There is nothing more rewarding as a ranger to know that your hard work has paid off. Very often on drive we come across tracks and signs of an animal of interest nearby. But just as often as we find those tracks, we lose them in thick bush. Because we are about conserving nature and not destroying it, we do not go off road for just any animal. This of course does sometimes make tracking a disappointing experience as we so often lose the tracks and cannot follow. But on occasion, we manage to successfully track, follow and finally find the animal we have been searching for. This morning on drive we found some really fresh elephant tracks and decided to follow them. About an hour after circling each block and following tracks, dung and many broken branches, we finally managed to find them. The guests were so excited to be a part of this experience and to witness first hand just how we find these magnificent creatures.
It is quite ironic that the very water we depend on for survival can sometimes become such a destructive force that you can just watch in awe as tiny trickles of water becomes raging torrents and leave behind total devastation in it’s wake.
Last week we got to experience a cyclone in our area and basically got our whole seasons’ amount of rain in 48 hours. This off course caused massive floods in our area and unfortunately we were not completely spared the chaos and devastation that comes with that much water.
Roads were damaged, bridges and dam walls collapsed and we also lost one of our lodges which were build on the banks of the Klaserie river which is normally a serene little waterway that added to the ambience of the once awesome Karula lodge, who’s guests had to be airlifted out as none of the roads leading there was accessible.
For quite a couple of days game drives was just impossible and should we have attempted that, it would have been extremely dangerous as in some areas the ground was just too soaking wet and unstable, and tiny drainage lines on the reserve became torrents like these below and other images from in and around our Reserve.
Despite all the damage, the total loss of life according to authorities was only 6, which is a miracle if you take into consideration that 47 informal villages towards our South were completely destroyed. We are however over the worst and our operations are back to normal. We are also planning to repair Karula as soon as possible and we should manage to do that in just a little over three months.
Floods like these are not completely uncommon in the area, as we went through a similar event in February 2000. During these floods however the most damage where to our South –east and the well known Kruger National park had to bare the worst of those which luckily just caused a bit of heavy rain on our side, I guess you can’t be that lucky all the time and mother nature surely knows how to get your attention every once in a while…
It is normally quite exciting to read about all the wonderful adventures and animals our rangers so diligently “blog” about, and since this normally happens in “real time” it makes for very entertaining reading.
Sometimes though, the memories goes back just a little into “yesteryear” and I thought maybe it could be quite a “fresh” idea to share some “old” stories on the blog every once in a wile…
I want to turn the clock back just about 11 years, and just about a year or two after beginning my first Big 5 guiding job on this very reserve. We got word of two female leopard cubs “abandoned” by their mother somewhere around Pretoriuskop Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park. During this time the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project was probably one of the only places who could attempt raising and successfully re-introducing leopard cubs into the wild. Since this is where we did most of our guiding from, I felt fairly “chuffed” with myself for being involved with this project during the latter stages just prior to release.
Anyway – nothing is ever easy where rehab of predators is concerned and the story basically begins when they were about two years old and after their very successful reintroduction onto the Kapama Game Reserve.
During this stage we had a student programme, for which I was responsible for, where wildlife and veterinary students from all walks of life could come and have a 1 month experiential training phase on our reserve. As it was quite a huge responsibility and I was still fairly “young” I was under the watchful eye of a very well known wildlife “guru” who showed me the very “necessary” ropes.
Now… to fully understand the situation it is quite important to “elaborate” a bit about this earlier mentioned wildlife “guru”! A man of few words (let alone swear words), humble, highly skilled in all things “bush” (even threw knifes in self defense) and to say the least…a walking encyclopedia!
Being the first reserve to my knowledge to attempt a successful leopard rehab and release, it was quite obvious that we would want to follow the progress of our female leopards after their release. Both were collared with transmitters and I can even to the day remember their different frequencies on our very old, outdated and well worn omni- directional receiver. The “star” of my story was “No 15” who was by no means a shy or “skittish” cat but rather an unpredictable diva and somewhat “bitchy” to say the least! Her sister “No 19” was the quiet one of the two and mostly did her best to stay undetected … managed that quite well too.
So here we were, fully kitted out. Our “guru” with the receiver and antenna in his hands, me behind him with the rifle, and 13 overly enthusiastic wildlife students with all the latest photographic equipment (all bells and whistles attached} in single file behind me, pushing through some of the thickest riverine bush Kapama can offer, on our way to find our leopard.
I at this point I would like to mention that the only reason I was “blessed” to carry the rifle was because it was heavy and the “guru” didn’t want too! Also, I could for the life of me not ever distinguish the horrible screeching, scratching and annoying noises from the receiver from the “bleep- bleep” sounds one could “apparently” hear as the receiver picked up the transmitter around the leopards neck.
So the trouble begins… Now I am sure you can imagine that this is a kind of privilege bestowed on very few… even guides working in the industry today… and the “privilege” we had that day was one I will probably not soon forget!
About 40 minutes into our adventure the “guru” informed us that he got the signal from the leopard and that she was not to far away… Obviously the pressure and excitement mounted and we could just barely control the 13 students behind us and every now and then a fairly “hostile” tongue lashing from me was the only way…
On we went, crouching… stopping… listening and watching the “guru” as he went about his business in trying to decipher the almost inaudible “signal” from the leopard. Now… when you know you are this close to a “possible” leopard on foot, you cannot help to notice the veins throbbing in your forehead and your heart beating in your ears. Wait, hang on..! This could maybe have been the scorching 40°C heat we were trekking in on our little “adventure”.
