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Paradise Camp Blog

Elephant Collaring Expedition

I awoke at 04:00am and tried to blink away the disturbing dream I was having about Elton John, a dolphin and a supermarket trolley. Damn those malaria meds. But that was soon forgotten and replaced with a feeling of anticipation and excitement as it was the 24 of January. And we were about to get up close and personal with some Pachyderms. 

I sauntered over to the breakfast area to find Craig 1 trying to crack eggs for breakfast whilst simultaneously trying to light his first cigarette of the day. The constant stream of abuse emanating from his lips scared all but the bravest terrapins in the adjacent pond deep underwater. As explained to us in the briefing the night before by the project leaders in the area, the esteemed Drs Michelle and David Henley, we were here to assist the Save the Elephant Foundation in the darting of two elephants to place radio tracking collars around their necks. This would enable the good doctors to track their movements and provide invaluable information which would ultimately be used in the fight to save these majestic creatures.

We sped off in our trusty Land Rover with volunteers clutching the seats in front whilst soundlessly mouthing Psalm 23 over and over. We were running late. We joined the convoy in the nick of time and began following the helicopter that was hot on the trail of the elephant cow. Soon the vet located the cow and promptly darted her from the chopper. She began stumbling about like she had been bingeing on fermented Marula berries all night and soon she was down. Unbeknown to everyone the cow had a calf with her, who was now visibly distressed over his mothers plight. This provided a heart-wrenching spectacle as the young elephant would try to get his mother to stand up. 

Thankfully the vet was very professional though and quickly darted the young ‘un as well as to minimize his stress. We heard a crashing sound coming from the patch of trees behind us. It seemed another elephant had taken offence to what we were doing. The chopper swooped low over our heads and luckily managed to scare him off. When the all-clear had been given we moved in and were confronted by the humbling experience of seeing these creatures close-up. The collar was secured and the volunteers took measurements, blood and hair samples and one was even lucky enough to administer the antidote into the mother’s ear which would wake her up. We all moved back to the safety of our vehicles before she rocked herself back onto her feet. She moved off into the bush, followed by her calf. Probably wondering what the hell just happened. 

We were back on the trail of a big 22 year old bull called Shoshangaan. We sped through rivers and soon located him. The vet darted him and he went down. Soon we were all surrounding him, ensuring he could breathe properly and the process was repeated. It was all over in about 20 minutes. We made our way back to the lodge for brunch. Sure in the knowledge that what ever we chose to do for the rest of the day, there was no chance it would be as exciting as this. Our volunteers assisted the researchers with the gathering of morphometric data and DNA samples and some had the intensely gratifying experience of administering the antidote to blood vessels in the ears. 

It was a privilege to work with such a professional, ethically orientated veterinarian who always considered the well-being of the animals first. It was also enriching to contribute to the work of the Save the Elephant Foundation and a pleasure to work with these enthusiastic and knowledgeable like-minded people. We have been working with the Save the Elephant Foundation and contributing photographic identification and herd dynamics data since 2008 in an effort to close gaps in the data sets of the research into the movement of these mega-herbivores throughout the massive 3000000ha Greater Kruger National Park. 

We all felt that this was money well spent and a small investment for long-term returns. By the end of our journey we had devoured 210 kilometres, 36 eggs, 700 cigarettes, singed some throats with 80% stroh rum and destroyed the land rovers radio, lights, battery and pretty much everything else. 1 pair ofpants was also irreparably ripped on a wayward elephant tusk. Our thanks to Ezulwini lodges for the lone of an additional Land Rover (now in need of a major service), Brass from Campfire Safaris for their assistance in co-ordinating the volunteers and to the intrepid and ruggedly good looking Craig 2 who couldn’t accompany us this time as he had to keep the show goingback home. We’ll keep you updated with our new adventures here at TransfrontierAfrica. 

