Ocean breezes and owl fluff

Things are continuing to operate at a million miles per hour and I am absolutely loving every moment of it. I have officially moved into my new house and it feels so good to have a home again!

I have very limited furniture and not much of my personal things here yet, but as soon as borders open I’ll be able to get my decorations and furnishings and really be able to personalise my new home. Though, it is sounding more and more like borders will not be opening until February next year. Eish. I am going to have to make a plan. Lisa, Gareth and Kathryn were absolutely incredible and went to my house in Joburg to pack it all up and move everything into storage so I do not have spend money on rent for a place I cannot get it. Packing and moving is not fun at all and I am so grateful that I have them there to be willing to do something like that for me. They really are family and I do miss them oh so much! Apparently, Lisa and Gareth’s son, Jayden – my ‘nephew’ was asking about me the other day saying that I am his best friend. That just makes my heart melt. ❤

I am really starting to make some amazing friendships here though. Initially I felt very isolated and was nervous about being too lonely here, but over the past two months or so I have really grown to feel more at home here and I love the people here. Two weeks ago, Rhalda, Ellery and fam invited me along to the beach with them for a little holiday near Xai-Xai. It was incredible!! There is just something about that sea air (which is ionised air as Ellery would say). We stayed in a big house right on the beach that was isolated from other properties giving an exclusive and very private feel. The first two days were really cold and rainy, but after that it cleared and warmed up giving us such perfect weather for the rest of the trip. The Indian Ocean is so much warmer than the Atlantic too, even in the middle of winter you could still go swimming! And that is a HUGE statement coming from me, I am such a weenie when it comes to cold and especially cold water. In the mornings during low tide, the sea receded back exposing incredible rock pools and reefs. We saw lion fish, bluebottle jelly fish, starfish, nudibranch and all sorts of incredible little critters – I felt like such a kid again playing in the shallows checking things out.

Definitely cannot complain about this amazing view and room!
Even Hedwig enjoyed the sea breeze
Building sand castles with the kids
I am a sand shark 😂

In the evenings Rhalda, Ellery and I would play cards, listen to music and stay up all night laughing and having such a great time. It was really such a wonderful escape and a nice refresh!

Last week I was excited to be asked to photograph a rhino dehorning operation for Saving the Survivors on another protected reserve in Mozambique. It is such a strange concept to be the “professional photographer” for the event – imagine, me, a professional photographer. I don’t know, it is just a strange thing to wrap my head around as it had always one of my dreams and now it is a reality. It makes me happy. Anyways… The operation went very smoothly, and it was a beautiful, huge white rhino bull.

Dehorning is such a sad thing to have to do, but this bull had a really nice horn and was the only rhino on that property with such a horn as all the rest had already been dehorned. Being the only one with a horn put a huge target on him. All in all, it was in the best interest of the rhino and for his safety to remove the horn. Also, for those reading this that do not know what dehorning is – it is exactly what it sounds like, trimming and removing both of the rhino’s horns to make them less of a target for poaching. Rhino horns are made up of keratin and calcium, just like our fingernails so dehorning them is completely painless just like trimming your fingernails. I also really enjoyed seeing a bit more of Mozambique – I really enjoy this country.

Hedwig is doing great! She has discovered her wings and now hops/flies from spot to spot and often back to the same spot again and then she pounces on some invisible prey before flying to another spot all in rapid succession. I enjoy watching her grow so much! She also now has to really attack and “kill” her meat at every feeding. Then she tries to hold to meat with one foot as she tears into it. The thing is though she often drops the piece of meat and keeps attacking at her foot confused as to why the meat that was there a moment ago has disappeared.

She is about 60 days old now!
Trying to “kill” the squirrel

She is getting more and more cuddly as well. I had the day off on Saturday and she hoped into bed with me early in the morning for some cuddles and has spent most of the morning today in my office sitting in my lap. She is rapidly defluffing as well – ALL over the place. But she is looking more and more like an owl and less like a fat, fluffy butterball.

Ryno sounds happy and seems like he is doing great with Kathryn and family in SA! They adopted a new puppy and it sounds like he is getting on so well with the new puppy, I am sure he loves having the friend to play with too. I am very lucky he has such a wonderful family to love on him and take care of him until we can be reunited once more.

What day is it even?

