Paradise Camp Blog | Transfrontier Africa | Michael Scholl

Paradise Camp Blog

Read the news from Paradise Camp and follow the activity of the Transfrontier Africa team...

From Grasses too Trees and Mozambique!

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Also, we have managed to conclude our grass species composition surveys for this year now and the current interns will assist us in working out the ecological carrying capacity for 2012. Poor old Francois and the volunteers / interns ran around on the transects in temperatures well over 36 degrees C, with the odd thunder-storm and vehicle troubles……..but it is done now!! Well done guys and I am pleased to see the frequency of “decreaser grasses” has improved quite a bit from last years data. Our old volunteers from CVA will remember the days of shouting “shrub-other” to the scribe! At least the elephants behaved themselves and we were not chased out of our transects and plots more than a few times!! So that concludes the grass work and preliminary results look good – our phytomass is much higher than previous years, but the moisture content remains the same, the species diversity and composition is still changing for the better and I expect the Dankwerts Model will show a great improvement in ecological carrying capacity this year. The reserve is well on the mend after the fences were dropped in 2006 and the wildlife has re-established.

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We took a little trip to Mozambique through the Kruger Park and ended up lying under an ancient lighthouse near the Barra Reef on the coast – it was amazing! The trip was a success and we have established a few good contacts for the future. Not to mention a great supply of local rum… brewed in the bath in someone’s back-yard, bottled in whatever receptacle you can find… we managed to smuggle 18 litres of the stuff back into camp. The border officials are so easy to bribe here! It did cause a bit of a riot when some local Mozambique citizen snatched the passports and ran off into a massive crown of locals who gather at the border to try and barter for goods. Well… what an episode to get them back and good old English charm and stiff-upper-lip stuff got them back, but a riot almost ensued and we beat a hasty retreat, only to be stopped by an obnoxious off-duty official who demanded a bribe before we could pass back into South Africa. Well… he has never met an unhappy ecologist who steers away from civilisation… the immense throng of humanity that we had endured up to this moment was just too much for me and after one of my more impressive John Cleese-like rants, we got out of there. I was so glad to get back into camp and enjoy a spring-water bottle filled with home-brewed Mozambique rum at the camp-fire!! Bit of a fire-hazard actually!

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So, apart from the little adventure, we have had great leopard sightings, one IN camp and one close to camp. The we surprised a magnificent leopard on the airstrip who ended up a Marula tree – so cliché!

The elephants are back after the temporary rhino fence was removed at the end of January and our surveys to monitor their impact on the woody vegetation is progressing well. The recent floods have totally obliterated some of our survey sights and it is interesting that some manages and people are concerned about the impact that the elephants are having on the vegetation, but one flood did more damage than elephants could do in a life-time! 

John and Hillary were back for a few months here in camp and we got quite a bit done before they flew back to first-world USA to take charge of Indlovu West again! It was good to have the team back and my liver has only recently recovered. 

We also purchased a ”new” caravan which we tried to tow with the old Snatch across the fantastic roads of Balule. Well… the one wheel came off in the first 100 metres and we were forced to drag the thing for 20km – like a giant slug behind the land rover. We made good progress, tearing up the roads and leaving massive gouges as we went at snails pace past the game rangers from the lodges. The looks on the clients faces… priceless! Then we hit the river-crossings on the last stretch to Paradise… the Warden and his Gypsies were forced to build ramps out of rocks to drag the hunk of caravan over these crossings. The poor old caravan got ripped in two pieces in the process as the back end hooked on the rocks!! What a mission! We left a trail of destruction behind us as well as bits of caravan contents that were now spilling out of the back. The smallest little stove and fridge were a sad loss and it looked like a new-age hobbit has lost his kitchen appliances in a desperate attempt to flee the Shire! Well, the caravan-slug is now at Paradise and we have riveted it back together and glued the panels back on with expandable foam! Home-sweet-home hey Stefan?? Anyways, the rats and mice seem to appreciate it!!

The badgers send in raiding parties into the kitchen these days and they defend the kitchen like Lord Kitchener! “wait until you see the whites of their eyes...”. We have a new trick though… place a lit candle on the counter-top… wait until badgers are close… then spray aerosol can into flame directed at Badger. Great fun, but even the flame-thrower has little effect and they really terrorise us here!!

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Well, the camera-traps are yielding good results for our work on the “species of whom we do not speak” (rhino). Stefan is out every day hot on the trail of “those who shall remain unnamed” (we do not like to even jinx them by mentioning the word). One of our friends and past volunteers has recently been back to visit and set up his organisation Rhino Mercy and we wish Tom the very best with this endeavour.

