking. She was very full and had obviously hunted and she had some blood on her left cheek and looked a bit dishevelled, but she was alone. It would appear that the brief liaison was over, although had Jabu done his job? The next 90 days will tell.
We left her alone and went to find Jabu, he is the only one fitted with a transponder. We found him not too far away, perhaps about 2km. We walked into the bush, but he was easy to find as it was a good clear signal and the bush was quite open and some alarm calling Wildebeest helped. Jabu was lying relaxed and back with Djuma. Goodness only knows how they find each other.
We left them after a little while to go and locate the Lions. What a job that was. Poor old Laura must have done about 20 Tlem checks but they could not be found. By the time we had to head home we had covered almost all of the north of the reserve, there were just a few patches that we could not get too easily due to distances, river crossings and time.
We headed back to a fantastic dinner prepared by Cheongwha and Sam of Vegetable Pie. One quick Savannah and I was off to bed.
Saturday 1st December 2012
Two weeks today I will be leaving Karongwe and heading for Jo’burg. I have also worked out that because of my mountain trip next week I have at most 12 drives left...boo hoo.
I was woken at 0430hrs by the others getting ready for drive, but it is difficult with the trucks being right outside my window. Anyway, let them go off, got up, had a slow breakfast with Sue my Base Duty buddy today and then got started. By 0900hrs we had done everything. Only lunch to prepare today as we are off to Mahlahla again tonight...Fillet Steak beckons.
The weather is pretty poor today, overcast and rain coming through occasionally.
When the others came back from drive it would appear that the Boys had decided that the affair was not over. The team had found the boys walking in the bush and they were walking away from Kets. They were left and the team went and found Kets. Suddenly the boys turned up out of the blue and one of them tried to mount her. Being a nice girl she wasn’t having anything of it and ran off. We shall see how the story continues.
The Moustache has now gone, thank goodness and I have 2 weeks to make sure that my upper lip isn’t too white!!
Fortunately enough, with us not having to prepare a meal tonight, I was able to go on afternoon drive with Andreas leading. We went looking for the lovers and found Jabu sitting on his own at the side of the road. We didn’t have to Tlem for him we just spotted him. He was sitting calling for his brother.
Just before that we went through a horrendous smell, clearly something dead. Andreas found it and believe it or not it was a Leopard Tortoise which had died just off the side of the road. Considering its size the smell was gross. We Tlemed for Kets and she was not too far away. Andreas walked in on her and found her with Djuma, she now appears to be sharing the brothers, I always thought she was a nice girl. Interestingly enough Andreas told us that they were in almost the same place as he once found the boys with Savannah another female Cheetah who is now thought to be dead.
We then went off to find the Lions and found signal for them way up north. We were then treated to the second smell of death of the day. As we approached where we thought they were we got the smell of a carcass somewhere nearby. We then spotted Zero sitting pretty much in the open but no girls. We actually saw Zero move, amazing, however it was simply to get up, have yet another shit in front of us and then walk off.
About half an hour later we came across the Elephant herd as it was just going dark but it was light enough to stay with them. We were treated to Mr M eating from a tree right next to us. He was stretching his trunk right up to pull branches down. After a while he reversed at the truck turned and gave a big head, ears and trunk shake to express his displeasure and walked off. We then drove up to the main herd and Nick came out to look at us. She studied us for a while and stood with one front foot just touching the ground. I have learnt that this is a way that Elephants sense their surroundings and feel for vibrations in the ground. She obviously didn’t like what she saw, felt or heard. She proceeded to break a branch off a tree and hold it in her trunk. She then approached us and shook the stick at us and swiped the ground with it. There was no real aggression just a bit of a show.
Quite a night so far but it was about to get better. We went around the corner and drove along the road where the Ellies had walked through the bush to. Jesper then spotted a Leopard in a tree in front of us. It was a bit concerned as it was already surrounded by Elephant and now it had humans too. We watched him walk down the sloping trunk and slink off into some heavy bush. He was a huge male, much bigger than any I had seen before. Andreas identified him as Xipuku (pronounced She-poo-koo). He is the biggest Leopard on the reserve and is thought to be Tsavo’s dad, (the male Leopard I saw some weeks ago).
What an amazing drive and I was so pleased I hadn’t missed it by being on base duty.
After drive it was a quick wash and change and off to Mahlahla for steak and some drinks for the last time.
Sunday 2nd December 2012
Got back at about 0100hrs and actually slept in ‘til 0800hrs. I must admit to being a little hung-over this morning, must have been damp glasses!!! Took life very easy today, finished off my washing for the mountains and started to pack for our trip.
We should have gone this last week but that was cancelled as the cabins were being used for search and rescue teams as a man had gone missing on the mountain. The story has now come out that he has been found after 7 days. It would appear he was walking with friends and felt ill. He then turned back alone to go to his car. Whilst doing so he fell and broke his glasses. He has poor eyesight and got lost. He then got stung by bees and had a severe allergic reaction so that his face swelled up and he could not see, hear or shout out. He decided to just sit down and wait...which he did for 7 days until he was found. I can see a movie being made from his story.

Posted by Neil Craig 21:51 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Week 9 in Karongwe

