Only the best day ever

Thanks to the ecology manager’s keenness to allow me to participate in other reserve activities and projects, I had an opportunity of a lifetime – I got to help radio collar six wild bull elephants!!!! After a few set backs with bad weather and the chopper not being able to make it a few weeks back, we finally were ready to go!! The elephant monitor here, Leo, and veterinarian flew in the chopper with the pilot, Fera (I am sure that is spelled wrong) and the rest of us (ecology team, rangers, WildlifeACT and volunteers) made up the ground crew.

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We set out ahead of the chopper to wait at our first general area location – near the hide to dart two bull elephants that represent the southern section of the reserve. The helicopter quickly caught up to us and we watched as it circled the skies in search of the eles. The chopper dove just above the tree tops and then would rise again, each time my heart would skip a beat waiting for the call on the radio that an elephant had been darted. Twenty minutes ticked by, feeling like forever, when a loud burst of static screeched through the radio and then Leo’s voice giving directions of where the ele was darted. I road on the back of the bakkie with others on benches and we all grabbed the metal roll bars as the ecology manager threw the truck into gear and raced towards the given directions. The helicopter took back to the air as we approached. Leo and Dr. Dave were already on the ground racing towards the bull. A large tree stump propped the bull up so he was laying sternal and not flat on his side as typical darted eles fall, his respiratory ways were all clear so we could still proceed despite his unusual position. This guy is called Oliver and he was magnificent! The team surrounded him and quickly got to work. Catharine taking blood samples and adding ear notches for identification, Leo and Phillip fitting him with the very large, satellite receptor collar around his huge neck, and I jumped on taking measurements.

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I wrapped my tape measure around the base of both his tusks, measured the length of each one, took his height from the shoulder as well as measured the circumference of his feet. And just like that, less than eight minutes and this guy was fitted with some fancy new jewellery, got poked a few times and measured and he was done! Eight minutes! Dr. Dave gave him an injection of reversal and we all tailed it back to the bakkies as Leo and Dr. Dave hopped back in the chopper. One down. Five to go.

The radio collars send signals to satellites of the elephants’ locations and moving speeds. From this information, ecologists can gain a wealth of information such as when and where the elephant moves to, when he stops to rest or eat, if his movements are affected by the weather or any other factors, and so much more.

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Loud static and blurted out directions – another bull down! By the third bull, we were efficient pros each getting straight to their job to work on each elephant as quickly as possible. We had one big boy that went down in some very suction-cup mud which made working around him quite difficult, not to mention very messy. I was not able to access his feet for the circumference measurement and the collar guys had a bit of difficulty getting the collar underneath his massive neck with all the mud providing resistance. But we still managed to get it all down and get the centre reserve bull finished.

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The last bull took a bit longer to get back on his feet, making us a bit nervous. Everyone held their breath as the helicopter swept low over the sleeping bull, hoping to stir a reaction. Without any warning, the bull lunged upwards, standing up and reaching up to the sky as the chopper flew past. The group all cheered for him and for us on a job well done. Six bulls successfully fitted with radio collars to provide valuable scientific information. On our drive back with the sun slowly making its colourful decent, we passed by a small pride of lions lounging in the tall grasses and soaking up the last rays of sun.

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I think this might have been the greatest day I have ever experienced. The African bush is exactly where I belong, adding my contribution to conservation.

 

These weeks are just flying by! I guess the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” really is true. I am about halfway done with my field work for this survey. Survey-wise things are going very very well! I have finally caught my “favourite” leopard in this area on camera, a female that only has half a tail. Look out for her in the photos, she is absolutely stunning!

I have been playing around with my GoPro Hero4 Session lately and made a little video for you to check out and see a bit more of the camera checking process in detail, which I do for 64 cameras every week. Don’t mind my rambling nor my not-so-superb video skills, this was my first GoPro video. But it gives you more of an idea of what I do.

I know there are a lot of bird fans on here, and I will be honest, I have never been great at my bird identification skills, but it is something I want to improve upon, so I have started to photograph birds more in hopes to help myself learn more of the species in southern Africa. Here are some of my favourites:

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Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)

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Cape White-eye (Zosterops virens)

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African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

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Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)

My GPS unit that I use to programme the location, date and time on the cameras has decided that it no longer wanted to work, so I travelled to the coast to meet up with a colleague and swap out my broken GPS for a new one along with some of my damaged cameras that can hopefully be repaired. While there, I visited a little beach town along with the elephant monitor’s girlfriend, Yvonne. We made a little girl’s trip of it and got our hair done, enjoyed some good coffee and went on a boat tour of the estuary to see some hippos! I never get my hair cut, and it has been years since I have done so. Because of this it turns out my hair was quite damage and to be able for it to be healthy, A LOT had to be chopped off. I know it is best in the long run for my hair, but I have never had my hair this short before. It is definitely going to take a lot to get used to.

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But at least the hippos were adorable!! Seeing hippos always makes me think of Alice and her love for Cincinnati’s Fiona (I mean, who doesn’t LOVE Fiona?!?!)

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Now that is one mama bear.. erm hippo.. that I would not want to mess with!