All I will say on the “nameless ones” is that all is good here so far and thanks to Stefan for his work with them. He has been chased up trees and almost trampled several times, but the “ones whom we shall not mention” are accepting him and he is able to get a location on all in one day. Next they will be having tea together!

Francois (who is washing the dishes AGAIN – as I write this) has done well to get the field data under the worst post-flood conditions that I have ever experienced in Africa! I even lost my shoes trying to cross what is usually a little stream! They got sucked right off my feed and he had to pull me out of the water before I became an illegal immigrant in Mozambique. Mike, one of our assistants here, also lost a flip-flop whilst we were cutting telephone poles and cables out of a river to open the roads again. But….in some strange twist of fate… we found it again stuck in a tree 3 weeks later!!!! The flip-flop that refused to die! So, thanks Francois for your efforts in the field and around camp – you are a worthy slave. Sometimes, if it were not for his manatee-like bulk, I would call him Dobby the House Elf. Yes, I have been trying to get through the Harry Potter DVD’s on a lap-top that has the battery-life of a land rover. So it takes 4 days to watch a DVD in bits and pieces. I am now so confused with the Harry Potter plot – it is way too complicated for my little mind – but I do like little kittens (inside joke)!!??

Adrian of Afreco Tours and his fiancé Sonya were also in camp with his folks… for about 5 seconds… before they hastened back to the luxury of Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge. It was great chatting and strategising again and I think the Adrian Party was impressed that we could endure the Paradise Camp life-style for all of these years! Yip – that is dedication – But rum also helps!

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Ezulwini Lodges played host to the Chancellors and all who’s who in the Zoo of the University of South Africa who visited us for the grand signing of the contract between the universities, Save the Elephants and ourselves. We were very happy now that we have a secure Memorandum of Agreement between the parties again so that our work is legitimised and authenticated once again! These partnerships are critical for us to carry credibility for our research here and I am sure the volunteers and university interns will be pleased to know that their investment has a legitimate place in the Greater Kruger Park.

Well, that is it and I just want to thank everyone who is supporting us here (this could be the longest chapter): Adrian and Adam for their continued support, Viv of Pennies for Elies who is constantly working in the background (in the Mother Land) to support us, as well as Dr. Michelle Henley (StE) who is a constant moral crutch and friend, Ezulwini Lodges for their undying support on the reserve and, of course, John and Hillary of Indlovu West for everything above and beyond the call of duty!! Thanks guys and keep the interns coming!! Dr. Tony Swemmers for his involvement with our tree surveys, Tersia and Dr. Lesley Brown of UNISA for their support at the research Facility and Dr. Mike Stokes and Dr. Bruce Schults for their never-ending advice, support and foot-work from the Western Kentucky University. 

The most important people to thanks are our committee on the reserve who never stop supporting our project and activities and the volunteers and university interns who have invested so much into our little endeavours here to conserve this little patch of Africa. Your time and contributions are very much appreciated and are our reasons for existence!

Paraletic, Paratrooper, Paraplegic, Paranormal… Paradise!!!!

Hi All, it has been way too long since any of us wrote and so much has happened in the past few months that I just can’t keep it in anymore.

I am sitting here writing this on a desk filled with guano from the bats that choose to defile my desk every night; the friendly spider-wasps that have been building their nest since Christmas are watching me with a jaundiced eye and Benjamin the Friendly  Francolin is picking at the scraps from last nights kitchen raid. Yip – the badgers are still attacking us every night, even whilst we are preparing the food! If we take meat out to defrost, they will steal it right under your nose and then defend their frozen popsicle with determination!

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Well – we had the biggest flood in our history here in January when a tropical storm hit the region and washed all our office furniture and equipment into Mozambique! We even saw several hippo surfing past (clutching onto their passports) en route to the Mozambique coast! The region was declared a “disaster-area” by our esteemed government and the town of Hoedspruit still has not been restored – people que every day for their daily ration of water which is trucked in by the military and the access road to town is worse than our own internal roads. We went from semi-3rd world to stone-age overnight! We rejoice in the fact that we built the camp on a hill, have solar power and our own bore-hole!!! Who needs a government to supply us with any service?? We also drive Land Rover (or push them) – so the worse the roads are… the better!

Anyways, we managed to get a grader and several other evil-looking earth-moving contraptions onto the reserve to help us restore the internal road-network as the lodges were struggling to move around. So with a bit of luck… and as long as the machines do not keep breaking down… we should be back to normal soon. 

SO, on the subject of vehicles…..poor old Beelzebub returned from the local mechanics again – this time it made it as far as the entrance gate before it broke down again! You should have seen the fit that I threw – man, it was an epic rant and the mechanic responded like a super-hero, only to break it further. Well, we leaked more oil than you could pump into the Gulf of Mexico in a year! We were quick to cover it up with sand as I know the American spy-satellites move overhead from time-to-time and the last thing we need is an USA invasion to find “weapons of mass destruction”  after they detect a massive amount of oil in Balule!

