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Final Week at Karongwe

Sunday 9th December 2012
If you remember last night was party night. There were a few sorry souls on Sunday morning as you can imagine, but I was not one of them.
Caught up with blogs, photos and washing throughout the day and then went on afternoon drive.
The drive was lead by Kaggie. We had found out from the morning drive that the Lions had indeed moved and were only about 200m from base as the Lion walks. We saw them pretty quickly and took the necessary data and made off for the Cheetah’s. I was Tlemming today, it is actually my favourite role, and we found the boys fairly easily. Kaggie walked in and found them just chilli’ on a Sunday. Kets was somewhat problematical. She had moved a fair distance in the day and we eventually found her north of the Makutzi River lying in long grass on the river bank.
On the way back we came across the Lions again. They had moved into a much more open area and actually got a good view of them and the interactions between them. The Subby is definitely chancing his arm, so to speak, with the Lionesses but it would appear that neither they or Zero are putting up with it. Zero put him in his place a couple of time. The change in the Subby in the three months I have been here is quite amazing. He will; certainly be a challenge to Zero in the next 12 months.
Monday 10th December 2012
Start of my last week here really.
It was off on drive with Jamie this morning with Amalie leading as part of her Biological Survey Course, I have to do the same thing this afternoon.
I again volunteered to Tlem and helped the other truck quickly by finding the Lions in the west of the reserve whereas they had last been seen heading east. The other truck then came back across to our side and we headed off to find the Cheetah’s. We found the Boys first, back in their usual area and we walked in to find them restless and on the move very quickly. We followed them and could see they were very very thin and needed to hunt soon. We left them to it.
Kets had moved but only about 200m and we found her after a bit of a run around as the signal was being influenced by the fence and some power lines. We walked in on her and found her lying down very chilled but couldn’t get a full; rating on her, so she may have to hunt soon.
The other GVI truck was having all the fun. They had eventually found the Lions sitting near a dam. A tourist truck on its way to take over spotted a Leopard nearby...guess what so did the Lions. They ran across to where the Leopard came out in the open and chased it up a tree.
We got there much later on to find the Leopard still up the tree with a row of Lions secreted in the bushes underneath; we could only just see one of the Lionesses. We ID’d the Leopard as poor old Scar. He has not had a good couple of months, first getting beaten up then chased by Lions!!!
It was back to base and we met the founder of GVI Richard Walton who talked to us all and spoke about some of GVI’s recent achievements and where he sees it going, interesting chap.
The afternoon drive was with Andreas. It was my turn to plan the drive as part of my Biological Survey Course. I had to find out where the animals were in the morning to plan our drive for the afternoon/evening. I had to ensure all of the jobs were covered on the truck, data (which I did), prey survival, conservation and vehicle checks. I then had to brief my little team on H&S, Emergency Action Plans and what our intentions on the drive were. I then had to direct Andreas where to drive and where we were to stop to carry out Tlem checks.
We went for the Lions first and found them on Omega Dam where they had been with the Leopard earlier, however Scar had escaped and was no longer up his tree. We then went off to find the Cheetah Boys. We had heard that they had killed a Bushbuck near to one of the lodges at about noon so they were relatively easy to find. They were sitting nicely by the road so we all got a good view of them. However, Kets was a whole different game. She lead us a merry dance around the NE part of the reserve. We eventually decided that she was sitting at the Wait-a-Little Horse Safari Lodge, an area we can’t enter.
Whilst driving around we did see another Leopard, a Jackal calling right by the side of the road and a Hippo walking across the Makutzi River. It was a huge bull by the looks of things and goodness only knows where he had walked from as the Hippo on the reserve live in dams not the rivers and there were no nearby dams.
Back to base for a debrief with Andreas about how I managed the drive, it appeared to go well.
Tuesday 11th December 2012
I went with Nico this morning and volunteered to do Tlem, that was my first mistake of the day. We were supposed to look for the Cheetahs but got redirected to look for the Lions as the truck assigned to them was asked to stay with a male Leopard found relaxed near a road. It was hoped that the vet could get to the reserve and dart him so we could fit him with a tracking device. To cut a long story short that didn’t happen but it still meant the truck sitting with the Leoprad for a couple of hours whilst decisions were made.
In the meantime I was up and down like a whores drawers doing Tlem checks. We calculated that by the time we got back I had done about 50 Tlem checks. All of the animals were being awkward and because of the overcast and humid conditions the signals were a bit strange as well. We did eventually find the Lions who were sitting nicely by the road so we actually found them.
The Cheetahs were another thing entirely. Kets had travelled way up north, we eventually got signal for her but because of the distance and time we left her for the afternoon. The Boys too were awkward and we eventually found them in their favourite area, which we had checked earlier, we must have passed at some time in the reserve.
