Wow, I cannot believe it is Thanksgiving already. Where the heck has this year gone? (PS – totally except the exact same question just before New Year’s). This week has been an absolute whirlwind for me! Everything has changed!
Well almost everything. On Tuesday I will be hopping on a jet plane bound for Washington DC – I have a new nephew that I need to meet! I have complained endlessly with yall about my visa struggles, we the time has come where I am being kicked out of the country more or less. My latest visa expires on 30 Nov, so I am leaving 28 Nov. Initially I was planning on staying in the US until around March or so, but I just cannot be away that long, so my US tour has been cut short and I will be coming back home to Cape Town before New Year’s! That being, said here’s my US tour schedule so you guys can plan around it! (haha just kidding, I am just pretending that I am cool here):
29 Nov-4 Dec: Maryland
4 Dec-10 Dec: Pennsylvania
10 Dec-20 Dec: Maryland
20 Dec-26 Dec: Virginia
Let me know if you want to try to get together! Unfortunately, because this trip is going to be short, I cannot squeeze in all the things I wanted to do and people I want to see. If not this time, then next trip! I will be doing at least one America trip in 2018 … ORRRRR you can always come visit me in SA! 😉
Now that that is out of the way…..
I HAVE BIG NEWS! And you get to be the first to know, since you are my loyal blog followers, all 6 of you. (Actually 22, I just looked, thanks guys!)
Are you in suspense yet?
I mean I can talk about other things. Ryno is doing good, he is HUGE now – 29kg! How did that happen? What the heck has my boy been eating?
Okay, okay, I will tell you. Cool your jets, turbo.
My contract with Panthera was initially only until December and I had NO clue what I was going to do after that. I have been trying to make all sorts of plans, plant some seeds here and there, and just hope and pray that something worked out.
Well it has! I have just accepted a MSc position with Panthera and UCT! I am going to be sticking around Cape Town (sorta) for a few more years at least! Woot woot!! Next year, I will be all over the place conducting field work and then I will come back to Cape Town to write up my dissertation. I am still in complete shock! I cannot believe things have lined up and are actually working out! This is my biggest dream since childhood playing out and it is coming true!
So today, this Thanksgiving Day, I have a whole lot to be thankful for. I know that I have a very special angel up there watching out for me.
Today is a perfect early summer day and I am about to head out with my dog and my friends on a lovely sundowner hike of Lion’s Head. I hope that you have an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving! Eat lots of turkey for me and enjoy EVERYTHING pumpkin.
I am back in Cape Town from my most recent field work. I apologise for not posting another blog post in between, the past few weeks were jammed packed.
@octodragon mentioned wanting to hear about the not-so-glorious sides of field work. It is not nature documentary picturesque all the time. For the past 2 months, I have woken up between 04h15-05h00 every single morning – weekends do not exist in the field. Field work days are much longer than office days, and filled with tough, physical labour. From hammering the poles that support the cameras into rocky ground using a sledgehammer, my hands had blisters on top of blisters, but you cannot stop when you have a job that needs to get finished. Some days I would be out for 14 hours only to get back to base camp and have to spend another 2 hours working on cameras and getting equipment ready for the next day. I have worked on 43 degrees C (109F) days with the sun beating down on you (I have pretty much permanent shirt sleeve and sock tan lines), 90% humidity days, rain, wind…. All of it. (Thankfully, it doesn’t snow here like it does back in Pennsylvania, I do not miss those days of working outside in -20C or lower. Give me 43C any day!)
What else? Oh, this may be obvious to some of you, but maybe not all would think of this – there are no proper bathrooms out in the bush when checking cameras. You just have to be wary not to back yourself up into a thorn bush – trust me, that is not a pleasant place to get stabbed with thorns! I would also often go days upon days without seeing or speaking to another human (which honestly, I do not mind at all sometimes). It is a big culture shock coming back to a bustling city after living in the bush for a few months. You miss out on things back home – while I was out in the field, my sister gave birth to a little boy back in America. I will not be able to meet him for a few more months, but my family knows that I am perusing my passions and understand that that entails missing many important events, holidays, birthdays, etc.
Obnoxious insects? Mozzies (mosquitos) have always had an affinity towards me, and it is not uncommon for me, despite spraying myself head to toe in replant, to have upwards of 40 plus mozzie bites at any given time while in the field. Luckily, ticks do not seem to like my blood as I rarely have had any tick bites. However, many people have shared stories with me about taking off their pants after work only to find that one of their legs is entirely covered by ticks. Lyme disease is not a worry here, but tick bite fever is. I find them delightful, but I shared my room with large baboon spiders and geckos that climb up the walls and sometimes lose their grip only to fall on me as I am trying to sleep. Most camps are surrounded by fencing to keep wildlife out and provide a safe zone, however a few nights I was woken up to naughty elephants that decided a fence was not going to stop them from smashing through to munch on the trees just outside of my room.