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Spartacus sprung a leak in the radiator and we spent the whole night patching it up. It should have gone faster… but the old Captain Morgan intervened yet again. So, the radiator might be reinstalled upside down and the pipes are now twisted to reach the outlets, but hey! It is better than the local mechanics. 

Enterprise came back from Mozambique with a slipping clutch – after 400 000km on the clock. We sent it in and the mechanics managed to drop the gear-box… breaking it into little pieces. So, it was sent all the way to Nelspruit and many weeks later……..I picked it up from town… it then broke down on the way back to the reserve. Tim and I spent the rest of the day on the side of the road fixing it ourselves. Yip- these mechanics are the spawn of Satan and I have threatened to kill them many times, but they know that I will have to vanquish them with some sort of Van Helsing-like spell! They are not of this world!

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Anyways, I could go on for ever about the vehicles and equipment failure which is such a big part of our lives as researchers in the African Savannah, but I will summarise the rest to cut it short:

  • Snatch broke a diff = fixed,
  • Lazarus broke a steering-box = waiting 2 months for spares,
  • Mufasa broke a prop-shaft, brake calliper and fuel starvation = almost fixed,
  • Ark broke a chassis = welded again, Dave… no problems!!!!

This is all a result of the storm damage as we exported all of our roads and tracks to Mozambique in one night! I was called out to help Stefan who was out with Paul (intern) tracking rhino – they were stuck and the car would not go. So after 4.5 hours of struggling to get to them, I winched my way to their location only to find that the accelerator had broken anyways. So, we tied a length of string to the carburettor and Stefan drove the Snatch back like riding a horse, pulling of the reins to command the car! It worked!! 

The storm also destroyed our work schedule as we have been working all day to repair roads just to move around to access our survey sights, etc. Just to put things into perspective, it would take us over 1 hour to reach the entrance gate IF we did not  have to dodge 3 broken concrete bridges, get stuck in the mud a few times, cut new tracks through the bush to avoid new hazards, wait for another vehicle to pull us out of a river-bed… only to find the tow-rope had broken in several places and is now shorter that Stefan’s attention span… etc. Then we get out of the reserve – at last, and try to head into town on the provincial road… which is GONE in places! This last 16km takes longer than the trip through the reserve. The topic of discussion in the region is about the strange phenomenon of having a massive road-construction team, with the most amazing looking vehicles and weird space-aged looking road-building contraptions standing around… in the same place for weeks… labour sleeping under trees… some begging from motorists who are not going anywhere and even some selling sweets and chips on the side of the buggered road!  I do take my hat off to the ladies who diligently wave a red flag at all motorists battling along this road – to warn them of the dangers ahead! THIS, people, IS AFRICA!

So, hold thumbs that we will be back to operational status soon and I will keep you informed. I want to thank the volunteers and university interns who have helped us during this time – much road-packing and slaving away to get back on track. Thanks guys!!!

Vehicle Voodoo

Well I haven’t written a blog in some time.The past month has been rather draining and it feels like ground hogs day inparadise. It was the month of Land Rovers and we have poured every last cent that we had into these bloody Landies. How we could be so obsessed with these things I can’t tell you. 

We finally managed to get, ‘Beelzebub,’back from the mechanics after 2 long years. The Landy, (which was cast in hell from the sands of Mount Doom) was originally sent away for new seat covers and a shiny new paint job, so that we could sell it. During its time away it was indeed sprayed and reupholstered, and then sold, however it was not sold by us but instead by the people who fixed it up. This was great, or so we thought, until we couldn’t get the money out of them…….?!?! The story changed after awhile and we heard then that they had rented it out and the people who rentedit and driven the car in low range and destroyed the gear box. AWESOME! 

Long story short, we got the car back! Craig was ecstatic with joy, rum was shared stories were told and overall we thought this would give us time to fix the mighty, ‘Spartacus’. This was the plan until we found out that in the past two years the petrol tank had rusted to death and the mechanics had stuffed up the engine beyond repair. And to top it off the Landy from hell kept throwing the driver out of the car every time it turned left as the driver’s door would swing open. EVIL LANDY FROM HELL! 

So we decided to fix ‘Spartacus’ and get it going again while we fix, ’Beelzebub!’ Francois drove, ‘Beelzebub,’ for the last day managing to get only 2 punctures, while Tim Craig and I replaced the bushes for ‘Spartacus.’ The regular tool of choice was a sledge hammer, with the standard request being, ‘pass me the bashing-tool.’ We decided that on the next safari we should pack one of those… So now, ‘Spartacus,’ runs smoothly and we can concentrate on fixing the Landy which was made for Lucifer. 

