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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

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very interesting indeed look forward to hearing all about everything in person two weeks today The shops are full of everything for Christmas . Going to ouyr Exercisev group party this week and tnhe same day to our house group party at The Bell at Trysull. Last week was our Grosvenor Park party which was very good. 2 more to go before I see you Enjoy your last week with all your animals and friends Mum

by eunice craig

Looking forward to the next and final episode of Neil versus big cats. Looking forward to your safe return. Xxx jen

by Jenny

Hi Walter,

Sounds like you have had a really great time. Look forward to seeing you and Jenny soon.

by Mick Tobin

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