Sunday 18th November 2012
Despite the storm last night it was a very hot last night and I didn’t sleep great. Up at 0600hrs, did yet more laundry and planned our trip to Kruger this week.
I didn’t relax all of the day today, I have been asked to submit a 1st month blog draft to use on the GVI website so that prospective volunteers can get a volunteer’s perspective on life here. What I did was to use my travel blog as a basis but removed an amount of the humdrum and domestic material. Other than that which took about 3 hours I had a chillaxing day, but boy was it hot and sticky.
Monday 19th November 2012
Off on an almost 3 day break from today. There are 5 of us going, Sue, Charlotte, Laura and myself. We went to town with the shopping trip in the morning and picked up our hire car at 1200hrs having had Ostrich Steak, again, at the Safari Club for an early lunch. It was a Toyota Avenza, never seen one in the UK, but with 5 people on board and our luggage it was a very under powered truck and not as advertised a ‘good’ 5 seater plus two seats in the boot, but it did the job for ZAR500 per day.
We drove in the afternoon from Hoedspruit to Hazyview which took about 2 hours. The journey on the map looked like we went through a couple of towns. However, in Scotland as some of you will know they have what is described as ‘Lang Toons’ (Long Towns) i.e. only a couple of houses deep off the road but about a mile long. We came across the ultimate Lang Toon, it stretched for miles and miles and spread out a long way from the car, it was like an exploded township, although in the main the houses were in fairly good repair for African country houses. What struck us all was what did all the people who lived there do. There was no sign of industry or factories. Anyway, we got to Hazyview with no issues and went to find our accommodation, The Jungle Cafe Backpackers Tented Village. It was just outside Hazyview on the road to Sabie. Although in the main a tented village, i.e. pre-erected tents we booked the family room. It was split into two, which helped with modesty issues, so that Jesper and I slept in one half on bunk beds and the ladies slept in the other half in the beds in there. I found the beds OK but the place itself was noisy, not because of roads but other guests. We had a group of black African workers staying in a nearby tent and dorm room and they did talk well into the night, not that it kept me awake too much.
After unpacking it was into town for a drink and something to eat. We eventually decided upon a place called Pioneers. I had probably one of the best Fillet Steaks I have ever had, 300g and less than £10. Marvellous meal with a nice couple of glasses of Red Wine.
It was off to bed early as it was an early start the next day.
Tuesday 20th November 2012
Up at 0430hrs and away by 0500hrs. We wanted to be at the gates early so that we didn’t have to queue. Well it worked, we were at Numbi gate by 0525hrs and after the usual South African admin we were the first car into the park.
We scored with carnivores straightaway with our first sighting being Hyena. We then struck again with Wild Dogs, the species we all wanted to see. We were entertained to about 10 minutes of two of them running around obviously either hunting or trying to find their buddies.
We had pretty good sightings all day, saw lots of good birds including Goshawk, Batteleur Eagle, Lilac Breasted Roller and many others. We saw Lion, Giraffe, Elephants, Buffalo and had good sightings of Impala lambs. We drove from Numbi to Skukuza for morning coffee and a shop. Then we drove south to Burg-en-Dal via Afsaal where we had lunch. We passed Jock Safari Lodge where Jenny and I stayed in 2010 so a lot of that area was very familiar.
We did effectively a reverse of that route and finished in the park at 1800hrs so over 12 hours in there for about £8 each, brilliant.
It was back to the Jungle Cafe where 5 tired bunnies had a few beers, some bar food and bed. Sue is an Austrailian Lady, I know, an oxymoron, and in her late 40’s. Because we had the family room the people there thought we were married, Laura and Charlotte were our daughters and Jesper one of their boyfriends....
Forgot to say the day started with heavy rain and ended in hot steaming sunshine.
Wednesday 21st November 2012
We rose early again and went off the find breakfast in the town, eventually stopping at a place called Kuka, much to the chagrin of ‘the kids’ who wanted KFC but it wasn’t open.
We then drove back to Karongwe via Blyde River Canyon. It was very misty and foggy driving up to Graskop. After that it cleared a bit but we never got a very clear view of the valley as it was so hazy. We got back to Karongwe at about 1100hrs to get out of the air conditioned car to find it extremely hot and sticky with no breeze at all. Had a lovely cold shower and got unpacked, updated this blog and then got ready for afternoon drive, Tlem duty beckons.
We set off in very hot and sticky weather and it was a relief to get moving and have some air rushing past. Every time we stopped it got hot again. Another storm threatened to come over the reserve, however, although we had some rain during our drive it was very light and the lightening got to about 4 miles away then moved back into the mountains.
We did find the Zero and his little lad pretty quickly. We actually saw Zero move, he stood up, moved 5 yards, had a poo, walked back again and lay down....tiring work going to the loo!!! We then found the Cheetah boys pretty quickly after that, they too were chilling out in the heart but at least they occasionally lift their heads up and look around. We found out that Ketswiri had made a fantastic recovery and they had opened the Boma so she could just walk out. However, when we checked she was still in there somewhere. The boma is about 75m squared and thick bush so whatever is in there can hide pretty well. The Reserve Manager is concerned that Kets will stay there to eat and get trapped by a Lion or a Leopard so we will monitor the situation on each drive.
After that we tried to find the Lionesses but they were found first by a tourist drive. We then had a general drive checking out prey species etc.
By the end of the drive we were all pretty tired, the heat takes it out of you and I was in bed about 15 mins after dinner.
Thursday 22nd November 2012
Up at 0410hrs and I am on Prey Survival duty today. That means recording data for this week’s designated species those being Zebra and Wildebeest plus the always there species Nyala, Steenbok, Bushbuck and Duiker. This is done in addition to locating and taking data on our subject carnivores.
We looked and looked for the Lions but they could not be found in the areas we were in. Eventually we located Ketswiri and established she had left the boma. We caught up with her about 3km away and she looked well, although a little thin. We later learnt she had ignored the Zebra foal left for her in the boma. Although the Zebra had died of apparently natural causes it could have been bitten by a snake and as such Kets wouldn’t have touched it.
As an aside I found out at dinner that we had had a Spitting Cobra on our Veranda at base today....nice.
She was definitely on the prowl so we left her alone, she had a very minor limp so let’s hope it is ok for hunting. However, at the moment the reserve is filling up with Impala foals and they are the preferred prey of the Cheetah boys so perhaps Kets can get her skills and energy back on these Cheetah Snacks which are easier to catch.
We later came across the Elephant herd. I am still amazed how quickly they can disappear in bush, you know they are there but they are so hard to see and even hear unless they move. Mr M came out and had a bit of a look at us and one of the sub adults had a bit of a fright when it saw the Horse Safari riding towards it, quick funny to see it running back to the protection of the herd.
The Lions were found by the other GVI truck out today so we concentrated on trying to get good ID photos on the Ellies and Rhino. I had done a briefing at the start of the drive as part of my leadership project on what photos had to be taken and a H&S briefing. Unfortunately the Ellies hid and the Rhinos were invisible so hopefully this afternoon we will have more success.
We didn’t get back until 1100hrs so a long 6 hours in the truck, but some good sightings and some good prey data taken...Duikers were the most plentiful today.
The afternoon drive was lead by Beth and we heard early on where the Elephants were so we headed straight to them. We timed our run perfectly and caught the whole herd walking across an open area. One of the big bulls walked straight past our truck on the opposite side from me and we were at eye level with him, quite a sight. We then followed the herd for about 45 mins and had a great sighting. At one point we had a female and her sub adult calf come out of the bush behind us and walk nonchalantly past the vehicle right past me, I must admit to holding my breath a little as they walked past. She was within 2 feet of where I was sitting. One of the big bulls, Fumbe, obviously got a little upset by us as he stood in the middle of the road in front of us and gave a long rumble, which was echoed by Flippy who was off to our right in the bush. However, neither of them ever gave a threatening gesture, just reminding us who actually runs the bush....and it ain’t us!!
The rest of the drive concerned trying to find Ketswiri. She was eventually located by Tlem but was some distance into the bush. Beth went in to try and find her, which she did, but then got misleading audio signals from a tourist drive who was trying to meet her. In order to help locate people vehicles sometimes rev their engines to indicate where they were. To cut a long story short Beth heard the audio and was told the vehicle was in one place but it was in another leading to her losing her bearings and getting a bit lost on the way back to us.
When she got back we had to change a wheel as we had a puncture.
Friday 23rd November 2012
Base duty today with Laura. We got up at 0530 and started our day of cleaning and cooking. It was really hot and still today and cooking in the kitchen was quite a chore, but the meals went down well.
One of our drives found the Lionesses. They had apparently stolen a Leopard kill as the Leopard itself was up the tree above them hanging on for grim death at the very top on the thin branches.
Went to bed after clearing up from dinner and didn’t sleep well.
Saturday 24th November 2012
Had a really restless night, it was very hot in bed and to put it bluntly I sweated like a pig. Eventually dropped off and woke up with a start at 0410hrs with the alarm. As soon as I got up I felt really quite unwell. I had a thumping headache and immediately started sweating as soon as I got out of bed. I decided I must be dehydrated so drank a fair bit of water, ate an energy bar and decided to go on drive, having also taken some Ibuprofen. After a short while on drive, doing data, I felt a lot better and as I write this at the end of drive I would say I feel about 80% fit and may go and have a lie down.
On drive we again followed up on Ketswiri. Although she is now out of the boma no one has seen her kill since and it was thought yesterday she may still be limping and may have pulled out of a chase. We got signal for her and were just manoeuvring to get a better signal when the nearby herd of Impala started alarm barking and running about and some Zebra with a foal took flight. Viv, who was leading today walked in and just 40m from where we had just been she had killed an Impala lamb, a Cheetah snack, but at least she can still hunt and kill.
There has been a veritable explosion of Impala foals this week, we saw our first last Saturday and now they are everywhere, bumper time for Leopard, Cheetah, Hyena and some of the smaller carnivores, even Baboons will kill and eat them!!!
We later found signal for the Lionesses but they were obviously lying in the river bed and we couldn’t see them.
On the way back came across a huge grasshopper which must have been about 6 inches long and multi-coloured. We tried to see the Hyenas but the den was very quite. Only time will tell if they have moved on. I believe from my research that the grasshopper was an Elegant Grasshopper, well named when you see the photos.
There is no afternoon drive today as we are going on a sleep out. I decided to take the strenuous option by going on the walk with Jamie to the camp site in the Matumi Spruit. Jamie concentrated on improving our tracking skills and we spotted Hyena, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Warthog tracks as well as the usual Impala. We got to the camp site at about 6pm and set up. As we had walked down there had been thunder in the nearby mountains but no rain with us. However, not long after setting up camp the skies darkened and we had a few spots of rain. We continued making the Braai and cooked that and ate in the river bed (learnt tonight that Matumi after which the river is named is a tree which grows prolifically along its route, mainly in the river bed, which is dry for 90% of the year). The decision was made to strike camp after Braai and head for home, it being highly likely that it would rain, and being as we were in the open that would not be pleasant.
I went almost straight to bed after getting back as I wanted to go on drive in the morning, the chances for going on drive now reducing very quickly as my adventure starts to draw to a close. Believe it or not we now have less that 3 weeks left and I calculate that I have about 20 drives left, maximum, which is quite scary.
Sunday 25th November 2012
Got up early, 0420hrs, well early for a Sunday. Got the truck ready for drive. We had made the right decision about the camp out; at midnight it started to rain very heavily and only stopped just before dawn. It would have been a dreadful sleep out had we stayed.
We went straight to find the Lions. The Lionesses had been seen last night with a Wildebeest kill and calling for Zero. We found them at exactly the same spot and Zero had indeed caught up with them and had obviously shared the spoils. He did manage to move once by rolling over to show us his fat belly. The girls were much less obvious to see although we could see the odd ear twitch in the bush. We left the Lions and found some really clear male Leopard prints in the fresh sand washed clean by the overnight rain. The prints could only have been an hour or two old otherwise they too would have been washed away.
We went on to find Ketswiri and the Cheetah Boys but I could not walk in, Kaggi our leader not being rifle trained.
We did witness a male Giraffe standing by the side of the road having a poo. That gave us the opportunity to collect some fresh droppings for tick and parasite studies. Your intrepid hero went into the bush after the Giraffe had made off and collected the poo in a vial to be frozen and examined later. Just for your info Giraffe poo is in very compact little lumps and cascades from its bum like a fountain, hope you are not eating your dinner whilst reading this. I was at the poo pile within a minute of it being dropped and by then there were already a couple of dung beetles on it and others flying in. They are fascinating creatures to watch. So far I have collected Wildebeest, Impala and now Giraffe poo.
After that we travelled right to the north of the reserve as we had heard the Elephants were there. We found them feeding in quite dense bush, but we sat and waited and were rewarded with a fantastic sighting. I was in the cab taking data so didn’t have the best of views but I had one of the sub adults come right up to my window and look in. Then we had a cow and her calf walk along the driver’s side, come to a halt and the calf start suckling from the mother. To top it all, Flippy, one of the big bulls walked straight at our truck then walk down my side and stopped. He turned and went eyeball to eyeball with Jamie (an old volunteer visiting for a few days), who was sitting on the back. After a few seconds of staring Jamie out he moved on, what a fantastic experience. Jamie has admitted it was a little bit frightening. I must admit they look big when you look at them in the bush, but they are ****ing huge when they are standing next to you.
We then slowly followed them as they strolled off eating as they went. We watched one cow take a huge branch in her mouth which was covered in leaves. She slowly passed it from one side of her mouth to the other. As it came out the other side it was stripped of leaves, twigs and bark just the centre of the branch remaining.
The herd then slowly made off and we collected our second pile of poo of the day, although getting Elephant poo into a vial is slightly more difficult. We have to collect poo which is fresh and we have to collect it straight away.
We then returned from drive and didn’t get back until 1030hrs, a long drive but really worth getting up for and waiting for the Elephant to come to us.
The middle part of the day was taken up with reading, writing postcards and eating lunch. However, at 1530hrs it was off again on afternoon drive. Again, not obligatory as it is a Sunday but I want to utilise every opportunity as my time here slowly comes to a close.
We went out with Jamie and I volunteered to do Tlem duties. We firstly looked for my favourites, those good ‘ole Cheetah Boys. The signal for them was very flaky, probably caused by atmospherics. It was dull and overcast all day and actually a very pleasant temperature, although it did go cool during the drive. Anyway, on with the story. We eventually decided that we had them close enough to a road to walk in on and it would appear that they had been mobile when we first started taking readings. We walked in with Jamie and I guided us in on the final 200m using the Tlem on foot. The Tlem was spot on and we walked straight to them. They were both quite alert and looking about and I would imagine that they were considering going off hunting, although they didn’t whilst we were there. We left them in peace and went off to find Ketswiri. She had moved from her spot in the morning, which was good, it shows she is still able to move about easily enough. We assumed, not always a good thing, but we assumed she had gone back to stalking the fence line and going back to her favoured north. We were right, well Jamie was, and as we drove north we spotted her lying down about 20m in from the fence line. She looked ok but did not appear to have killed again today.
Whilst looking for Kets we found some very clear tracks for her, it is great to see tracks exactly as they are set out in the books. These were so clear you could even see her claw marks, Cheetahs always have their claws showing and are not retracted, it is believed this has developed to assist with acceleration and grip when travelling at high speed.
We then went on to the Lions who had struggled all day to move about 20 yards, hard life being a Lion. Zero and one of the Lionesses were lying at the side of the road and didn’t even twitch an ear when we approached. It was by now dark and we left them to digest their Wildebeest steaks. We drove home and got a puncture. This was my first night time tyre change. Although we knew where most of the big cats were, we weren’t sure where the Sub Adult Lion was nor do we ever know where the Leopards are, although effectively it is only the Lion who should be most feared yet you have to be careful of them all, plus Rhino, Elephant etc. Anyway tyre was changed fairly quickly and off we went getting back at about 2015hrs. So, two long drives today but good ones.
It is usually town day on Monday but I have again won base duty on Monday and I also have it again on Saturday, there being fewer volunteers this month. Indeed, it is lucky I am going to the mountains next week as the Minibus is going off the road then for probably two weeks so there will be no more town trips. At least going to the mountains I get a chance to pop into town on the way there and back, otherwise I will run out of treats!!
As an aside this is now the end of week 3 of growing my moustache for Mouvember, highlighting male health issues. I will post on Facebook the result next Saturday when it is removed and I have two weeks to tan the white bit underneath!!!

Posted by Neil Craig 03:41 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Week 8 in Karongwe

