Khulula Care for Wild… A very special place!

Wildlife Care Center

14 April

Meeting Martin: 4 volunteers meet Martin at the airport in the morning, each of us heading to a different project, one to monitor wildlife in Pinda, another to work with a wildlife vet in Hoedspurit and another to Moholoholo.  The talk Martin gave us for about 1.5 hours about the conservation of wildlife here in Africa was enlightening beyond words.  After my 6 weeks here in Africa I’ve started to see a side of things here that has opened my eyes quite wide, but then Martin spoke filling in the massive gaps in the situations including the economic, emigration and population issues tightly woven into the scenario.  Some bits of info:

Some Facts:

SA has the largest emigration rate in the world

50% unemployment is a draw when compared to neighboring countries (Botswana aside) with 90% unemployment.

Essentially the population of Africa is funneling down to SA at staggering rates

Desperation for work drives many corrupt industries.

Conservation is NOT supported by the government, so private sectors are what must thrive to protect what is left

80% of wild lands are privately owned.  Some are big enough to support a more natural environment and make money, others are too small for that.  The only option for these places is to raise game and sell that to other reserves… but usually end up being hunted for a 90% profit on the purchase of each animal.  That of course, drives that industry.

The “civilized” world drives the horrible world of hunting game.  It’s either the wild animals who are hunted or the ones breed for that purpose… it’s negative on both ends, but sadly in the end it’s the breeding programs who keep the wild ones wild.

ACE is a program for profit, to drive the industry in the direction of conservation, to create jobs in the industry to make it a worthwhile career path for folks who’d otherwise help with the killing industry.  It’s a situation that makes a gal cry.


Martin believes there is a good side to the story, quoting the Dali Lama and the late Queen Mum, that things are “definitely getting better”.  The thing is there is a lot of ugly that has to happen before any good arrises.  That goes along with what I’ve been learning in the world of animal communications, study of ancient cultures including the Mayan and Egyptian predictions that we are currently just beginning to take our first steps out of the bottom of a spiritually dark age having digressed severely over the past few hundred years.


Martin’s talk also mentioned the internet and technology as a source for connecting the people of the world allowing information to flow, like minded folks to come together and slowly, opening a door to transcend the worlds governments.  I believe there is hope too, but at the moment we are at war with what humans have allowed to happen in the name of “progress.”  We have a battle to fight and it’s a massive mountain to scale, but like any tough climb, it can be done one small step at a time.  There are many set-backs as we all learn to take the right steps.  One big step to take, which he brought up was to become vegetarian.  Just that alone would solve massive issues in this world, freeing up space, providing more food for humans and adding so much more peace to this world.


Imagine if an alien ship approached this planet with a listening device to hear what is going on on this planet.  In the USA alone, some 900,000 cows are murdered daily to supply demand for cheap food.  Imagine hearing the scream of 900,000 cows being slaughtered on this planet… yes, I’d high tail it away from this planet as well.  It is that destructive energy (and that is just one example!), that plagues the are we breath.    At the same time, it is those people who demand that meat who sign petitions and speak words about someone shooting a lion in Africa for pleasure.  This is not to mention the 30,000 elephants, 1,300 rhino, thousands of dolphin, sharks etc. and all others murdered annually for profit.  Yes, the situation is mind-boggling, a conundrum so vast.  Yet, it is the tiny steps of each individual, the daily choices one makes that begins to make changes happen and tides turn.


I get chills having witnessed a vision of this as seen through animals I’ve encountered.  I wish I could put into words to share what my heart has witnessed good and bad.  A hurt bird I walked by looking to help, looked at me and hobbled deliberately in front of a moving car to end it’s life, a lizard literally, came to me looking strait into my eyes to share a connection, I breathed with an elephant allowing me to share a unbelievable enlightened moment on this planet.    The wild knows what is happening, a 3,000 year old baobab tree showed me this.  We live in a far more beautiful world that most of us are even close to aware of and I want to learn more from nature, I want to learn to turn into it on a deeper level I’ve only just begun to become aware of.


Now I head to Khululu Wildlife Care Center begin sent off with strong words about the work I’ll be doing there.  Petronela, the founder is a very strong woman with often very strong words flowing out, she is not soft and always kind, but is passionate about what she does.  She is divorced woman living in the bush who founded this place and had an immense responsibility that is driven from a pure passionate heart.  I know I’ll be shedding tears in the coming weeks, but have a feeling it will be life changing as well.  Martin said they have a tiny hippo baby there, who’s mom was killed in front of him, he was then put in a pen with some pigs who harassed him, then he was man-handled to bring him to Khululu.  He hasn’t eaten since his arrival and he’s severely traumatized and hates humans at this point.  They are force feeding him… his survival will depend on him.  They also have more baby rhinos that they’ve had, all traumatized.  I teared up just hearing about them.


Martin and I connected on the importance of body work and communications.  He gave a good tip to me about a way to use my diaphragm to breath with the babies who are receptive to calm them.  It’s based on a TTouch method.  He has studied that and uses much of his natural communications with his warmblood horse, riding him only with a wide strap around his neck… no bridle or such.  I’m in love with who this man is… why do the good ones I meet have to live 1/2 a world away?!   He’s so generous, passionate, enlightened and caring about the animals and wilds of this great planet.  I was just thinking I’d like to meet a man like him, then here he is and that is all that there can be.   He did also encourage the cultivation of meditation for all to better tune into the nature around us… so darned important!


I’m excited about where I’m going, but a bit nervous as well.  There is a lot of work to do there now and only a few volunteers to help.  I’m glad to be caught up on sleep as I’m not sure I’ll get so much these next few weeks… I just long to be of help in the lives of the animals there, to help them through this horrific time in their very young lives.


Arrival at Wildlife Care Center.  The “City Bug” transport bus delivered me to Nelspuit a bit early where I met 3 of the gals I’ll be working with.  Scotty is staff and will be my supervisor…below Petranela of course.   Everyone was friendly and welcoming which was such a delightful change from my reception at the Wildlife ACT program.  I think at the later program, I just got lost in the shuffle of training folks and such… just a weird situation that was.  Anyhow, it’s anything but that here.  We spent some time shopping in Nelspruit then off to “home” to meet the animals I’ll be helping with over the next 3 weeks.  Two other volunteers were looking after things while we were away and looked to have done quite a lot.

