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.