Pounding posts into the ground, slashing grasses with a panga, so the waving grass doesn’t trigger
the camera, and waste pictures. Watching giraffes watching us, as we drive by. Gazing at lovely kudu with the huge ears, laughing at impala, as they jump around and scamper off, not knowing which way to run.
Bouncing along on the back of the 4×4, to the next camera site, to download pictures. Getting the photos back to camp in the evening, uploading them into the computer, waiting, waiting. Looking: cow, cow, cow, goat, goat, truck, warthog, dyker, leopard! We got a leopard on our first download, and he is a beauty! Handsome male, probably about 7 years old. What a thrill, how exciting! We’re on our second project volunteering with Wildlife Act, and it’s a fascinating experience.
The first week we were pounding in posts, and setting up cameras. After getting 36 camera sites set up around the reserve, the survey officially went live, then we started driving back around, a few each day, to download photos. On our second day of downloads, we were incredibly excited to find an otter, a couple of caracals, and the extremely rare aardwolf! Lots more cattle and goats, and a few faces of children peering with curiosity into the cameras, as there are areas of the reserve that have small communities living here.
We drive past kraals with their fenced enclosures for Nguni cows, the original Zulu strain of cow, and goats, a few chickens. There’s an open fire with something bubbling in a pot, a woman repairing the thatch of a rondawel roof, maybe a couple of small children playing in the dirt. Earlier we gave a lift to a couple of schoolgirls in their uniforms, to help shorten their long trek to school each day. People always give us a friendly wave as we drive by, and I muse on how different our lives are, but how similar our wishes and desires are. Water, enough food, a safe place to live, an education for the children.
We talk to the Afrikaans farmers, who have a strong love for their country, and a real desire to see black farmers make a success of their farms. Paul mentors any farmers who ask him for help. He and his neighbouring farmers decided 20 years ago to start working with the ecology of the land. They brought in more game animals, impalas, kudu, nyala, warthog. With their grazing and browsing, the land thrives without the need for herbicides. Birds come in and help with pest control. There is now enough game that they can supplement their cattle farming income with some judicious hunting. With a few spare rooms, and some organisation, they can host occasional small hunting parties from the US, who will take a few venison (no Big 5 hunting), and control numbers. This reserve has no lions, and we have yet to discover how many leopards there are. Rhino poaching is a huge and growing problem, and some of the income from hunting goes towards funding more anti-poaching units.
The political situation in South Africa is suffering from a desire to (rightfully) push Black Economic Empowerment, but it seems to me from what I’ve heard from the locals, that the education and experience levels are not yet there, and so many areas of the economy are suffering and declining. Sadly, also, as in much of the rest of Africa, corruption has made its way in. The hope and desire for peaceful change that came with Nelson Mandela, is still here. This is a beautiful country, full of determined people, and South Africa deserves the support and assistance of the rest of the world, to make its way into a full democracy, with economic stability, and the chance for a good life for all its people.
Wildflowers of the Reserve:
Click here to read Danila’s guest post for Wildlife Act: Emakhosini Ophathe Heritage Park.
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