Things have been completely non-stop here lately! If you follow the Karingani social media pages @karinganimozambique, you are probably pretty up-to-date, but if you don’t then go follow them! One of my jobs here is managing the social media accounts so all those post you see from Karingani and most of the photos are my doing. 😊 But if you are slacking behind – in the past week plus we have darted a lion three times (once to administer a TB test, once to check the results of the TB test and finally when he was confirmed negative for TB, we were able to pack him up and ship him out of here). I have a whole story written up about that particular lion’s story, but you will either have to check out Karingani’s pages or wait until I can post the full blog.

Also last week, we caught up with the Mbilu wild dog pack who have two of the females (alpha female, Albie and beta female, Nonisa) currently denning! Wild dogs typically give birth to 8-12 puppies each year around May-July. Generally, the alpha female will be the only one to breed each year. However, occasionally another female, often the beta (second in rank), will fall pregnant as well. Depending on the pack dynamics, prey availability and other factors researchers are still investigating, if a non-alpha female gives birth to puppies, one of four things usually happens – 1) the litter is killed by the pack, 2) the alpha female ‘adopts’ the puppies and raises them alongside her own, 3) the beta female splits from the pack with one or more other pack members and starts her own pack, or 4) the female is allowed to raise her litter along with the pack. Now while these scenarios are not necessarily set in stone, nothing truly is when it comes to wild dogs, they are the most commonly recorded scenarios through observation.

I am anxious to find out more information about the Mbilu pack dynamics with both Albie and Noni having pups. But since we found the den site only about one or two weeks after the pack had settled, we did not want to push too much and had work to do, so we kept as far away from the actually dens as we could. We darted the pack’s alpha (and only) male, Lightning to place a satellite tracking collar on him.

The pack will generally stay at the same den site until the puppies are mobile enough to move on their own and then eventually the entire pack will relocate to a new den site. This helps prevent flea infestations as well as protects the young pups from being discovered by other carnivores which might try and kill them. Having both Albie and Lightning with satellite collars will allow us to be able to track the pack even if they do move den sites. I am really hoping to get back to the den once the puppies are a little bit older and see how many puppies there are and what the pack dynamics are like with the puppies. The alpha female, Albie and some of her daughters are quite special dogs to me. They were the very first wild dogs that I had ever seen and worked with! I helped move and collar Albie and pack back in 2017 in Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa! How cool is that? Small world, hey?

And of course, I am sure you are wanting a new Hedwig update. She is doing great, getting even fatter and fluffier if that is possible! I am so amazed by how far she has come. She is now standing and hobbling around pretty efficiently as well! She can also now eat two whole (well chopped up) but two flipping mice at her big feedings, she is most definitely no longer lacking an appetite!

Also I need to add a disclaimer for those following this blog via email subscription… my WiFi here is very poopy and so the easiest way for me to share blogs that have photos that I have taken with my phone is to first publish the blog and then go back on my phone and edit it, but that means those of you reading in your e-mails or who are REALLY fast as checking out my latest post might miss some or all of the photos. I have tried saving just as a draft and not publishing but for some stupid reason my phone says no to that idea. So, I suggest giving it a few minutes and actually clicking to go to the blog page instead of just checking out the email version. Sorry if that makes things difficult.

Then there are days like today and I cannot get the dangnabbit WordPress app to work at all so you are going to have to deal with the photos in here until probably tomorrow. Sorry about that.

Diesel

This is one of the hardest posts I have ever written. For eleven years I have had only one wish. Every single shooting star, every single blowing out of candles, every single “star light, star bright” and every time I caught the clock on 11:11 – I only had one wish. I never told that wish to a single person, not once in all these years. My wish was an on going one. And it did come true. My wish was always “I wish that Diesel has a long, happy, healthy life.” And he did.

But now my heart has broken into a million pieces as I had to say goodbye to my very best friend today.

I was 19 when Diesel came into my life. It was just after my freshman year of university. I remember my mom firmly telling me “no” over and over again when I told her I was going to get a puppy. And so I did not tell her where I was going that night on the 3rd of July. She was so angry when I came home with this snuggly brown ball of fur with a white tipped tail. He was my first dog that was mine and not the family’s dog. I knew the anger would not last long when I caught her cuddling with him when she thought I was in a different room. The very next day we started our adventures together and we went to the Geyer’s for a Fourth of July celebration. Diesel sat quietly in my lap and just watched the fireworks. He was such a good puppy. He was so smart, he never barked and he never chewed up anything. Potty training went quick. Alice would sneak up quietly when she worked night shifts and would pick him up from my bed and carry him out to go potty in the middle of the night. But it was not long before he could no longer easily be carried. He grew so big, so fast. I worked at the vet clinic that summer and he would come with me to work every day, we were rarely ever apart. Everyone who met him quickly fell in love with his soft brown eyes.