We thought we had finally made a plan and things can only get better from here, but would you believe it, The Ark had issues next…… My heart was broken; I was going to take the volunteers up the Drakensburg. Yay, a day of driving my favorite thing in the world ‘The Ark,’ We had just had breakfast when I heard a, “KLACK BANGGRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDDD,” sound come from the engine. I was shocked, I had no idea what to expect and when I opened my bonnet. I couldn’t help but think about Craig saying the night before that this car was super dependable. As I opened bonnet and leaned into the mouth of this mighty V8 machine I saw what had happened. The radiator had moved backwards into the fan and thus ripped the fan to shreds and the radiator had a hole in it the size of a five rand coin. Shame. I hate having a broken car, but I love fixing it. 

I remember growing up and laughing at a joke I heard one night when I was about 15 years old. At this point in time I wasn’t able to relate but laughed along anyways. The saying was when you buy a Land Rover make sure you buy two, as you will need spare parts. It’s a saying which has become rather funny in the past month as have come to understand these things first hand. And so I go onto Bubu’s mighty Series 3 Land Rover. Mufasa, is the newest Land Rover in the fleet of now 8 Land Rovers. I can’t help but look at,‘Mufasa,’ and think on one hand why have you brought all these troubles ontoyourself, and on the other hand I look at ,’Mufasa,’ and think ‘ooooooweeeee, spare parts.’

Operation Wet Spot!

It has been a while since we all had a shower! We stink and civilians run for cover when we go into town. I think Francois managed to kill a few birds by lifting his arm and waving - birds fell from the sky, leaves fell off the trees. Even Tim’s great big bushy beard lost pigmentation! As I am sure most of you that have been to camp will know......our ancient water trailer broke and is no longer in service and the little fiberglass one that we got as a gift is only 650 litres. All sounds great - except that it is a dry winter and all the beasties take advantage of our meagre water supplies whilst we are out. Whenever we return to camp, the baboons, warthogs and various other animals have ripped out pipes, broken toilets, etc. and left us with nothing. Then we drag the old trailer down to River Lodge and fill it up again - only to be raided at night by the honey badgers, hyena and jackals. Waking up to a dry camp again! 

And then one day, our saviour, Dr. Reimund Khun, came to our rescue. Reimund was one of our first volunteers at Paradise and felt so sorry for us that he donated enough money to lay pipes all the way from the Olifants River. We dug a trench through the bush and along the access road for 2.5km!! Then the pipes were ordered along with the massive electric pump, tank, etc. As with all good businesses in Hoedspruit.........….. they took weeks to deliver the materials and when they did, they pitched up in a dodgy little truck with only a driver! This little truck got stuck in the second river-bed en route to camp and when we found him, he had managed to get himself REALLY stuck! No winching or digging would free the vehicle. After many hours of jacking it up and packing rocks and logs under the wheels, we managed to pull him backwards. Great! Now how does he get to camp??? Well, we found an alternative route for him which seemed the lesser of all evils. So in the end.........….. we ended up spending another 5 hours digging him out of the "alternative" route! There is just not enough rum! 

Then we tried to install our beautiful big 5 000 litre tank in the spot designed for it on our game-tower. Yip......you know what is coming! It does not fit and now stands proudly in the car-park. Stefan thought we should place it right on the top of the tower like a massive green lighthouse for the world to see. Francois came up with a great idea - paint it with army camoflage paint and prey that the government does not conduct an air-strike on our camp as it looks like a rebel training facility. We will have to trade it in for a smaller one. More rum! We then decided to replace the Ezulwini River Lodge pump with our smart shiney new one and pump from the same source. All was going well with the laying of the pipes and installing the pump and we were so excited to flip the switch. Well. Now neither Paradise or the Lodge has water! There is not enough power to operate the big pump that we bought. So. Now the lodge is upset with us and their clients had to be moved to another lodge where they can wash!! Man - all this for a shower! There is NEVER enough rum! 

I have now lived officialy for 17 years without running water and electricity, and I swear on my premature grave that I will have a decent shower at Paradise camp before the end of this week. Then I intend to get very happy with the aid of a litre of dark rum to celebrate the most significant change to our lives in Paradise Camp. It will revolutionise our lives to have water on-tap!!!!! Stay tuned and we will have pictures up soon. 

Regards from the driest bush 

Craig

Goosie, baboons, lions (oh and some research...)

