I tried to get on the blog last week, when I was on camp duty but didn’t succeed. So this might be quite a long post.
A cold front had come in while we had our town day in Polokwane and it was rather cold on the reserve over the next few days. Eventuallythis burnt off but we have had another cold front since then. No rain following the first lot of rain the reserve received, but the vegetation is still greening up, lots of bulbs appearing and now flowering. Very annoyingly there isn’t a good flower identification guide for this area.
The days are split into focus and find all days. Each day we have different duties, and if you’re on vehicle check you do have to get up earlier than everyone else, clean the windscreen and do the usual stuff – oil,etc but then you can sit back and enjoy the ride for the rest of the day, and then you have the task of spotlighting in the evening, on the way home.
We did have one incident where we managed to spotlight an elephant by mistake. It rushed out of the bushes and followed the Mehindra up the road for a good 10-15 m or so. I was in the cab though so missed most of the excitement.
Yesterday I was on data duty, sitting in the cab, taking notes of bearings, GPS points, what the lions were doing when we found them, if they’d eaten, etc, etc. It was also a find all day, so no coming back to base for lunch, it was a long day. We started at 5 am, and worked with the other team to find all the collared animals – this doesn’t mean just finding the lions (7 collared), it also means finding black backed jackals and wild dogs. We began by finding no signals for any of the lions. The other team was more successful in this regard and eventually managed to find 6 of the 7 down one side of the reserve. We on the other hand traversed up/down/left/right still not getting anything. We had to climb Repeater, which is the highest point on the reserve and checked 4 times for each of the remaining lions, only finding faint signals for 2. We eventually found Guizeppe and her cubs, 9 hours after we had begun our search.
From there we headed down to the rough location of two of the black backed jackals to triangulate their locations. The BBJs as they’re known are almost constantly on the move, so triangulation, bearings and GPS points have to be quick. Visual sightings are very rare, and we certainly didn’t succeed.
We then headed up to the NW corner of the reserve as this is where the wilddogs had last been seen. By now it was about 4pm and the dogs were beginning toget restless and were on the move. Our telem person was getting a little tired by this point, but bravely carried on as we got closer to the dogs. We drove over one koppie, along trhough the dense riverine growth along the river bank, thinking we had to get to the other side.We eventually managed to find a spot where the sides weren’t so steep, and the Mehindra managed to make it up the other side, back into dense mopane. Then the signal from the telem appeared behind us. On the other side. Well, we certainly weren’t going to make back the way we had come so we spent rather a lot of time trying to find another suitable spot to cross the river. We managed to make it down into the riverbed, but there we got stuck. The telemetry signals by this time were so close, that we had to stay in the vehicle, and eventually we could see these little heads peering over the side of the river, to have a good look at what was causing the somewhat unusual sounds in the river.
So we didn’t find them, they found us. Thankfully they decided we weren’t food, and went up to the fenceline to see what they could find. Interestingly they use the electric fence to help corner their kills, so they’re actually killing larger prey than they would otherwise, which is proving interesting for the management of the reserve.
Anyway, back to us in the riverbed. Paying Venetia guests were by this time with the dogs, so we could get out and let down the tyre pressure and then push the Mehindra out of the ruts it was now in. We then went for what can only be described as white water rafting down a dry river bed, looking for an actual track that we could use. Even went down a couple of rapids. Rather bumpy, but cool. Once out, we eventualy caught up with the dogs, and saw some wee pups that were born June/July time. That was pretty much the end of the day. Poor start, but it finished on a high.
I’ve been on base duty today, signing out the cars and radioing their locations every hour, and entering the little bit of data we managed to collate yesterday. Again an early start, but since I did the morning shift, I’m now going to go and enjoy the pool.