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Cheetah mayhem!

Rhino round every corner...

sunny 31 °C

We have had such amazing opportunities this week! It’s definitely been a cheetah and rhino week! The news of de-horning rhinos in the Hoedspruit area is pretty much the talk of the town. 1 rhino is poached every 20 hours for its horn in South Africa, and the problem is so bad in Hoedspruit that reserves are asking the local wildlife vet to simply de-horn all their rhinos, and huge signs are being put up declaring it a rhino-horn-free area. It’s not compulsory, but if you’re the only reserve not participating, then obviously you will be targeted by the poachers. It’s only in the immediate area at the moment, no where near as far out as Pidwa, but Selati is on the border, so it may happen there. It may sound drastic, but if something isn’t done now it will be too late!

Monday
An elephant greeted us as we left base for our morning herbivore count route drive, so we followed him for a while before heading off. The drive was mostly uneventful due to the bad cloudy weather; most animals stayed hidden, most likely lying down.
In the afternoon we went to check on Hwaqile, and then tracked Kusala in the Buffalo camp. On the way we found a few week old Eland, laying down in the road, head tilted right back, and in a very bad way. Brian, the reserve manager was radioed, and it was his decision to put the animal out of its misery. The body is going to be sent to the local wildlife vet for analysis, because if it is a disease that will affect all the young Eland, then we may have a problem.
It wasn’t a good day for healthy animals, as when we did find Kusala she was vocalising, making a quiet groaning noise that cheetah make when they have a kill or are injured. We got closer and she stood up. Straight away, Katie spotted the blood dripping from her stomach! She appeared to have a small injury to her front, but it was hard to get a good look, and she seemed able to move ok, but was obviously in pain.
It was already getting dark so there wasn’t much else we could do except come back the next morning and see how she was doing. A bit of a somber day today.

Tuesday
We left early to track down Kusala again. We followed her through the bush for a while, she was going at quite a pace so we thought she may be doing ok, until Joe spotted some fresh blood. Katie finally found her and went as close as was comfortable. Kusala kept quietly groaning, mostly due to the fact that Katie was so close, and because she was too sore to do anything about it. Joe and Katie made the decision that the vet was needed, so Peter Rodgers, the local wildlife vet was called in. He couldn’t get to Pidwa until 3pm, so we dashed back to base for a quick lunch, and then straight back out again to find her. Luckily the heat had kept her from moving far. Peter arrived with his team, and he went in to dart her. Her wound was about 10cm long and deep through the muscle, probably made by a warthog.
Me and Emma then got an awesome opportunity to be involved the operation. We helped carry her to the car, and then I got to hold her front paw in the right position whilst he was cleaning her and operating on her. He stitched up the muscle and then skin, leaving a small hole at the end for drainage, seeing as it’s a wild animal and the operation was done in the bush, that’s pretty much the best you can do!
Hwaqile was moved across into one section of his boma, and Kusala was then put in the first section. It was the boma she had initially escaped from when she arrived on Pidwa, so we all crossed our fingers and hoped she would be alive and still there in the morning.
That night we had a braai and relaxed a bit seeing as we’d pretty much spent all day sat in the sun waiting. It was a good end to the day and we all just hoped she would live up to her name: ‘ Kusala’ means ‘survival’.

Wednesday
We went to check on Kusala first thing in the morning, to our relief she was still there! She paced around the boma a bit when we arrived, slightly agitated, but walking fine and looking good!
Next was our delayed town trip to get food and supplies. This time we headed to Tzaneen, a non-touristy town, so very different atmosphere. The locals aren’t used to seeing non-Afrikaans white people, so chatted away to us in every shop!
Katie did some dodgy dealings with the butcher in the supermarket to get Cooper some bone scraps, and then we headed back to Pidwa. We did one last check on Kusala in the evening before dinner, and then bed.

