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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

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