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They have a breeding program here for various antelope, I suppose as a way of making a bit more money to cover things, but the main focus is on the 18 or so rhino in the rehab program including 3 babies… I think another will be coming in a few days from Krueger.  Also, two baby hippos including the critical one mentioned above.  There is a serval named Sapphire, two lynx named Charlie and Petra (or something), 3 mongoose (two are still being hand fed with syringes), 3 lions including a white lion… they enjoy a scratch when they rub their necks along the fence, and a number of owls.  Additionally, there are a few dogs to add to the friendly bunch here.  They let me help with some food prep and the feeding of the cats (but the lions had a zebra yesterday so didn’t get fed this day), the owls and after a disinfection and hand washing, I helped feed the baby rhinos… boy are they cute.  A tiny grey diuker is in a safe box this evening with a hurt leg having been caught in a snare.  He’s looking pretty sad and will likely go to the vets tomorrow.  I just hope he is finding some peace somewhere.


We are short on help, so even though we’re all assigned to one of three teams, we all will chip in where needed whenever possible.  I like it here.  Oh and I have my own room for the week, there are cooks for each meal, on-suite bathrooms, and other such luxuries… so nice!  Tomorrow I plan to wake early to watch the hippos get their early feeding then help join the big rhino team to get the tour of the bomas and see what is done down there.  At 8:30 each morning is a meeting then the humans get to have their breaky… and the day will go from there.  I know I have tons to learn and look forward to what’s in store… even the daily enclosure cleaning and such, it’s all part of the program.


I’m happy to be somewhere I can partake and be of help and so happy to be with a lovely group of folks. Well, I haven’t met Petranela yet… I think tomorrow morning.  She’ll be off to Singapore over the weekend for a conference.


14 April

Day one.


I agreed to join (or actually “be”) the “cat team” to start as I’m hoping that once I put my time in there, the rest will be with the rhinos.  I did help a bit with the bigger rhinos this morning and again this evening… what fun that is!  The pain of putting the teet on the 2 liter milk bottles is well worth the experience feeding the babies and spending time with them.  Gosh, they’re cute!


Sue will be moving to the baby rhino team and I’ll be taking over on my own tomorrow, so today was the dress rehearsal as well as the initial training day.  We start at 6am to syringe feed the two baby mongoose, Stitch and Dexter.  Then it’s food prep time for the 3 caracals (lynx), Saffira the Serval, Didi the adult mongoose and the various owls.  Feeding is in that order and most are fairly good to the hand that feeds them, so fingers crossed I’ll be ok on my own with this.  Between the cats and the birds, we walk past the 3 majestic lions, two males (including a white male) and a female.  They get fed 3 days a week.


All in all, the day went well, the highlights being my time with the rhinos, including a bit of fun time and play time with the baby mongoose.  Good news as well, that Molly, the tiny hippo is showing signs of improvement and tiny spurts joy.  Petronela is a lovely lady with so much love and passion for every animal, I truly admire her and the dedication she gives to the animals who are fortunate enough to have her look after them in this difficult time in their lives.  Gosh, the rhinos are fun!   It’s nice to take care of the other animals, but I do love those rhinos and look forward to be taking care of them!


So here’s the schedule:

6am at the barn to feed the two baby mongoose, then food prep for the others and feeding there.  8:30am group meeting the breakfast for us.  9am feeding of the Stitch and Dexter may come before my breakfast if the meeting is long.  After breaky, I’ll clean all the pens and refresh the water bins.  12 noon, feed all the mongoose and I think the cats too, but not the owls.  Lunch to follow that.  2pm is another feeding of the baby mongoose.  Of course recording all feeds in the various records books follows each meal.  Then will come the worst part for me, a major challenge to do and that is to cut up the meat for future feeds.  Today we cut up probably 30 cow esophagus‘ to put in buckets in the refrige for the next day or so.  Also, there was some chicken to cut into pieces and a bit of zebra left over from a carcuss that was found the other day in the accompanying reserve.  For a vegetarian, food prep for the cats is a nightmare, but I will do it for the animals… odd, as I’m cutting up animals… oh, it’s pretty bad!  So there’s a bit of a break after that until about 4:30 when we start prepping all the dinners for the entire lot including the owls.  Lions are included on the days they are fed as well.  Finally, at 6pm, the baby mongoose are brought in from their outdoor enclosures, syringe fed (love this part!) and tucked into their little box in the warmth of the hospital room for the night.


We all rotate with a partner for the 9pm feeding of the 3 baby rhinos by the barn.  This is a treat in my opinion… actually all agree, except that most are quite tired by about 7pm.  The following day, all is repeated.  When we have down-time, we lend hands to a team in need… I try to jump into some rhino care whenever possible.


16 April

I am the “cat team”

… and it’s blatantly obvious to me as I constantly bug Sue with questions and confirmations.  Considering I only had a day’s training, I hope I did ok.  I laugh when I think of the look on the owl’s faces this morning as I so carefully put out their food, only to return later that afternoon and see most of it still there.  I’m sure they were laughing at me, as owls don’t get fed in the morning, only at night… of coures!  They’re nocturnal… everyone learned that as a child!  Well no harm done on that one, just re-feed them the amount they didn’t eat in the evening, swallow any remaining pride and get on with it tomorrow.


On a sad note, I was checking on Azeke and Preggo, the caracals (lynx) couple in the morning.  They were fasting today as Preggo has been on and off her feed since aborting her last litter of pups a while back.  The male was the one hissing a bit and the female, Preggo stayed back in the rear pen.  I think she moved her head a bit, but that is all.  I walked past to feed Charlie and as I was there a rather odd sound came from Preggo.  I stopped what I was doing with Charlie and went to check on her.  She was lying on her side by the back gate looking really bad and breathing rather erratically.  I ran to tell Scotty who was preparing the lion’s food for the morning in the barn.  She said she’d check in on her on the way back from feeding the lions.  We a few of us headed out with buckets of oesophagus in hand to feed the mighty lions. They are spectacular whatever they do, what an honor to spend time in their presence… Bear, a male white lion, and a male (Figo?) and female yellow lion.


