Conservation experience sums up

28 March ~ one more day… was a good day

 

*** To start, Valerie was not with us, receiving us all of her negative vibe, whew!  It seems she’s falling all the deeper into her own strange world, I guess I wish her well with al that.  It’d be good if either she departs this voluntary position or improves her attitude toward others these next couple days.  Either way, she was not with us this morning and the vibe on the truck was again happy and positive.  It turned out to be the best day yet, full of adventure to go along with experiences, starting off with the usual visit to the “Beacon” to scan for all the collared animals in Mkuse.  After that we headed up a rough rocky road to a high place to try again to scan for the WD2 dogs in the south… but with little to no luck.  We ventured to another high point to do the same and so on, but no dogs were to be located.  Estimates were made that they might be in the “wonderland” area, a lovely wooded river bed shaded by elegant fever trees and a good bit of brush and an almost invisible track rarely used and way off limits to visitors.

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It seemed lots of animals had the same idea of heading that way enjoying the cover and the remaining greenery lingering from the rainy season.  Nyala and impala, baboon families, various birds and so forth.  Then magic to our left.  A lovely bull elephant hid shyly behind a bush having stopped eating when we arrived in our noisy truck.  Another ellie joined in cautiously watching us.  We stopped and turned of the clanging motor out of great respect for those incredible beings and watched quietly, patiently.  They were a bit curious as we sat there calmly letting them wander past in front of us.  The second boy, a smaller gentleman with a trunk that seemed to have had the first few inches perhaps bitten off in  his younger days.  He seemed to do just fine with it, adapting the next muscles in line to do as the originals were intended.  He was also most curious walking just about 3 meters in front of the truck, facing us at a slight angle, reaching out his trunk to check us out calmly before wandering past.  It was  magical, and brought back a flood of memories from Botswana, where such moments happened throughout each day.  The curious guy’s bigger friend remained cautious, preferring a bit of tree cover and distance to wait for his friend, whom he greeted in the brush once past the front of the vehicle.  The smaller one continued to forage, the larger one waited until our departure and the return of the peaceful forest before relaxing entirely.  It was a lovely experience, a quiet one and one like we had so many of in Botswana.  I’m so happy to have had that time with this group, as it’s been rush, rush, rush past the animals on the reserve to get to the dogs until now.  We nearly miss a handful of animals daily in our urgency, so this was a nice counter to that.  This 15 minute or so moment I count as a highlight to my time here in this reserve.

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We got a little lost finding the winding track through the trees.  Andy and I smiled at one another regularly as we enjoyed the ride whipping this way and that, around downed trees, over shrubs, standing in the back, dodging huge spider webs and looking for the vague hint of the previous  tracks, which were likely months old by now.  We stopped in an open area to do a scan for some animals and noticed a puncture in a tire by a thorn from an acacia.  Fortunately, we had a repair kit on the truck and Vince was keen to try it out… successfully!

 

Off we went, back the way we came in joy-ride fashion, loosing the track for a little while, then taking a left turn out across another open field and up another hill to find a high point form which to scan again.  The 2 male cheetahs were picked up on the receiver, so off we went in their direction.   At the edge of a thick grassy plane we stopped, a water buck ran across our tracks.  Pippa was concerned about driving through the tall grasses possibly being flooded and wanting to avoid getting stuck, as she’d never been further than the grassy edge on this hint of a track.  We ventured forth, Vince, Andy and I standing in the back looking for holes and such we might potentially get stuck in.  Vince’s reading on the device was so clear, we had to be near.  I looked around at the thick lush grasses, a reedbok bounded past very much in his element.  I was just thinking how impossible it’d be to spot a cheetah in this environment. We  inched forward, then Vince said “look down!”  We did and not 3 feet from the front left tire was a cheetah munching away nonchalantly at the remains of an ungulate with hardly a concern for our approach.

 

Pippa was good to back away.  The Cheetah’s brother oozed stealthily through the long grass, chirping at his hungry brother to let him know his whereabouts and perhaps that all is ok.  He watched as a sentinel over his brother, with blood on his face, I’m  guessing he probably already had his fill.  What a treat.  We stayed to watch for a short time, enjoying the gift of a moment, before leaving them to carry on undisturbed.

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Wow, what a morning!  No dogs tracked, but it was still the best day yet.  Second best, was likely the day I returned from St. Lucia to help (ok observe) collar 2 wild dogs from the WD3  pack of 9.  These guys will be transferred in the near future to another location to keep the populations healthy.  This second pack look the healthiest of all the dogs we’ve seen so far, likely because they get enough food.  The WD2 pack have 20 mouths to feed off each animal by comparison.  I can’t help but appreciate this WD3 pack having gone off on their own as puppies.  Two sub-adults looking after 8 pups, one adult having been killed along the way.  These are all essentially pups having raised themselves successfully.  They remain playful and fun loving along the way, but once they kick into action for a hunt, they beautifully fall into line to dance their perfectly lethal choreography as needed to survive in the wilds.

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These are things I will reflect upon as well as the experience of seeing first hand what it’s like to work in the conservation field here in the South African reserves giving me a better perspective of the challenges faced on these reserves and the determination of all those involved.

 

Tomorrow is my final day here with WACT and will head off for a change of scenery with yet unmade plans taking me to Cape Town and hopefully up to Namibia over the next two weeks.  Planning depends upon being able to get on a flight on Monday… or not… then booking things last minute and over the Easter holiday weekend.  Stay tuned…

 

Categories: Africa

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