Our fourth week already and it started off with an amazing morning game drive: a new-born waterbuck, the female cheetah that got chased away by a warthog, an amazing elephant sighting of the herd with the little baby that was born last week with some giraffes in between as well. No better way to start your week!
Besides all the amazing sightings our focus this week is on botany. Learning everything from recognizing the trees and grasses to the medicinal uses and cultural believes. The trees you first didn’t think much of become interesting and catch your attention. Botany gives insight into the life of plants, what role they play in the ecosystem and what use they serve for us humans. The plants that you normally take for granted, come to life and start telling a story. Plants are unique in the food chain as they can produce their own food (from sunlight) and serve as a food source for most of the organisms. So without plants, no animals. And the kind of plants that grow in an area determine the kind and variety of animals that live there. So the importance of plants can not be underestimated!
It also seems that plants have very interesting strategies of collaborating with other organisms and their environment. Where grasses can simply disperse their seeds by use of the wind, there are also grasses that add some sweet goo to the seeds such that ants take the seeds to their homes where they then germinate. Other plants use flowers for their reproduction that are exclusively made available for specific insects, birds or bats that feed from their nectar and then transfer their pollen to other flowers.
The fact that plants, especially their leaves, are food for animals is something that they also need to defend against. Where the most simple defence mechanism is to add thorns or spines to the branches (what the elephants usually don’t mind), there are also trees, like the Vechillia Karoo, that release tannins into their leaves when they are being eaten by giraffes, making the leaves bitter, causing the giraffe to try its luck elsewhere.
What was especially wonderful this week that we could see the landscape change due to the rain last week. After the rains from last week you see everything turn green and the flowers are starting to show themselves.
We were also challenged to use our knowledge about plants to create something that we as a human can use. On Friday everyone made a presentation about the uses of the trees. Did you know you could make a bitter aloe smoothie or a wild olive tea? We all got creative and had to read the books for uses and search for trees and interesting ideas. It all worked out well and everyone successfully made their own product.
On Saturday morning we spent filling up the deep holes with rocks on Amakhala. Being in the bush between the wild animals and actually helping out the park was great. The other part of the group worked at the campus adding an archway for the beautiful granadillas that are taking over. It was a busy, productive and all round wonderful week!
- Sem Jones
The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see. – Albert Einstein
Backup Trails Guides
This week we started of with a tracking class due to some heavy rainfall preventing us from going on a bush walk. The rainfall was a very welcome surprise and after a few days we could all see how the plains turned green and animals could graze freely again. During the tracking class we covered some new tracks which turned out to be very useful later on in the week.
We spent Tuesday on the shooting range practicing for our advanced rifle handling assessment which is scheduled for next week. It was very nice to to shoot again and it was obvious that we are all making good progress.
On Wednesday we went out to do a mock tracking assessment and we all did very well. We were lucky enough to see some really exciting tracks, including honey badger, aardwolf, small spotted genet and cape clawless otter. We don’t often see these animals or we don’t see them at all so it was really a treat seeing some proof that these animals are actually out there on the reserve. Piet has taught us a lot and I am sure that after the hours of classes and practicing we put in together with him, we will do well on the real cybertracker assessment.
We spent Thursday out on the reserve on a day walk. Keenan, Ryan and I were on back-up duty, and we were looking to get some potentially dangerous animal encounters, which we need to adhere to the requirements to be practically assessed at the end of the course. We were very lucky and were able to find a single elephant bull, which we approached. After this exciting encounter, we were able to locate two lionesses with some help of the radio. They were out in the plains and an approach would be very difficult but thanks to some differences in height and scarce vegetation we were able to get quite close, unfortunately they noticed us after a few minutes and they moved off towards the thicket line. We were not even halfway yet at that point and there was still a lot more to come. We saw the elephant herd in the distance and Piet predicted the route that they would take. We positioned ourselves along the route but unfortunately the elephants had a different route in mind so we had to follow them to make an approach.
Piet gave me the opportunity to be the lead guide and lead my peers to the elephant herd. After some careful planning we came up with a plan, and we were able to use an elevated position to get a nice sighting of the herd including the two week old calf. Even after this encounter we were not done yet. Keenan was in the lead after the elephant encounter and we went trough some thick vegetation along the river, in a fruitless effort to find the hippos. Fortunately, again with use of the radio, we were able to locate two other lions. They were positioned on the thicket line along which we were walking so this assured that if we would get an encounter, it would be a close one.
As we passed a big clump of thicket, we got a brief visual of a female lioness, which quickly ran off, but looked at us from a distance and gave us clear signs that we were not welcome. We slowly left the sighting, all full of adrenaline.
This walk taught us a lot, especially about lion behavior, because all previous attempts to view them has been unsuccessful up to now.
On Friday we did our final trails walk of the week, which was unfortunately cut short because of a very high humidity and high temperature, making the walking almost unbearable. The walk was still quite interesting, especially because we followed some animal tracks and successfully located the animals after a short while of trailing them. Unfortunately they were very well concealed in the vegetation and only the front part of the group was able to get a visual before the animals continued their morning walk, deeper into the thicket.
Next week we will mainly be focusing on preparing and doing the actual advanced rifle handling assessment. We are all very excited and this week is going to be very important for us, because the ARH qualification is a necessity if you want to be assessed as back-up trails guide. Of course we all want to pass this assessment and I’m sure we will be able to after putting in some more practice with the rifles next week.
- Joost Koopman
Attack your goals like your life depends on it. – unknown