The caracal enclosure is a short ways from the lions, so we stopped in and by that time, just about 20 minutes had passed, the little caracal had passed.  I’d only known her a day, but Scotty has known her for a couple years.  Sue spent the past week caring for her and all were so saddened by the event.  I got the feeling she passed calmly, and feel perhaps some sort of intestinal blockage finally did her in.  According the Petronela (who’s away for the weekend), she’d been unwell for a while.  Sue felt at fault, but she hadn’t anything to do with it.  I felt for Azeke and was able to let him be with her for a bit longer as it seemed he needed the time to say goodbye.  The body will go to the vets for a necropsy, so we’ll have to wait to hear what the results are there.


I spent time with Azeke today, just sitting with him.  He seemed to appreciate that as he was quite restless for a while.  By the afternoon, he seemed more withdrawn and quietly laid resting.  It’s probably a good thing he’s on a fast today, as he’s likely not feeling great anyhow.


On a happier note, I spent a good bit of time playing with the animals getting to know them a bit.  Saffira loves having company, just sitting with her she purrs away and becomes more interested in playing with her toys and such.  She loves a neck scratch as she rubs against her pen and I carefully put fingers through to give a scratch.  I picked a strong grass with long stem to play a bit with her.  She really loved the attention, ate a bit of grass and purred away some more.  When I left her, she’d begin crying the saddest cry, I’d look back and she’d be looking at me from the corner of her enclosure… my heart melted.  I plan to spend time with her daily now and hope it becomes something all volunteers will do as well.  Apparently, she used to be ok with people being more hands-on with her, until she escaped and bit someone in the recapture process.  Since then she’d been more reluctant toward humans.  She will eventually be released somewhere, but she is not ready yet, so they do encourage human interaction until that day comes closer.


The other fun ones are the baby mongoose.  I spent time sitting in their day enclosure… they are a kick and every bit babies needing extra attention.  They burrow in the bend of my elbow, crawl up my arm and snuggle behind my neck tickling and making me laugh.  Did you know that mongoose purr?  The love a chin and belly scratch and tend to go limp and purr when the right spot in nurtured.  They even kick their back leg like a dog does when the belly is rubbed in the right spot, as though they’re riding 1/2 a bike.  Gosh, they are fun!


I’m loving all the interaction, it makes up for having to deal with all the meat… that’s gross!!!  Another balance to the day was some snuggle time with the baby rhinos.  Three of us were in with the three babies who were taking naps, so we sat with them and snuggled.  I put my belly to one and timed my breath with his, his eyes closed and off to dreamland he went.  They’re doing so great with their caretakers having an idea of the trauma they encountered to be here in the first place… mums being poached and all.  I also got to go to the lower rhino bomas to help feed the other babies and various animals there.  18 rhino, 2 grey diuker, some goats, impala, nyala and probably some others I haven’t met yet.  It’s fun down there, even if it is a good bit of physical work to manage it all, with the right team, it makes it all the more fun.


Whew, what a day… and it’s not over, as I’m on duty to help with the 9pm baby rhino feed for the 3 wee-ones by the barn.


My hands are feeling old with super tight skin as a result of all the washing and disinfecting that goes on.  I did discover the gloves… the ones without holes, which helps quite a lot… also helps so I don’t have to actually touch the meat.  That is just repulsive!  Soon enough though I’ll be working on a rhino team, where no dead animals are utilized.  The tough thing there is putting the teets on the bottles, ouch!  But, then again, there seems to always be a trade off to the plethora of good stuff.


Oh, Molly seems to be doing a bit better too… fingers’ still crossed for the tiny hippo.  Thank goodness for Emma, the larger young hippo hand-raised by Petronela.  She’s been priceless assistant to the care of Molly, although she does demand that she get her fair share of attention as well.  They enjoy a lovely grass enclosure with a nice pond surrounded by papyrus and other water vegetation.


17 April

We fed the lions this evening and WOW, do they emanate power!!!  Just walking by them in the daytime tends to raise the heart rate a bit.  I always double check the gates to see they’re closed.  A few of us walked up with buckets of meat and a small duiker the dogs sadly killed this afternoon.  The fences are hard to work and took some effort to open/close to move the lions out of the feeding area.  They are a bit impatient and pace with great force and excited breath within feet of the two of us who were with the meat along the fence line to keep them away from the gates.  To be in that proximity with those truly attention-getting beings is incredible and brings home how unnatural it is that these animals have found themselves to have to be living in captivity for the time being.


The day itself went better than yesterday I think, fewer mistakes along the way anyhow.  I’ve been getting to know Saffira and just love that serval, she’s so beautiful and so sweet… if that is possible for a wild cat who’s capable of killing larger animals than myself.  Yet, I go into her cage (unfortunately, it is a cage) and she just purrs away, rubbing my legs and following me around looking for someone to play a bit with.  I kick the ball and she pounces on it.  I go to pick it up and she puts her heavily clawed paw on my hand gently and I learn it’s best to use my shoed foot.  Still she purrs.  I pet her lovely spotted coat and scratch behind her ears, which makes her purr all the more.  It seems she’d almost be ok just following folks around the property, but that wouldn’t be safe for anyone, as she is in the end a wild cat.  The plan is to release her in the future when a place and permit align, but that is another very tricky topic in Africa with so many fences, so many private reserves already stocked with wildlife and just not enough space.


A guy is visiting as a friend of Scotty’s from Moholoholo and explained their predicament as well.  They have a number of leopards to be released for example. but they can’t find a place to release them.  To add to the issue, the ones they do release all are collared and tracked via satellite, but 50% of them are killed within a short time by farmers who fear for their herds. Human encroachment has really done in nearly all wild spaces all around the world, it’s a tough thing to be non-human.


At lunch to day we talked about what we’d want to return as in our next life.  I’d prefer not to be a predator after these past days preparing raw meat… yuck!  To kill so many animals would not be my cuppa tea either.  If I were to come back as a “wild” animal, I’d have to say I’d like to come back as say a giraffe at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where they roam the large-ish park free from predators… of course, coming back as a well loved dog would be optimal… with food unrecognizable as freshly caught fellow beings.


I spent some good time with all the mongoose as well, and deliberated with Sue over the hard-to-watch constant pacing of Charlie and a bit with his neighbor Azeke, both Caracals, both male.


The vet came to visit today to look after baby-rhino-Venus’ abscessed foot and gave a good review… she’s looking good.  Molly continues to look pretty good.  I think the owls have forgiven me for the feed mix up, but still find this human a bit on the “amateur” side.