On the way back we saw a very weird event. We found an Olive Grass Snake (mildly venonmous) with its head stuck inside a poor Leopard Tortoise’s shell. It would appear that the Python had struck at the Tortoise’s head, despite it not being a usual prey species. It would then appear that the tortoise automatically drew its head and legs inside its shell trapping the snake. We saw the snake thrashing about trying to get free from the tortoise. After a number of thrashes it broke free and shot off at speed. We put the tortoise at the side of the road and hopefully it will survive but I doubt it.
We also saw a Chameleon walking across the road in broad daylight. I had it crawl up my arm and across my back, it has very sharp little claws to grab on with and when it wants to it can move very quickly.
Again we have no proper water supply at camp. The water pump has finally packed in and although we have a full header tank we are now not allowed showers or to wash clothes. We are hoping that the pump will be repaired in the next couple of days, but as they say here T.I.A. (This Is Africa).
The afternoon drive was with Jamie. We were tasked to find the Cheetah Boys and the Lions, the other GVI truck was looking for Ketswiri who has travelled to the far NW of the reserve. We found the boys fairly quickly and stayed with them in the bush for some time. We then went on to find the Lions. As we did so we saw a very large Rock Python on the road which shot off into the bush. It stopped a little way off the road and we were able to have a look at it although it hid very well in the grass. It was at least 3m long and pretty thick in girth, quite a creature, pleased I haven’t come across one of those whilst trudging through the bush!!
It is obviously snake day today. We saw the Grass Snake in the morning and the other truck had a Black Mamba rear up in front of them this morning. When threatened the Mamba can raise about a third of its length off the ground and can strike higher than that, and it is very venomous. They can grow up to about 3m in length but the one this morning was probably about 2m long, long enough for me.
We later found the Lions doing Lion stuff, lying around, although Zero did roll over one and Sub-Zero walked about 10m...tiring stuff being a Lion!!
We did go back to the boys as we heard from one of the tourist vehicles that they had made a kill. We found them just finishing of a newborn Impala lamb. All they left were the bottoms of its legs and its jaws, the rest had been eaten. We watched them bonding again after the kill by licking and cleaning each other. They then wandered off to digest their meal, with a small glass of port I am sure!!
We then had a general game drive and ended up down in the south of the reserve and saw Giggles, the matriarch Hyena running along in front of us with one of her pups. They ran back into the den area but we couldn’t go in there the other GVI truck sneaking in just ahead of us. They got to see the very young pups coming out of the den.
Wednesday 12th December 2012
Out on drive this morning with Nico. There was only Heinrich, Jesper and myself on the truck this morning. We were tasked with finding the boys and doing some conservation work on the reserve. The boys had not moved far and we just chilling out. It was quite funny to watch them, they were obviously so tired that they kept lifting their heads and then slowly falling asleep and when their heads lolled they would wake up with a bit of a surprise.
We then spent about 90 minutes working on one of the roads nearby, cutting back all the trees and bushes overhanging the road making it dangerous for people on game drives and us researchers. We did about 1km of road and there were a few blisters, thorns, scratches and bruises from our labours. I am still working on two big thorns stuck in my palm!!
We were then asked to help out finding the Lions who couldn’t be found by our other truck. We too spent some time searching with no luck, but did see a couple of Rhino, about the most interesting thing we saw all morning, bar the boys of course.
The afternoon drive was with Nico. We went first for the Cheetah Boys. We found them about 10m from where we had left them. We went off to help with the Lions who were being super elusive. We searched all over for them with no luck at all. We were starting our way home just after sunset when Charlotte shouted up that she had seen African Wild Cat down a small Spruit (a stream, usually dry and sandy) to our right. Nico reversed back and we saw a small grey cat lying on the sand. On second look to be honest most of us thought it was a grey domestic cat which had strolled into the reserve. Nico checked with his binoculars and was very excited to see his first ever Leopard Cub. We drove into the Spruit to find two 4 month old cubs. One was very nervous and hid, whereas the other sat on the sandbank watching us. A great sighting and a great spot by Charlotte considering the light conditions.
Thursday 13th December 2012
On drive this morning with Andreas. We were tasked with finding the boys and the Lions. The Boys were again relatively easy and Andreas walked in on them. Then the fun began. No-one had seen the Lions for a couple of days and there were physical tracks showing a general area they may be in. Well guess who Tlem duty, yes muggings, although I can’t really complain I did volunteer. We searched and searched. We had signal once for Zero and once for Maggi but couldn’t get any more signal when we tried. Round and round we went in the NE part of the reserve. Whilst doing so we saw Rhino and Elephant but no Lions. We did actually pass the Boys again. They were walking through the bush and obviously hunting again.
Eventually I got reasonable signal on both Maggi and Zero near to Confluence Crossing on the Makutzi River. We followed that up and eventually found them near to one of the gates on the western fence line near the staff quarters. We could only see the Sub Adult but the Tlem showed that Maggi and Zero were secreted nearby in the bush.