Hi All, it has been a while since I wrote a blog and there is so much to tell you that I do not know where to start. Perhaps I will start with the news that Goosie, our resident mongoose, seems to have run off with a wild horde of the same species. My rugged-ranger image is ruined after chasing around the camp trying to call her with my high-pitched "Goooooosie, Gooosie, Gooosie"..... well, she is missed by us all and we wish her well with her new family. 

Apart from the usual badgers and things that raid us at night, our camp is being plagued by baboons during the day again. This typical for this time of the year when food is scarce and we have water in our bath-rooms! They have taken to ripping the toilet cisterns off and drinking all the water - the tank then runs dry by the time we get back from the field!! 

As if that is not enough - there is a clan of spotted hyena that have taken a fancy to our camp dustbins and kitchen. They lurk around the camp-fire whilst we are cooking and chatting and every now and then will let rip with a nerve-destroying "WHOOOP" at close quarters. Great night sounds but they are just waiting for us to go to bed and then they sound like a bunch of poltergeists thrashing our pots and pans around!! We did have a small respite from them the past few nights as the Olifants West lion pride killed a big female giraffe close to camp and they have been pre-occupied with cleaning up the mess! It was a great sighting and we spotted 14 lions and 6 hyena (not to mention the jackals and vultures) on the kill over the past few days and nights! Last night, a herd of elephants stumbled upon the lions and the sounds of trumpeting and chasing the lions was fantastic from camp. My favourite time at camp is at night when the sounds entertain us for hours! It is Balule’s Top 10 hits!!

We have kicked off the Balule Research Facility at the old Wardens House and conference facility and our partnership with Save the Elephants, University of South Africa, South African Environmental Observation Node and Western Kentucky University have paid off. UNISA has funded equipment and furniture and the Kentucky University, together with SAEON have funded two fully digital weather stations on the reserve now!! 

Amy is BACK! She manages the research facility and is responsible for collating all data and ensuring that the post-graduate students are supervised in the field. It is great having Amy back on the team and she careens around the reserve in the "SNATCH" an old army land-rover that we purchased for the research facility. We are lucky to have two students working on our elephant impacts on woody vegetation now. They come from Wits University and are working under the SAEON banner. Even though we got stuck in the "SPARTACUS" and elephants chase them off the survey plots from time-to-time, work has progressed well and Dr. Tony Swemmers and Dr. George Chirima are supervising the process and in constant contact.We also have good old Molly from Western Kentucky University, working with Dr. Mike Stokes on human-wildlife conflict counter measures. Using the best of latest technology to try and find a solution to crop-raiding wild animals. We really look forward to the out-come of this work and are proud to be a part of it!! 

Our last project that we have initiated is to address the question of human influences on predator hunting success. IE. How do roads, artificial waterholes, fences and such influence predator / prey relationships. For this, we have Eilidh from Glasgow University on the job! 

You might have heard about the lions escaping out of the reserve and our efforts to get them back inside??!! Well, seven more escaped and we have only managed to get two females and 1 cub back so far. We are all very afraid for the lives of the three big males as they are miles up the Olifants River and onto farm lands where they might meet their demise if the farmers loose live-stock! We are on the job and hope for the best! Traps have been set and local authorities are reporting daily on the movements and progress. We just cannot seem to get them in a place where we can dart them! 

This pride (the Singwe Pride) fought with the Olifants West Pride a few weeks ago and ran straight west to escape the bigger pride. They then hit against the Western Boundary Fence of Kruger Park and found the usual portal at the Olifants River! The old males from Olifants West Pride are still able to fight off these younger males which just goes to show that experience is everything!! It was an epic battle and even though it was only two old males against three young and fit males, the older and experienced males won the day – AGAIN! I am proud to say that TA was instrumental in protecting these pride males from hunting, so we say “We told you so!”

I am sure that some of you have heard about our major problems with the Olifants West Pride escaping onto an adjacent game-farm and eating a wildebeest and a giraffe...... well, we managed to get them back after many nights of struggling!! We succeeded after baiting for them with impala and our volunteers at the time got the best lion experience that anyone could ever ask for! It took several weeks to get them all back, but the farmer has now up-graded his fence so we do not anticipate this happening soon again!

We have had a few poaching incidents in the past few months and we are proud to announce that we have not lost a rhino or other high-value species in our area of jurisdiction! Subsistence poaching continues fro bush-meat and we have identified the more hot-spots where snaring is a problem. Our preventative measures are working well and we have only lost one impala in the past month! Our Chief anti-poaching Tracker - Happy, is working double shifts and is the hero of TA at this stage!