Camp life is good and friendly.  I’m so happy to be on a project like this with lovely helpful people all here with giant hearts and generous spirits.  Everyone is so helpful, which I so appreciate.  I do extra as I can to add to the many duties on the premises.  The gals cook our meals, which is so nice, even though we do pay 700Rand/week for the food, it’s so worth it to all eat together and not have to worry about food supplies and such on top of the work we do.  Each day is about 12-13 hours of duty including the breaky and lunch, and always in the lovely barn near the chalets.  A donkey boiler provides a good bit of hot water for evening showers provided someone lights in the afternoon.  The kitchen gals usually do that for us, but sometimes there are issues with the water, like the water tank is empty, the pump isn’t working or pipes are broken… and that’s just in the 3.5 days I’ve been here.  It’s all part of living in the semi-bush and part of the fun in the end.


The not-fun part is all the meat I have to process as “the cat team.”  I feel like I smell of death each evening and have to refrain from letting the smell and sights keep me from my work, which is to look after some precious animals.  For that alone, I look forward to moving on to one of the rhino teams, but for all else, it’s quite an experience to be looking after the fury and feathered beings here.


18 & 19 April


I’m getting a little more comfortable in the routine here and making less dramatic mistakes… for the most part.  At least I hope I’m over any that may result in potential loss of life.  Speaking of the coming and going of life, it is a way of things around here… sometimes expected, like with Prego and other times not so much, with the disappearance of Keith.  I really miss that bird.  I tried my hand at tuning into him to see if I got a sense of his being in his body or in the spirit form.  I have to say, the feeling I got was that he is in spirt, perhaps in the tragic wake of Goofy’s killing spree of the baby duiker and the rat as well.  I noticed now there is a big bowl of dog food out for him in the barn, which hopefully will keep him satiated and less motivated to kill the local wildlife.  When I was tuning in to Keith, I asked for a sign from him of our connection, he said “look in in the stone volunteer barn.”  I did that and saw a lovely owl there.  Apparently that is “Screech” who hasn’t been seen in a while.  I still have hopes to see Keith again as I remember his friendly greeting along the path when I first arrived and how he used to so gently slide his long black beak between my sock and ankle or between the beads on my bracelets.


Sue has been so nice to come help me with the cats and mongoose.  Our mission? To enhance the enrichment toys in the cat enclosures and try to make their lives a little more interesting.  Charlie was quite easy along that line, as we found a Kong ball, which he chased and played with with such joy.  I loved seeing him happy about something in life other than just food and a change in behavior from his usual constant pacing.  Azeke seems to be doing ok after the loss of his mate, perhaps he knew she had been ill as well.  The mongooses and such fun to play with and almost desperate for the attention living in such out-of-the-norm circumstances.  Apparently they live in groups in the wild, but if you ask Stitch and Dexter, they’d likely disagree as they constantly bicker and threaten one another.


I think I’m getting more used to the owls, they are quite kind in their demeanor and I appreciate them tolerating my ignorance as I go in to clean and feed daily.


It gives me hope to believe as many others do, that we are on the cusp of a more enlightened state for humanity as the “logical” methods have resulted in a destructive digression of humanity on a natural and spiritual plane.  We are due a spiritual overhaul, not a religious, that is not the same, but spiritual one and reconnects humans to the beauty of this universe we live in.  It’s nice to see small sparks of such things beginning to form here and there… more yoga, more emphasis on meditations, communications with nature, alternative medications and lifestyles, organic choices, etc.   ***

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20-22 April

A constant drizzle fills the morning air making the volunteers want to curl up with a cuppa tea, whilst the animals are spurred to a bit of playtime… well some anyhow.  The cats take a bit of shelter from the wet, Didi remains excited for the slightest bit of attention, as does Saffira.  The lion cubs are playful meowing as the can with eye still shut.  Mum keeping a close eye on then and an open buffet for warm milk.  Tuscan, the golden lion, is up for a bit of a frolic, but his white mate, Bear is quite happy just lounging.  Tuscan got a bit fed up at one point and walked over to Bear and sat on him like a sack of potatoes… still Bear was content to lounge.  They are such gorgeous animals with the most striking of eyes.  As incredible as it is to be so close to such royalty, it is not good that they have ended up in a sanctuary… they of course should be roaming free.


They stories of how they came to Khulula?  Bear was confiscated from a canned breeding facility, Tuscan I believe was going to be a pet and the female was wrongly picked up as a cub at the side of the road inside Krueger Park.  Wrongly because one does not interfere with nature, and because lion cubs are often left on their own while mum is out hunting.  She will return to collect them when she returns.  In this lions, case, human ignorance prevailed and now she must live in captivity for life.


Saffira the serval, on the other hand, will be released one day when she is ready.  Her father and brother have already been released on this premise and Saffira did escape for a few days at one point, perhaps to be with them, but she returned for food.  A sign that she is not ready to be released.  When the time comes, they will need to locate a new safe part of nature for her, as to release her here would result in incest.  To add to the complication, there is a rather arduous permit process that must be completed and approved.  In the serval’s case, only about a 2-kilometer square area is needed, preferably with lots of open space and near a stream.  They are not a threat to farm animals, aside from perhaps chickens, but they are normally brought in for the evenings anyhow, so it seems the odds are in Saffira’s favor for at least part of her life to be happy and free… fingers crossed for her.


I’m quite enjoying taking care of the cats now and I think doing ok with the routine… not too many mistakes so far.  The animals seem to have taken to me and enjoy the extra bit of attention I give when I can.  Sue helps regularly too.  I appreciate her company as to the animals who get a bit of extra attention with two of us around.  She’ll be leaving next week and I know the lot of us will miss her dearly.


Patronella returns from her time in Singapore later today and I’m sure she’ll be looking forward to getting reunited with her beloved animals.  I hope she’ll be happy with Molly’s progress to make up for the return to dealing with the completely unplanned arrival of the cubs and the loss of both Prego (Caracal) and Keith (the beloved bird).  The vet came yesterday to look after Venus who’s got a problem with a blockage in her system and not able to get all her milk down.  She’s been eating sand as well.  The idea was to put a tube down her nose into her stomach as vets to with horses for deworming and such.  In order to treat a baby rhino, one must anesthetize the animal as they are not domestic like a horse.  With the little body down and hoisted on a table, the vet could not find the right tube and kept finding the windpipe rather than the oesophagus.  With a horse standing and alert, it’s easy to find the tube and even encourage a swallow to align things correctly, but a comatose rhino is a challenge… and proved to be the utmost yesterday.  He tried the back end to see if there was a blockage there, but that seemed clear.  So the plan is to feed her less but 2x as often, so no rest for the caretakers there, also to feed her some laxative medicine mixed with water for a while.  Now again, we’re working with a baby rhino.  For those who’ve ever tried to force medicine down a domestic animals for small child, the challenge is known… now magnify that for the rhino.


