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Last week at Askari

Week 3

sunny 26 °C

I can’t believe it’s my last week at Askari, I’ve had such an amazing time here it’s just flown by! I’ve learned so much, but there is so much more I could learn it feels too soon to be leaving! I go on to the next project, LEO Africa, on Tuesday. I don’t think its more than 45 mins drive away so Kathy has said if I don’t like it she’ll come pick me up :p I’m sure it will be great though, but it’s sad to be leaving our little Top Birds team…

In the evening we did some baking, banana and choc chip slice, and as we were stood in the kitchen Sarah suddenly points outside, and just chilling out munching on a tree is Monghead the giraffe! His horns have gone weird and have merged together… apparently it’s a form of cancer that giraffes get!

There was a herd of elephants at the end of the drive as we were leaving to go shopping in town. They had a baby with them, so got a bit agitated with us, trumpeting and flapping their ears, so we turned the engine off until they went passed! Phalaborwa town was quite good, and I finally managed to get some “sock savers” that you wear over the tops of your shoes to stop all the grass seeds and thorn spikes getting into your shoes! Best R65 I’ve spent yet! Got a discount as well for being involved in conservation!

Today was our second attempt to find the poacher’s den in Buffalo camp, however, we came across the sad sight of a snared eland instead. The smell was what we noticed first, and so Joe lead the way to where it was coming from, and caught in a snare was a huge eland adult male. It was really horrible to see, it had only been dead for 3-4 days judging by maggot activity. We scouted the whole area to find any other snares to collect them in and found another with what was left of a zebra and then just the skeleton of a wildebeest in another. It’s so frustrating as the snares are all cold, the poacher’s aren’t even around to collect the kills, they just up and leave, so animals can be caught in them for years to come! We were all a bit angry after that… We went back in the afternoon to put up the camera trap as we wanted to see what animals were feeding on the eland.
On a more positive note we cleared up some scrap metal that had been washed up in a summer flood, and then that night got back to the house to find that broadband had finally been installed! Katie and Joe have been waiting for 6 months! I’ve come to realise that if you’re in the bush and need something done, if you think of the most complicated, least economical and wasteful method, the chances are that that is how it is done!

We had a 6am start today as we attempted to find the Askari lion pride for a genetics project that is being conducted from Makalali. The lions needed to be darted to collect some body tissue in order to work out the bloodlines of the area. We didn’t find a single fresh track all morning, but it didn’t matter as we were very preoccupied playing Bird Wars! As we’ve all become quite obsessed with birds over the last few weeks we’ve all become quite good at identifying them and so Bird Wars commenced! Kathy was the winner with 23 points, even after some were deducted due to dirty tactics! We may not have found lions, but we did see the two rogue cheetah boys! They were on the river bank and came up to the road, crossing right in front of the car. They’re both massive, probably the biggest a cheetah can get!
The afternoon was dedicated to prepping for sleep out. Katie organised the food and we packed up everything we needed into the car. We arrived at the river side campsite about 4pm and collected fire wood. Whilst us girls were up at the fire, Joe was fishing and caught the biggest barbel! He somehow staggered up the camp with it to make sure someone got a picture before he put it back! It was massive! We were joined by two herds of elephants during the night. I was woken up and told to quickly get into the car at one point as something had spooked some elephants and they were charging quite close to the camp! It was a long cold night, but a lot of fun. We had an amazing view of the stars and could see the Milky Way really clearly. Dinner was great, we toasted some marshmallows and each took our turn at taking watch during the night. Elecia and Phil joined us too for the night, which is rare in winter, so was good to have them!

That morning was cold, so we were up and packed up by 7am. After unpacking and airing all our smoky clothes we went on a powerlines walk through Langa to check for any fatalities. Luckily we didn’t find any. After lunch we went to find the female cheetah in Buffalo camp again, and this time got lucky! Sarah picked up her signal with the telem and we ended up having to walk into the bush to find her. We only went about 5 meters before she jumped up out of the long grass literally a few meters from our feet and ran off a little way. She stopped and watched us for a bit so we were able to get quite a good sighting. She’s a lot more jumpy than the boys, so that we got a sighting at all was amazing! On the drive back through the Buffalo camp, Kathy suddenly shouted stop, and laying under a small tree behind some reeds at one of the dams was a leopard!! Such a brief sighting as it quickly got up and disappeared into the bush, but absolutely amazing! We were all so chuffed as we could now officially say we’d seen the Big 5!

After another early morning route drive we did some road clearing and got a proper stab in the hand from a sickly bush. My hand was pretty useless for the rest of the day after that. Today was also our third attempt at finding the poacher’s camp, and finally we were successful! Joe had remembered some small details about the positing, and so we started walking the direction he thought it was, and I walked right up to it! We collected their belongings they had left in case any finger prints can be found. We then went back to the eland carcass to take down the camera trap, and what amazing photos we got! Some of Africa’s most elusive animals were seen feeding, so it was a real positive spin on the whole incident as now we know just how populated Pidwa is with these rare and hardly seen animals! One photo even showed a honey badger scaring off a side-stripped jackal!
That night we went into Hoedspruit to a restaurant for one of Katie and Joe’s friend’s leaving do. The meal was good even if the service was a bit shoddy, and then we went on to Safari Club to do some dancing. It was a really great fun night out! Got back to Pidwa at 2am to be met by some more amazing sightings! We saw a juvenile porcupine, and then a spotted eagle owl feeding on a barn owl!

Luckily Katie said we could have a late start, so only got up at 8am. There had been some hyena calls not long before we got up, including cackling which only happens when they are feeding, so during our morning route drive we went to inspect the area the noises had been coming from and came across the collared hyena and two others. We think they’re the same hyena adults we see at the den in the photographs, so it was cool to see where they spend their time away from the den.
That night was our leaving party, and it was so much fun! Firstly we all had our merits and demerits in the form of alcoholic shots, then we got to watch a video of all the best photographs from the last few weeks with an amazing Top Gun theme due to our recent Top Gun obsession and appropriately named volunteer group name of Top Birds!
We had fondue for dinner and then the games began! Flip cup, spoons, pyramid and this awesome dice game that they play in Pirates of the Caribbean! It was an amazing night, they make such a big effort for the volunteers here, you really feel like a part of the family!

Today has been another chilled out sunbathing day, it was reallt great to chat to my parents and Chris this week, seems like forever since I was at home! Hope everyone back home is doing well.


Posted by Rachellina 12:53 Archived in South Africa

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