Our vehicles are....well....... what can I say - they keep us fit as we push them around the reserve! Spartacus had to have the starter replaced recently after stranding us on a lion sighting! Then poor old Sekorokoro still has broken suspension springs, but after 36 years has been promoted to a fire-tender!! Then the Enterprise leaks every kind of fluid that there is, but is stil going!!! Dave is a work-horse and going strong with the anti-poaching team and we hope to have the last of our landies back from the workshops in Hoedspruit town soon. It has only been 17 months now, so we have given up asking! Slow service?? NO service in this town!!

Anyways, we have finally replaced our broken generator in camp but it arrived with a broken switch! I swear that the Hoedspruit service delivery has hit rock-bottom and now they have started to dig even lower!! So, we await another switch!On the bright side - our waste-management system is working well and includes the "Sputnik" incinerator and our latest staff member - Isaak who is tasked with separating all rubbish into recyclable units! Things are looking up on that side and we thank the lodges for helping us by separating their waste, unlike many of the other farm owners who just dump their bags and drive away before we can even chat!

Our two cheetah cubs that we had to dart and remove to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre are doing very well and we have started a cheetah re-introduction program which, with help from the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, will see us returning 5 cheetah back into the Kruger system over the next year. This is very exciting as we are raising funds for this purpose as we speak. Every cheetah must be collared with a satellite transmitter so that we can monitor their progress and rescue them if they end up on farm land, etc. I will keep you all informed as to the progress of the project!

Our elephants have given us a run-around with one managing to get a car tyre stuck on his foot! He looked quite embarrassed but when we looked for him the next day with a chopper, we could not find him. This has happened before and the tyre cut the circulation off the foot of the previous elephant, making a nasty wound. So, after much searching and no joy, we found a tyre stuck in the mud at Singwe Elephant Dam (Big Dam)! It seems that the clever elephant managed to get reid of the tyre all by himself!Shoshangan the elusive bull with the broken collar managed to also evade us and we wasted many resources trying to track him down with choppers and fixed-winded aircraft. The SANParks and Dr. Michelle Henley and her team were great in all the help that they gave us, but we just could not re-locate him. Then!!! He popped out of the bush one day - as if nothing was wrong! We still intend to replace his collar as he is a valuable animal because he seems to have settled in the western sector of the Greater Kruger and will show us where elephants go in that area and also when they leave the reserve via the Olifants River! So, we will try again and Vivian Burns from Pennies for Eles has been a fantastic supporter in our efforts to help the Save the Elephants organisation in their efforts to address elephant research and conservation! Thanks Viv!

That is the news in a nut-shell and even though things are tough most of the time, we have managed to keep it all together and also initiate many new projects for the reserve! Thanks to the volunteers and please stay in touch!

Regards from the bush,

Craig


Craig's Blog and Update 2

Hi All,

Just a quick and rather belated up-date from Paradise Camp:

  • Bush and Rain: The rains came at last in April! In March we thought that we were in for a serious drought as the trees lost their leaves, the grass was already brown and the dams at 10%. Then we had it all in a few weeks and it was just in the nick of time! The trees and the grass responded and we have plenty of grazing an browsing to see us through the winter.
  • Waste Management Project: We have finally managed to purchase our incinerator and build the little waste-management site. We took this responsibility on as the lodges and private farm houses were generating large quantities of house-hold refuse that posed a problem to the reserve. The incinerator, called the "HMS Sputnik", will be managed by us and jointly funded between the reserve management and the SAVANNA Project (US!). This goes a long way towards our responsibilities to minimise waste in the most ecologically friendly fashion. There is still a chance to re-cycle if a company can be found in our rural area.
  • The Satellite Research Facility: The negotiations for the old Wardens House and associated work-shops and infrastructure has progressed well and we have managed to secure the house for a low rental. It is very well located and designed to serve as a research facility for the entire region and we are proud to be the first to have established a regional research base in the Greater Kruger. The University of South Africa, the University of Western Kentucky, Save the Elephants and Transfrontier Africa (SAVANNA Project) have joined forces to address the research needs of the region (both on and off the reserve), using this facility as the base of all research activities. We are still burdened with the management of the facility, including transport and staff. We will see our first researchers moving in in June!!
  • Paradise Camp: The poor camp has been hit hard by baboons and elephants and was looking a bit sad as the reeds and poles were pulled all over the place. We had been investing all of our income into the above projects but have now managed to fix the camp up again. Mongoose is very excited to have a new home made from PVC pipes! Since December, we have replaced the walls of the bathrooms and kitchen area. Replaced the kitchen roof and built a car-port for our poor Land Rovers.
  • Vehicles: The vehicles have really been bashed about in the last few months. The elephant collaring expedition took its toll and the "Enterprise" might never been the same again! Old "Sekorokoro" is in daily use on anti-poaching patrols and now has broken all of its suspension springs! Today, she did not start for the first time ever and this might be the end of the old beast. "Spartacus" has received new tyres and suspension bushes and is still going like a dream - in daily use with the students and volunteers as they zoot around the reserve collecting our data. "Dave" is still going strong on daily patrols and maintenance work. "Beelzebub" is still at the mechanics work-shop - after 15 months! We think that we might get this beast of a Land Rover back soon, if we can raise the money - as we need her for the new research house.
  • Anti-poaching: We have continued with "Operation Nkhombe" which includes patrols at night. So far we have lost 6  rhino in the region but none in our area of jurisdiction. Of that we are proud! We are all tired and worn out and the strain on the vehicles is showing. "Happy" our tracker is doing a great job and the tracking team has pulled over 56 snares out of the bush in the past few months. We are also proud to announce that we have not lost a single animal to snaring in this last quarter. We have formed a relationship with the BaPhalaborwa Aerial Task Team (BATT) who conduct our aerial patrols and are quick to respond to any call-outs. So far so good.
  • Research: Our on-going research into the impact of elephants on the woody vegetation components of the arid savannas has earned us a place on the Kruger Elephant Research Forum. Furthermore, we have forged a stronger relationship with Save the Elephants as we continue to contribute to their data-bases. Our work has produced a few internal papers that have assisted the Greater Kruger Park management in decision-making regarding our elephant population dynamics as well as predator / prey relationships. We have finished with our annual primary production surveys and am happy to say that our grass species diversity and crude protein contents have improved and increased. Our next big project is the annual game counts and animal population dynamics surveys set to begin in September.
  • Alien vegetation: The seasonal drainage lines / rivers have been cleared of coggelbur and we have killed over 240 alien cactus, using our new method of foliage application of herbicides. Although we still have many live ones that we record on a daily basis when in the field, we are getting on top of the problem. We have started to map the extent of the Lantana invasion along the Olifants River and will begin trials on the most effective treatment method for this riparian invader.

