In this week’s Shamwari series we get the devastating news of an unexpected death, and learn the serious business of scat anaylsis (studying poo!). This follows my first experience of camping in the bush and the rush of zip-wiring through a rainforest canopy; you can read all about that in the previous Shamwari Diaries post: Act 3, Scene 2 – African nights or, to discover why I’m revisiting this time, head back to the start of Act 1 here.
Disappointment — things that were not meant to be
Sunday 7th September 2008
We were originally going to go shark-diving today at Mossel Bay, but I had to postpone it a second time — it’s one of Steph’s last weekends and on re-evaluation, she didn’t have the funds, after all.
Therefore I spent the day relaxing around Madolas, sunbathing by the pool for most of the day, trying to top up my not-so-good tan (I’ve been covered up most of the time we’ve been out on the reserve as I wear my work clothes).
An early night is in order tonight, to try and balance things out — as tomorrow night we are going to try and trap a brown hyena, in order to radio collar it, so that over time the team can collect more data on the hyenas’s behaviour on the reserve.
Monday 8th September 2008
Disappointment. Unfortunately we shalln’t be going out tonight to catch the hyena, as a leopard has apparently escaped the reserve, so the team need to use the trap to try and catch it.
Instead of trapping a hyena, we drove round the reserve for most of the night to look for the hyena who already has a radio collar on, to record some data on his behaviour.
We went out onto the reserve at 4.30pm, and when it got dark, I had the special privilege of sitting up front and searching for eye shine under the spotlight.
I found that I had a keen eye, and was really good at spotting animals in the dark! We saw some nocturnal animals which are apparently quite rare on the reserve; like an aardwolf, spotted genet, bush pig, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and spring hare — as well as some of the more commonly seen animals (though no less impressive), such as rhino, buffalo, elephants, zebra, oryx, blesbok, impala, duiker and mountain reedbuck.
By 2am we still had no radio signal on the hyena and decided to call it a night.
Death: a sad goodbye
Tuesday 9th September 2008
We drove to neighbouring Bushman Sands Reserve to look for ancient cave paintings. This meant parking the car and going on a bit of a hike.
We got the morning off from work this morning, starting activities at lunchtime, so that we could have a bit of extra rest following the night-drive last night.
We had to climb several hills and rock formations and found two very good sites that had very clear bush paintings, estimated to have been created in the 1800s; probably around 1870.
Afterwards, we went to the northern Born Free centre to watch the big cats being fed. Sadly, one of the male lions, James (of the trio James, Jerry and Jules) had died since the last time I’d visited, about 2 weeks ago.
He died following veterinary treatment, which initially seemed promising. A sad vibe hangs over the sanctuary as a result.
We did, however, get to see the two lion cubs, which are doing well, Brutus the lion, Kuma the leopard, Jules the lioness and Jerry the lion — it’s so special to be able to watch and photograph these big cats that I’ve read so much about!
Dung: there’s no hiding the truth
Wednesday 10th September 2008
This morning we didn’t go out on the reserve, but instead were taken to nearby Grahamstown to visit the natural history museum there.
It was a very cheap entry fee (4 rand) and was, surprisingly, a very big museum, with whole sections on the Solar System, Dinosaurs, the ‘Blue Planet’, Ancient Egypt, taxidermy and fossils of the Eastern Cape (of South Africa).
I rather enjoyed it, despite some areas looking in need of a little update. As we were leaving, I decided to write in the visitor’s book and as I opened it up, I couldn’t believe the amount of negative comments claiming that the fossils on display were a lie, as the world is only a few thousand years old, as told in the Bible. Left wondering why such vehemently religious people would even visit a natural history museum, if their learning is limited to Bible teachings only?
Onwards to a different, smaller museum that housed Arabic Scriptures of some form. I’m sure they had fascinating history, but the drab tour guide we had did a poor job of demonstrating that.
We spent the afternoon at the Animal Hospital and Research Centre, doing scat analysis on hyena faeces to see their predatory behaviour, and which animals are their prey source.
I learnt that hyena faeces are easy to decipher from other animal droppings, as they are pure white! Famous for having strong, bone-crunching jaws, all the calcium from those bones they consume turns their poo white!
For the scat analysis, we had to collect hair samples from the faeces and put them on slides for inspection under a microscope to see which animal the hair patterning corresponded with.
We also had to do a cross-section examination of the hair, by putting it into wax and cutting that into tiny slices.
Next time: the escaped leopard makes its presence known, we begin a major re-planting operation, and discover the best way to break up a fight! You can read the series from the very beginning here.
HAVE YOU HEARD?! This first post of my Shamwari Series features in a 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