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.