All in all, our role as Game Warden and Ecological Advisors is stressing our resources to the limit and we are still proud to be able to say that we fund all of these activities from funds generated through volunteers alone! The bank might hate me for living in the red, but we sleep with a clear conscience.

I have attached some pictures so that you can see us in action! pic's of our aerial spotter planes - anti-poaching, incinerator, lab work, elephant monitoring, etc. 

Regards and sorry for not writing for so long.

Regards

Craig Spencer

Ecologist: SAVANNA Project

Warden: Olifants West Region


Weekend Of Mayhem

An insane past few days have resulted in many in interesting moment in Paradise. 

It all started last Friday, with a meeting between us and a team called B.A.T.T’s, (Ba-Phalaborwa Aerial Task Team,) who do volunteer flying to help keep poachers at bay. They however will help us with many conservation tasks as well, such as keeping the elephants within the reserve, and random fence patrols. They are pilots looking for a purpose to fly and we have that. The meeting was quite successful in the end and we came to some good agreements. 

On Saturday morning the B.A.T.T’s wanted to do an orientation flight of the reserve and we were happy to oblige them. On root down to the airstrip we had something out of the ordinary, two little paws creeping through the window of the car, Goosie had stowed away on the roof of the enterprise and was hanging on for dear life whilst we were racing to meet the air team. Shame poor thing must have been terrified. Craig reckons she wanted to fly as well. The weather was no good for flying in the end and we ended sitting at the airstrip waiting for them and chatting to Eugene Engelbracht the head of the B.A.T.T’s while we waited. Follow up flights will happen in the future. 

Goosie didn’t want to get back in the car at the end of the meeting and ended up biting Craig when he tried to put her in the car, so we left her there for the day to play around. She really knows how to play though, we were quite content with her playing and fetching her after game drive but would you know it at about 16h30 we get a call from Kjell asking if we had lost Goosie somewhere, he had driven past the airstrip and she launched herself into his car, bit the guests and ran off. Funny… So we went and fetched her a bit earlier than anticipated and we took her on drive with us. Moments to remember. Photos can be found on the Transfronier Africa Face book page. 

We thought Sunday would be a chill out day because we’d been so busy, but noooooo, we had a truck crash into the western boundary fence. This truck took out a knob thorn tree clean out the ground and it went flying into the bush almost ended up in Naledi, (not quite but it went quite deep into the bush.) Photo’s on Face book page. We ended up working on the fence for most of the day and fixed it up with some red bush willows while we wait for the fence guys to fix it up again. I believe the expression is, ‘No rest for the wicked.’ 

