Kate on Conservation

Shamwari Diaries: Act 4 Scene 4 — Highs, lows and watering holes

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In this week’s Shamwari serieswe find ourselves face-to-face with a lion at nighttime, I spot the rarest mammal on the Amakhala reserve, and we find out what happens when you remove algae from a watering hole! This comes after a busy few days releasing Lightfoot the male cheetah onto the reserve and helping to launch a new initiative to help the local community manage an HIV and AIDS epidemic. You can read all about that in the last Shamwari Diaries post: Act 4, Scene 3 –  Amakhala Conservation Centre. Or, read the series from the very beginning here.

Hold onto your hats…

Wednesday 24th September 2008

Today began with our weekly Wednesday game count, which I must confess; is not terribly exciting. Plus, it means we have to get up at 5.20am, and leave the house by 6!

Basically, we have to sit in the land rovers for hours on end looking at game herds through binoculars and counting the number of males, females, sub-adults and juveniles are in each herd.

Myself and Matthew — a 50-year-old volunteer from Switzerland* — had to go in a vehicle with one of the head members of staff, and the land rover we were using had no doors and no roll cage; not only making it freezing to ride in without protection from the wind, but also making it feel like we could be thrown out at any second, given that there were also no seat belts!

This made it both exciting and scary as we bounced off our chairs each time we hit a bump!

*(unlike Shamwari, the volunteers at Amakhala are a varied mix of age ranges, whereas the majority of volunteers at Shamwari have been students)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though admittedly a little unexpectedly, by around 9.30am our vehicle had broken down! We had to wait an hour in the cold for one of the other vehicles to pick us up!

In the new vehicle we continued our task of counting hartebeest, wildebeest, impala, springbok and blesbok until about 4pm — so it was an incredibly boring day!

Counting impala

Fortunately, it looks like I won’t be here for next week’s game count… but I hesitate to commit that into writing too much, until my plans have been entirely confirmed!

Thursday 25th September 2018

Bliss. A slight lie-in today, as we didn’t have to leave the house until 8.30am.

We attempted to monitor the lions first but, although we were getting strong signals from their radio collars, they must have been in the thicket somewhere because we couldn’t see them anywhere and had to give up in the end.

giraffe proved much easier to spot

After abandoning this venture, we headed to Reed Valley School; a school run by Amakhala for the children living on the reserve and its perimeter.

Only 9 children attend the school in total though, which seems crazy, as they have such nice rooms and resources compared to the Patterson children’s centre just down the road, which has so many more children present.

We had to give them a talk on the importance of trees, and I made a word search and a word puzzle for them, which went down well. When we left they sang us a song as a thank you.

We then went to the crocodile ‘sanctuary’ on the reserve, which was just three small enclosures for three crocs, which were dirty, smelly and cramped! I didn’t like them at all. I understand this is a new and growing reserve, and I very much hope this is an area that grows and improves very soon!

An incredible end to the day, however, as we went on my first night drive here at Amakhala, which was brilliant! We went into the lion territory to try and watch them catch a kill, but unfortunately they weren’t active in terms of hunting.

We did however have a male lion walk right up to the front of the car a roar! It was so scary!

Even more excitingly, I caused quite a stir when I spotted what is apparently the rarest animal on the reserve… David, our guide, informed me he hadn’t seen one in years, and photographed it to record the sighting with reserve staff. It was a hedgehog!

Friday 26th September 2008

We just had a half day of working today as our student co-ordinator needed to go to Port Elizabeth in the afternoon. So we started the day by going on to the Shamwari reserve to visit the nearby Born Free Centre (where the Julie Ward memorial is) and having a tour round the enclosures – although we didn’t get to see the two female leopards as they had taken their food into the bushes with them and ate undercover.

Julie Ward’s tree, outside the Born Free Centre

It’s quite wonderful that their home at Shamwari gives them the opportunity to have privacy. A luxury they wouldn’t have had in their former situation.

We did get to see the leopard triplets up close though, and also Sinbad the lion.

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One of the leopard triplets

Afterwards, we located the lion pride and found that they hadn’t eaten anything last night after we left. It’s a good job we didn’t try and stick around to see them hunt, or we’d have been out all night!

We then went to a nearby waterhole to clear it of algae – the water was absolutely freezing though! And it stank so much because where we were pulling out the algae it was releasing sulphur!

So I was glad that we could come home early so that I could shower!

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Next time: I visit South Africa’s only wolf sanctuary and face the challenges of digging up bluebush! You can read the series from the very beginning here.

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CHECK IT OUT! The 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

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