Paradise Camp Blog | Transfrontier Africa | Michael Scholl

Paradise Camp Blog

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!!!

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