It was not long before summer came to an end and Diesel came back with me to West Virginia to my first ever apartment. On his first birthday party we held a celebration for him, and all his doggy friends came over. This became a tradition and Diesel’s birthday parties became ever grander with each year! We would hike the Appalachian Mountains together and go on camping excursions. He befriended my housemates and fell in love with the neighbours’ husky, Meeka. Soon my time at university came to and end and Diesel and I moved to Pittsburgh.

Growing up and those early years of adulthood were tough at times for me. I learned who I am, and I started becoming the woman I am today. And Diesel was always there. He was there for the tough days at university and starting out in the “real” world, he was there for the fun parties, there through the relationships and break-ups, the many moves and new houses. He was always there for me, no matter what. He was my rock. He was my absolute best friend.

Diesel was the most gentle of giants. During my time as a zookeeper, I had to bring various animals home for extended care. Diesel was always “mom” to each and every one of them. He cuddled with baby goats and monkeys and became a patient jungle gym for a very hyper-active binturong. Diesel even adopted a cat. When I brought home this tiny little ginger and white kitten, it ran straight up to Diesel and immediately started to cuddle and try to nurse on Diesel’s fur. Optimus Prime and Diesel became such good friends. There was hardly ever a time when they would sleep apart from each other and Diesel was always so gentle when he wrestled with OP, even if the cat used his claws.

Making the decision to follow my lifelong dream and move to Africa to work in conservation was bittersweet. I was heading to a place where Diesel could not join me. I looked into the process and really made solid plans to bring him with me, but then I had to pause a second and really think deep about it. At seven years old, he was already quite an old boy, especially for such a big dog. A 32-hour plane ride in the cargo section would have been extremely stressful on him. Since moving to Namibia, I have already moved around more times that I can even count and have lived in two other countries since then. It would not have been fair on Diesel who is such a settled dog by nature. A year after I left, he needed specialised surgery and months of rehab which he would not have been able to get if he had come with me. While leaving him was extremely hard on me, I knew it was the right decision for him. And he forgave me for it. Every single time I went back to America he was always so happy to see me, and we instantly picked up as if we were never even apart. My sister and her family adopted Diesel when I left, and I am more grateful to them than they will ever know. They gave him the most incredible and loving home in his senior years. They gave him the best veterinary and medical care as he aged and helped him through the rehab after his surgery. He became “Do-Do” to my little nephew, Atlas, and a companion to my older nephew, Christopher. He moved from Virginia Beach to Frederick, Maryland with them. And he even put up with Cable the Great Dane using him as a chair and play toy.

I received the difficult call from Erin near the end of last year. Diesel had developed cancer and while he was currently doing well, there was no idea as to how much longer he had. I made a plan and flew halfway across the world just to be able to spend two last weeks with my boy. We spent a special evening at the park and went on a walk through to woods at my parents’ place, but most of the days were relaxing on the couch as he got quite tired and sore much more easily. But I will always cherish those days. Every time I had to fly back to Africa, saying goodbye to Diesel was always the hardest part of the trip. But at the end of this last trip, we had to make our hardest goodbye yet, for I knew it would be the very last one.

Diesel managed to make it to 11. He was incredibly happy and was mostly very healthy until the end of his long life. So, all in all, my wish came true.

Thank you, Diesel, for being the absolute bestest boy and for your most amazing companionship. They say throughout your lifetime you will love all of your pets, but you will have that one, once-in-a-lifetime dog. He was my first dog and starting my adult life growing up with Diesel helped to define who I am. He taught me about unconditional love and was the greatest friend I could have ever asked for.

I am glad you are no longer in pain, but I hate to think of a world without you in it. My heart does not know how it is going to ever completely heal from this. And I do love my boy, Ryno to the moon and back, he is also such a great boy. But there will always be a very special piece of my heart which will be forever missing. I always called you my soul-puppy, and you were, and always will be, exactly that.

Goodbye, my Diesel Weasel.

It is normal to take your owl fishing, right?