At first try, they did get about 1/2 down, even with a sweet glucose gel over the teet.  Now she won’t take any of it and there’s kind no way to force a rhino.  She may be small, but she has a horn and is a natural born charger.  She’s also come from a traumatic background, so she’s had to look after herself a bit more than most wee-ones her age.  Fe’ has taken charge as she’s been here the longest, knows the babies best of all the volunteers and hopes to keep on with them for the rest of her 1.5 months remaining here. She’s a dedicated gal and quite an exception for a 19 year-old.  Her family has taken her and her 3 sisters far and wide around the globe and offered her privilege like only few have, what sets her apart is her attitude and work ethic.  She appreciates all she’s been given, she’s bright as can be, interested in all things and eager to really live life… after all, she’s here volunteering for 2.5 months.  Most young spoiled kids her age would be wining and complaining on a 5-star safari, but not Fe’.  I Sue and I (the old folks) really admire the lady she is.  McKayla is the other youngster at 19 years of age with a completely different back ground, but she is equally as keen to do what’s right, to give back, to love all animals and is about the kindest gal one can meet.  She’s a delight and comes from a really supportive and loving family near Cape Town.  She’s been here for one month and is working with her dad to let her stay longer as she loves taking care of the larger rhinos and various others in the large lower bomas.


With a new volunteer coming this afternoon, I’m hoping to move on to perhaps the big rhinos as well… or the babies, it doesn’t matter.  I’m guessing I’ll help train the new 18 year old gal on the cats and begin my training on a new team… fingers crossed.  This gal is coming from another project where she was assisting with a wildlife vet.  I look forward to hearing some stories about her experience there.


25 April ~

“Big Rhino” team.  A day of being charged by rhinos!  … not exactly what I’m here for… yikes!


Yesterday was my first full day, where I mostly followed McKayla (19 years young) around helping as I could.  The thing is, she’s not an educator, nor is she as cautious as folks tend to be at my age (48), so when River I got river to feed in the open pen, she did what she does, which is to charge the people after she has fed.  All I’ve ever heard about rhinos is if they charge – run!  Edyta and McKayla just said to run, so I did, but veered behind a trees and some shrubs on the way for safety, but missed the closing of the gate, so was left in with them.  At the time there was a funny aspect to it and in retrospect a bit as well, but as the day wore on, there were more charging incidents with various rhinos that began affecting my busy mind about 3am this morning.  All the “what ifs” began swirling around in my mind until a bit of anxiety built. As of last night, we weren’t entirely sure who’d be helping today with many of the main helpers off duty.  McKayla just says well, we’ll do it but she’s never let the rhinos out on her own and there isn’t any way I could help or support, so that added spice to my brewing thoughts.


By this morning during milk prep, it seemed my anxiety had attracted the right people.  Dolf and Elize had been down with the rhinos this morning getting things ready for feeding, Petronala was at the barn checking in with each person individually, when I shared my concerns that I’d love some tips and a bit of education so I do things right and avoid being injured.  Petronela is an incredible human and strait forward in a way I completely admire but lack in myself.  She went in the pen with McKayla and I this morning to help and fed River, who as always drank her milk the fastest then began charging, only this time Patronela was the to push back and stand up to her a bit.  With 16 years of rehab work with the rhinos, she’s comfortable handling them and their nuances, including each one’s quirks that have resulted from their initial traumas that have eventually brought them here to Khulula.   Each animal here is so fortunate to be in Patronela’s care, she is an angel to them!  Anyhow, she also walked me through a bit of how to behave and saw in my posture my timidity.


So all went well this morning and McKayla and I finished our chores of cleaning and feeding the “Brady Bunch” through the fence.  Back up at the barn, Patonela spoke with me and wanted to be sure I’m not put in a position to be injured or even uncomfortable.  We agreed, I’m best when there is a barrier between me and the rhinos, which is how most feeds go each day, so I think all will be ok after this.


Back to yesterday’s other charges.  The big sub-adult rhinos (Storm and Luna), were let out of their day pasture and back into their night pens, which is a routine they like and easily move on their own as the gates are opened, only last night the 4 younger ones who live in that big pasture 24/7 also began wandering in.  Chris hopped out of the area and we locked ourselves in the feeding area.  Low and behold. the big rhinos rammed the young ones sending them back so they’d leave the big ones to their space.  However, one youngster was stubborn and wanted to keep in the central space.  Edyta retrieved a wheel-barrel and spade to make something noisy to run and chase the rhino with, but the rhino decided to try standing his ground against that, so Edyta grabbed a big tractor tire, up-ended it and rolled it in front of her toward the young rebel… that backed him down step by step until finally he turned and returned to his enclosure.  What a brave lady she is… what bravery saturates every staff member here!  It’s physical and mental bravery that is of a kind I’ve not been around in Southern California.  Then again, much depends upon upbringing.  For example, I had horses as young girl and grew into a career with those incredible animals without fear.  Ok, I did fear the jumping part at times, but never the horses.  Yet folks who didn’t grow up the such big animals harbor a fear as adults out of sheer respect.  That is where I am with the rhinos.  My hesitation isn’t so much fear and it is respect and complete unfamiliarity with the animals, other than the “safari stories” about rhinos charging and killing and such.


I’m so happy that there is such great understanding about all beings here at Khulula, that we all are so different and not all can work together as well as others… that goes for humans, birds and animals alike.


So after the big rhino incident, McKayla and I went out with the 4 bottles to feed the “Brady Bunch” and stopped at the gate when we say a loose rhino on the road.  It seems one had broken through the gate with the dysfunctional chain at the bottom and had decided to do some investigating on his own.  Dolf and Edyta came to get him back inside, but he was kinda keen to stay out.  Edyta picked up boards and things to clang together to scare him back and Dolf ran in front of him calling him, “Come, come” to get him to follow… the rhino did follow at a gallop, then stopped and ran back toward our direction, then Edyta got him turned around and he’d chase Dolf again, then we’d see the youngster running back again.  Quite a while later, he eventually joined his buddies in the boma, where we McKayla and I could go feed them behind the safety of a metal fence.