Sunday 11th November 2012
If you remember dear reader last night was Base Party Night so today is the morning after the night before. Yet again though I had a sensible pill at about 11pm and went off to my bed quite sober, yet tired. I think the young revellers finished about 2am but did not disturb me and I slept well. I was up at 0600hrs and did my laundry, some work on my photos and blog and by 0900hrs I had done all my chores for the day.
It was very very hot today and quite muggy which didn’t help some of the hangovers that appeared during the morning!!
Played some pool during the day, read and mainly relaxed. A nice chilled day.
Monday 12th November 2012
Today is normally town day. There were not enough spaces on the bus today so I decided not to go and went on the two game drives instead.
The morning drive at 0500hrs with just myself and Cheongwha as volunteers, the leader being Kaggi. I was on Tlem duties. We started off with some early success finding Ketswiri quite close to base, she had been on her travels again and was sitting chilled and relaxed about 2km from base in the south.
Unfortunately we could not walk in with Kaggi as she cannot carry a rifle. We then worked quite hard to try and find the Lions. If remember on Saturday we had found them, eventually, in a deep drainage line, but only on signal. On Sunday they were seen when one of our staff did an off road and found them on a Giraffe kill, they had taken a 2 year old male, quite a feat. When we looked today they were in the same area but had moved even deeper into the drainage line. They were obviously stuffed and were sleeping the meal and the heat off, it being quite hot today.
The Cheetah Boys were found by a tourist drive so we didn’t have to look for them. We did see some prey animals so the morning was spent mainly collecting data and searching for Lion signal.
The afternoon’s drive was again just Cheongwha and I this time lead by Beth and Turner. We again found Ketswiri pretty quickly and confirmed where the Lions were, they had still not moved. The tourist trucks were very anxious to see the Lions but where they were it was impossible to get any view or go off road.
The excitement of the day started after drive and after dinner. Andreas was talking to some volunteers outside at about 2015hrs when they heard a Leopard growl close to the house. It growled behind the staff bedrooms and then by the water tanks. Zuri, our dog was going mad and had to be restrained from going into the bush and I am afraid inevitable death. Myself and Ida joined some staff on a truck and we went off to find the Leopard. We drove around our area and we could hear the local Jackals going mad. We drove around a bit more and caught sight of Scar walking without a care in the world from the direction of our camp. And only a few hundred metres away.
He went into thick bush and when we parked up we could hear the Jackals barking and Scar growling and then the sound of bones being crunched. It was likely that he had a kill in there. We then did a bit of off road driving into the bush and sat in the dark and quiet of the night. The silence was broken by the continual warning barks/cry of the Jackals that you could hear reverberating around the bush. We did not catch sight of Scar again.
Tuesday 13th November 2012
We were out this morning with Beth again. I was on data so sat in the cab. We went to check for the Lions and found they had moved overnight. They took some finding but we followed tracks in the roads and Tlem signal and eventually located them in yet another drainage line, well out of the way and again not visible from the road and in an area when off roading was not possible. We then went up north and were driving along when a small herd of Kudu burst out of the bush ahead of us sounding their alarm bark. Beth quickly spotted a Leopard up a tree nearby. It was not a clear sighting but a pretty cool one.
I have forgotten to mention that this being the last week of the four week cycle we have another competition running. This month it is a scavenger hunt. Each team has a list of 18 items to find in the bush and around base. As we find each item we get another letter. That will provide 18 letters to decipher into a location. The first team to get a photo of the team at that location will be the winners. We managed to get most of our items this morning, just a couple more to get this afternoon.
Towards the end of the drive we met up with Simon, the Reserve Manager, and he came into the block where Scar had last been seen. He was sure that Scar was still in there and showed us some tracks in a drainage line that indicated there was a male and female Leopard in the area, so Scar may have more that Impala Burger on his mind!!
The afternoon drive was with Viv. We found Ketswiri almost as far south as possible on the reserve and she had just killed a young male Impala. We could not walk in but could see a bit of her from the road. She took about 25 minutes to eat the Impala and then move off.
We then went to the Hyena den nearby and saw the same two youngsters as the last time. They are even bolder now and came very close to the truck. We also saw one of the adults sitting further into the den and heard younger cubs too. The matriarch, Giggles, had been seen earlier in the day chasing Ketswiri about, although that hadn’t stopped Kets making a kill as we saw.
Wednesday 14th November 2012
Base duty today with Rob. Started cleaning up at 0600hrs and by 1000hrs we had the whole place cleaned and lunch prepared, we had even had a cup of coffee and a couple of games of pool.
During the day one of our teams noticed that Ketswiri, who had moved some considerable distance since we saw her the evening before had a badly injured leg, so much so she could hardly walk. As you will be aware a Cheetah lives by speed and any injury could mean no hunting and death.
Throughout the day she was monitored and in the afternoon the vet attended and she was darted and examined. It transpired she had a long piece of wood going into her leg from the side going up the leg and penetrating her muscle. The vet operated to remove it and some of our volunteers got to help. The luck of the draw was I was on base duty so missed out unfortunately.
The vet hopes that he has managed to repair the muscle damage as best he can and Ketswiri is now in a Boma for a couple of weeks to hopefully recover. Hopefully she will be able to return to the wild and continue hunting. It is a difficult decision for the management here to decide to intervene. It is likely that Kets got the injury by landing on the stick whilst running at full speed. If nature had run its course then Kets would now probably be dead either from starvation or having been caught by a Lion, Leopard or Hyena. However she is a breeding female Cheetah and an important scientific subject so I think that the right decision has been made to intervene.
As far as base duty is concerned it was the usual fare and talking of which we appeared to cook successful meals at lunch and dinner.
Thursday 15th December 2012
Today is the Mariepskop Challenge Day where we will be raising money for environmental education projects in SA.
We were split into three teams consisting of mixed staff and volunteers. I was in Team C, the Forest Shrews. We set off for the mountains having had to decide on a team colour and construct a team flag. One in the mountains we were given various challenges and tasks to do up and down the mountain. Although we did get some lifts to some places if we answered various riddles there was a fair amount of walking up hill and down dale. The weather was nice, it was sunny and quite warm but not scorching. After completing all of the tasks all of the teams ended up at the cabins where we stay on the Mountain Phase of the expedition. After that we all went down to a secluded part of the Blyde River and cooled ourselves by swimming in the river and using the rope swing there. We stayed there for about 90 minutes and had a great laugh.
It was then back to base camp for a Braai.
Whilst sitting around the Braai we saw a Centipede going down a hole followed a couple of minutes later by a Red Roman. Both of these creatures are quite vicious and give a nasty bite, although not venomous. The Red Roman which looks like a spider but isn’t actually a spider was hunting the centipede. The centipede was about 4 inches long and the Red Roman about the size of my palm, if not a bit bigger. Anyway the Red Roman came out without its prize and then decided to wander round the camp fire causing a few lifted feet and was much to the fascination of Zuri who followed it round.
After a few well deserved Savannah Ciders it was off to bed.
Friday 16th November 2012
Today is the last day for four of our volunteers, Ida, Rob, Bruno and Daan. This morning we will be going to a nearby Safari Lodge, can’t remember its name at this stage, for Brunch. It will then be back for the monthly big tidy up and then final drive for the above four and we will hopefully get both trucks to meet up for Sundowners (Phouza in local language) and toast them on their way.
Brunch was at a place called Wildebeest Lapa about an hour’s drive from base. For ZAR65, (£5) we had a very nice breakfast with bacon, the thing a lot of us miss here. It was a very nice little friendly restaurant with a beautiful well tended garden at the rear where we sat out. It was then next just up the road to an Ice Cream and Sorbet shop, very nice too. So stuffed to the gunwales it was a drive back to base.
I won cleaning vehicles in the big clean up which was quite a task in the heat, it reached a max of 38C today in the shade but the vehicles were not fully in the shade. I certainly built up a sweat.
I forgot to mention that on Wednesday a Leopard was spotted on our reserve. Nothing new in that you may say, but this one had a GPS collar on it. None of the animals on our reserve have such devices. We found out today that the Leopard was released 2 weeks ago in a reserve near Orpen Gate, that is 75km from Karongwe and the other side of the Oliphant River from here. Therefore it has escaped it’s own reserve and travelled all that way, obviously killing on the way and managed to climb into our reserve. Plans are being made to try and locate it, although that may be difficult as its collar only transmits its location at midday and midnight.
Afternoon drive went well with a storm brewing from the mountains. We managed the two teams to meet up and we had some nibbles and a drink together. Then as an added bonus for Ida and Rob, the leavers on our car, we managed to see Zero and his son lying in an open area just before we headed home.
We all had dinner together, made by the staff and then had the awards presentations and a viewing of the best photos submitted by the volunteers this month. The best photograph, as voted for by everyone was a portrait of the Subby taken by Daan, it was a great shot. I was asked again to give out the awards this month for peoples silly mistakes or comments etc, they appeared to go down well.
Saturday 17th November 2012
8 weeks today I arrived on base, where has that gone? That means 4 weeks today I will be leaving. In many ways I can’t wait but I am enjoying my time here. Last night was very hot in bed. Although we had a thunderstorm during dinner it has not cleared the air and it was hot when we woke up.
Up at just after 0400hrs and got ready for morning drive. Our four leavers got up to wave us off as they are not leaving until 0600hrs, there being no new volunteers joining us this month, so the staff do not have to try and get them back in daylight.
It was sad to see the four standing there as we drove off to do our morning’s research.
We spent most of the morning trying to relocate the male Lions who obviously moved in the storm. Whilst doing so I saw my first Impala lamb. Yes they are called lambs, seemingly up to Kudu size they are called lambs and then with the bigger antelope and herbivores they are calves, don’t ask me why.
We also drove past the Boma where Ketswiri is recovering to find her up and about and walking along its fence looking very pissed off but walking without a limp at all, let’s hope that bodes well for her recovery.
We got signal for the Lions indicating they were not far off the road. Fortunately enough old eagle eyed Craigy saw the Subby sitting up looking at us through some bushes.
It was then back to a very hot and sticky base camp where I chose a cold shower but as I sit here writing this it is very muggy with not a breath of breeze. Let’s hope it cools for this afternoon’s drive.
No such luck with the cooling. It just remained hot and very sticky all day, I even took two cold showers between drives and fell asleep reading. As a result afternoon drive, with Beth, started in very hot temperatures but riding on the back was quite pleasant whilst we were moving. The animals had the right idea too and we saw very little until we eventually found Zero and the Subby about 50 trees from where they had been earlier.
We then set off to find the Cheetah Boys. That was easier than expected as Sue spotted them sitting by the road before we had even tried a Tlem. We sat with them for about 20 mins, but because of the heat they weren’t doing much, but appeared to be keeping an eye open for prey, so they may hunt later.
The Lionesses were found by another game drive so we didn’t need to find them at all. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for prey species and eventually got to see the Elephant herd. There is a rumour on the reserve that there is a new born calf but yet again we did not see it, even if it exists.
As we left the Ellies there was a magnificent sunset in the west and a huge storm in the east and south. We set off for home and were entertained again by a lightning storm coming in and just got caught by a bit of rain about 10 minutes from home. It was quite refreshing after a long hot day.
After drive it was a quick dry and change and then it was off to Mahlahla for dinner again. I had to have the Filet again....and of course two small bottles of Savannah Cider....hope that’s available in the UK, but probably not at a £1 a bottle like it is here.
Everyone was v tired so we left after dinner and came back to base.

Posted by Neil Craig 23:58 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Week 7 in Karongwe

Tuesday 6th November 2012
After a pretty uncomfortable night’s sleep it having eventually reached 39C yesterday afternoon and a few mozzie bites which I must have picked up at dinner. It was up at just after 0400hrs and out on drive with Nico at 0500hrs. For the first time for a while it was actually quite warm this morning and comfortable on the back. We spent some time trying to find the Lions and Cheetahs.
Zero was found again by a game drive. He is still on his own and it would appear there has either been a fall out in the pride or one party is ignoring or avoiding the other. Despite numerous efforts no-one could find the other Lions all day.
We did find those good old Cheetah Boys. They had travelled a long way from where they had been seen yesterday. They were north of where we had found them on a kill on Saturday.
We did have another close call withy Lucky the big Rhino male. We had just slowed down to look at a large tree in flower when he came bursting out of the bush just in front of us. He was not as aggressive as previously and just trotted along in front of us. We also saw three other Rhino but haven’t at this stage fully identified them.
We parked for some time at Lioness Dam and watch a Hammerkop (a type of bird that makes a huge untidy nest of sticks), a Yellow Billed Stork and two Monitor Lizards just chilling out.
It was then back to base and a quick breakfast and off to the school in Oaks again today. I ran the show on Viv’s behalf as she is up in the mountains this week. I managed to make a fool of myself doing Hyena, Lion and Elephant noises and motions. We then had the kids drawing facemasks, playing a game involving animals and then drawing their favourite animals. The kids were amazing again and a bit more relaxed than last week. The highlight for them, in particular the boys, was to see Jesper’s tattoo of a half naked Polynesian lady on his forearm.
Back to a very hot and sticky Karongwe for lunch and a relax before afternoon drive in this heat...phew!!! Shouldn’t moan really as I was complaining last week was too cold.
We set off at 1500hrs with Beth. We had two trucks out again. Our truck was assigned to find all of our subject animals whereas the other were primarily going to do a check of all the dams and large waterholes to see how many crocodiles there are on the reserve at present. Jesper and I shared the Tlem duties and we spent a long time searching for those pesky Lionesses. Whilst doing so we found Ketswiri’s location although she was deep in the bush and it was almost dark so no sighting of her physically.
We were lucky enough to have a quick view of Zero sitting in an open area. He is obviously getting lonely and was calling his girls. The noise was very loud close to and you could feel the air vibrating with the sound. A number of drives today have reported that Zero is limping. However, we know that he has walked a great deal over the last few days and has made a sizeable kill so he can’t be that bad.
Whilst driving along after dark we saw three different sorts of Scorpions walking in the road including the deadly type with the small pincers and big tail, the other way round will sting but not kill. We didn’t get back until after 8pm so a very full day. On the way home we could see storms building all around again and hoped it would break the heat. However, as we went to bed Bruno’s thermometer in our room showed it was 31C, a bit warm to say the least.
To add to the heat problems I got bitten a number of times on my left ankle on Monday and despite Anthisan and Piriton they are a bit itchy, probably exacerbated by the heat. In the event though, I slept well.
Wednesday 7th November 2012
Another day in Karongwe, but completely different to yesterday. It is still warm but it is quite blustery and there is a lot of cloud about today. I am on Tlem duty today and at 0500hrs we set off with Andreas. Our truck had been assigned checking the East of the reserve for the Lionesses in particular.
Eventually they were found, lying as usual, but quite ironically next to Lion Kopje (a koppie as it’s pronounced is in essence a rocky outcrop). Whilst searching for them I saw another new species, the Side Striped Jackal. They are very elusive and skittish and we were lucky to see one.
We met up later on with the Head Warden on the reserve, Simon, who had heard about Zero’s alleged walking issue. The general consensus is that he may have at worst a thorn in a paw or he has rheumatism and as an old man has initial difficulty walking after lying/sitting for so long. Simon asked us to locate Zero so I put my best Tlem skills forward and guided us into the bush in the vehicle until we found him; yes you have guessed it, doing nothing. As a result Simon could not judge if he needed to call a vet, but he has asked GVI to monitor it and update him.
Nothing much else of note on the drive and it was back to base to find that the generator was again producing power and we could charge our stuff after no lecky since Saturday.
In the afternoon we were out on drive with Nico. We found the Lionesses quite quickly not too far from base, well about 3km away, but as the Lion walks not too far. They and the Subby were still lying near to Lion Koppie.
Zero was found, again by the Horse Safari, and they too said that he had a slight limp. We spent a considerable amount of time looking for the boys and eventually as the light faded we found them lying on a river bed. The weather started to change and the heavens opened. Nico decided to make our way home as lightening was approaching. On the way back we saw another Serval and then two Honey Badgers. Pretty good sightings. We got back to base at 1900hrs to just beat a huge lightening storm that swept through.
Thursday 8th November 2012
When we woke it was nice to see that the rain had stopped and the skies appeared to be clearing. I was on Data Duty today which meant sitting in the cab of the truck, where it generally stays dry. Nico was our staff member today. We got good signal for the Cheetah Boys, back in their usual stomping ground and I managed to spot them walking through the bush, although it is fairly open in that area.
Shortly after that the weather changed quite dramatically in a very short period of time. The weather appeared to close in from three sides and within a few minutes we were surrounded by very violent thunderstorms with some quite spectacular lightening strikes within a mile of us. In fact one was probably less than 400m away. We started to run for cover but unfortunately the guys on the back, Jesper and Heinrich, got soaked by the time we reached Wait a Little Horse safari camp and hid in their garage. The owner, Phillip spotted us and invited us into the main lodge for a dry and a coffee, nice place with great views over the Makutzi River.
The weather seemed to abate and clear up so we decided to press on. However, within 15 minutes it changed again and the boys in the back got bombarded with huge hailstones and we ran for home in a huge rainstorm.
The weather cleared up again just after we got back and it was dry most of the day. Bruno and I finished off his Leadership Project in the Education Room by building a new workstation.
In the afternoon the drive, which was lead by Beth, started off in quite good weather and I had been allocated Tlem duties for the afternoon. We managed to find Ketswiri. She like the boys was chilling out on a sand bank in a river. Just after that the skies opened again and Beth decided there was little point in staying out so we again ran for home.
Friday 9th November 2012
Again the rain abated overnight so we set off in dry but cloudy conditions. Because of all of the storms we were tasked to locate all of the target animals as we had not had full data for a couple of days.
We found the boys fairly early doors but could not walk in with Jamie as tourist trucks turned up straight away; they too were short of sightings because of the rain. We went off and found the rough location for the Lionesses but despite all of our best efforts we could not get a sighting for them. We then went back to the boys and eventually found them not too far from where they were earlier. Clearly though they had not eaten for a few days and were thin. In addition they seemed a little more agitated than usual and I reckon that they had been pestered by too many visitors during the morning.
We then went looking for Zero and Ketswiri. Zero could not be found but we eventually got hold of a signal for Ketswiri and went on foot to find her. She refused to be found, we wandered round the bush for about an hour covering about 1.5km and eventually gave up. We presume she was mobile and keeping away from us.
It was a long drive home after a long day, but we did see a Serrated Hinged Terrapin which actually has a flap at the front it hides behind. We did not get back to base until 1200hrs so a 7 hour drive, but no rain.
At lunch we met three Bushwise Students who are with us to be assessed by us and the staff to see if one of them is suitable to take over from Viv in January when she leaves GVI. Bushwise is a training School for Bush Guides and the three candidates have just completed their 6 month course and are now looking for their first placements.
The afternoon drive was with Beth. We also had one of the Bushwise people with us, Helen. She is from the UK and gave up her job this summer as the training manager for Trailfinders in London, bizarrely enough the people I booked all my travel with to get here, small world isn’t it. We were tasked with finding Zero and travelled almost the length and breadth of the reserve trying to find him, with no success. I was on Tlem duty again and must have got up and down to do my searching about 20 times. There was one corner of the reserve we didn’t cover. Would you believe it on our way back we found out one of the game drives had seen Zero and the Lionesses in that area at 5pm and hadn’t called it in...there were a few choice words said in our truck as you can imagine.
Although we saw none on the subject animals we did have a few good sightings on the way back, two separate Gennet spots, a Bush Hare with its young, a Chameleon and a termite eating snake whose name I cannot remember.
We got back at about 1945hrs so another long drive.
Saturday 10th November 2012
We set off with Nico at 0500hrs and again searched high and low for our subject animals. Our car eventually found the boys. They were initially sitting in the middle of the road but then went mobile into the bush. We tried to follow them on foot but they had too much of a head start. We made our way around and tried to follow again. This time we found them sitting in an open area. We took our data and left.
We then searched for Ketswiri and after a great deal of searching we found her deep in the bush. We walked almost 400m to find her, which is a fair way through the bush. She was also lying down in the heat and just chilling. Both sets of Cheetahs were thin so must hunt soon. The other car at long last found Tlem signal for the Lionesses and Zero and they may be back together, the first time for a couple of weeks. No visual could be obtained so that will be our task, or at least one of the teams this afternoon.
We got back to base at 1045hrs to find that we have no water at all now. By the time of afternoon drive it would appear that a leak by the water pump on a borehole in the Karong-we had been identified and a repair initiated.
We went out on afternoon drive in very hot muggy weather, but the storm clouds they were a gathering. We were with Andreas today and I was on data duty, so up in the cab and out of the rain if it was to arrive.
We set off with a plan to follow up on the signal for the Lions. As we were driving along I looked out of the cab to see what I could see and saw a Cheetah sitting there in the bush, oh yeah there’s a Cheetah....pause...”Stop, there’s a Cheetah. A quick check and by pure chance we had driven past Ketswiri. She sat and looked at us for a while and then set off on the hunt. We could now see her standing up and she was very thin. I suspect an Impala may meet its end tonight with her.
We found the Lions on telemetry very quickly after that. They were located down a drainage line but out of sight. Just after we found them the heavens opened and the lightening came in again. The poor guys in the back had to endure about 20 mins of rain and lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around. We were quite dry in the front!!!
We stayed around the area for about two hours and tried everything to get to see them but couldn’t. However, by telemetry we could show that Zero and the ladies were back together again, so whatever family dispute there had been seems to have been resolved...for now.
On the way back we saw another Chameleon and an African Wildcat, another new species.
Tonight is Base Party so a beer is calling.