Good morning. I put too much cream in my coffee… I normally drink my coffee black with no sugar, but I made some homemade ice cream the other day (which is delicious!!) and have some leftover cream so figured I would put a spoonful in my coffee this morning as a ‘treat.’ Nope. There is a reason I drink my coffee black. Ah well.

Hedwig is doing great, she is getting bigger and stronger every day. I have her in a small box/nest with narrow sides which help support her as she is still working on strengthening up her legs. With the help of the box she can now fully stand upright and almost looks like an owl!! Also her appetite has increased tenfold and she now eats a whole mouse (chopped up) per feeding. I have mucho respect for mama barn owls, I have no clue how they manage to feed eight of these little monsters at once.

Over the weekend Ellery (the warden) and his family invited me to join them to go down to the Nuanetsi River for a day of fishing and for a nice braai. Of course, Hedwig joined along. I guess it is not everyday you have the opportunity to take your owl to a braai.

Hedwig in her ‘nest’

From our braai spot we could see South Africa. Sigh. So close, yet so far. It is amazing how much South Africa has truly become home to me. My heart yearns for it. Damn Coronavirus.

The colourful green bark of the fever tree
Ellery’s massive catch of the day
This is a braai

It was a lovely and much needed day out. Our spot was nestled next to the river and some stunning rock cliffs. There was a pod of hippos that kept popping there heads up throughout the day to keep a cautious eye on us. The weather was perfect throughout the day, the sun was warm, but not hot and there was a constant breeze. The fishing were biting like mad and Ellery and Rhalda’s kids were having such a jol catching them piercing the air with joyous screams of “FISH ON!” each time they had a bite on the line. We braai’d braaibroodjies and wors. Hmm…. I just realised I should probably make a South African slang translation post for you Americans reading along… stay tuned, I will get on that now! We packed up as it started getting dark to make our way back to Mbilu (the reserve headquarters where most of us live and where the offices are), which was about a 2-3 hour drive. I even spotted a cheeky hyena checking out the braai site as we were packing up.

We spotted a chameleon on the way back!

All in all it was a wonderful day.

Update on the velociraptor

Holy moley it is getting cold! I had to go out to the commissary every three hours last night to replenish Hedwig’s hot water bottle. And this morning I am wearing a jersey and wrapped up in a thick scarf.

But I have some good news to report – Hedwig is acting more and more like herself! Last night she was very perky and cuddly. She laid on my chest as we watched Queer Eye on Netflix, she definitely has a crush on Antoni too, she told me. When I put her down in her box next to my bed, she started squawking up a storm. I peered over the edge of the bed and she was starring straight up at me and got all excited that I had acknowledged her. I put my hand down in her box and she snuggled up to it and promptly fell asleep. Her appetite last night was also really good and nearly on par with her normal equivalent of a starving t-rex.

And this morning she finally passed a pellet! Which is great news because it means all of her internal stuff is operating normally! For those that do not know, owls eat whole prey – bones, skin, fur and all. But their stomachs cannot process bones and fur so they regurgitate the bones and fur in the form of a pellet.

She is still a bit floppy however and has difficulty staying upright.

You can see here that her legs sort of crisscross over each other, which is not good. Also if you are not supporting her upright or if she is not nestled into her nest in a way that props her up, she flops over onto her side and flails her legs all around still. I have been chatting with some bird vets and raptor rehabbers all around the world and we are trying to devise a homemade splint for Hedwig so that her bones can all grow normally with her. And boy is she growing fast! She is now extra fluffy with little with down feathers to the point that I think even normal people might start calling her ‘cute’ – at least people won’t call her a vulture anymore!

This is the start of her homemade splint, I will post more photos as soon as I figure out the best way for it to sit on her. Shame, Hedwig is such a trooper even though she is quite confused by this thing.

Owl in a sock anyone?

I will figure out the best design… luckily Hedwig is patient through all of the trail and errors…

A Quick Update

This little girl is a fighter. Hedwig is still with us, though it has been a really tough couple of days. Unfortunately, she has not made much improvement, but she does seem to allow me to force feed her a bit easier – I think she understands that I am trying to help. So I am at least getting some more substance into her. I have chatted with raptor rehabbers and captive breeders all around the world and so far no one seems to be able to diagnose what is wrong from afar and getting to a vet is not really an option here. For now, all I can do is just keep trying. As long as Hedwig is willing to keep fighting, so am it.