My first day with the rhinos and all three “charging” episodes became my introduction to working with these healthier animals in larger enclosures accompanied by my previous limited knowledge of the damage rhinos are capable of via documentaries, books and such growing up.   Now that things are ok and the morning baby feed will be handled by those comfortable doing so, I’m feeling much better and happy to be a part of that team to learn and accompany as I can… and feeling quite a bit more humbled by the experience!


26 April

A massive rain, lightning and thunder storm bared down on this little valley last night.  The sky lighting up from one end to the other with a series of flashes so bright it blinded a gal for a moment following.  Like someone flashed a 10,000 watt bulb above our heads for moments at a time.  The thunder clapped so loud the ground literally shook and the rain poured in drops so big, it sounded like golf balls pounding down on the roof of the little tin-roofed bungalows.  The power had been switched off to save the solar panels from damage, so between flashes the only visibility was what shown in the light of the head-lamp.  Sometime in the middle of it all, everyone found themselves down at the stone volunteer house oooing and aweing at the dramatic flashes in the sky.  Looking up at it, the lightning seemed to flash the skies red.  I loved it and found I had a smile on my face all the way through.


True to most big storms of such intensity in this are (that I’ve known anyhow), they depart faster then they arrive and before we knew it, the Southern Cross was shining brightly marking one end of the milky way.  I think it was a first to see such a spread of stars at while still seeing the flashes of lighting as the final band of storm clouds floated onward like a giant electrical freighter moving its ominous presents toward a distant port.  The power was switched back on and dinner resumed as usual with interesting chat ranging from bands only the 19 year olds knew to comparing various subjects taught in schools and the importance of learning a diversity of subjects to gain a broader perspective on the world.  It was after 8:30 by the time we all began our way to our various cabins… which is on the late side for most.  Dolf and Elize (staff) were happy to take on the 9:00 feeding of Venus giving the volunteers a break. I’ll be on duty for that tomorrow evening.


This morning a sea of wispy clouds wove gently through the surrounding mountains, the birds chirped cheerfully, the cicadas chimed in, the bees were beginning the buzz and peace was prevalent.  It was a glorious morning to wake to.


The morning feeding went great, a big change from two days prior.  Winter, Thor and Mabush (the “Faraways”) were the only ones to be spending the morning in the large enclosure to day along with the goats.  They are nice to feed, so I was comfortable with that one.  The baby goat and here mom were put out as well… I believe it was their first day out to explore the bigger world.  The “Oreos” now include little Annie, newly arrived from the ICU up by the barn.  She seems to be adapting quite well and took keenly to feeding with her new boma-mates starting last night.


There’s also a pen with 3 duikers, who are do kind and lovely… timidly friendly as well.  What a treat to be in with them seeing them up close rather than running fearfully from a safari truck.  These little grey gems had been rescued from some issue or another… I haven’t learned their stories yet.


Currently there are 5 volunteers here on the property, which seems to be a good number.  Perhaps a couple more would be a bit more helpful, especially down at the bomas, but really with the help from the staff things are done in timely fashion and looked after quite well.  This evening, Scotty will be back as will Sipo to fill in for Dolf being back on his anti-poaching patrol duties and such.  Apparently, at times there are some 15-20 volunteers here, which seems overkill on so many levels.  I just can’t see where there’s enough to do to keep them busy.  Seems 10 would be max, but so it goes.  Dolf said they tend to organize more tours into Krueger and such when there are so many folks here and I’m sure more people take more days off.  I’m glad to be here when it’s quieter as there is more opportunity to learn so much, and mistakes are personally accounted for… as are good deeds.


Sadly, Sue will be departing in a couple days.  She’s been such an asset to this place and to my integration here.  She’s also the closest to me in age at a very athletic 66… aside from Petronala at 46.  They say there is another volunteer coming this week, which is always exciting to have a fresh face in our midst.  Along with Sue’s departure, that day marks my time coming to a close as well, with only 1 week to go.  It’s a special place here and I feel an honor to be a part of.  I can’t think much of the end of things at this time though, as I’m still new to the big rhino bomas and have a lot to learn still.  I’m hoping to get more input and education from Scotty so I won’t just be following McKaya around, but actually doing more to help on my own, able to look around and see what jobs to do to help out.




28 April

Big cleaning day today at the bomas, as is every Tuesday… whew.  All is scrubbed down and disinfected.  The guys on staff are working on the completion of the boma fencing utilizing a loud generator to screw in 3’ long screws through log poles… loud squeaky log poles… a bit like loudly scratching nails on chalk boards to the ears, squeaky.  We finished as the heat of the day rolled in following the coldest morning we’ve had yet.  I was wishing I’d picked up a cheap fleece at the shops yesterday when we were in town, but knew if I did it’d have to stay here as it won’t fit into my travel duffel.


I feel I’m most useful down at the bomas for the remainder of my time here as the hands-on work is best done by folks staying longer so the animals get a chance to get to know them a bit so they’re less stressed… mainly that goes for Manji and Venus in the “ICU” barn/boma next to the main building.  That doesn’t mean I’m void of contact or getting to know some of the rhinos, quite the contrary.  I get to visit and kiss the nose of my favorite, the little black rhino named Thor.  To me he looks more like “Jeffrey,” but such is life.  I love his curious hooked nose and the way he blisses out at each bottle feed just sipping away on his own time, while others push and huff.  When we’re done bottle feeding they make the most darling of sounds… a bit like a bunch of baby whales might sound.


The lions’ enclosure got a make-over yesterday with a new electric fence put up to divide the space into two so the lions can have more room and Figa and her babies can have their own space.  The question was brought up in our morning meeting about whether to give her contraception again or have her spade.  To Sue and I, it seemed a no-brainer, so have her permanently fixed.  To Petronela, she feels she’d be taking a certain power away from the female, yet because of her being in captivity, if she has any more litters, it will further be a mistake as there isn’t a place for the lions to go.  Well, the decision is ultimately up to her, so that is that.


