Paradise Camp Blog | Transfrontier Africa | Michael Scholl

Paradise Camp Blog

The Cacti Bites the Dust

Another month has passed in our beautiful Balule and things are exciting as ever. The lions seem to have quite an appetite with the peaceful night sounds shattered by the apocalyptic roars and growls of lions feeding and squabbling with each other. Just yesterday we settled down to watch one of our two DVDs for the 17th time when we heard the zebras alarm call from across the plain. We all knew what Dr. Jones was going to do next anyway so we went to investigate and stumbled upon 19 lions partaking in a magic trick which involved making a zebra disappear. The two massive males were the chief magicians who were supported bya cast consisting of females and an assortment of very cute cubs

They have been making a lot of kills recently and I don’t know if it’s my imagination but I can swear the impala and zebra seem just that little bit more nervous these days. Their eyes seem big as saucers and they all seem to be suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. A huge herd of Buffalo (157!) has also been seen in Balule recently, making it an exciting place to be.

The mongoose is fit and well (and smells vaguely like pee) and continues to traumatize me at this very moment while I try to write this blog. I take no responsibility for any spelling mistakes. It’s Eva who is running all over my keyboard. She has also destroyed the Fox’s DVD player and about as many cigarettes as British American Tobacco’s annual output.

We have finally defeated the Alien Scourge in the form of the Jointed-Cacti which have invaded Balule. They are a serious threat to the biodiversity of the region but with the help of our last group of volunteers Skyler Chick and the Dolgin duo we have managed to eradicate them all. Our old friend the prickly-pear still rears its ugly head now and then but we are confident that the next group of volunteers will take up the fight to protect planet earth from the alien menace.

A milestone seems to have been reached this month. Boris the Badger hasn’t been back for a month and we are hesitant to say but we think we may finally have beaten him. We have bolted up everything in the kitchen to the extent that it is about as secure as Fort Knox. We think Boris just finds it too much effort these days and has moved on to an easier target like the Lodge down at the river.

Sekorocoro has lived-up to her name recently by leaving me stranded on the dark side of the moon twice this week. I had to walk back to camp past an assortment of ominous looking elephants. The second time I was strolling back to camp whistling a happy tune when I turned the bend to find a rather sizeable male buffalo grazing 5 metres away from me. I stopped dead in my tracks as he raised his gargantuan head and looked straight at me. Luckily their eyesight is inherently bad so I just backed away slowly with my heart beating in my ears.

My elephant and woody trees are progressing nicely as I have finally captured all the data. We are currently analyzing it and are excited by it potential implications. More on that later.

Till next time. 

A momentous occasion

Greetings to all volunteers past and future: This is the first blog that I have written and by no means the last. I just feel compelled to commit some of my thoughts to paper after a bumper few months at Paradise Camp! We have seen many volunteers move through the camp this year and the quality of both the volunteers as well as our data that we have managed to capture in this time has been extremely high. This has boosted our profile on the Reserve and we now find ourselves in a position to advise management on ecological matters from a very strong resource base. 

We hit a bit of a snag early in June when our treasured lap-top and various very important accessories disappeared out of our Land Rover in town. On top of this, our inverter and batteries in the camp popped their mortal coil and ye olde Sekorokoro, our prized Land Rover, burned out its starter-motor, forcing volunteers to push-start the old beast every morning and seriously hampering our chances of conducting field work. Just when we thought of changing the name of our camp to the Balule Triangle, volunteers Joke Lammers (Holland), Viv Burns (UK) and Shirley Minassian (Australia) came to our rescue and helped sort us out! It remains one of the most touching and rewarding moments in my life when the new batteries were installed, Sekorokoro started first time and a massive box arrived at the post office with a lap-top and all necessary accessories neatly packaged inside! So……….we are back in action and have caught up on all our lost data. A further thanks must be extended to the Rangers at Pondoro Lodge, Ezulwini Lodges and Naledi Lodge for completing the predator / prey data capture forms for us and thereby increasing our data-base in this respect. 

Our animal population dynamics surveys are progressing well and although it is difficult to draw conclusions or discuss them on this forum, it appears that all consumer species are in good shape. Sex ratios and age structures look good and almost textbook in their dynamics. The blue wildebeest numbers appear stable with small increases evident at this early stage and it is apparent that predation plays a negligible role in this species. The reasons for their small herd sizes and low numbers is attributed to the fact that the habitat that we sample is not considered primary habitat for this species. We are blessed with good winter grazing following the bumper rain season of 2008/2009 and the water-holes still have good quality water. This is great for such a late stage in the normally dry season and we are still counting several breeding herds of elephants and even buffalo herds of over 150 individuals!! 

All in all, the reserve is in good condition and management should be proud. It must always be kept in mind that this is an open system and therefore not fenced. Animals are here only because they want to be! Our policy of a “hands-off management model” and the “precautionary approach” appears to be working in the natural environment’s favour.

John (our Research Assistant) is still working on the fine-scale monitoring of the impact that Elephants have on woody species (trees and shrubs). Our hypothesis that roads influence or concentrate elephant movement and therefore impact on trees seems to be yielding results already! I will leave this up to John as I do not wish to steel his thunder. 

I would like to conclude, by emphasising that this little organisation of ours is an integral component of the management system in the OWGR section of the Balule Reserve which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. We are unique and privileged to be able to provide the services that we do, for free. This is due to the inclusion of volunteers on our projects and as a result places us in a better position to pass unbiased comment and also not burden the already humble conservation budget for this reserve! Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters!!!! 

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