Anyway… after a couple of minutes the “guru” stopped abruptly… causing the train of students bumping into one another like dominos. Imagine now… since we left the vehicle, none of them had their eyes away from their cameras’ viewfinders for more than a couple of seconds at a time… too scared that they might miss this big moment when we actually get to view this leopard…
The confusion ended and we eagerly awaited instruction from the “guru”. He pointed towards something about 10 or 15 meters ahead of us and again the “tongue lashing” to gain control as the keen photographers all fell out of the line to get a picture of the leopard on foot…
Just some way off towards our left, on the slopes of a dry riverbed we spotted a fresh Impala kill obviously made by our quarry! At this stage I would like to remind everyone that a leopard could be one of the most dangerous predators… now add the fact that she was hand reared, with no real “respect” for humans and to top it all on a fresh kill… one word… TROUBLE!
Everything went deathly quiet (even the throbbing in our heads)… and as the “guru” scanned the area beyond the kill all hell broke loose… She came charging out of the bushes towards us from the left rear of our group with eyes flashing and growling noises that would scare the daylights out of the most seasoned game ranger, not to mention our 13 students and me that have barely witnessed any leopards in the wild, let alone an “obvious” annoyed one!
After what seemed to be “forever” I realized that I had the rifle and am probably responsible to get us out of this trouble. I was however so startled by the “guru” that had a complete personality change and was screaming, swearing and shouting… keeping no secrets in letting this poor female leopard know exactly what he thinks of her and where she should fly to… all the time swinging the antenna at her looking like a chopper about the lift off!!!
Round about the time I saw one of the students crouching to get a better picture of this certain “doom” awaiting us, I gathered my whit’s again and let off with some verbal abuse on him that would make a pirate seem like a Sunday school teacher, all the time trying to find the leopard in my sights. In a situation like this the last thing you want to do is let yourself look smaller!
I never did find her in my sights, and as I though I was now ready to be the hero and shoot she was no longer there, but turned around and disappeared as quickly as she came!
Slowly we started hearing the bush around us again and after some big sighs of relieve we left the area amazingly quickly!
That evening around the camp fire I asked the “guru” (transformed back to his former “quiet” self) if we were in any “real” trouble. His answer… Hell yes! It was close…
A good sighting of a snake in the wild can be quite a rare event, and as it is so difficult to spot snakes in the wild it is somehow always an exhilarating experience for guides and guest alike.
Most of our snake “sightings” are mostly met with a scream from someone, and soon afterwards the excitement will set in. This morning we were driving along in search of animals when we spotted a snake sailing across the road ahead of us. We pulled up alongside the spot the snake went of the road and entered the bush. A bit disappointed we thought our changes of spotting him were spoiled, but in true style my tracker spotted it again a short distance from the roads’ edge. Having the opportunity to identify the snake was very cool, and me and my tracker immediately new this was one of those you do not want to mess with… a Mozambique Spitting Cobra.
The snake rose up above the grass and spreaded it’s hood in true cobra style with the distinct black bands on it’s throat clearly visible! The rest of the body is a lighter brown colour and it is quite difficult to miss-id this snake with its aggressive demeanor.
It kept it’s defensive pose for longer than I would have expected, making us understand clearly to stay away from him, before disappearing into the bushes.
Mozambique Spitting Cobras are fairly widespread in our region and because of their aggressiveness and bad temper they have quite a bad reputation amongst most people here and in local villages. Luckily their warning signs are loud and clear and only a fool would dare to not take heed… If not you would probably be met with a stream of venom from the fangs aimed directly at your eyes. This in itself would be a very uncomfortable and painful experience. Most people however understand their behaviour and they are suprisingly enough responsible for very little snakebite incidences around the area!
Should you get bitten, a deadly cocktail of cyto- and nuero-toxic venom would be injected through hypodermic needle like fangs and cause you severe pain, discomfort and gradual collapse of your whole neurological system. Luckily it is quite a “slow working” venom and you should have ample time getting to a doctor who should be able to reverse the effect of the bite. You should make a full recovery unless you develop a massive allergic reaction to the proteins in the venom, in which case death might be a very real possibility…
As always it is normally a VERY good idea to stay away from snakes you encounter, even more so if you don’t’ know which type they are. If you understand the warning signs, do not ever ignore them as they are there for a reason, and these will save you a very unpleasant trip to the emergency room.
Westley Lombard – Senior Ranger
Kapama Southern Camp
The change from a vehicle bound safari to walking among the giants of the bush is the most exhilarating and adrenalin pumping experiences one can ever have when visiting the African bush!
I was lucky enough to share this experience with a group of guests on Sunday morning. Just after dawn we departed from the lodge to find the perfect area to walk in. As we are in the middle of summer and had very good rain so far this season, some areas are inaccessible. Discussing our options Given, my tracker, and myself found a suitable and safe area to walk in.
After getting everyone briefed for our adventure, we set off into the unknown. We headed toward a waterhole hoping to find some fresh rhino or buffalo tracks. We were lucky enough to find that a heard of buffalo had moved through the area a short while before we got there. Explaining the tracks and freshness of them we proceeded to follow them.
After tracking the herd for a while we could hear them just in front of us grazing and moving at a fair pace. Checking the wind and taking all safety aspects into consideration, we started our approach. Step by step moving closer hoping to move undetected a long the tree line, at last this amazing sighting unfolded before us. At least two hundred buffalo feeding on an open plain without the knowledge of our presence. The beauty of this for us was being on foot viewing a big 5 animal and experiencing the same feeling the explorers felt years ago!
FW de Klerk