Paradise Camp Blog | Transfrontier Africa | Michael Scholl

Paradise Camp Blog

Craig's blog No 2

A very hot and sweaty greeting to our volunteers! I am not used to writing blogs of this nature and this is only my 2ndone! I could never compete with John’s wit!

Our position as Ecological Managers of this section of the Greater Kruger National Park was secured for another year following the annual general meeting in August. As if we do not have enough work to do….we have now taken over the entire management burden of the OlifantsWest Section. This includes the administration function, infrastructure and staff management as well as the security and anti-poaching. This has placed a massive burden on our resources and poor old John will never get that elusive girlfriend at this rate!

We still do not accept any financial benefits from the management body and will continue to follow this principle until we feel comfortable that the budget is not padded from the proceeds of commercial hunting. I mention this as the SAVANNA Project and all of our activities are funded and managed solely from volunteers passing through our camp! We have also been lucky to receive a few substantial donations from Pennies for Ellies, founded around our camp-fire and managed by Vivian Burns! With this money we have managed to repair our ailing vehicles and fund a few aspects of our research on elephants. Ezulwini Lodges continue to support our efforts and Pondoro lodge, owned and managed by Robbie Prehn, “donated” a fantastic land rover to our fleet! This vehicle has been named “Spartacus” as it seems to be indestructible and looks very tough!

We seem to have generated a massive following on the reserve and have gained much support. Our biggest flaw remains our communications with the outside world and we miss opportunities to contribute to the broader management of the Kruger Park because we struggle to access internet and proper office facilities most of the time! Be that as it may, we continue to invest money into up-grading power supplies and computer gadgets!

Some interesting things that have been noted in the past quarter include the rhino poaching that has gripped our Province and we initiated a preventative operational plan to avert disaster in our little patch of the savannah. So far, so good! We have not lost one of our rhino yet but our resources are now stretched to the maximum and our trackers and anti-poaching vehicle needs rest! How long can we keep it up??!!

One of the elephants that our project helped to collar was tracked and found after the collar failed. We have now confirmed that the animal is alive and well and the collar will be replaced shortly. Our colleagues from the Save the Elephants are coordinating with the manufacturers of the radio-satellite collar and we look forward to replacing the collar.

Elephants have escaped out of the western boundary fence again and we have found that they move under the bridge on the Olifants River! We managed to convince the government authorities to allow them a chance to move back in and that should they be within range, we would rise money for a helicopter to chase them back inside! So far, we know of nine animals that have moved out of the Kruger in our section. They are now in farm lands and although we have approached the farmers and been assured of their co-operation, I am not optimistic.

Our anti-poaching efforts have yielded a few major breakthroughs in the reserve and several internal workers have been arrested and fired as a result of our efforts. We have collected a massive number of snares and developed a strategy to ensure that these unselective weapons of mass destruction are not employed with success in our area. We have closed many windows of opportunity for the subsistence poacher and must just keep the pressure on!

Our data-capture regime is sill ticking over and work begins this month in earnest! The poor volunteers that join the project at this time of the year are in for a lot of hard work. Apart from the routine work, we now embark on vegetation surveys, starting with grass biomass,and then the animal census begins. These are long hours in land rovers and measuring grasses! Call me sadistic, but I enjoy it! Our data-bases have become invaluable now as we have several years’ worth of data and have developed a standardized reporting regime to streamline our advice to the decision-makers. Already we have indicated the value of our work when the senior decision makers ask our advice on issues ranging from predator dynamics to water-point management.

I should mention that the mongoose, Evil Eva, is still alive and kicking…… is the bloody honey badger that raids our kitchen almost every night for the past three years!

We have discovered a new pride of lions in the eastern section and this small pride of five animals has visited Paradise Camp recently. We often hear them serenading us all through the night as they attempt to establish a territory here.

On the home-front, our brows and graze biomass is looking very good still, even at this late period in the year and I am sure that we will have sufficient primary production for the remainder of the winter season. The water resources have also held out although some of the hippos have started to move around. It will be interesting to compare the standing crop biomass data with last year, as we enjoyed a spectacular rain season last summer.

