In this week’s Shamwari series I change lodges and volunteer co-ordinators, spot my first brown hyena and manage to catch fleas from a dead warthog! This comes after receiving some big news in the last Shamwari Diaries post, which you can catch-up with here: Act 2, Scene 1 – Seeking out the past and opening up the future.
In case you missed the beginning of this series, you can start back at Act 1 and discover why I’m revisiting this time here.
Starting somewhere new…
Monday 18 August 2008
Our first day under Bushman Sands‘ management (you can discover why we’ve moved student lodge’s here). Said goodbye to some of the volunteer group today, including my Madolas Lodge roommate, who I’ve shared with since my arrival. I’ll certainly miss our chats — she wants to go on to become a veterinarian, and I can definitely imagine that she will do well in this.
Changing locations means we now have a new student co-ordinator; Julius. He seems very laid back, and I can’t imagine we’re going to get as much work done on the reserve as we did under Jaco’s watch (our former guide)!
A morning of alien plant removal was heavily interspersed with learning about the history of the area, which was fascinating, and I was truly grateful for (apparently the world’s best dinosaur fossil was found here!).
At midday we moved into our rooms at the hotel — it’s great! So much comfort comparatively! We have a sofa and a tv in each of our rooms! (I’m now sharing with Steph).
Lunch from Bushman’s was quite different from what we’ve been used to. Instead of a cooler box of bland sandwiches and scotch eggs (I don’t eat scotch eggs anyhow), we had a sandwich selection with much more choice (from the hotel’s fridges, rather than handmade), fruit, a muffin each and a chocolate bar!
Once we had unpacked our stuff we went back out onto the reserve (Shamwari) and tracked the northern pride of lions, who were at a kill!
Tuesday 19 August 2008
Spent today at the Bushman Sands’ reserve, rather than Shamwari — to look for their six white rhinos, which haven’t had a recorded sighting in a while.
As we drove through the reserve we saw ostriches — a first for me! — as well as rock hyrax, blesbok, red hertebeest, wildebeest, warthogs and elephants.
Within about 40 minutes we came across three of the rhinos; but they were very thin due to a lack of appropriate vegetation as food source in the area that they’re residing in. It was quite distressing to see.
We went tracking on foot to see if we could see the remaining three, but we couldn’t find them.
Driving back to find a lunch spot we came across we discovered a dead warthog inside a termite mound.
We got out of the truck to move it and determine weather it had died of natural causes (we believe it had, as there was no sign of injury). We all ended up catching fleas from it though!
Finished the day with a trip to Madolas, where we joined the new nature guide students who’ve taken up post there for a talk about African history and heritage, and were given information about reptiles in the area — complete with a visit from a huge monitor lizard, a 10-foot Python and various other snakes — including a grisly feeding demonstration!
Thursday 21 August 2008
Today was an amazing day! An important part of game reserve management is knowing what can actually be found on the reserve, so today was a significant one; as I carried out my first game count with the team.
I actually found this really fun, and thanks to having great sight eyesight, I was heavily relied upon to identify wildlife in the far distance too.
We spent about three hours searching for and recording the animals we encountered. I was in charge of documenting oryx (pictured above) — of which I spotted seven — and red hartebeest — of which I spotted 15.
Lunch today was served at Rippons Safari Lodge; one of the guest lodges at Shamwari. It was very luxurious! (I dream of coming back here one day as a guest!).
Amazingly, on the way back from lunch we saw the reserve’s rare brown hyena, and I was the only one quick enough to snap a photo!
We also saw our first wild leopard today (my favourite big cat!), which was incredible. It was at quite a distance, and required the use of binoculars, but at least it’s a tick on the bucket list.
Finished the day with my first visit to the Southern Born Free big cat sanctuary, which is home to the three leopard triplets that I’ve adopted and read about for years now — Sami, Alam and Nimira — and also Aslan the lion, whom I still adopt.
It was incredibly moving to see them in their huge enclosures, living the life I hoped for them since reading of their rescue appeals!
Friday 22 August 2008
Tracking lions for an hour or so this morning using the tracking device to pick up signals from their radio collar. It was the first time I’ve gotten to sit up front in the truck and hold up the radio antenna, searching for the predators.
This basically consists of holding up and tilting the aerial antenna, listening out for the signal beeps to get louder and more frequent. Although we didn’t find the lions in the end, I enjoyed having this responsibility!
Next up, rhino identification, using ear notches to tell them apart and mark them up on the monitoring sheet. We found about six different white rhinos in total, including a young calf.
Stopped off for lunch at a hippo pavilion next to the Bushman’s River.
Had a brilliant view of 14 hippos rushing into the water and swimming around in the midday heat. Wonderful to see.
For most of my volunteer group, today is their final day on the reserve before they return back home. Only myself and my Bushman Sands’ roommate Steph will still be here after the weekend (joined by a new group). To make it a memorable final afternoon for them, our guide decided to take us out in search of elephants.
Along the way we caught a rare sighting of water monitor, as well as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, mongoose, waterbuck, vervet monkeys, Impala and springbuck.
We eventually found the herd of elephants, which had two calves and managed to get pretty close to them, getting some brilliant photos!
Back at Bushman Sands hotel, Steph found an abandoned baby pigeon that looks to have fallen out of a nest and, once sure there was definitely no mother on the scene, decided to take care of it. I don’t know much about caring for baby animals like this (though I did take care of some baby pigeons with my mum many years ago!), but I think Steph has some experience, having expressed her interest in working for the RSPCA.
She knew to get hold of a syringe to feed the bird with — giving it a Weetabix mixture I believe — and has turned one of the drawers in our room into a cosy bed box for the bird; now named George. She has set her phone alarm to go off every 3-4 hours, to feed the little guy. I hope it makes it through the night!
Monday 25 August 2008
A sad day today. Lots of tears from the group today, as they packed up and left this morning. I know we’ve all added one another on Facebook, but it won’t be the same as seeing each other in person — especially after the incredible experiences we’ve all shared!
Steph and I went onto the reserve on our own (with the company of George the pigeon, who seems to be going strong, and successfully made it through the entire weekend with Steph’s care).
As there is only the two of us for the day, our student co-ordinator Julius took us for a 3-hour walk through the reserve, to try and do some tracking on foot. Amazingly, the only animals we saw during the entire trek were a small group (tower) of giraffes.
After lunch we returned to the vehicle and came across a group of guests who told us of a leopard cub sighting! We rushed to the area they described and sure enough there was a mother and cub!
Not a very clear sighting (in fact, frustratingly, it took me ages to be able to see them up in the tree they were camouflaged against!), but an exciting experience nonetheless.
Returned to Bushman Sands to find the new group of student volunteers had arrived — five girls and one guy — they seem nice, though it still seems strange that the others have actually left.
Join me next time as we discover two drowned rhinoceros (leaving us with the mission of how to move them) and go on a rescue mission to try and save an oryx! Read the series from the very beginning here.
HAVE YOU HEARD?! 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