I finally saw some lions yesterday morning. They were a bit of a distance away, but I managed to get a few photos still. Seeing lions is always magical to me, I first saw the female and “hung out” with her for a while, she wasn’t doing to much other than just lioning around, but did start calling. Hearing a wild lion roar sends chills straight through you. Every time. It is so powerful sounding that even from a distance you can still feel it. It is something I will never get tired of hearing. It was not just me hearing her calls, shortly after the female sent her booming roars into the swamp lands, two gorgeous males strutted out of the reeds. They made their way over to the female, but as they neared one of the males (the smaller and slightly scruffier-looking one) held back and laid down. The other male shorten the distance and then he too, casual as only a cat can do, laid down as well. Him and the female watched each other for a while, then when the anticipation just could not hold out anymore she bounded to the closer male and the reasoning behind her call became very apparent – she is in estrus. She made a proper fool of herself as she lushly rolled on her back and batted the male in the face with her paws acting like a cub. The male made the comical grimace called the Flehmen response as he sniffed her urine, but either she was not quite ready yet or he just simply wasn’t interested and he did not fall for her flirtatious manner. There are a number of females in the area, but these two males are the only males of breeding age, so basically, they see a lot of action, if you get my drift. It has to take its toll at some point. After some more frustrating attempts at flirting, the female gave up and strolled off into the reeds.

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And to finish things off, here are some of my favourite photos that I have taken during the past week on my Canon.

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Until next week, cheers!

I have just completed my second round of checks and we have been getting some great leopard images, along with a ton of other great shots! Unfortunately, I have already lost three cameras to four-legged thieves. One of my stolen cameras was found yesterday still attached to its pole… halfway up a tree. When the poles are ripped out of the ground along with the cameras, elephants are usually the guilty ones. The fact that this one was up a tree tells me that some naughty elephant probably pulled the whole camera up and then just lofted it up in to the air with a fling of the trunk. Sadly, the camera did not survive its adventure, however, thanks to the SD card remaining intact, I was able to get the images off the camera. There is a close-up photo of a trunk and the next sequence is the camera on the ground. Then it ended up in the jaws of a lion, after that, no more photos. Using my mad Sherlock Holmes skills, I have decided that the camera was pulled out of the ground, pole and all by an ele (side tangent – it has recently come to my attention when talking to friends not in the animal world that the term ele (pronounced ‘ellie’) is not very commonly known when referring to elephants. However, ele is quite a common nickname in the sense of using rhino instead of rhinoceros in the wildlife and zoo fields, I guess it just not has made it out to the general public. Many of my non-wildlifer friends always have a puzzled expression when I say “ele,” so, I figured I would explain it to you, just in case you have never heard elephants called eles before – and now you know. Side tangent done), and then after the ele got bored with it, some lions came by and found this new toy on the ground and decided to play with it too. The camera did not survive being a big kitty chew toy, however it was still a temping javelin for an ele to try his skills to see how high up he could throw this plastic box and metal rod. And thus, my stolen camera ended up in a tree.

To counter my cameras being stolen by eles and other animals, I have started placing elephant dung around and on top of my cameras in “high risk” areas. This makes the cameras much less interesting since they just smell like ele poo now and not as much like me anymore.

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Cross your fingers (or “holding thumbs” which is the South African version of fingers crossed) for me that this reduces cameras being thieved and chomped on.

Everything is going very smooth with this survey thus far. I did manage to scare the poop out of myself the other day though (man, this post is full of poop today). I was checking a camera station which had to cameras at a crossroads and they were decently far apart from each other. I collected both cameras, changed batteries and downloaded the images from them. I then walked over to the far camera and set that one back up. After, I walked back to the closer station to my bakkie to set that camera back up too. As I was fiddling with securing the camera onto its pole I looked down and saw fresh leopard tracks right in front of the camera pole. I did not remember seeing those tracks when I first grabbed the camera. My heart stopped as I thought of a leopard walking just here while my back was turned and I was crouched over setting up the other camera. After about 20 seconds of deciding I was about to die I decided to investigate a bit further and followed where the tracks crossed the road. My bakkie tyre treads went OVER the tracks so the leopard had been here before I arrived and I somehow just completely missed them when I initially took down the camera. And I live to see another day.

I know I have shared my joy of finding tracks with you before, but now I have some photos to go along.

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I love that this survey site is mostly sandy and after a rainstorm, the spoor in the freshly cleaned sand are phenomenal! They tell stories of a small pride of lions that walked through and one decided to waltz right up to one of my cameras for a selfie! (I can’t wait to see those images) Or of a genet that came to check out one camera then crossed the road to come check out the other camera as well, just to make sure they were the same thing. A huge giraffe walked right through the centre of my cameras a day or so ago. A porcupine walked through, but I don’t think he crossed the path of the camera, he stopped and gnawed on this monkey orange for a bit before giving up and continuing on his way. Driving down the road, I noticed a rhino used this road recently. I follow her tracks as she walked along the road, stopping every so often to leave a calling card for the next rhino to come by. Rhinos swipe their back feet as they defecate (and we are back to poop again), this helps to spread it around making a larger visible display along with helping to spread the odor as well. Ah, a miniature handprint here – perhaps a samango or a vervet has been by recently. This area is not known to have hyaena, however I found a trail of a lone spotted hyaena as he made his way past one of my cameras (look out for him in the images). I absolutely love all the tracks and their stories.

I put down the iPhone and pulled out my Canon for some photographs this week as well. I hope you enjoy them.

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This past Sunday, the 24th of September, was Heritage Day, which is a public holiday in South Africa. Many different cultures make up the population of South Africa and on Heritage Day, everyone is encouraged to celebrate their cultures and traditions. To many this means getting together with your family and close friends and braaing, so Heritage Day is often referred to as “Braai Day” (remember a braai is a BBQ). We participated here at the research camp by having a nice braai of our own and making a potjie. A potjie is usually a stew-like mixture of meat and vegetables cooked in a three-legged cast iron pot over a fire. The flavours and ingredients vary depending on what the cook wants to throw in. It was all very delicious and everyone stationed at the camp had a wonderful evening.

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Until next time!