On the way back we heard some strange noises in a bush near to where a female Impala had darted off from. Andreas went to see what it was and found an Impala lamb stuck in the bush. Normally we would not intervene as nature should take its course, however, the hole into the bush had clearly been cut by human interference, hence the fact that Andreas assisted. Basically he scared the Impala to break free of the branches holding it and it ran off towards where Mum had last been seen, lets hope they met up.
The other GVI truck was very lucky and saw two sets of Leopard Cubs whilst we were hunting for those blasted Lions.
During lunch we were told that a male Bushbuck had been found dead and was going to be taken to the Hyena den so that a good study could be made of all the animals there. The carcass had been dumped near to the den but it had been decided to put it a little further away.
A few of us then went down to the carcass and acted as look out whilst Jamie and Turner attached it to a chain and dragged it to a more open area for us to watch later. The Hyena had already started to eat the carcass. They had done the usual thing and eaten the tail and entered the body cavity that way. There was almost a perfect circle where the tail had been and another hole between its legs where they had obviously eaten the genitalia to gain entry too.
It did look a little strange dragging a huge carcass behind the truck. Bushbucks are a very smelly animal anyway but a dead one smells even worse. I will be on the truck going to study the Hyena tonight before our final party.
We went down to the carcass with Kaggie and unfortunately to get the best view we were downwind, nice!!! The aroma was none too pleasant. After a very short period of time Giggles came to the carcass and after walking around and checking started to attack it again. Her strength is amazing. She was able to pull the carcass that two men had earlier had to pull to move it. She eventually dragged it about 10m throughout the evening. She was joined by her pups and some of the other adults who I had not seen before. They all had a go at the carcass. When it got dark we had to turn on the spotlight and that attracted the mozzies and every flying insect around. It was quite difficult to concentrate when you are being flown at and eaten. We all ended up with coats on and blankets around our legs, not pleasant when it’s hot. However, got some great sightings of Hyena.
The carcass was observed all night by a relay of GVI staff. Later in the evening if the Waterbuck wasn’t enough Giggles turned up with an Impala foal and ate that too, no wonder she is so fat.
We got back at about 2100hrs for a braai and a few drinks. Despite the fact that everyone is leaving this weekend it was a subdued party with very few staff around as they had to cover the Hyenas. Despite that a good time was had.
Friday 14th December 2012
My last full day at Karongwe. I had a nice lie in and then left at 0815hrs with Ben to get some supplies. The reason I was going was that I had discussed with Andreas that as a way of saying thanks I would like to buy some equipment to help GVI and future volunteers. It was agreed that I would buy some equipment for conservation work. As a result Ben and I called at a local Hardware store and I bought the equipment on their wish list.
We then went to Wildebees Lapa, the place we went to last month for Brunch. We picked up all the food for breakfast and took it back to base. After a lovely cold buffet brunch we had our Secret Santa presentations. Whoever picked me knows me well and bought me a little bottle of red wine, very nice.
My final drive was with Nico. We were asked to look for the Cheetah Boys who I most wanted to see before I left. We found them fairly early on and walked in on them. They obliged us by lying about, sitting up, walking about and yawning during our 20 minutes or so with them. We eventually had to leave and I must admit to being a bit sad at saying goodbye to them for the last time. It has been an absolute privilege to walk with them in the bush and witness the most intimate parts of their lives, grooming, hunting, feeding and mating. I did not expect to get so close to them, what an experience.
We then drove around for a while before meeting the other truck for drinks and nibbles at Chisomo Pump next to the river. We watched the sunset and then slowly made our way back to base for our final dinner together. We had the usual monthly awards this time done by Laura. She thought up some fabulous awards for staff and volunteers. I was awarded the GVI Trolley Dolly Award for providing snacks and drinks to everyone on my truck most days.
I then showed the “Best Of” photos collected this month and the best photo as voted for by all of us. It was a great photo of a Leopard in a tree taken by Cheonghwa, it won by a mile. My photo of a Giraffe, put forward by the group who decided which photo should go forward from each volunteer, came joint third.
I then concluded my packing and eventually went off to bed.
Saturday 15th December 2012
Up at just after 0500hrs, washed and showered and had brekkie. We said our goodbyes at just before 0700hrs and got driven to the gate where we met our transport. The five of us, Laura, Sue, Charlotte, Alejandro (a six month intern who has come back to Karongwe for his last week) and I, then set off for Johannesburg.
We arrived at the airport at noon and after talking for a while went our separate ways. Sue is flying off to Cape Town to continue her tour, Charlotte flies to the UK tonight, Alejandro starts his long journey back to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and Laura and I are staying at the airport overnight before I head off to Durban and Laura flies to the UK.
Laura and I are planning to meet up for dinner this evening but have found our hotels are a bit apart so logistically that may be a problem but we shall see.

Posted by Neil Craig 03:56 Archived in South Africa

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I bet all seems very dead now E njoy your drive down to Alans and give them my love. He is going to discuss next June with you Will speak to you probably on Monday Love

by Eunice Craig

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