Till next time


John – Research Assistant

Happy New Year from Paradise Camp

At the start of 2009 the Paradise Camp Research team are very pleased. During the month of November Craig and Craig and various volunteers successfully logged 16 different elephant groups, ranging from Nomadic Bulls to the first breeding herds of the season. We continue to plot these on our GIS and the team are beginning to get a clearer picture of the current movements of the nomadic population. Fortunately, the Elephants of Balule Nature Reserve, Olifantes West, Greater Kruger National Park have been very cordial over the last quarter of the year, allowing the photographic teams ample time to take some great identification pictures. All of our work on elephants has been standardized with that of the Save the Elephant foundation, and we have formed a strong working relationship with this group following recent meetings. 

The Lions are still hanging around Paradise Camp and the surrounding area, thrilling the residents with their vocal serenade at dusk and dawn. We have logged 20 lion kills and only 2 leopard kills in this period and it appears that the York Pride still dominates the area have been responsible for 80% of the kills. Chosen prey for this season appears to be varied but giraffe make up the first prize, so it seems. Warthog also feature, perhaps as a snack! Waterbuck appear on the menu more frequently than expected and a few buffalo kills have also been recorded. It will be interesting to see if there is a shift in prey selection now that the antelope have started to drop their young. There are fantastic sightings of infant giraffe, warthogs, impala, wildebeest and some buffalo. Big Boy and Mazinio, the dominant pride males, have made an appearance for the first time in a while. Pride dynamics are interesting and small sub-groups have formed out of this pride. Monitoring continues. 

For the first time in a long time, and very exciting for the team, two leopards have staked claim to the area surrounding the camp. One big, yet young, male and a female who appears to be the size of a lioness at first glance. Volunteers in November had a rare treat when they found the female casually walking past the vehicle whilst monitoring wild-life in the evening.  She then subsequently made a bushbuck kill which the team logged. 

The tree monitoring and elephant damage surveys are becoming ever more sought after. The data showing consistency with other literature and we are finding that the impacts of fences and waterholes (as could be expected) influence the data to a large degree. The poor old Knob Thorn Acacia’s do not respond well to the ministrations of elephants and die after being pushed out of the ground or ring-barked. Other prominent species such as the Marula Tree seem to have adapted to this by producing adventitious buds under the bark and have a lingo-tuber that allows them to re-sprout, even if broken off at the base. Knob-Thorn Acacias must rely on re-seeding for the survival of the species and we are monitoring this. 

Soil Erosion projects continue and the team and volunteers have tackled some sizable erosion gullies, preventing further erosion. Another positive point to note is that over the last few months, we seem to have conquered the Prickly Pear invasion. This was our most violent alien invader on the reserve, and we have revisited several sites to monitor the effectiveness of our treatment methods. Volunteers may be pleased to hear that this unpleasant task is almost over! However, our recent vegetation surveys along the Olifants River have found Lantana cammara in low density in the riparian zone! This is a serious invader and we look forward to tackling it!

Paradise Camp marches on in the name of conservation. 

Our new Research Technician and project assistant has arrived! John Slabert from the Cape Town University of Technologyis a 3 year Environmental Conservation student and will be with us for one full year. John is responsible for a lot of the computer entry and summarizing of the data. It is very hot up here now and we are still behind in our rainfall! We have received little over 85mm to-date and are becoming concerned that we could be in for another dry year – making it three in a row! Be that as it may, the vegetation has responded well and the grasses may be able to complete their seasonal cycle (produce leaves, flower and setseed) with the rain that we have had. The animals appear to have picked up condition with the new growth on the trees and game-sightings are generally up from last year. The advantage of working in an open system like this is that the animals are not FORCED to stay in one area and attempt to find all of their protein, nutrients and water in a fenced environment with artificial water provision. This would place untold pressure on the vegetation (especially the grass) and would reduce carrying capacity in the long run if not managed intensively.

The Transfrontier Africa Team in South Africa wish you all the very best for 2009 and heart-felt gratitude to ourvolunteers over the past months!

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