Now all that being said – I am not complaining one bit because this is just all part of the experience and I not so secretly enjoy every single aspect of it, even the non-glamorous. And for me, it is all completely worth it for the opportunity to contribute to conserving this planet’s incredible species. This is what I have dedicated my life towards and I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. And I delight in being able to share my experiences with you!
Take down at my survey site went smooth. I managed to retrieve most of my cameras within one day. Some rhino poachers broke into the reserve and the anti-poaching rangers tracked them all day in 42C finding where they broke in and what paths they took. Luckily, the poachers were unsuccessful though! I often inquire if the reserves have trouble with poachers and am very sad to hear that not a single reserve I have spoken with has not had some issue with poaching. Poaching is a horrible act for an irrational belief that rhino horns and big cat bones posses magical and medical qualities. The next day to collect my walk-in station cameras, I was joined by two armed rangers, not just for protection from wildlife, but to provide protection from the most dangerous of all animals – humans. After collecting my final cameras, I proceeded to download all the images from the past two months and then prepared the cameras for their next survey in the following week. I packed up all my equipment, loaded up the bakkie, and said my goodbyes to the place that I have called home for the past two months. After driving 8 hours back to the Panthera storage unit to swap around gear, I joined up with another colleague and we headed 5 hours away to two more survey sites. We spent the week setting up the other two surveys before heading back to Cape Town. Another field technician will be running these surveys. One of the survey site we set up was absolutely incredibly beautiful! It was hot and dry – my perfect climate! The landscape was incredible with koppies and the most picturesque sunsets. Thanks to the over abundance of elephants in the area, there was many wide-open spaces where you could observe so many different species. Much different than forested area I had just come from. Within three days, we managed to spot all of the Big 5 including the best leopard sighting I have ever experienced.
Driving between stations during setup my colleague stopped the bakkie and pointed up into a nearby tree. There she was. A stunning female leopard was casually sitting midway up the tree observing us. She was very calm as she regarded us for a few minutes. Eventually, bored of this funny wheeled animal and it’s two occupants, she gracefully ran down (not leaped from) the tree trunk.
She sauntered across the front of our bakkie in the cool manner that only a cat can do before disappearing off into the bush. It was incredible and the most perfect end to a wonderful field session.
Where has the time gone?? Starting tomorrow, I will begin take down of my survey and then hit the road for the eight-hour drive back to Joburg. But I am not heading straight back to Cape Town just yet, I will reload the bakkie in Joburg and then head up near the Botswana border to help set up two more surveys before heading back to CT on 5 November. I have fallen completely in love with the reserve I am currently located and the people here, I have learned so much during my time here as well. The survey went really well and super smooth! My cameras captured a decent number of individual leopards and three new species that had not been officially documented for living on the reserve – a caracal, a honey badger and a serval!
Having moved around so much in Cape Town already, this has been the longest I have stayed in one location since I have moved to South Africa. My little room in the research camp feels the most like home to me right now. I am not looking forward to leaving, although it will be nice to see everyone in Cape Town and it’ll be wonderful to be with Ryno again. It is going to be very difficult to adjust back to city life once more after living in the bush again, I already cannot wait for my next time. I will only be in Cape Town for about three and a half weeks, then I hop back over the big puddle to America, where hopefully (hold thumbs for me) I can FINALLY sort out my visa and come back to SA as quick as possible. Though, I will be honest, I am very nervous about the prospect of it not working out or it taking longer than just a few weeks. I am not sure what I will do next if the visa doesn’t come through. Perhaps back to Namibia? Botswana, maybe?
I have been enjoying my last few days before take down. This morning I set my alarm for 04h30 though my body decided 03h00 was the perfect time to wake up…. I grabbed my camera and set out to capture the sunrise.
I drove around my favourite road next to the swamp and made my way up to the northern hide where I was privileged to watch a delightful breeding herd with a young calf enjoy the morning at the spa, drinking fresh water, taking soothing mud baths and finishing off with a nice dusting. The young calf was so energetic and playful. She ran from elephant to elephant, flaring her ears and trumpeting to the clouds. She thoroughly enjoyed her mud bath. Instead of kicking the mud onto herself and using her truck to spray it on her back like all of the older eles, she simply flopped on her side and rolled all around in the mud.
And because I have been slacking at posting, here are just some fun photos of hungry carnivores from over the past few weeks … maybe I will come back and type about them next time I have a little free time and some inspiration.
I have made some wonderful new friends here and saying goodbye is never easy. Luckily the conservation world is a very small one, so it’s not an actual goodbye, more like a “I’ll see you when I see you.”
On to the next site and another new (although much more brief) adventure!