On a side note – The weather here has no clue what it wants to do. Yesterday was 33 and quite warm, almost hot and then today it is probably only about 20-21, I am currently bundled up in a jersey and Hedwig is sleeping away on a hot water bottle. I know most of you are from America and are heading into summer now, well we are the opposite and are getting ready for winter. Though I was chatting with my sister and her family on Sunday and it sounds like right now the weather here is nearly the same as in Maryland. I hope it does not get too cold here in winter though – all my winter clothes are at my house in Joburg!

A downward turn

Already more than a week has gone by and so much has happened for little Hedwig. We have really bonded, she lays on my chest and watches The Crown on Netflix with me and has even gotten to the point where she asks for cuddles and seems to enjoy being close to me. She knows the sound of my voice and will cheep and peep when she hears me talking and always seems to know when I first start to move as I wake up in the middle of the night for one of her feedings. She is also getting so much fluffier! And the down fluff is so incredibly soft.

Well, Hedwig was doing great and getting fluffier and so much bigger so fast, but everything took a drastic turn for the worst on Sunday. On Sunday she ate her noon feeding (rabbit meat from the Maputo butcher) really well and had a big appetite. But then Sunday evening she only ate a small amount and I figured it was just because she ate so much at noon. Monday morning, she was laying on her side and could not right herself at all and refused to eat anything. She then let out a massive very dark and stinky poo which I thought was probably the reason she did not eat. But after the poo she seemed to have crashed even more. She stopped peeping and making noise and could not even hold her head up much less the rest of her body. I spoke to our wildlife vet, but he has more experience with lions than birds. He instructed me to give her a sugar water solution to keep her hydrated. I did that throughout the day and also tried to mash up some meat as finely as I could to see if I could maybe get that through a syringe but did not have much luck. Sometimes having no access to supplies makes simple things very difficult.

Monday evening, Ellery gave me some human calcium tablets since possibly being calcium deficient was the only thing we could think of to cause this. I crushed up the calcium tablet and mixed a diluted form of that in with the sugar solution and continued to keep her warm and hydrated. I honestly had little hope that she would survive the night. I would check on her every few hours expecting to find that she had past, only to be amazed to hear these little “cheep, cheeps” coming from her nest at the sound of my voice. It breaks my heart that she tries so hard to respond to me even though she is extremely weak.

Around 03:30 this morning I finally manged to get some food in her. She ate a small mouse leg and a little bit of squirrel meat, but only 1/4 of what she normally would eat at a meal. Around 06:30 I was able to get her to eat the other mouse hind leg, but that was it. I have continued with the calcium sugar solution throughout the day. She is pooping normally (including ALL over me once today) and is looking a bit perkier, but still cannot hold her own body upright. If I support her upright, she now will hold her head up on her own. Both of her eyes are more open and she seems a bit more aware today than she did yesterday, but her body is still extremely floppy and she will flail her legs around. Ugh. I hate feeling so helpless, I wish I knew how to make things right for her. I have contacted a few raptor and owl centres around the world hoping someone might have seen this before and knows the answers on how we can help this little soul get better.

A new role in a new world.

I did not mention it before in my last post since I was still waiting to see what the outcome would be, but the reason I came to Karingani Game Reserve was for an interview. The initial plan was to fly to Karingani on a Monday and hangout until Thursday to get a feel for the place. Well I definitely am getting a feel for the place now. The flight plan did not work out with the looming threat of COVID-19, the CEO who was supposed to fly with me decided it is a better option to stay in South Africa than travel to international airports. My next option was then to make the 12-hour drive on that Monday instead and then stay for 10 days. However, South Africa decided Sunday night to shut down the borders except for one major border per neighbouring country. This means my drive was going to be extended a bit and I would have to go out of my way to Kamatipoort instead of a nice leisurely drive through Kruger like I had initially planned. I took an extra day to solidify my plans and decided to drive straight through instead of overnighting and making a two-day journey out of it. On Tuesday 17 March, I headed to Mozambique for ten days.

A few days after my arrival, South Africa completely shut down the borders and the entire country went into a forced lockdown. This meant that I was stranded in Mozambique for 21 days. Luckily, my interview went well, and I was able to jump straight into work. My new role is the digital media person at Karingani Game Reserve with a side of ecology work.