I’m getting a bit more of a hang of the workings of things down at the bomas, being about to contribute a bit more and be a bit less of just a shadow to McKayla.  I’m here to help, to contribute, so I ask many questions, but only get useful answers from Scotty and Edyta when they’re around, so the learning process is slower than I’d like.  I am however, getting more exercise, which feels GREAT!  There’s a long drive with a nice hill between the main building and the bomas as well as a nice hill up to the volunteer area.  If nothing else, it’s good to get in some cardio before I venture off to a more physically sedate life again after next week.


Speaking of next week, Sue will be vacant from life here at Care for Wild.  She’s been a wonderful asset and a good friend, as well as the only other one besides Petronela (whom we only see in the mornings it seems) who’s not some 25 years younger than I.  Next week I’ll be the “mum” of the group, so I’m glad to have my own room to have a little break from young giggles and such.  Mostly it’s fun to be around the kids, but a regular break is welcomed for me.


29 April ~  Happy Birthday to me! :-)

Elize baked me a surprise birthday cake… moist chocolate with caramel topping – yummy!  Everyone sang to me as the decadence was brought in after breaky.  Nothing like chocolate cake for breakfast!  Bill Cosby even did a skit around it being healthy as it is made of flower (grains), egg and chocolate.  I have to agree with him.  What a great day today!  I’m here in Africa celebrating my birthday cleaning rhino poo, mixing batch after batch of milk, scrubbing and cleaning and getting some special moments hanging out with new friends and darling rhinos.  I even got a dirty kiss from Thor this morning… my favorite baby black rhino.  He’s so cute, I could take him home… but won’t of course, just a saying.  All the animals seem to be good today.   River has a bit of diarrhea, likely caused by the stress of staying in her boma the past days instead of getting out to graze during the days in order to bond with Annie, but today we opened their pen up to the one next door so they have even more space to explore… yeah for them!  Of course, we’ll have another evening clean to do before the others return in the evening to their 1/2 of the boma.


Dexter and Stitch (the baby mongoose) are now living outside permanently and seem to be doing well.  They’ve also moved to a more “mature” 3x/day feeding schedule like the others in the “cat” area.  The lions were noisy last night, perhaps enjoying their extra space again.  I love hearing them at night.  There are a few animals who could easily be called “kings of the jungle,” namely the hyenas, but I think it’s the lions’ roar that puts them on top.


Sue will be departing today, sadly.  She’s added to much to this place and this team… she’s a gem to be around and truly ageless in her presence here.


The other two volunteers who were supposed to have come yesterday, are actually scheduled to come in a few weeks time instead, so this next final week for me will be among friends I’ve spent days and nights with during my time here.


I love this quote by Marta Williams from her book “Beyond Words”:


“On a regular basis, with no distractions, spend some time in nature.  Connect again with the pace and feel of the natural world.  Observe some animals, wild or domesticated, and study how they manage to fully experience and enjoy the moment.  Ask for teaching from the animals and nature.  Pay attention to what comes your way.”


3 May


There never is a dull moment here at Care for Wild with days filled with various hands-on tasks catering to the animals.  Food preparations, feedings, cleaning pens, washing dishes, recording the care for each animal and spending time observing and playing with the critters is nearly a full-time job for the few of us on the project.  Everyone is friendly and helpful when ever and where ever needed.  Many of the routines change daily as the specific animals needs change, keeping everyone on their toes.  Add to that, that this is a sanctuary and rehab center, means we do welcome the occasional newby desperately hanging onto life and terrified of life as it’s been to them thus far.  Unfortunately, here in Africa there is much red tape which is often as cruel to animals as snares and poaching. A baby black rhino was destined to arrive here a few days after mine, but was caught in that cycle of paper work and died in the process.   Another is currently held up in that same cycle, and it’s future is unknown.


One little white rhino was able to skip the process, being brought to us two nights ago by a large game breeder who’d found the little guy.  His story is sad and unnecessary, as are all the stories behind the rhinos here.  It seems there are some folks who are keen to gather as many rhinos as they can from Krueger and keep them in a smaller area so less rangers are needed to watch more of the animals.  The idea is to protect them, but a what cost.  The system is quite controversial and I have to say I side with the animals being in the wild, as do many folks here.  Anyhow, this new arrival’s mum was part of a “transplant” of rhinos into this reserve, whereby they are sedated and transported.  It wasn’t noticed that one of the rhinos was quite pregnant and gave birth the day after she arrived.  Apparently, due to the stress and unfamiliarity with the new area, the mum abandoned the baby.  The game rangers tried to heard the youngster back to it’s mum, but she’d not have anything to do with him.  He found solace and a little protection from a large water tank it seems, which is where he’d spent the majority of his tiny life when he was finally picked up.


At 3 days of age, the little grey critter standing just about knee high and weighing only about 100 lbs, if that, was put in a rebar cage and driven 4 hours to Care for Wild.  By the time we got him in the little warming crate here, he was shivering like a leaf.  Scotty tucked in with him under the red warming lights as was able to bottle feed him some revitalizing minerals and electrolytes.  He began to calm down after time with her and finally gave in and slept with his little boxy head in her arms.


Today is now the 5th day of his life and he’s quite relaxed and sleeping a good bit.  He’s also cute as a button and we all get to spend time in sitting with the little one, which often includes laying down and napping with him.  He suckles off our arms and legs and seems to really love the quiet attention.  I massaged him a bit using some TTouch methods and watch as his eyes rolled back as though he were in a trance and he’d completely relax.  One thing he has in spades here, is love… human love which we all hope will be enough to help him through his days here.

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5 May

My last full day here at Khululu Care for Wild.  Edyta didn’t sleep a lot last night spending it with Warren, the new little rhino baby and seems to be a bit dehydrated so is a little moody.  No worries, we all have our days.  She’d tell me one thing, then I’d learn I was to do something else.  On other days I’d be a bit frustrated, but today there is no point, anything I can do to help is good as tomorrow they’ll be one volunteer short.  We bagged a ton of teff, lucern and bedding which will hopefully give a head start to tomorrow’s dry-feed packing.  I have to admit to being rather happy to have that last bagging of teff behind me now.  Every position has its ups and downs, its perks and its drudgery… in the end it’s all about the attitude one has toward the job at hand, eh?  We knocked it out pretty quickly and the guys were all working down at the bomas to help us distribute it all as needed while the three of us (Edyta, Michaela and I) did the weekly “big clean” of the bomas… with Scotty’s help too.