Posted by Neil Craig 05:24 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Week 7 in Karongwe

Tuesday 6th November 2012
After a pretty uncomfortable night’s sleep it having eventually reached 39C yesterday afternoon and a few mozzie bites which I must have picked up at dinner. It was up at just after 0400hrs and out on drive with Nico at 0500hrs. For the first time for a while it was actually quite warm this morning and comfortable on the back. We spent some time trying to find the Lions and Cheetahs.
Zero was found again by a game drive. He is still on his own and it would appear there has either been a fall out in the pride or one party is ignoring or avoiding the other. Despite numerous efforts no-one could find the other Lions all day.
We did find those good old Cheetah Boys. They had travelled a long way from where they had been seen yesterday. They were north of where we had found them on a kill on Saturday.
We did have another close call withy Lucky the big Rhino male. We had just slowed down to look at a large tree in flower when he came bursting out of the bush just in front of us. He was not as aggressive as previously and just trotted along in front of us. We also saw three other Rhino but haven’t at this stage fully identified them.
We parked for some time at Lioness Dam and watch a Hammerkop (a type of bird that makes a huge untidy nest of sticks), a Yellow Billed Stork and two Monitor Lizards just chilling out.
It was then back to base and a quick breakfast and off to the school in Oaks again today. I ran the show on Viv’s behalf as she is up in the mountains this week. I managed to make a fool of myself doing Hyena, Lion and Elephant noises and motions. We then had the kids drawing facemasks, playing a game involving animals and then drawing their favourite animals. The kids were amazing again and a bit more relaxed than last week. The highlight for them, in particular the boys, was to see Jesper’s tattoo of a half naked Polynesian lady on his forearm.
Back to a very hot and sticky Karongwe for lunch and a relax before afternoon drive in this heat...phew!!! Shouldn’t moan really as I was complaining last week was too cold.
We set off at 1500hrs with Beth. We had two trucks out again. Our truck was assigned to find all of our subject animals whereas the other were primarily going to do a check of all the dams and large waterholes to see how many crocodiles there are on the reserve at present. Jesper and I shared the Tlem duties and we spent a long time searching for those pesky Lionesses. Whilst doing so we found Ketswiri’s location although she was deep in the bush and it was almost dark so no sighting of her physically.
We were lucky enough to have a quick view of Zero sitting in an open area. He is obviously getting lonely and was calling his girls. The noise was very loud close to and you could feel the air vibrating with the sound. A number of drives today have reported that Zero is limping. However, we know that he has walked a great deal over the last few days and has made a sizeable kill so he can’t be that bad.
Whilst driving along after dark we saw three different sorts of Scorpions walking in the road including the deadly type with the small pincers and big tail, the other way round will sting but not kill. We didn’t get back until after 8pm so a very full day. On the way home we could see storms building all around again and hoped it would break the heat. However, as we went to bed Bruno’s thermometer in our room showed it was 31C, a bit warm to say the least.
To add to the heat problems I got bitten a number of times on my left ankle on Monday and despite Anthisan and Piriton they are a bit itchy, probably exacerbated by the heat. In the event though, I slept well.
Wednesday 7th November 2012
Another day in Karongwe, but completely different to yesterday. It is still warm but it is quite blustery and there is a lot of cloud about today. I am on Tlem duty today and at 0500hrs we set off with Andreas. Our truck had been assigned checking the East of the reserve for the Lionesses in particular.
Eventually they were found, lying as usual, but quite ironically next to Lion Kopje (a koppie as it’s pronounced is in essence a rocky outcrop). Whilst searching for them I saw another new species, the Side Striped Jackal. They are very elusive and skittish and we were lucky to see one.
We met up later on with the Head Warden on the reserve, Simon, who had heard about Zero’s alleged walking issue. The general consensus is that he may have at worst a thorn in a paw or he has rheumatism and as an old man has initial difficulty walking after lying/sitting for so long. Simon asked us to locate Zero so I put my best Tlem skills forward and guided us into the bush in the vehicle until we found him; yes you have guessed it, doing nothing. As a result Simon could not judge if he needed to call a vet, but he has asked GVI to monitor it and update him.
Nothing much else of note on the drive and it was back to base to find that the generator was again producing power and we could charge our stuff after no lecky since Saturday.
In the afternoon we were out on drive with Nico. We found the Lionesses quite quickly not too far from base, well about 3km away, but as the Lion walks not too far. They and the Subby were still lying near to Lion Koppie.
Zero was found, again by the Horse Safari, and they too said that he had a slight limp. We spent a considerable amount of time looking for the boys and eventually as the light faded we found them lying on a river bed. The weather started to change and the heavens opened. Nico decided to make our way home as lightening was approaching. On the way back we saw another Serval and then two Honey Badgers. Pretty good sightings. We got back to base at 1900hrs to just beat a huge lightening storm that swept through.
Thursday 8th November 2012
When we woke it was nice to see that the rain had stopped and the skies appeared to be clearing. I was on Data Duty today which meant sitting in the cab of the truck, where it generally stays dry. Nico was our staff member today. We got good signal for the Cheetah Boys, back in their usual stomping ground and I managed to spot them walking through the bush, although it is fairly open in that area.
Shortly after that the weather changed quite dramatically in a very short period of time. The weather appeared to close in from three sides and within a few minutes we were surrounded by very violent thunderstorms with some quite spectacular lightening strikes within a mile of us. In fact one was probably less than 400m away. We started to run for cover but unfortunately the guys on the back, Jesper and Heinrich, got soaked by the time we reached Wait a Little Horse safari camp and hid in their garage. The owner, Phillip spotted us and invited us into the main lodge for a dry and a coffee, nice place with great views over the Makutzi River.
The weather seemed to abate and clear up so we decided to press on. However, within 15 minutes it changed again and the boys in the back got bombarded with huge hailstones and we ran for home in a huge rainstorm.
The weather cleared up again just after we got back and it was dry most of the day. Bruno and I finished off his Leadership Project in the Education Room by building a new workstation.
In the afternoon the drive, which was lead by Beth, started off in quite good weather and I had been allocated Tlem duties for the afternoon. We managed to find Ketswiri. She like the boys was chilling out on a sand bank in a river. Just after that the skies opened again and Beth decided there was little point in staying out so we again ran for home.
Friday 9th November 2012
Again the rain abated overnight so we set off in dry but cloudy conditions. Because of all of the storms we were tasked to locate all of the target animals as we had not had full data for a couple of days.
We found the boys fairly early doors but could not walk in with Jamie as tourist trucks turned up straight away; they too were short of sightings because of the rain. We went off and found the rough location for the Lionesses but despite all of our best efforts we could not get a sighting for them. We then went back to the boys and eventually found them not too far from where they were earlier. Clearly though they had not eaten for a few days and were thin. In addition they seemed a little more agitated than usual and I reckon that they had been pestered by too many visitors during the morning.
We then went looking for Zero and Ketswiri. Zero could not be found but we eventually got hold of a signal for Ketswiri and went on foot to find her. She refused to be found, we wandered round the bush for about an hour covering about 1.5km and eventually gave up. We presume she was mobile and keeping away from us.
It was a long drive home after a long day, but we did see a Serrated Hinged Terrapin which actually has a flap at the front it hides behind. We did not get back to base until 1200hrs so a 7 hour drive, but no rain.
At lunch we met three Bushwise Students who are with us to be assessed by us and the staff to see if one of them is suitable to take over from Viv in January when she leaves GVI. Bushwise is a training School for Bush Guides and the three candidates have just completed their 6 month course and are now looking for their first placements.
The afternoon drive was with Beth. We also had one of the Bushwise people with us, Helen. She is from the UK and gave up her job this summer as the training manager for Trailfinders in London, bizarrely enough the people I booked all my travel with to get here, small world isn’t it. We were tasked with finding Zero and travelled almost the length and breadth of the reserve trying to find him, with no success. I was on Tlem duty again and must have got up and down to do my searching about 20 times. There was one corner of the reserve we didn’t cover. Would you believe it on our way back we found out one of the game drives had seen Zero and the Lionesses in that area at 5pm and hadn’t called it in...there were a few choice words said in our truck as you can imagine.
Although we saw none on the subject animals we did have a few good sightings on the way back, two separate Gennet spots, a Bush Hare with its young, a Chameleon and a termite eating snake whose name I cannot remember.
We got back at about 1945hrs so another long drive.
Saturday 10th November 2012
We set off with Nico at 0500hrs and again searched high and low for our subject animals. Our car eventually found the boys. They were initially sitting in the middle of the road but then went mobile into the bush. We tried to follow them on foot but they had too much of a head start. We made our way around and tried to follow again. This time we found them sitting in an open area. We took our data and left.
We then searched for Ketswiri and after a great deal of searching we found her deep in the bush. We walked almost 400m to find her, which is a fair way through the bush. She was also lying down in the heat and just chilling. Both sets of Cheetahs were thin so must hunt soon. The other car at long last found Tlem signal for the Lionesses and Zero and they may be back together, the first time for a couple of weeks. No visual could be obtained so that will be our task, or at least one of the teams this afternoon.
We got back to base at 1045hrs to find that we have no water at all now. By the time of afternoon drive it would appear that a leak by the water pump on a borehole in the Karong-we had been identified and a repair initiated.
We went out on afternoon drive in very hot muggy weather, but the storm clouds they were a gathering. We were with Andreas today and I was on data duty, so up in the cab and out of the rain if it was to arrive.
We set off with a plan to follow up on the signal for the Lions. As we were driving along I looked out of the cab to see what I could see and saw a Cheetah sitting there in the bush, oh yeah there’s a Cheetah....pause...”Stop, there’s a Cheetah. A quick check and by pure chance we had driven past Ketswiri. She sat and looked at us for a while and then set off on the hunt. We could now see her standing up and she was very thin. I suspect an Impala may meet its end tonight with her.
We found the Lions on telemetry very quickly after that. They were located down a drainage line but out of sight. Just after we found them the heavens opened and the lightening came in again. The poor guys in the back had to endure about 20 mins of rain and lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around. We were quite dry in the front!!!
We stayed around the area for about two hours and tried everything to get to see them but couldn’t. However, by telemetry we could show that Zero and the ladies were back together again, so whatever family dispute there had been seems to have been resolved...for now.
On the way back we saw another Chameleon and an African Wildcat, another new species.
Tonight is Base Party so a beer is calling.