Two and a half months later and the borders are still shut down with rumours they might not open for international travel until October or maybe even not until next January! I am grateful I did not get stuck inside my little house in Joburg for the lockdown and instead have the option to be outside and move around the reserve. Unluckily though, it means that I am apart from my dog (who I miss terribly) for who-knows-how-long and all my stuff is sitting in a house I pay rent for yet cannot get to. I am so grateful to Kathryn and her family who have been taking care of Ryno for me through this whole thing, they have truly made him apart of their family and give him so much love. I could not have asked for a better place for him while we are apart.

This whole COVID thing is a story though, hey. I still feel really disconnected from the whole thing and somehow a part of me feels that when I can go home things will somehow be normal.

A few days after my arrival, South Africa completely shut down the borders and the entire country went into a forced lockdown. This meant that I was stranded in Mozambique for 21 days. Luckily, my interview went well, and I was able to jump straight into work.

Two and a half months later and the borders are still shut down with rumours they might not open for international travel until October or maybe even not until next January! I am grateful I did not get stuck inside my little house in Joburg for the lockdown and instead have the option to be outside and move around the reserve. Unluckily though, it means that I am apart from my dog (who I miss terribly) for who-knows-how-long and all my stuff is sitting in a house I pay rent for yet cannot get to. I am so grateful to Kathryn and her family who have been taking care of Ryno for me through this whole thing, they have truly made him apart of their family and give him so much love. I could not have asked for a better place for him while we are apart.

I have not left the reserve once since I have been here. For most of the time we have been under a very strict lockdown, which was recently lifted. We have had a runner on the outside who would take supply orders to Maputo and do grocery shopping and pick up any other essential items we need. However, I quickly found out that food in Mozambique is MUCH more expensive than in South Africa. Apparently, most of the expats here usually cross the border and drive to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit for groceries in South Africa as it is the same distance as driving to Maputo (about six hours) and the groceries cost much less. This is definitely the most middle of nowhere that I have lived with having a six hour drive just to go to the grocery store! I have discovered pao though which is a traditional Mozambican bread cooked over an open fire. Sometimes our logistics manager, Cossa, will organise some fresh pao for me from the closest village (about a two hour drive away) which is always such a treat! But you have to eat pao the day it is baked or else it becomes the equivalent of a cannon ball.

This whole COVID thing is a story though, hey. I still feel really disconnected from the whole thing and somehow a part of me feels that when I can go home things will somehow be normal.

Hedwig

On Friday (15 May), Zoe (the ranger in the north’s wife) told me she had save four young barn owlets from a container that had been moved up to the north and they found a destroyed nest inside. There were also three eggs that she attempted to incubate but does not have high hopes for. Right away I offered to take one to help her out since they are a lot of work. Yesterday morning, she sent down one owlet for me and one for Ellery (the warden of Karingani) to help raise and hopefully release one day. I have never raised birds before so I have been researching as much as I possibly can to help me keep this little thing alive. Of course, I have named her Hedwig – it is the best name for an owl! She seems to be about 10 days old or so. She is not the most beautiful thing, but I am already finding myself crazy about her.

Last night I attempted to butcher up a for her dinner. I realised I really need to work on my squirrel butchering techniques, I really did not do a great job of it. But I will have lots of time to practice over the next few weeks. Last night she ate ½ the meat I got off the squirrel and this morning she ate the rest of it.

I feel like such a worried mother, I woke up a few times last night and wanted to check that Hedwig was still alive and warm enough. She really is quite the talker. This morning she is sitting in my office with me and I swear has been screaming and chattering away nearly all morning. Ellery’s, which has been named Hootie by his kids, is a good bit bigger than Hedwig and already has its eyes open and is starting to get primary feathers in and is probably one to two weeks older than Hedwig. But Hootie is so quite compared to Hedwig. Maybe because Hootie has its eyes open and can see that s/he is not being fed versus Hedwig who really relies on sound and smell right now. Barn owls lay eggs over a period of time and so the chicks hatch at different times, this is called asynchronous hatching. Instead of like many other birds where hatchling compete for the most food and parental care, older barn owlets will help to take care of the younger ones in the nest. This helps ensure more chicks survive, although having up to eight very hungry mouths to feed each night must keep the mum and dad owls VERY busy. Just having one owlet take a lot of time and food.

Vanishing Act

I abandoned you guys again for a bit there. But I have a good reason this time, I swear! When I last chatted with you, I was in Cape Town furiously trying to finish up my MSc… well guess what – I DID IT!!!! I have officially finished and handed in my MSc. Which is one of the reasons I disappeared, the end was quite hectic, I was in the office until 1-2am most nights. But it is done and dusted!! Woot woot!!! Now the waiting game for the examiners to review it and then I will make the necessary corrections and after all of that then I will be able to graduate with a Masters! I am definitely going to be having a jedi party to celebrate.

