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.