Posted by Neil Craig 05:24 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Week 6 in Karongwe

This weeks blog is late as we had no electricity at base from Saturday evening through to Wednesday - I have now recharged my computer so this can be posted.

Saturday 27th June 2012
Up again at just after 0400hrs and back on drive again with Viv leading this morning. Just after we left base, in fact exactly 10 minutes I looked left as we passed an area called Sunday’s Pan and I saw a large male Leopard walking across the rocks. It was the half light before dawn so I couldn’t identify whether it was the infamous Scar or another male, but it is not too far from where he and Tsavo were last seen. The male slowly walked off and out of sight before we could get a light or any cameras on him.
We then found the Cheetah Boys back in their normal area and Viv walked in on them, they were still full after catching something the day before. Unless they get threatened by the Lions, Leopards or Hyena they won’t move far for a couple of days.
We had a brief sighting of the Lions. Zero was back lying with the two Lionesses and the Subby was sleeping about 50m away, obviously he had got the message from Dad.
We then went looking for Ketswiri. We were really unlucky as we had missed her making a kill by a matter of minutes. Fortunately enough she made the kill just off the road as we could not walk in on her, Viv not being rifle trained. However, we could just see her and when we arrived she was still over the kill, a Bushbuck, and panting indicating she had just killed it. Whilst we were there she started to eat it. She was really nervous and sat up about every 30 secs to check around.
We then drove back and after lunch I was assisted by Ida to make my fancy dress costume for the Halloween Party we are attending tonight at Mahlahla (pronounced Mashlashla). That is the game lodge we went to last month. To say a costume is a bit of an exaggeration, I am going as a ghost, which consists of a sheet with eye and mouth holes cut in and some scary markings, but thank you Ida. I also attended my first lecture concerning the Biological Survey Course I am doing as an extra.
The afternoon drive was with Ben. We firstly went up to the Nyati Project, where the Buffalo are kept to let the new volunteers see them. We then were tasked to find and view the boys, which we eventually did. The Cheetah Boys had not moved at all and were very very full. So much so that when a Duiker and Warthog ran past about 30m away they just looked and ignored them.
We didn’t actually see much else; the animals had obviously all gone to a party too!!
It was back to base, get changed and then off to Mahlahla for dinner and party. Had one of their marvellous Fillet Steaks and had a few Savannah Ciders, my new drink of choice in SA.
We left there at about 2330hrs with nobody in too bad a state; it is a long drive home on rough roads so getting too bad is not a good idea in a full minibus.
Sunday 28th October 2012
Lie in again today. Got up about 0700 and made breakfast. Sat and read and did some more Rhino ID work for Beth’s report.
Forgot to mention yesterday that we now have our new teams for the month. As we have 13 volunteers there was always going to be an odd number and as the Mountain Project can only take 6 people one person was going to miss going to the mountains. Well that person is me. I will be with the base team this next week whilst 6 go off to the mountain and then remain on base the following week whilst the others go off. Not sure what will happen in week 4 of this cycle. I will go up next month with the 4 new volunteers from this week for their second visit.
In the afternoon went out on a drive with just a couple of others. We were able to find the Cheetah Boys fairly easily. They were lying close to the road and were grooming each other and themselves quite intensely. That usually means they are about to up sticks and go on the prowl for some chow. We had to leave them and look for the Lions. We met up with the Horse Safari people who work in the reserve. They offer a few days living on Karongwe and twice a day they take their guests out on horseback to view game.....I am told you have to be quite a good horseman to do it. What I hadn’t appreciated until today is how close they get.
Just after leaving them we came across the Elephant herd. After studying them and their interactions and eating habits for a few minutes I saw the horse safari ride very close to the herd, without disturbing the herd at all.
About 30 mins later we found the Lions via telemetry but could not get a visual. They were in a river bed secreted in very tall reeds. The horse safari arrived again and went in to look for the Lions and actually found them.....very brave horses I think, but again the Lions didn’t seem to see them as prey or a threat.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around with not much happening. We did see the Lions later who had moved out of the river bed and were lying, just for a change, on a rocky area, but only about 50m from where they had been. Hard life being a Lion.
Monday 29th October 2012
Monday is town day if there is space on the minibus, which there was. The day consisted of shopping, walking around, talking having coffees and lunch. Today I had Ostrich steak, very very nice.
It was back to Karongwe but by the time we returned we had missed afternoon drive so did some more Rhino work and chilled out after a hard days shopping!!!