Now the second reason I have been so quite is after I handed in my MSc in February, Ryno and I made the trek back to Johannesburg. I immediately had a serval meeting to attend the day after we arrived and then a wild dog meeting shortly after that which I was busy prepping for. Finally starting to settle back in at home, I went out for dinner for my birthday. Lisa made me the most incredible BB-8 birthday cake!!!

Seriously how cute is this? Lisa is so amazing!

Ryno came with me to play with Lisa and Gareth’s pup as we enjoyed a lovely time!

I arrived back at my house around 20:45 to discover that the back security gate to my house was completely ripped out of the concrete wall and my house has been burglarised.

The thieves stole both my brand new laptop along with my old laptop (which was now a backup), hard drives, my new drone, a GoPro, both of my Canon camera bodies, and both of my professional lenses along with my camera bag and various gear. A total equalling about R220 000 (~$13,000 USD worth of items. Unfortunately, insurance is not playing nice and is refusing to pay out for the items. Now for those who do not live in South Africa you must understand the security levels on houses here. My property is surrounded by a 3 meter (9.8 feet) solid concrete wall with an electric fence on top of that, the gates to the property are metal and open electrically with a remote, both the doors on my house also have locking metal security gates that are bolted into the concrete walls of the house and every window in the house has metal burglar bars. This is considered “low to medium security” in South Africa, some houses have insane security measures. Now all this does is make it so burglars have become smarter and have adapted to the latest security measures – they still break in, it just requires a little more effort on their part. Many houses also have metal security gates inside their houses to lock the bedrooms off from the main part of the house. This way, when burglars break in your house, you can lock yourself in the bedroom (or already have done so when you go to sleep) giving you a little extra time to call for help. Now calling for help is a different story. There is no 911 in South Africa, instead you have to pay for private security in your area and call on them if something happens. We did call the police after the security arrived to assess my burglary, but the did not even bother coming out, it is more just a practicality so you can have a police report. Hey. This is Africa and this is definitely one of the biggest downsides to living in the city. But I am extremely lucky that Ryno and I were not home and were not harmed. We chatted with the neighbours and pinned point down that the burglars were there sometime between just after 20:00 and when I got home at 20:45, so there was a very good possibility that I could have ran into them in the act and who knows what would have happened there! Not having a laptop made life very difficult to operate digitally and I only was able to replace my laptop 3+ weeks later thanks to Willie from the Pittsburgh Zoo who was travelling to Zimbabwe and had a layover in Joburg and was willing to bring me a new laptop with him!

I have started a raffle on Facebook, raffling off one of my photography or painting prints to raise money for a new camera. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support; I have the most incredible people out there!!! The raffle ends tonight, and I will announce the winner tomorrow!

Very long story short – it was a SUPER chaotic month.

Annnnddd now thanks to COVID-19, we are all entering a totally different version of chaos worldwide. I am riding out the storm in Karingani Game Reserve in Mozambique where we are fairly removed from everything by being in the middle of nowhere. I know South Africa just announced a country-wide lock down and everyone worldwide is panicking. Things are definitely getting serious. People are saying that this is going to change the world and, honestly, initially I thought it was just hype having seen SARS, Swine-Flu and other such pandemics have little long-lasting effects on a global level. But I see it now, this really will have global effects. I worry for the African tourism and volunteer programmes, I know many friends and conservation projects that depend on them. I think only time will tell with how COVID-19 is going to change our world and how long it will take us to get back to “normal.” But until that point, I hope that wherever you are in the world, that you are safe and have everything you need to get through this disaster!!!

Helicopter chaos

Annnd I am already failing at posting weekly. But to be fair, things are really super exciting enough right now to share much with you – especially compared to life in the bush.

My days are mostly filled with sitting at my computer in the lab writing up my dissertation, showing it to my supervisors, dying a little bit on the inside, re-running analysis I did months ago and then writing some more. Luckily, Ryno gets to come to the office with me a few times a week (he is totally my dissertation-writing emotional support dog).

