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!!!