Tuesday 30th October 2012
Morning drive at 0500hrs was with Viv today. The Cheetah Boys were found by another game drive so we didn’t need to ‘hunt’ them. We spent forever looking for the Lions without success. However, we did see the Elephant herd again and some Rhino. We went looking for Ketswiri and eagle-eyed Craigy struck again. I somehow managed to see her from about 400m away on the perimeter road which everyone else was looking towards the bush. I just saw her pop up from one of the undulations in the road and was not completely convinced until we got much closer and she stood up and walked towards us.
We again spent some time looking for the Lions but could not find them at all. The reserve is a big old place when you haven’t even got a starting place. Some guides found tracks but we could not get any electronic tracks at all.
Apart from being chowed by any of the predators the other great risk you have on the reserve is being smacked in the face by an overhanging branch whilst driving along. When sitting on the back you are situated quite high off the ground and although the drivers try and avoid the trees as much as they can that is not always possible. We have a system that if anyone realises a tree/branch may be a threat they either point to it or shout tree. Whilst out on drive I did not hear the call that there was a tree threatening us, me being engaged looking out to the right for ‘stuff’. As a result I got a gentle kiss from a Sickelbush, a tree with spikes (modified leaves not thorns). I got whacked with the spikes leaving a couple of nice deep but small cuts on my right cheek, but I will live!!!
We got back from drive at about 1010hrs and had a few minutes to freshen up and it was then off to do our Community Day. We travelled to the local primary school in the village of Oaks on the R36, about 20km from Karongwe.
We are there to help educate the kids about the animals that are natural to the area but are now only found on reserves, most of which they have never seen or are scared of them because of myths and stories.
The kids we met do not speak English as a first language in the main and are aged about 8-10 years. We played various games with them to educate them about the animals on Karongwe. It was great fun and we spent over an hour with these kids who were really keen to learn and more especially do “high fives” when they got a question right. We went with Viv, who although being a member of staff at GVI until January is a school teacher by trade so was a natural with the kids, can’t say I was, but got on OK.
It was back for lunch, a shower a bit of chilling and then out on afternoon drive. We left in bright sunshine, but the storm clouds were gathering over the mountains. We were entertained to a spectacular light show all around us but it played havoc with the telemetry. Ida who was operating it had nothing but crackles and whirrs to deal with....and no Lions. Only very late in the day did we get a signal for them and a very brief visual as the pride walked across one road on a mission going North.
Just before we finished the rain started to spit but held off until we got back to base when the heavens opened and the storm eventually got to Karongwe.
Went off to bed with thunder and lightning about but I was very tired so didn’t hear much of it.
Wednesday 31st October 2012
Woke up to my alarm this morning, I must have slept well. I am usually awoken by birds or people moving around.
Fortunately enough the rain had abated and it was dry, although the car seats weren’t. I was on Tlem duty today. We were tasked with finding the Lions. In addition this is Impala Prey week. That means we have to record all of our sightings of the most populous antelope in the reserve. There are it is believed about 1000 Impala here, we saw over 280 on this one drive alone, we are told a record. However, we did drive almost everywhere on the reserve trying to find the Cheetah Boys, they have simply disappeared. The Lions had moved almost as far North as they can and Ketswiri is in her favourite place up North too, but no boys.
On the way back in the day, which had started off very cold and cloudy suddenly brightened and our spirits were lifted when these old eyes spotted a big male Leopard at Beacon Rock. I look there every time as it looks like perfect Leopard country. We have decided that my eyes are great on morning drive but I am too tired in the afternoon...
The Leopard was Scar, so he is fit and well.
Our spirits were lifted as we drove back, despite having to count two more Impala herds.
Just after lunch the staff spotted a Boomslang, a very poisonous snake in the tree outside the base being mobbed by birds nesting there. Anyway it fell out of the tree and as I type this it is sitting under the step outside where we get to the trucks, let’s hope he goes back out to the wild and not in here...and very soon.
In the afternoon we were with Viv and headed straight up North to find the Lions. I got a very weak signal on the Lioness but nothing on Zero. Just after that we got another puncture. Viv took charge and posted me to keep scanning for the Lions to see if they were approaching. Although not quite Formula 1 speed the change was made and off we went again. We spent some considerable time looking for the Lions and we were just making our way towards another promising signal when the Subby and the Ladies were found by a Game Drive. Strangely enough they were just a few metres from where we had changed the tyre about 45 mins earlier. We are pretty sure they weren’t there before, but you never know!!
We then spent the whole evening looking for the Cheetah Boys, they refused to be found despite numerous Tlem stops. I certainly got some exercise getting up and down and turning round on the spot, which is strangely quite difficult in the dark when standing on a cushioned bench seat about 2m off the ground.
Eventually Zero was heard roaring well South of where the rest of the pride were. We made our way there and whilst parked at a junction called Trafalgar Crossing, we heard him ourselves roaring to the East and slightly South of us. Quite a sound in the dark.
Despite our best efforts we could not find him at all, or those blasted boys. So we wended our weary way home for dinner and immediate bed.
Thursday 1st November 2012
It is 7 weeks today that I get home, in many ways I can’t wait, but I am still enjoying the challenges and adventures here.
Up again at 0405hrs and off on drive with Beth at 0500hrs. We spent all morning looking for our predators. We found Ketswiri as usual sitting very close to the Northern fence line. There are many theories why she spends so much time there. One is that she is looking to escape. I don’t think so. Yes, when we are with her she does look through the fence but she is by nature a curious animal. I think, and this is based on nothing but my own thoughts, is that she has found that the fence line is a useful hunting tool and makes defending kills easier. She may have learnt that nothing is going to come at her from the direction of the fence and any prey chased towards it has to stop, handing her the advantage. We will never know why she acts this way with there being apparently no other females in the reserve so she could have the pick of territories.
We also found some signal on the Lionesses but they were again located in an inaccessible area. We searched and searched for Zero with not a sniff and nor would those Boys be found either. We did not get back to base until just after 1100hrs so we spent over 6 hours in the field. We still have this afternoon to do.
I spent some time with Beth who tasked me with the Rhino ID kit work. She was happy with what I had done and proposed so I will finish it off soon.
Afternoon drive started off like the morning with no sign of anyone but we did eventually find those good old Cheetah Boys. Even they proved a little problematic and it took two walks to find them. Nico who was leading us is renowned for sometimes making comments whilst video cameras are on. Such was the case today when I was filming one of the boys and he made some comment about what he wanted to do to them as they had made it so difficult over the last few days. We played it back later much to the amusement of staff and volunteers.
The majority of the drive was spent looking for the Lions with no success. We then decided to try right down South, an area we seldom visit to see if we could locate Hyena. At last success. Not only did we see two adult Hyena crossing behind us we think we also located their new den. So as to not disturb them we only stayed a few a couple of minutes but what an awesome sighting. It made up for the rest of the day.
Friday 2nd November 2012
Again a good night’s sleep and even got back to sleep after getting up for the loo at 0300hrs. On drive with Andreas at 0500hrs and although the day promised warmth with initially a clear sky the morning was very cold and whilst driving around it was never really comfortable.
We spent a long time looking for all of our study animals with no success. This has really been a bad few days for tracking. We then found out that one area we had checked had just revealed that the Cheetah Boys were there, they were seen by another drive. This indicated that there may be a problem with our Tlem cable. That was changed and a short time later we found a signal for Ketswiri, but didn’t find any Lions at all all day. The day was however not a complete disaster. We came across the Elephant herd crossing the river and we were at one point surrounded by them. Andreas tried to manoeuvre us out of the way and we got a flat tyre. We had to wait for the herd to move off and then quickly change the wheel. You can never be sure about Elephants, the bush there was very thick and some of the Ellies even when we knew they were there could not be seen so we just hoped that none of them had lingered around.
Off we went again only to get a second puncture about 20 minutes later. We limped into one of the bush lodges which was fortunately guestless and we waited for those at base camp to deliver another wheel. Where we stopped was right above an ants nest and they expressed some displeasure at being disturbed whilst I helped change the tyre, only a couple of little nips though.
The rest of the drive was eventless, Lionless and Cheetahless. We got back to base at 1130hrs so that was a record 6 ½ hour drive. I am a little weary sitting here typing this update but this afternoon will be more successful and a little warmer, I hope. Considering it is supposed to be the summer and Africa it is not overly warm this week unless the sun comes out, however, the T-Shirt tan is coming on.
During the day the temperature increased. Although it was warm to sit in the sun it was very cool once we started driving along and the cool air was rushing by you. In fact during the afternoon/evening drive I actually had to put additional trousers on to keep warm. However, on with the drive. We were out with Nico and we were tasked with finding the Lions. Because the other half of the volunteers were now back from the mountains we had an additional car and we could run two trucks so we could cover more ground, a problem we have had all week with only one truck out. We did however still struggle to find them. The good news was that the other truck picked up a signal for Zero near to our Base. Their search revealed that he was lying on his own about 2km from base having killed or stolen an Impala. That is the furthest south I have heard of him since I got here. We looked all afternoon for the rest of the pride. During our trip round we started to see the signs of new arrivals on the reserve with very young Bushbuck and Zebra being seen, very cute.
I had my second spike/thorn incident of the week when walking round the car at one spot, having a leg stretch, I managed to stand on an Acacia thorn which went through the sole of my boot, my sock and painfully penetrated the sole of my foot. A bit painful for a while but soon got the thorn out of foot, sock and shoe. Eventually we managed to pick up very week signal for the Lions and started to work our way towards them. We then heard one of them calling way to the South. We slowly worked along the eastern fence line and eventually came across the two Lionesses walking at quite a pace with what was likely to be the Subby roaring away behind them. The girls were walking with a purpose and just walked straight past us and turned left into the bush. They went crashing through with no attempt at concealment so they were not hunting.
About a minute later the Subby came into sight. By now it was quite dark so seeing Lions coming out of the darkness and especially when they are roaring is quite an experience. The Subby for the second time whilst I have been here looked like he was going to jump on the bonnet, but fortunately again he chose to go round us. He missed where Mum and Aunt had gone and carried on up the road behind us. Again a great sighting.
It was back to base then, dinner and bed, I was very tired.
However, before dropping off we all heard Zero roaring in the night as he passed near to our camp. Despite the close presence of a Lion I dropped straight off and again the alarm beat me up in the morning.
Saturday 3rd November 2012
Well I am now half way through my time here; the time has passed so quickly. Six weeks today I will be leaving for Jo’burg and the first stage of my journey home.
We did a quick check on Tlem to see if Zero or any of the other Lions had hung around our base but there was no sign. Again we had two trucks out. I was with Jamie today and we were assigned the eastern side of the reserve to find our subject animals. We quite quickly got an indication that the Lionesses at least were only about 3km north of base. We eventually found them in an open area near the Boma where Scar the Leopard had been two weeks ago. The two girls were there with the Subby, still no Zero. Bizarrely though a Jackal was wandering around near to them. We couldn’t see a kill nearby but it may have been that they were laid near or on his den. We left them to their usual pastime of sleeping and went on the hunt for the other subjects.
Amazingly one of the Game Drives found Zero sleeping way up north about 8-10km form where he had been the previous evening. He must also have passed near to the rest of the pride and either ignored them or they failed to find each other despite all the calling.
Ketswiri was found by our other team so that left those sneaky Cheetah Boys. We worked all the way up the reserve and eventually got a signal indicating they were up in the North East of the reserve; again well away from where they had been.
Another drive actually found them first but we were there just afterwards. We were then treated to a fantastic sight of the boys on a fresh kill. They had killed a young male bushbuck and were happily eating him in the middle of the road. We had a great view of them eating individually and then together eating most of the body and legs, but leaving the head, neck and digestive track. It was a great sight to see and we were so close we could hear their teeth grinding on the bones. One of the greatest things I have seen yet on the reserve.
I have seen this on TV many times but to see it in real life was truly great. In addition to see how quickly Vultures and crows gathered above was also amazing. By the time we left the boys on their dessert of Bushbuck shank there were over 40 vultures circling above.
It was back to base and a quick shower, clothes wash and then into our second Biological Survey lecture. It was then lunch of Beans on Toast and then preparations for sleep out tonight.
Last month dear reader I told you we slept out in the Karong-we river bed. However, I was misled we actually sleep in the Matumi Spruit. This month being an older volunteer I got to drive down to the campsite. As we did so we asked Jamie, our leader, to drive past where we found the Hyenas the other night. We were rewarded with a daytime sighting. The dominant female Giggles was there but kept herself in the background and we never really got a good view of her. However, two cubs probably about 10-12 months old came out of the den area and looked at us quite inquisitively for some time. We also heard much younger cubs crying in the background but they were not seen. Hopefully I got some good shots of them.
It was then down to the river bed for sleep out. We set up camp, our fire and set out our sleeping areas. We then cooked a Braai, had a couple of beers a couple of camp fire games and then about 2100hrs I settled down to sleep. We were lucky that the skies were clear and it was a bit warmer than it had been over the last few evenings.
I then had one of the most bizarre and embarrassing experiences of my life. I remember having a dream that I was on some form of carriage, I was tied down and was being pulled along knowing that the further I went more of my back was being broken. As I moved along I could see logs flying up from each side these to me signified a further part of my back being broken. I realised I had to stop it as I could feel my legs and body going numb as the paralysis came up my body. To stop it I sat up and started screaming. At this point I woke up to find myself screaming in the middle of my sleep out. For a moment I was completely confused about where I was. I then noticed those still sitting by the fire looking at me and a couple of others who I had disturbed. I made my apologies and deeply embarrassed snuggled back into my sleeping bag.
I could then hear a few people giggling, obviously at my incident and I must admit that I eventually had a giggle too at my silliness.
Sunday 4th November 2012
I did get back to sleep and then drifted in and out of sleep. I was woken at 0230hrs to do my shift of watch with Sue. Like last month we had to do Tlem checks on a regular basis for the Lions and do a search with the spotlight to see if any other predators like, Hyena or Leopard were hanging around. Whilst on our duty we heard the Hyenas calling, but some distance away, likewise with a Hippo and a Jackal was calling on and off all night. However, more worryingly was the sound of one of the Lions calling. Sue and I looked at each other having heard it the first time. We heard it again and made the decision to inform Andreas, the senior member of staff in the camp. He decided that as the noise was well to the north we need only get concerned if the Tlem showed a result. Our 90 mins of duty passed quite quickly and when we woke the next team Sue and I stayed up and put the kettle on the fire to ensure coffee was soon available.
As people slowly woke up my screaming incident was the talk of the camp fire, most people having thought I was being attacked. However, when they heard me saying sorry they realised I must have had a moment. Although I didn’t hear the scream myself I am told it was quite blood curdling.
We struck camp and after clearing the area loaded the trucks and off we set. Unfortunately I was in the second truck which wouldn’t start. We had to wait for the others to get back to base, then hear us on the radio and come back. Half way home after being jump started we also got a puncture so I got involved in my third tyre change of the week.
Back at base it was clean all the dishes etc from camp out, tidy up, some more clothes washing, shower and then a relax playing pool, doing my diary and helping Bruno put up some shelves as part of his leadership project. It is very warm today and most people are just lying around relaxing.
We then found out that something had gone wrong with the electricity supply at base and that although the generator was running no power was getting to the inverter or batteries so no power to any sockets. As a result there would be no charging of computers, cameras etc for those going to the mountains next week and no chance of watching a video on a computer via the projector. As a result Andreas decided that he would take all those who wanted to a local bar to have drinks and swim in their pool.
Surprisingly enough most took up the offer and off to Blyde Estate we went. As I understand it Blyde Estate is a large game estate with some herbivores on it and the odd Leopard that has sneaked on. Within the estate are a number of houses and we visited the estates clubhouse. Very nice too and we did manage a swim. I then committed my second stupid mistake of the last 24 hours by swimming in my glasses and then diving underwater...whoops, they are not very good as goggles!!!!
We had a nice meal there and a few drinks and back home.
Monday 5th November 2012
It must be getting close to the end of my visit I finished the last of my 4th packet of Malarone tablets today. Only 45 tablets left to take and I take them for 7 days after leaving Limpopo. We also celebrated Bonfire Night at breakfast. I lit a match and we had a sparkler...well sort off!!!
Off to town today for our weekly shop. I decided to go rather than do a game drive alone. And I needed some supplies, in particular Savannah Cider, my new found drink of choice in SA.
Not much to say about the town trip other than it involved shopping, hiding from the sun , it being very sunny and high 30’s today and drinking milkshakes and Lime & Soda.
Back to base and I finished off my Rhino ID stuff for Beth and got ready for this weeks fun and frolics in the reserve.

Posted by Neil Craig 23:43 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Week 5 at Karongwe

Suddenly Leopards Everywhere

Saturday 20th October 2012
I think I left you last week half way through Saturday with us preparing for the new volunteers.
Well it did get a little exciting.
During the day it came to light that the Leopard who was regarded as the dominant male on the reserve, Scar (so called because of a scar on his face), had been found with a severe injury to his right front leg, he was so injured that he could not put any weight on it.
It was decided by the reserve management and the owners that Scar would be darted by the vet and his injuries assessed. It was also decided that it was a unique opportunity to put an implant into a Leopard. It had not been possible to do before as the dart takes about 8 minutes to take effect during which time the Leopard could go anywhere.
We as GVI were put on standby to assist. The unfortunate thing was that the weather changed very quickly and it started to rain very heavily. The vet arrived during the afternoon, he having had to deal with a paralysed Rhino on another reserve. The initial thought was to bring Scar once sedated to our building to operate on him; we were quite close to his location. As a result we had to clean up the veranda area, not to operating room standards, but so that it was suitable to use. However, the vet assessed the situation and decided that because of the poor weather conditions he did not want to have the Leopard sedated too long and would assess the injury, repair that if possible and he could then be kept in a secure Boma (holding area) to be assessed. He could then be re-darted after a few days and an implant put in.
There was a further delay whilst one of the rangers found a male Impala to kill to put next to Scar so he had food once he woke and encourage him to stay in the Boma, although he shouldn’t be able to escape.
Eventually everything was made ready and it was decided to do the operation on the leg in the Boma itself. We were allowed to go after Scar had been darted and placed on one of our dining tables to be operated on. We got there towards the end of the repair work. The vet believed he had been bitten, probably by another Leopard in a fight. He did not think the leg was broken but could not really tell until he was trying to stand later. We watched as he cleaned out the wound and flushed the injuries out. A few stitches later he was good to go. Ida-May and I helped carry him off the operating table onto the floor and then pull the sheet he was lying on out from under him. When you get so close you can see how powerful a big male Leopard is, his paws are huge and he is nothing but muscle and you can see the enormous jaw and strong head, quite a sight close too. He was placed near the shot Impala and the antidote put in. Within a few minutes Scar woke up and although he didn’t walk he slinked off into a nearby bush. At which point we all left for him to sleep off his hangover.
A short time later the new volunteers arrived from Jo’burg. They looked just like we did 4 weeks ago, startled rabbits in headlights.
We then had the meet and greet session. The new volunteers are Cheongwha from S. Korea, Laura from the Outer Hebrides, Sue from Australia and Charlotte from Wiltshire. We all introduced ourselves but I am sure it didn’t all go in.
It was off to bed early after dinner as 8 off us were off to St Lucia at 0500 the next day.
So the new species of the day was Leopard, hooray at last only 28 days taken to see one, only Hyena of the big predators to see now.