Oh, something exciting did happen whilst in the office! I was in on Saturday (yes, legit, this has become life consuming, but also it is not like I have ever had normal weekends anyways)… anyways, I was in the office on Saturday and I just kept hearing helicopters. Hmm, that is odd. Maybe there was a car accident nearby and the news was reporting the traffic? Okay, no. There were multiple helicopters flying so close that my desk was vibrating. I went to the window to check it out and the helicopters had big baskets of water – there must be a fire somewhere! But wait… they are REALLY close! Is the fire on campus?? So I rushed out to go see what is going on and worry about if I needed to move my Land Cruiser or not. The fire was not on campus, but there is a big dam on campus and the helicopters were taking turns in procession dipping their baskets into the water and whisking it off just a short distance away to drop on the mountain.

Well, that was pretty cool. I must admit, I probably spent a good 45 minutes watching these helicopters fly in and out collecting water. Hey, it is definitely not something you get to see every day.

On a social side of things, Cape Town does have a lot to offer – it really is a beautiful city and always has something going on. On Sunday a bunch of us went to the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset concert series to see a band called Good Luck. Kirstenbosch has the most picturesque setting for a concert with Table Mountain lining the background. Seriously, it is stunning! And somehow Good Luck is always playing on my yearly pilgrimage to Cape Town so seeing them has become sort of a tradition now.

But yeah, that is pretty much where I am at and have been at the past two weeks. I have not even had time to go on a proper mountain hike yet, but I do promise that will happen soon – it must!

+

Rolling, rolling, rolling…

Good morning! Well it probably will not be morning by the time this actually goes live on the blog. You see, there is barely any network connection here, so I am not even going to attempt to HotSpot my phone to get this online right now. Ryno and I are currently at a campsite in the Karoo about 10-15 km away from Beaufort West called X-Ventures. It is a cute little place and Ryno absolutely adores it because there are tons of dogs running around to play with and loads of waterholes and pools he can swim in. It really is the perfect stop for us since he really has the chance to stretch his legs. Although he has completely abandoned me to go play with all the other dogs. Hehe, I guess 10 hours of my singing concerts was too much for him.

There are, however, the biggest abundance of mozzies here! Just this morning, I swear I have klaaped at least 30 while they were biting me. Mozzies absolutely LOVE me for some reason. Trust me, I have looked up every reason I can online and I gots zero clues why they like me so much. When I was in Malawi just a week plus ago I had over 79 bites at one time (Andrew and I counted)! Do mosquitos love you as well or are you one of the lucky ones that they seem to leave alone?

The Karoo is super dry, since the campsite has both green grass and water, there are wild tortoises everywhere here!!

Yesterday, we did about 10 hours of driving and about 900km. It looks like Dirkie (my Toyota Land Cruiser) is getting about 13.8 liters per 100 km. Which is something I need to know because I am hoping for some big overland trip this year and need to plan out my fuel stops and how much extra fuel I need to carry in Jerry cans.

The Karoo is endless and just so vast in every way – I LOVE it. It is such an incredibly harsh landscape. There are hardly any trees or bushes, just short dry grasses and shrubs. And it seems as if they are always in endless drought. It is amazing to me that anything can survive here. My friend, Michelle, who has done extensive camera trapping and small mammal trapping across the Karoo for her PhD (follower in on Instagram – @karoolady17) told that back in the Voortrekker days, there used to be so many springbok that when they migrated (which apparently used to be one of the biggest migrations before men put up fences, farms and killed out most of the springbok), it would take an entire day for the herd to pass by a single point. I need to look up more on where it ranks as far as land mammal migrations go, but from the tip of my memory (and this could be completely wrong), I want to say that it rivaled the Great Migration of bison in Kenya/Tanzania.

I have seen some cool birdlife during my drive so far along with farmed herds of springbok, sheep and even a big herd of Watusi cattle!! Ryno and I got a little lost and GPS had us turn a bit early trying to find the campsite yesterday evening, but the sweetest couple ever stopped to help us out and invited us to stop by the nearby airport this morning to say hi and learn about what they do there. I really think we should take them up on that!

If you have been following my Instagram, I have been trying to post more in my stories about the trip, so I hope that you have been enjoying it so far. There is a lot of videos of me just rambling and then photos of Ryno sleeping through the whole things and that is about it.

Much needed beer poolside at camp

Well, I think we are going to go ahead and pick up camp and start getting things ready to hit the road again. We have about 6 more hours worth of driving and then we will be in Cape Town!

Update: we made it to Cape Town and drove directly to the beach!!