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Askari Wilderness Conservation Project

Week 2

sunny 23 °C

Another sunny day, looks like we'll be doing some more sunbathing today. Had a great long week, can't believe I only have 1 week left here, it's going too fast! Had some great animal sightings this week too!

Our town trip was pretty cool! We went to Hoedspruit to go to the reptile park. The guy doing the tour was a bit annoying, but we did learn some cool stuff. We also got a close up demonstration with the boomslang, snouted cobra and the puff adder.
The town is quite small with touristy shops as it’s close to Kruger but we stocked up on stuff (chocolate and wine for us girls) and then headed home. Almost as soon as we got into the Pidwa gate a rhino walked across the road right in front of us. Then after dinner we went to check out the hyena den to see if they were out, and amazingly they were out playing, running about like they do in the pics and vids we have of them! They didn’t even run inside to hide. Such a great way to end the day!

Our last lecture this morning, vegetation management, was a lot more interesting than it sounds, and we’ve become real fans of killing alien vegetation!
Next was a cheetah research trip to Langa. We were very determined to find the two boys after failing at the boys and girl the previous week. Amazingly, the first check I did with the telem I herd a faint bleep, so we followed it and found them 100m down the road next to the fence! Katie told us all to get out the car, as they prefer us on foot, and we got to walk right up close to them. They we so chilled out, just acting like any cat would in the sun. One then started walking up towards us and passed us, checking out the car. Was amazing, being 2 meters away from a wild cheetah just incredible!
That afternoon we had our exams! Just a test really, we answered about 50 questions and then did a species recognition assessment and a quick parts of the car practical test. It was good as it helps you to focus on stuff you haven’t learned yet, and helps Katie and Joe know what needs more focus. We all passed anyway (I got 92%). We then cleaned out the nyala and sable breeding camps. Very messy hard work in the sun, but was good to get stuck in and do some physical work, as a lot of the time we are sat on the game viewer.

Today we had the opportunity to go to Kruger National Park to watch Constant taking down camera traps set to watch activity around the powerline poles (we got to drive down a lot of “no entry” roads). He is monitoring the damage done by animals on the poles as a coalition between Endangered Wildlife Trust and Eskom power company. After seeing some of the photographs he had collected, we had the chance to drive back through Kruger to see the wildlife. As we had a EWT sticker on the car earlier on we got a very private viewing of 3 lions. The list of animals we saw: elephants, spotted hyena, zebra, white rhino, impala, secretary bird, tawney eagle, bateleur, giraffes, marabou stork, wildebeest, buffalo, kori bustards, Burchelle’s glossy starling, darters, crocodiles, hippos, red-billed ox-peppers, gymnogene, white-backed vulture, southern ground hornbill, steenbuck, slender mongoose, hooded vulture, Swaynsen’s spur fowl, scrub hare, and a porcupine. It was an amazing day, a lot of fun, even if cramped in the car all day, for only R45 we definitely got our monies worth!

Today was a hard day, the sun was out all day, and we didn’t stop till long after dark! We got up and began the day by digging a water pool for Eddie in his aviary. We collected sand and stones and then dug a hole ready to be cemented the next day. After this we did road clearing, which involved removing roadside plants and bushes to make easier access for the vehicles to get by. I now have so many scratches on my arms, it looks pretty horrific! After lunch we went to HQ where Phil dissected an impala for us (which would later be fed to the brown hyena) and showed us different parts of the body – a very interesting learning experience! We were offered to taje home the testicle sac…none of us took the offer! We then did alien plant control – finding areas with ‘prickly pear’ or ‘queen of the night’ growing and injected them with herbicide. Following this we drove straight to Langa Langa and watched the brown hyenas being fed. One has a limp at the moment, but hyenas are tough and so Katie isn’t that worried about it. After dinner we then did a night time drive to monitor nocturnal animals – we saw two great sightings of genets, one climbed up a tree right next to our car and watched us for a bit. They’re such rare animals to see, we couldn’t believe that we say a large spotted and then later a small spotted too!

Early start today as we were off to Pidwa South to do our herbivore ratio count. Pidwa South is a good 40 minute drive to even reach from Askari house, and that’s if you don’t stop to watch anything along the way! As we almost reached the start of the route, I suddenly spotted a lion close to the damn we were passing, walking between some bushes. We stopped and watched her for a bit, and attempted to identify her by looking at her whisker markings. My first lion spotting in Pidwa! On the route drive we saw loads of birds, including the cocqui francolin, which is rare to see on Pidwa, and the male looks like it has the head of a duckling! We left at 6:30am wearing about 7 layers, plus hat, scarf and gloves, and returned at 11am wearing just a t-shirt!
We then made the cement for Eddie’s waterhole and filled it in. The rocks we had collected were used to surround it and we even put a tree stump with branches next to it. After lunch we tried to find the female cheetah again in Buffalo camp, but still no luck. Katie thinks she’s moved from her usual areas as some of the impala have been removed from the camp.
As it was Garth’s birthday on Tuesday, we all went out for dinner tonight. Just as we were leaving Pidwa, something ran across the road, so Katie quickly swung the car around so the headlights fell on it, and we saw a honey badger quickly run into the bush! They're such cool animals, can't believe we saw one! It was sbout 40 mins drive to a restaurant, which is of course designed for summer, so we were all sat outside! It was a funny night, everyone’s food was warm instead of hot, and then Kathy’s cappuccino was only foam, had no coffee in it at all! Some people ordered mojito’s which had vodka instead of rum in as they’d run out of rum!
Whilst we were there a load of GVI volunteers turned up, mostly to get drunk by the looks of it. A lot of the people that Katie, Joe and Kathy know are related to GVI in some way. They are such a big company, but none of them have that many good things to say about GVI, except that it’s a good way to get to know people that are involved in other projects that are actually doing positive things for conservation.
We all fell asleep on the drive home, and then Katie and Joe had to climb through their bedroom window to get back into their house. Their dog, Cooper, is still scared of being left alone, but he’s fine if he thinks they’re in the bedroom at night time. So to leave that night, they went into the bedroom and then climbed out the window so he didn’t know they were leaving. Amazingly it worked though, he didn’t suspect a thing!

Last early start to the week, we went on another herbivore ratio count this time on route 2. We saw lots of Kudu, and the new Eland that arrived on the reserve a few days ago. At the end of the drive we saw the Askari pride of lions too! They’re a small pride of 3 sub-adult males, and 2 adult females that somehow evade the massive pride that otherwise rule Pidwa and Makalali.
After the drive we went back to Buffalo camp, this time to try and find the poacher’s camp that we had found the week before, to collect up all the bits into bags to then give to the police, in case any finger prints can be found and traced. However, even with the rock arrow we made pointing towards the camp in the bush, we couldn’t find it any where! After about 1 hour of walking around, we had to call it a day, but hopefully we’ll have a chance to go back in next week to try find it!
The afternoon was spent sun bathing, doing some laundry, and then watching films in the evening. Some much needed time off after such a long week!

Hope everyone back home is ok and enjoying summer holidays! Missing you all, lots of love!

Posted by Rachellina 00:56 Archived in South Africa

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