Last night was a little extreme for the faint of heart, we got hit by the apocalypse. A storm with bellowing winds lightning that lit up the sky all the way to Timbavati, and thunder that made your heart skip a beat. I thought the chalets were going to blow over, Bubu’s tent did blow over, and now the radio in the kitchen isn’t working again. All that and 5 drops of rain to top it off, all talk and no play. 

Maybe one day we’ll get a chance to rest a little, but I think that’s something that retired people can do while we make sure that when they come to Kruger the animals are still here.

Full to the brim

So now I give you guys the first blog in 2 weeks! Wow, it just feels like yesterday when I last wrote anything down. Everything here seems to have fallen into a repetitive rut, wake up clean lappa area do dishes, set out breakfast, pack lunch and go out into the field to walk drainages (or check water holes, whatever.)

Though sometimes things go a little differently, this weekend the camp was FULL. We had 18 members from the Aarbog Zoo in Denmark here. The camp was alive and things were busy, we first stressed as Craig ranted at us to make things work, but we got the camp ready and things went perfectly, (kind of.)  The Zoo people as we coined them were great and loved seeing the animals which they spend so much time with, free to walk Africa. I can only imagine what that must feel like. 

We have also got 2 new volunteers in camp Alan (61 years old been living in SA since he was 21,) and Frederique, (more or less the same age as Alan and she lives in France.) They are a fantastic couple and have come here to explore the life of a conservationist in Southern Africa. All I can say is welcome and I hope you enjoy it. 

So what lies for the future? I have some schemes and plans in the works, but won’t tell you guys about it until it happens but let me tell you in 2 or three days we should be able to tell you some cool stories. 

That’s all for now, 

Feel free to write us and ask us any questions! 

Getting Back into the swing of it

This is going to be a good week! On Friday we were meant to go on a camp in the drainages, it was going to be awesome but instead the Craig said he had other things in mind… We all thought he had a plan to kill us all or something like that. When we arrived at camp after a hard day in the sun, Craig told us that he had a fantastic boat trip organized for us. We were all going to go down the Olifants River and spend the night out there. I was super amped just to get out for a bit, and see new things.

It turned out to be one of the highlights for me so far, being surrounded by hippos at night and getting to see Ellies come down for a drink. I could almost say priceless but it wasn’t. This will hopefully become a regular outing for the volunteers in the time to come. 

So after a weekend away, we were all quite slow on the Sunday, saying goodbye to a good friend after breakfast at 3 bridges. Kevin has been with us twice so far this year and for a grand total of 6 weeks. He is now back to California, we wish him all the best. 

Today we had to get back into the swing of things, because we were away for the weekend shopping was put on hold, so Craig and Erin went to the fantastic metropolis called hoedspruit. 

This in turn meant that I had to patrol drainages on my own, which wasn’t to bad. I managed to come across a small herd of Ellies whilst being on foot, They were quite a way away but none the less it was nice to see them. 

Francois had to polish and spit shine all the signs within the reserve, so he’s been doing that for a while and probably will be doing that for a couple more days. 

When I got back to camp the wind was blowing and we immediately started preparing for the apocalypse only to find that it was all in vein since the storm missed us completely. Though I did fix Goosies little pipe house on the tower since it was also looking like it would blow away. I’m currently doing some renovations and upgrades on her house. 

Craig is doing good, always stressed and ranting at us all, for what I’m not sure, I think he’s starting to make things up as he goes along. It’s his way to make sure that we keep on our toes and not slack off. 

This is our Hello from Paradise Camp     

Storm in Paradise

The Rain has come and gone. Yesterday Francois, Kevin, Erin and I went to do the water hole surveys, Craig wasn’t too sure about letting us go out since he feared that we would waste petrol whilst looking for the water holes and also anger the land owners by driving past their lodges. We managed to have a successful drive without doing any wrong and Craig was happy with that. 

Not going on game drive turned out to be a very fortunate thing since at about 19h00 there was a major cloud burst and we were all grabbing data sheets and cameras and computers trying to protect everything from the rain. Goosies little hide out was flooded and she was running around looking for cover as well. She eventually hid in the cupboards away from all the rain. We stood in the kitchen which has recently been upgraded with a tin roof and seemed to be the only dry place in Paradise camp. 

The rain has stopped for the most part with slight drizzles every now and again, we’re not sure how much rain we got last night but I’m sure it wasn’t enough. This morning Craig was stuck in his caravan again, this time he had a bull ellie outside his door. When he eventually got free he told us about the Ellie having been in the area, so we drove up and down looking for this lonely bull but to no avail. Hopefully the weather clears so we can get out on drive this evening, I need my ellie fix. Haven’t seen one in about 3 days… Holding thumbs for that.    


© BlueXplorer.org / Michael Scholl Copyright 2012 for TransFrontier Africa and Craig Spencer