This week’s Shamwari series involves jumping out of a plane, and later, having my first encounter with African wild dogs! This animal encounter is a world away from my first big conservation mistake of my trip — petting lion cubs — as detailed in last week’s post. In case you missed it: Act 1, Scene 2 (Regret…) can be viewed here.
The wild in my days
Thursday 31st July, 2008
Feeding duties today; feeding the lions and wild dogs in the bomas. This meant driving through the reserve to collect a warthog carcass, and traveling with it in the car next to us! I don’t believe it was terribly fresh…
When we reached the lion boma (a type of fenced enclosure) it was difficult to see them at first, but before long we got a sighting of a lioness and two cubs behind some bushes. I think it’s better, and certainly more natural, that they weren’t too happy being watched by a bunch a humans and they were content to stay out of view – a world away from what you experience in zoos! Wild dogs seem far less phased, probably due to not having any young.
The day ended with my first night drive, which was amazing! The reserve feels like an entirely new and different place at night. Using a bright torchlight, we were able to see giraffe, elephants, a pride of lions, ostriches and the very rare black rhino!
Much to my surprise, we also saw a caracal, sitting there happily under our torchlight, washing itself like a domestic cat! A thrilling experience — if absolutely freezing!
Friday 1st August, 2008
A 3km hike through the bush signalled a healthy start the day — though left me covered in cuts and bruises all over my hands and legs. Our work spot for the day was located on ‘Death Valley’ (supposedly so-called because the people that used to live there killed anyone who walked through it… not quite convinced by that one!), when we arrived our job was to remove sections of old wiring from former farmland fencing again.
It was hard work, and rolling the wire up into circular reels was almost as hard as cutting from the wooden fencing posts in the first place.
Once we had removed a large section; hopefully preventing any animals from becoming injured, we had to carry the reels we’d collected back through the bush. It’s important to remove them from the ground, as this same wire can easily be used to make snares, if it gets into the wrong people’s hands. My wire reels got caught on absolutely everything, and I ended up with even more scratches on my arms and legs.
Saturday 2nd August, 2008
Today I jumped out of a plane at E.P. Skydivers in Grahamstown! [NB: Grahamstown was the nearest big town to the reserve we were staying on; it boasted a supermarket, clothes shop, dvd store, some souvenir shops and a few cafes and restaurants].
I volunteered to go first out of our group, and we were flown-up two at a time to take part in the tandem jumps.
The plane was a tiny, rickety contraption, that looked like it could easily fall apart. six ‘jumpers’ were crammed in, as well as the pilot; making it a pretty tight fit.
The first person to jump was a solo jumper who left the plane at 4,000 — and as he did, the whole thing tipped severely — and at least on my part; unexpectedly — which was probably the scariest part of the whole thing!
I really didn’t feel nervous about my own jump, just extremely excited! When we got to 8,000 feet the second jumper left the plane, and I got prepared and harnessed up for my turn. At 10,000 feet we had to open the door and I had to hang out of the plane, in front of my still seated tandem jumper for what felt like an eternity! But actually jumping was the best feeling ever!
Monday 4th August, 2008
I’m beginning to understand how all the different maintenance jobs around the reserve feed into one another. Today we went back to the area where we had previously dismantled the old bomas and took the wooden blocks and posts to the camp where we were digging the thin trenches in calcrete last week [see 30th July, 2008].
We used the wooden posts to construct a bush fence, erected within the trenches (filling the space around the fence with heavy rocks and soil, to hold it firmly in place).
The rest of the wood was used to make a table and bench, so that the campsite would have a picnic table for future students to use. Naturally, we tested our work by having lunch there.
It was actually pretty hard work, as we had to collect the wood, cut it to size, nail it together, dig the trenches for it to be placed in securely, fill and secure the ground around it; all in the late morning-midday heat. I hope future students appreciate our efforts! On the way home we found a grisly looking lion kill, and cheetah eating at a kill — no hunting witnessed yet though!
Tuesday 5th August, 2008
5am wake up call today — the morning drives are always cold, but at that hour; they’re absolutely freezing!
It was well worth it though, as we got to visit the bomas and watch three African wild dogs being darted with tranquilizers — then were called on to assist with carrying them to the vans to be transported to Pumba Private Game Reserve and Spa; a neighbouring reserve here in the Eastern Cape.
I realised quickly that one of the risks of lifting and moving a sedated wild dog is there is a chance that they will empty their bowels… in this case, down the work trousers that I will be wearing for the rest of the day!
Another risk is that their body temperature can drop when the tranquilizer drug kicks in, so we had to wrap them up in blankets and rub them to keep them warm while the vet team gave them a few vital checks.
In no time at all, they were loaded onto a vehicle and on their way to Pumba.
African wild dogs have been posing a problem to the reserve, after their clever hunting technique of chasing animals onto the electric fence to kill them has left several animals-a-night dead, yet the wild dogs unable to feed off of them (as they too would end up with a nasty electric shock).
Once they’ve learnt this hunting technique within their range, it seems they will persist. A lot of loss and destruction caused to the game reserve for a futile effort of hunting that continues to leave them hungry. One of the drawbacks of a game reserve over a national park (i.e. they have to have a secure perimeter fence!). African wild dogs are hard to keep here within privately managed land. This may be my last chance of seeing them during my trip!
Join me next week as I visit the Shamwari Animal Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre for the first time, and learn the importance of erosion control on the reserve. Discover why I’m revisiting this time here.
EXCITING NEWS! This first post of my Shamwari Series will feature in a brand new book, The Wildlife Blog Collection: a compilation of 70 amazing stories celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Order your copy here