Sunday 21st October 2012
At 0500hrs two hire cars left Karongwe for the long journey to the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast and a few days in St Lucia.
In my car was Amalie, Jesper and Ida, the other car was Bruno, Rob, Sam and Daan. We travelled via Dullstroom, Belfast, Carolina, Amsterdam, Piet Retief, Pongola, Mtubatuba and we arrived at St Lucia at about 1600hrs. We were staying at a backpackers place called BiB. It was very nice, bedrooms were clean and comfy, we slept as per our cars in rooms for 4. There was a good kitchen and rest area and a small bar serving some beers and soft drinks.
We all walked down to the beach to see what was there; basically nothing, just a great long beach, completely unspoilt, although a drink would have been nice. We then walked back to town, about 3km and had a meal and had a few drinks, ending up at a place called the Beach Bar...nowhere near the beach!!! We were then joined for drinks by a Hippo and its calf, which were quickly shooed off by the staff, what a bizarre experience.
It was then off to bed.
Monday 22nd October 2012
We heard today that Scar had managed to escape from the Boma. He had climbed the fence, (wire) and then squeezed through the wires and past the electric fence and away. He was seen in the area over the next few days trying to work out a way of getting back to the Impala.
Anyway, back to St Lucia. We all went to the beach in the morning and had a good time paddling, playing Frisbee, walking, talking and generally bumming around. I thoroughly enjoyed putting my headphones in, playing various Supertramp albums and walking along a deserted beach singing as loud as I wanted, quite a cathartic experience.
The weather was never sunny, but it was warm. However, later in the morning the wind got up and having all been sand blasted we thought lunch called. We went back into town, had just some snacks from a Bakery and then went to the nearby Game Reserve called, iSimansaliso. This is a wetland reserve, it doesn’t have the Big 5 but we did have some great sightings of various antelope, Rhino, Buffalo etc as well as frogs. There were some good view points and hides over lakes. It was a good afternoon’s drive with many photos being taken.
In the evening Daan, Bruno and I ate at the Ocean Basket Restaurant and joined the others later in the Fisherman’s Bar. They others had decided to do the Suicide Shots as per the film Inbetweeners. That consists of sniffing up a line of salt, a shot of some liqueur and then squeezing a lemon segment into your eye....mad, and no I wasn’t tempted. After another couple of sensible drinks it was bed and a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday 23rd October 2012
The weather today was pretty foul, it was blowing a small gale and raining heavily every 30 minutes or so for about 10 minutes at a time. However, Daan, Bruno and I braved the Hippo and Croc tour of the Lagoon. It was really very interesting with lots of good sightings and the guide was very good and told us all about the local flora and fauna.
The trip was preceded by me locking the keys for the hire car in the boot. On the Toyota there is an annoying feature that even if you unlock the car and open the boot the car doors lock again after 30 secs, I somehow left the keys in the boot when getting my camera and when I shut the boot the car was locked. It can only be unlocked by the key or by a lever in the car. To cut a long story short I had to get the local garage to break in using the old coat hanger trick, which cost a few rand but was cheaper than the options being presented by the car hire company.
The rest of the day was spent in and around town; the weather putting paid to ant other plans.
We all went to a local Italian in the evening, Alfredo’s and we were all in bed by 2000hrs as we had decided to leave at 0300hrs to ensure we were back in Hoedspruit for a lift back to the reserve at 1400hrs.
Wednesday 24th October 2012
We all woke at 0300hrs and were on the road by 0320hrs having all packed etc the night before. We drove a reverse of the journey down and despite the really poor weather in parts we got back at about 1230hrs. We did a bit of shopping and got our lift back to the reserve arriving there at 1500hrs.
I decided to quickly unpack and change and although I didn’t have to I went out on drive with Andreas. Only Bruno came with us. We went out found the Lions on Tlem near to base, they had made a kill there the day before and although we couldn’t see them we heard a few roars and rumbles. Andreas’s primary concern was to keep an eye out for Scar. Another Impala kill had been put in a tree outside the Boma to attract him back. We checked about 4 times during the evening but didn’t see him once or any sign of him. We met another game drive who said they had seen one of the other males nearby, so we went to investigate.
We heard some Impala giving an alarm call and went to a nearby drainage line, a favourite hunting method for Leopard. We found not Scar but another big well known male, Tsavo. He is younger than Scar and he too had a slight injury to his front leg indicating that he may have been Scar’s attacker. In addition he was scent marking everywhere and using the Flehmen response to test for female in oestrus. This according to Andreas indicated that he now felt secure in the territory and it would appear he thought that he had deposed Scar...time will tell.
He eventually went off into the bush and we lost him. We worked around the block to try and find him. We came across another Leopard, this time a female. She too was known and is called Treacle. Despite having a damaged eye for some years she is still alive and obviously hunting well, although she was a little thin. She was clearing marking as well, meaning that she may be the female that Tsavo was trying to find. She was also clearly hunting as she was constantly checking the bush, listening and smelling. We managed to track her for some time but she too eventually went out of sight.
So my first sighting of awake and compos mentis Leopards. What a great drive. We also saw lots of prey species and I spent most of the drive keeping the records we keep up to date.
It was back to base for dinner and an early night.
Thursday 25th October 2012
We are currently short of one vehicle so it had been decided to split the old volunteers and the new ones into mixed groups, some went on normal drive and myself with Daan, Jesper, Ida and the new guys Laura and Cheongwha went on a walk for 3 hours with Jamie. Again saw more of the trees and flowers, insects than you do on a drive and looked at a number of tracks, all adding to our overall knowledge of the reserve.
Back to base and spent some time catching up with this diary and updating photos etc.
I then had a meeting with Beth who has asked me to help her with a small part of the Annual Report she has to give at the Karongwe Reserve AGM. I am not sure who goes to it but presume that it will be the various owners and other interested parties such as GVI and the Game Lodges. Beth has asked me to help her update the Rhino ID kits for that meeting. That will mean a bit of work on Sunday on my day off and during any spare time I have.
Afternoon drive was the first chance that Laura and Cheongwha had had to work with experienced volunteers on a drive. We set off with them asking a number of questions and expressing the same worries and concerns we had had 4 weeks ago. Also found out from Kaggi, our leader today, that there are no new volunteers coming next month. That means that when Ida, Daan, Rob and Bruno go there will only be 9 volunteers here, that will mean extra work all round.
Anyway, we shall see. On with the drive. We were tasked to find the Lions first of all as they had not been found at all during the morning and there was some pressure on to find them. They were spotted by someone on the reserve near the eastern fence line then lost. We went to find them. Eventually we got them on Tlem quite close and as we did so the whole pride, Zero, Maggi, Lisa and the sub adult all came out of the bush in front of us and started walking along the road. The Lionesses lead and it was quite clear that they were in hunting mode, they were very aware of what was going on and making quite a pace. So much so that poor old Zero had to run on two occasions to catch up. As he did so you could see that he has some sort of injury to his rear left leg, not sure what but he certainly was not running freely, which probably means he is reliant on the girls to get the meat in. However, he was still able to put the sub adult in his place once which resulted in the teenager backing up to the electric fence and getting a few volts through his tail....justice at last for stealing and chewing my camera.
The Subby (Sub Adult) then kept his distance by walking parallel to the others in the bush about 15m away. He obviously was in awe of his Dad’s ability to hit him from behind when he could see him in front!!!. The Lionesses then cut into the bush and we were able to run parallel to them on some tracks. At one point the Lionesses sat down briefly. Zero sat with one the other being about 20m ahead. The Subby walked past his Dad and sat next to the other Lioness, which would be either his mother or Aunt. Even in the last month he has got a lot bigger and a more impressive mane. Zero immediately reacted by going over and having a quiet Fatherly word in his ear, basically with a large paw and some teeth. The Subby got the message and kept his distance. However, the girls were off again and were making their way to a big dam on the reserve. It was severely damaged in floods earlier this year and has little or no water in it at present. However, the dam wall has just been repaired and again the earth bank stands about 20 m high and thick enough to drive over. The girls were clearly on a mission and were straight into hunt mode as they came out into the open. One Lioness ran across what will be the water side of the dam and started to slowly climb the dam wall on the far side. Her sister went to the other side of the dam and again started to climb slowly. You could see that the girls were interested in something the other side of the dam. Below the dam wall is an area of thick vegetation and could be the home for Nyala, Bushbuck, Waterbuck or any other tasty morsel, but they are often found near water courses.
The boys who obviously understood what was going on hung back a bit. We watched as the Lionesses slowly made their way up to complete what appeared to be the two sides of a pincer movement. However, they both suddenly stopped and started looking at each other and back at the boys. They seemed to get some sort of message and moved up, looked over the back of the dam and slumped down. We slowly moved up in the car and found out the reason for their disappointment. The potential prey was in actually fact two bull Elephants. They were not bothered about 4 measly Lions and kept on eating. Tourist trucks were then starting to arrive so we had to give up what is referred to as the “Lock”. Fortunately enough we had time to snap some unique shots of Lion and Elephant together in some sort of Mexican Stand-off. Another fantastic experience.
The Cheetah Boys were found by a tourist truck so we didn’t need to find them. So we set off on the hunt for Ketswiri. Last time I saw her she was right in the far NW of the reserve. However, she had been seen more towards the North East in the last couple of days, still along way to drive. We eventually got some Tlem signal for her, I was operating it at the time, But it appeared she may be mobile in some very thick bush, not where you would expect a Cheetah to operate, but Ketswiri is a strange girl.
We then heard Impala giving alarm barks nearby which indicated that Ketswiri may be nearby. The device was telling me that she was very close and to our 7 o’clock or there abouts, at which point she popped out of the bush right behind us. She had obviously been rumbled by the Impala and had given up. She was however quite thin and she too was in hunting mode, stopping, smelling and looking every few paces. She walked along in front of us for some time. It was now quite a bit after sun set and although there was some light it was well past Cheetah hunting time, but again she is a strange girl.
Suddenly she turned 180 degrees and came back straight at us. We pulled to the side of the road but she was obviously a bit nervous of this big Toyota thing and ran past us. Although it was only really a canter the speed change was again impressive to see. We then left her alone.
We drove slowly back to base which took about an hour. We went via the Boma where Scar had been to see if he was hanging around or if anything had paid the bait there any attention, but, nothing again.
Dinner was eaten and with everyone up at 0400 tomorrow there were early nights all round.
Friday 26th October 2012
I am on Base Duty today. Theoretically I don’t need to be up until 0700hrs. However, with everyone else up and showering, eating breakfasts, talking, loading cars, starting cars etc etc I was up at 0445hrs and started work after a coffee. By 0900hrs I has swept, mopped, cleaned the kitchen, part prepped lunch, showered, shaved, something else and done my weekly washing. It was then uploading Lion v Elephant photos, diary update and the Rhino ID kits.
Prepared Lunch, then later Evening meal which was Lentil Stew. I did surpass myself in the afternoon though by making Banana Muffins for everyone, which went down a storm.