Thursday
We had such an incredible sightings day, it was as if all the animals just came out of the bush for us today!
Kusala was alert, had eaten, and was intently listening to and stalking Hwaqile behind the fence when we arrived early in the morning, so we left her to it.
Back on schedule, we started with road clearing the area behind the Askari house, down towards the river. However, it was cut short as around the bend were 2 elephant bulls! We stopped and one came right up to the car! Emma was silently panicking as the bull put his trunk onto the bonnet and leaned on it. He then went round to the game viewer chair and lifted it, exactly as the elephant had done last month. We wondered if maybe it was the same one seeing as it seemed to know what it was doing.
We also saw our first tiny baby nyala! The pregnant female would have been released from the breeding camps a few months ago, and within that time had given birth! A successful bush birth is always good news!
Next we went on to river clean up, collecting rubbish that was washed down in the flood, before heading back for lunch.
After lunch we set out on a herbivore count down in Pidwa South. For the first half hour we were spotting animals every 5 minutes! There was a huge number of zebra, giraffes and kudu out today! We saw 2 young zebra, and then one with a floppy ear that we named Bunny! Towards the end of the drive we had stopped to look at the zebra, when we literally heard a crash of rhino moving through the bush. 4 rhino came into view! We followed them until we could turn onto a road in their direction so that we could get a good look and ID them. One was a grumpy male, and he watched us for a bit before stomping towards the car. Emma silently starts freaking out again, bless her, and I tired to get a picture with her camera. The flash went off, and because he was so close it really startled him and he shook his head, getting upset. He must have decided he didn’t like us, much to Emma’s relief, as he then walked off in a huff!
On the drive home it was dark, so we had the spotlight out, and amazingly we picked up a civet! Such rare sightings, they’re weird looking half badger/half raccoon animals. Was really cool as he stopped in the bush to watch us for a bit! Joe was a bit jealous about that when we got back to base. And then on the end of the Askari drive way, yet another Rhino! It was amazing, really was like all the animals just came out to say ‘Hi’ today!

Friday
A tough end to the week, as we had all the practical stuff to do that had been disrupted due to the cheetah dilemma. We started by finishing off the road clearing along the river, now have some nice new scratches! Then after a quick breakfast break we set off the find any non-indigenous plants such as the prickly pear and queen of the night to kill them with herbicide. Then just before lunch we weeded the herb & veggie garden. Emma did really well braving all the little garden spiders! I can’t believe I’m no longer the one that’s terrified of spiders; I’ve turned into the spider-ninja, able to remove or kill them! Might all change when I get back home though!
After lunch we headed out on a poacher patrol. The walk through the bush was tough, it was very thick, and we almost lost each other at one point. We didn’t find anything, which I hope is a good thing. Joe did spot some impala that we stalked for 5 minutes before they caught wind of us and bolted!
A friend of Katie and Joe’s has been staying at theirs for a week before leaving for Tanzania, and it was his leaving-do party in Hoedspruit. We all went along to say goodbye, and on the way out of the reserve saw a civet and we got trumpeted by an elephant! Then about half way to Hoedspruit, the car in front of us suddenly swerved into the right hand lane, and coming straight towards us was a car, in our lane, driving the wrong way! It was scary! Joe swerved onto the hard shoulder easily enough and it was fine, but it shows that the roads can be so empty but still very dangerous out here!
It was a good night out at Sleepers, Joe and Emma started arguing about her spider phobia, and we met some of Phil’s other friends which was cool.

Saturday
Had a very hot day today, me and Emma both got a bit burned! First thing this morning, Garth took us out hunting. The brown hyenas are due to be fed, so the impala culling goes to them. It was all over so fast! We then had to walk in to find it, hoping Garth had got a clean shot. On the short drive we saw another rhino, and the ostriches, and a young eland! Good to know that not all the young eland are falling prey to the disease the other we found had.
Next was a buffalo camp herbivore count drive. The heat had forced a lot of animals to the dams, and we got to see 6 male nyala drinking, which was amazing as we haven’t seen much of them!

Time for the weekend now! Spent most of the time so far sun bathing, but we’ve got lots of baking and movie watching planned! I’ve still got some intern work to get finished, but not too much. Just waiting for the internet to be working properly again so I can get some research done for Katie.

I’m having such a great time here, and 7 weeks would never have been enough for me, but 3 months is enough… I’m going to miss Askari so much when I do go home, but right now I feel like I’m nearly ready to go back, which is a good thing I guess…

Rach
xx

Posted by Rachellina 13:57 Archived in South Africa

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