The little rhinos have all been so cute and seem to be doing quite well.  River continues to charge people, but how can anyone blame her as she’s been through to much torture at the hands of humans.  Annie is fitting in quite well… she and Thor (my favorite… the little black rhino) seem to be closest.


Along with hearing the lions roar, as they did so beautifully during the full moon last night, I love hearing the stampeding of little rhino feet coming toward us and the bottles of milk we hold in our hands.  “The Brady Bunch” in particular, as they run the furthest to get to us across a pasture and into the one they spend their day times in.  Tank, Satara, Skyler and ____?   Oden and Merculese, the two teen-age black rhinos are so cute as well.  They aren’t as hands-on, but we do feed them especially at noon each day their special “lolly” goo, that looks much like vanilla frosting… yummy!  Makes me want to bake something.


6 May

As I sit on the “City Bug” transport bus back to JoBurg, I reflect back upon the past 3 very special weeks at Care for Wild.  I want to remember every animal and would love to follow their progress over time, but alas, I must move on.


The Brady Bunch (Satara, Tank, Robyn and Skkylar), who’s running feet greeting us every morning and each evening as they trot eagerly between their boma and Camp 4.


The Far Aways (Wyntir, Tana and Mabush), and nice group of babies, well behaved and a pleasure to work with and around.  I hope Winter will be ok as she grows without her ears, one having fully scarred over and closed after being attached by a hyena after her mum was poached as a tiny youngster.


The Oreos (River, Tyson, Thor and the newest addition, Annie).  River the bully of the group, the one who charges everyone and had me reluctant to enter any space with her with out bars between.  Her story is sad and traumatic and leaving her hating humans, as I would as well in her shoes.  The flip-side of River is Thor, the little black rhino… my favorite.  So polite and sweet, always chatting and chirping away with whomever will join in.  I loved our special time feeding his darling hooked lipped mouth lucern feed to satisfy his browsing needs, where his white rhino counterparts are grazers and eat teff grass.


Oden and Mercalese:  The larger black rhinos… teens I’d say, with their darling Micky Mouse faces and cute, but shy disposition.


Manji and Venus in the ICU boma.  Fe’ did such a great job with them and her 2.5 month long stay allows her to really make a difference in their lives.


Of course there are the large Storm and Luna and the “Foth” group (Forrest, Olive, Timbi and H…), who all share a large Camp during the day.  These guys are older and remain far more hands-off than the others.


Then there’s Stitch, Dexter and Didi, the mongoose(s), Saffira the very sweet serval cat and Charlie and Azeke the Caracals… oh and let’s not forget the gorgeous lions, Bear (the white lion), Tuscan and Figa (and others).  They are all spectacular in their own way, from the love of belly rubs that makes the mongoose purr to the impressive energy of the spectacular lions.  Each time I walk by their enclosure, I have an extra look around to be sure their inside not outside.  I’ll miss their gorgeous roars throughout the days and nights, especially during the full moons.


Eventually, they’ll all be let loose on the property once the grand plan of opening up multiple properties comes into play.  For the time being, families are forming and life-long bonds are established.


A very special honor was offered to me last night, my final night at Care for Wild, resulting in the most unique evening I may ever have.  I spent the night in the night pen (barn) with Warren (Rennie), the newest member of the rhino family at Khululu and only about a week old now.  A tiny white rhino I wrote about earlier, who is too fragile to spend the nights alone and requires feeds throughout the nights.  Being so young, he also gets a heated barn to keep his body temp in the 37’ range (Celsius).  Being the first of the volunteers to live such a unique experience, I was keen to do everything right and do all I could throughout the evening to see that little Rennie is comfortable and at peace.  He seems to be improving as the first couple nights where Scotty slept with him, she barely got a wink of sleep.  Edyta’s evening the night before me, gave her about 3.5 hours of sleep, but the neighbors, Manji and Venus were busy bodies keeping her awake.  I think she wore them out, as those two were quite good last night and Rennie slept quite a bit throughout the night for about 1.25-1.5 hour increments between feeding.


What a feeling to lay there on the floor of the barn with the breath of 3 rhinos surrounding me on all sides.  Venus and Manji just on the other side of the wall and Rennie curled up next to me so I could feel his ribs expand and his breath like music to a rehabbing animal.  Every so often, he’d start dreaming, his breath would shorten and he’d jerk around a bit flailing his yet uncoordinated little body.  His big feet looking a few sizes too big and his body, which seemed to have grown a bit since his first arrival, but still remains quite small.  When he decided it was time to eat, he’d start the cutest little whimper, I’d try to quiet him stretching out the times between feeds, which Scotty is trying to make between 2 and 3 hours.  He was so gentle, but when determined, became more pushy for me to make up more food for him in the form of milk and lactate.  Additionally, I was to check his temperature and take his glucose levels 4 different times to monitor things that way and act accordingly… turn up the heat or add glucose to his 500 ml drinks.  He did really well and maintained both elements throughout the evening.  By morning, the pen seemed to be sucking in cold air from the outside, not matter if I turned the heat up or added a layer of towels to his cover, so I abandoned my sleeping bag and wrapped him in that for the last hour or so.  He was so cozy and cute and his temp rose to a lovely relaxed 34.7’ before it was time for me to end my very special 12 hour shift and join my team to feed the big rhinos and clean bomas as usual.


My sleep was odd, but I did get some good shut-eye here and there waking rather invigorated, mostly as a result of having just spent the night alone amongst this tiny little being.


Down at the bomas, things didn’t go so well, as the gate had fallen between the Oreos’ and the Far Aways, so when I let them out, they were all scattered and came out all higgoldy piggoldy turning the nice morning into a bit of chaos.  Sipo jumped in to help, but in the end, we hadn’t any idea just how much any of the babies received.  Looking back it was funny, but also potentially dangerous, as River was amongst them who’s not afraid to ram anyone for anything.  Having 4 rhinos pinning me against the fence… gently for baby rhinos, I was rather eager to get out.  Turned out everyone was, so when the bottles were empty, we just all got out and when the group disbanded and wandered out, we could go back in and gather the crumpled bottles.


After that, I did my final “shit shovel” session cleaning bomas before my final morning meeting.  I’m not good at good-byes, but said a brief one before heading to my chalet to shower and get ready for departure.


My next stop is 4 days in Krueger at a nice place.  What a change that will be to just sit back and observe wildlife in one of South Africa’s largest private game reserves.


Categories: Africa

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