Posted by Neil Craig 04:23 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Week 4 at Karongwe

The mystery of the stolen camera trap

Monday 15th October 2012
Monday is the day for going to town if there is room on the bus, which there was. It was off to Hoedspruit at 0730hrs. We have the option to take 4 days off next week when the new intake arrives on Saturday. There are three volunteers leaving, Will, Laura and Lewis. We have today been told there are four women arriving to replace them, two from the UK, one from Oz and a South Korean. Whilst they are in training as we were last month we can take Sunday to Wednesday off or stay here and do drives etc. After almost a month of hardish work we have all decided to chip together and get cars to hire and drive to St Lucia Wetlands for three nights. I have been nominated to arrange car hire, so that is one of my tasks today as well get my supplies and drinks for the week in and more importantly get a nice meal and internet access at Sleepers Restaurant.
Did our errands, had a meal, caught up on fast internet, well fast for SA and then back to base. On our return we found that the staff had found out how to encrypt the wifi and we are now without free internet access...tragedy.
In the afternoon I went on the drive. As this is the last week of the monthly cycle the staff have arranged a ‘game’ for us to play. We have to record every mammal and unusual creature we see and points will be awarded for a ’prize’ on Friday, individually and for a team.
We initially started off well but then our radio packed in so we had to stop for about 30 mins whilst Nico took it out put the plugs back in and out and then as it still didn’t work hit it, which did the trick.
We then spent some time looking for the Lions but they were well buried in a block (an area of bush surrounded by roads). We could not off road because of the heavy bush so we went on our way.
Because everyone had their eyes extra peeled we did see some new species:
Red Roman – not a spider but looks just like one. Its big and ****ing scary to look at.
Burrowing Scorpion – found a very large non venomous one and got some great close up photos.
Chameleon – They are now emerging from hibernation and we found a big specimen in a tree.
Terrapin – saw a large number in various pools and puddles caused by the rains.
I was on Data Recording duty so was sat in the cab with Nico. We have noticed that since the rains there has been an amazing increase in night time insect, moth and beetle numbers. As we drive along we have a spot light scanning the bushes at the side of the road for the ‘eye shine’ from predators.
However, the person holding the torch gets bombarded by bugs as we drive along. At one point some sort of beast flew into the cab and got down my top, it succeeded in biting me on my shoulder and down my side before I managed to get my shirt off, jump out the car and get rid of whatever it was, much to the amusement of Nico and the others on the truck.
Went to bed very early, almost straight after dinner but couldn’t sleep. As the night went on I realised that either on drive or at dinner I had been eaten all round my ankles then I remembered that I didn’t spray before going on drive...very foolish.
Tuesday 16th October 2012
Base Duty today that means I am cleaning, scrubbing and cooking and no game drives....boo hoo. Unlike the first time I have Daan to help me, all volunteers being at base this week.
We started at 6am sweeping and cleaning. Lunch was Salad, Potato Salad and homemade rolls. I took on the roll production and Daan did the salad side. The oven here has one temperature, luke warm so making the rolls was a bit of an effort. However, we got by and all was eaten.
It is really hot today and working and cooking in the house is not pleasant. As soon as lunch was finished we cleared up, cleaned up and then had a bit of a relax. With Jamie, one of the staff we found a Baboon Spider hole and a Burrowing Scorpion burrow on our lawn, although not on an area I have walked much. When I say lawn I mean a patch of shorter grass around the house.
Jamie managed with blades of grass to get both creatures to show part of themselves so there was definitely someone in!!!
The bites on my leg are getting quite swollen so not only am I applying Anthisan but I have now decided to take Piriton as well and note to self that I must not forget to spray with insect repellent.
At about 5pm we started preparing for dinner, which was to be Vegetable Stew and Dumplings, on a nice hot evening...nice. Incidentally there is no suet so the dumplings are effectively dough balls. Meal went down quite well and was certainly all eaten up.
Daan and I finished our duties by clearing up from dinner and washing all the cooking utensils. Base duty is a long tiring and arduous day.
As we went to bed we could see lightening over the mountains, but a long way off and too far to hear thunder.
Wednesday 17th October 2012
The alarm went off at 0405hrs and it is the first time since I got here that I felt like not getting up. I was very tired and for some reason my lower back was quite sore. Anyway I did get up and checked the weather, dry and no rain, but couldn’t see the stars so knew it was cloudy. Having coffee’d and breakfasted I went outside to get on the truck to find it starting to rain. Within about 2 minutes it was hammering down. Our drives were delayed for a while, the conditions being pretty poor. Anyway there was no abatement in the rainfall and we went out at 0700hrs. Within 5 minutes of leaving base I was soaked to the sink. The rain found a way in through every opening, especially down my neck. Not a very pleasant drive. Indeed it actually got heavier and Andreas, our leader today, stopped at Beacon Rock and we sheltered in some old buildings there for a while. The rain did ease a little and off we went again. It was hard to get excited about searching for the Cheetah Boys in such conditions. The rain did eventually ease down to a drizzle, but as we drove along the wind chill made conditions still pretty horrid. However, our persistence and grit was to be rewarded.
We eventually located the Cheetah Boys on Tlem and we knew that they were directly ahead of us and about 200-300m away. In between us and the boys was a herd of about 70 Impala, their favoured prey. So we sat and waited. Eventually part of the herd, nearest to where we thought the boys were got a bit fidgety and stood staring into the bush. Eventually one of them panicked and started the alarm call. The reaction in the herd was instantaneous; they all turned as one away from the direction of the call and ran. They ran past our truck to the left as we looked.
At that point one of the boys, Jabu, burst out of the bush about 50m ahead of us and he was already running, but not at full pace. As he got into an open area he accelerated and to see him run past was an amazing sight. He was faced by a complete phalanx of running Impala and I think that confused him and he quickly gave up the chase, but had easily covered 200m in a few seconds, Ussain Bolt eat your heart out.
He stopped and turned back looking for his brother. After a couple of minutes he came out from a different part of the bush. It would appear he had crept around the herd and was going to come from another angle, but it would seem that Jabu had been seen first.
We stayed with the boys for about 45 minutes as they gathered themselves and wandered round looking for prey. At one point they got separated and we saw and heard one of them giving what can only be described as the Cheetah squeak to call his sibling.
Getting wet and cold was worth it to see a Cheetah actually chasing prey, what an experience and seldom seen.
It was then a slow drive back to base and we actually still removed some trees from the road and dug two gullies to relieve some flooding. It was back to base at 1100hrs and I managed to get a nice warm shower and hang my wet clothes out, it had by now stopped raining and had dried up a bit.
This is the last week on base for three of the volunteers, Will, Laura and Lewis. As such there will be a farewell party on Thursday night. We have to dress up in fancy dress and it has been decided that it must reflect your home nation. I have decided to go as the Saltire, I have a blue T Shirt and I will attach a couple of white stripes across it and maybe some face paint, but as you know I just ‘love’ fancy dress.
I have also been asked to compose and present the outstanding achievement awards to staff and volunteers which is a no holds barred event I am told, so I spent the day doing some leadership work, costume design and award writing.
Afternoon drive was with Ben. I haven’t put out my camera trap for a couple of weeks so with Ben’s approval set it up at a junction on the reserve where it is known that Leopard do patrol. On the rest of the drive we searched for the Cheetah boys again. They were sitting not far from where they had been seen in the morning. However, it looked like they had made a small kill as they had blood on their faces. However, there was nothing to be seen of the kill so it may have been stolen by Hyena or another predator, Cheetah seldom protect their kill for fear of injury.
The rest of the drive was spent on general game observation and prey counting where applicable. On the drive back and with the spotlight Rob caught another new species for us:
Serval – a very elusive member of the cat family and a good spot for us all.
Back to base not too late and then straight to bed again after dinner, I was whacked. We did have a cake at dinner for Amalie’s birthday, she was 23 today...bless.
Thursday 18th October 2012
Woke as usual at 0400hrs and today, I was on Vehicle duty. That means that I have to check the tyre pressures, load up the box containing all the vehicle related equipment, having checked it and then checked we have a jack etc.
We were off on drive at 0500hrs tasked with finding the Lions. We drove past my camera trap to see that it was gone. We went to check and the base unit was there with the extra batteries but the camera itself had been apparently unclipped on one side but the clip on the other side had been broken, the clip lying at the bottom of the tree. I must admit to being a bit gutted. We later met back there with the reserve manager and he found large Leopard tracks at the base of the tree. He could not see any human tracks and did not think it was poachers. We had a good scout round but trying to find a disguarded camouflaged item in the bush is difficult, indeed it proved impossible. My personal view at the time was that a human has removed it because a Leopard, Baboon or Hyena would have to be pretty dextrous to remove one clip and not mark the back plate. Anyway it matters not how it went, it’s been purloined by an animal or taken by poachers in case they were captured on film.
The rest of the drive was fairly unspectacular. We found the Lions and Ketswiri on Tlem but couldn’t get a visual on them because they were too deep into the bush and with the Cheetah, Ben, our leader, had no rifle with him so we cannot walk in the bush.
The period during the day was spent finishing off costumes. I eventually had found for me some material that could double as the kilt and I finished attaching my cross stripes to my blue T-Shirt. Also, with Sam’s help finished off the award certificates. We have also all had to submit our 15 favourite photos of the last month, they should reflect animals and people and I believe we will get a copy on a CD to take away. In addition one wildlife photo is selected as best of the month. We have all voted this afternoon. One guy took a great photo of Zero licking a just killed Zebra, I would suspect that will win by miles. I must try harder next month.
We then went out on afternoon drive with Jamie, we were assigned Ketswiri duties. We found Ketswiri quite quickly and walked in on her. She was, like most cats here, just lying and occasionally looking round.
We then went on to find some Elephant and got literally pushed along the road by about 5 of them ensuring we knew who was actually in charge. There was never any overt aggression just it is hard to resist a few tons of elephant coming at you all with them flaying their ears and swinging their trunks, Jamie gave them a respectably wide berth. However, we later saw a tourist truck getting, in my opinion, far to close. We were trying to take data on feeding and family relationships but the herd at the intrusion just made off into the bush and simply disappeared.
I am trying to assist the staff here build up photo ID kits on the 20 odd members of the herd and as a result identify family relationships etc, all of value to the ongoing study. Indeed as part of the Leadership qualification I am taking here I am going to lead a photo expedition against the Ellies or the Rhino. The rest of the drive we didn’t see anything new but had a close encounter with a porcupine who stood by the car.
The major problem since the rains came has been bugs and insects at night as you drive along. You spend your time avoiding huge beetles attracted to the spotlight and car lights, not always doing so. The Christmas Bugs seem to have a homing device for faces and necks and love to climb down your neck, not nice as they are anything up to an inch long, bah humbug Christmas Bugs.
On our arrival back at base I got some good and bad news. My camera trap had been found. Three of the staff went out and walked all around the area and Nico found it on a rock about 200m from the place it had been and a bit into the bush. The bad news it had been destroyed, not by humans but by something with big teeth. The body was in tack and the SD card appeared OK. However lenses and sensors were all trashed. An examination of the card revealed the culprit.
At about 2320hrs the previous night the sub adult male Lion had strolled past and then came back to examine the camera. Although there was no film of the theft there were shots of him approaching, his mouth and then most stunningly of all he carried it with the lenses pointing down so I have video of his front legs walking along as he carried his new toy. Basically he is a big kitten at heart. He played with it for a while and by the looks of things put his big paw on it for a while. There is then a shot down his throat as he played with it again. After about 20 minutes he got bored and abandoned it.
Although it has cost me a camera what a series of shots and the staff here are absolutely amazed at it.
Anyway, on to the leavers party. Although we could see thunderstorms on the mountains it remained dry with us and we had a Braai outside...yes meat, oh wondrous meat!!! There were a variety of costumes, Viking warriors, Alfred Nobel, Fosters Man, cowgirl, lumberjack, Queen of England etc etc, some very good ones I must say, although the sheep costume probably stole the day.
Although a number of people stayed up late I had four bottles of Savannah, a South African cider and went off to bed with a sensible pill.
Friday 19th October 2012
No game drive this morning. On the last Friday of the month the GVI volunteers traditionally go to Shiduli Lodge on the Reserve for a full breakfast and a swim. It is one of the tourist lodges and it is their way of saying thanks for our work on the reserve and finding the big cats for them so the guests get to see them. Without our Tlem work they would not have anywhere as many sightings.
I was up at 0630hrs and did all my washing.
However, Shiduli are full at the moment so the staff here made us Brunch of Bacon, (wondrous Bacon), Tomato, Scrabbled Egg, Toast and Beans, almost a full English....very nice. We all then set to for the monthly deep clean of the base in anticipation of the new arrivals. I was designated kitchen cupboards. That meant all the cupboards being emptied, the cockroaches blasted with Doom and then everything cleaned and replaced. I think there were at least 10 cockroaches met their maker today...nice.
It was then doing my Leadership homework, updating this blog and getting the hire cars from the nearest gate. There are 8 of us off to St Lucia at 5am on Friday morning, the local car hire people were happy to deliver today for use on Sunday.
We have accommodation booked at a backpackers lodge in St Lucia for three nights at a princely sum of about £8 per night each.....staff here have stayed there before so it comes recommended. We are getting a bit stir crazy here and I think a few days away will be nice.
The afternoon drive started in quite nice weather but very quickly we could see the lightning storms on the nearby mountains and away to the East. We were tasked with finding Ketswiri. It took an awful long time to do so. She was eventually found literally in the furthest NW part of the reserve on a kill. She had a young male bushbuck in very thick bush. It took a long time to walk to her as she was in such an inaccessible place. We had to cross a river and my recently dried out shoes got wet again.
After that we headed for home as the thunderstorm came in a we are not supposed to stay out in lightning...rain is ok.
We got back and had the farewell dinner for the three leaving and Sam and I made our Outstanding Achievement Awards which went down well. We then watched a slideshow of the best photographs submitted this month; there are some very talented photographers here.
During the night the lightning was pretty constant and the rain absolutely hammered down at about 2am. Base camp has a tin roof so the noise was amazing.
Saturday 20th September 2012
Got up and waved goodbye to the leavers who left for Jo’burg at 0445hrs. Despite the overnight rain I went out on game drive at 0500hrs although it was optional today. An unspectacular drive with us not really seeing much other than a distance view of the boys. Found the location for the Lions and Ketswiri but both were in inaccessible areas.
Back to base to pack for our trip and final tidy up for the new volunteers.

Posted by Neil Craig 02:36 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

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