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,