As a result, the animals are looking good and we still see huge herds of buffalo grazing in our section.

The thermometer is rising

It has been awhile since I reported on all the happenings from the bush. Our website was stolen by a hairy palmed computer geek thus I have been unable to post my incoherent ramblings for some time.

But we are back, alive and well in cyberspace and there is much to tell.

Firstly, you would think that with all our Land Rover issues we would be crazy to buy another one. Enter “Spartacus”, a V8 monster of a vehicle; which growls like the volcano of Vesuvius and drinks more than Craig on a Friday night. Robbie Prenn of Pondoro Lodge was kind enough to sell her to us for next to nothing. Which is just as well because our mainstay, old Skorrie has been struggling recently and we have been struggling with the mechanics in town.

Just to give you an idea of what we go through with these mechanics.

  1. Steering box breaks. We embark on a four hour epic to remove it.
  2. We take it to town. Pay R1 000 to have it fixed – takes them 4 weeks.
  3. Install steering box in 4 hours.
  4. On first test drive steering box is broken. Call mechanic and ask him to come and fix it on site.
  5. Wait two weeks, still no mechanic. We give him the benefit of the doubt and anticipate that he might have died on the way here. Take 4 hours to remove steering box.
  6. Take it to mechanic in town; he is unfortunately not dead; he has only forgotten us.
  7. We pick up the steering box and just before we install it again we realize that he has put it back together upside down.
  8. We work on it for 8 hours and install it and it works!
  9. One week later it dies again when I amstuck off-road in the thickest bush in the world next to a rhino.
  10. Yay.

The world should pay South Africa to keep these mechanics away from the rest of the world!

Apart from the mechanics we have been doing fairly well recently. We have become the most feared alien vegetation killers this side of the Sahara. We have been experimenting with spraying prickly pears with herbicide. This technique is proving most effective. We have killed in excess of 130 plants so far. We are really making good progress in this sphere, as well as the eradication of another invasive species which is prolific in riverine habitats.

Craig continues to attempt to kill me at every turn. The other night I was driving behind him in my vehicle when he called me on the radio and told me that he had lost the jack off the back of “Spartacus” and I should look for it. There was some interference on the phone, but I never really listen to him anyway and thought nothing more of it. A little while further down the road I saw his vehicle stopped up ahead; with a volunteer spotlighting in the bush. I thought they were looking for the jack and climbed out of my vehicle to help them. As I made my way towards the vehicle I noticed that they were in fact spotlighting an entire pride of lions who took great interest in this long haired fellow making his way towards them. Fortunately a volunteer had the common sense to blind them whilst I made a hasty retreat back to my vehicle. Better luck next time Craig.

Our old friend Vivianne Burns of Pennies for Ellies fame has continued her tireless fundraising initiatives through her organization and we are fortunate enough to have her in camp at the moment. She hasn’t broken any bones yet but she did take a rather nasty fall in the shower and now has an amazing bruise on her leg.

Craig and I have embarked on a serious fitness regime with summer on our doorstep and the game ranger calendar 2011 tryouts next week. Although Craig had his place as the March 1998 ranger; his self confidence has taken a knock since then. He says his right moob is bigger than the left and thinks he lacks definition. Sometimes I find him sitting in the kitchen eating chocolate with a copy of the 1998 calendar. He rocks to and fro and cries and has chocolate smears all oner his face.

There has been a spate of rhino poaching in the area recently. 300 rhino have been poached in Kruger since the beginning of last year. 2 have recently been poached in surrounding reserves. Owing to the fact that we head up the anti-poaching of the reserve we have come up with a Top-Secret plan known mysteriously as “Operation Mkhobe”. Unfortunately it is classified, but Tim and Derrick are working around the clock to keep these precious resources safe.

The bush is beginning to heat up again, the knob-thorntrees have begun to flower and it is time for our game counts to begin. Next week I will be going up in a chopper to assist with the aerial counts and hopefully not vomit and embarrass everyone. At the same time we will begin our ground based animal census. This is the most exciting time of the year and we all look forward to it immensely. We will keep you updated.

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