BUSH TALK - January 2015
Field News from Senior Field Coordinator - Gawie Lindeque:
The end of the year is always a busy time for activities at the College and last year was no exception. Not only did we have the usual game drives and walks for all the donors and visitors attending the HET graduation ceremony but we also had a few groups of visiting Swiss that we took out to take part in rhino notching. It was during the last of these that I got to experience something for the first time in my 15 odd years of working in the Greater Kruger National Park.
We met the team at the prearranged spot and waited for the chopper. Theresa Sowry, the College’s CEO and Bruce Mc Donald, the Bathawk pilot, had been in the air a little earlier and spotted a group of rhino on an open patch next to the Timbavati River. When the chopper arrived we decided that Bruce and myself should fly with the chopper, Bruce to show the pilot where to take the vet for darting and myself to know where the rhino are and guide the ground team in. It was a short hop as the rhino wasn’t far and we were back in few minutes. We loaded up and I took the ground team to the holding area while the vet and pilot got ready. The darting went without a hitch and the notching was done quickly. Everything went so smoothly that we were done with enough time to dart a second rhino. The pilot said that he saw a group of rhino not far away so it shouldn’t take too long to find them again. Again the darting went smoothly and the ground team were called in. We saw the vet first and he signalled that they darted a black rhino. I couldn’t believe it, in over 15 years I have never actually seen a black rhino in the Kruger Park. Yes, I have been playing cat and mouse with a bull for a few years now
around the College and even managed to get a photograph or two on a camera trap, but have never had the pleasure of actually seeing him. Another big surprise was that it wasn’t the bull we knew about but a young cow. What a privilege to finally get the opportunity see one of these magnificent animals alive and well. She seems to be doing well and sticking to her patch of bush as we saw her again very early this year while out with the group of PH students.
During the last few weeks, elephants put in a welcome visit to the training area as well, with sightings of either bull or small family groups during most drives and walks. One of the Swiss groups had a bit of excitement with a young bull during an afternoon walk that ended with a braai in the bush. We were nearing the bush braai site when we suddenly walked into the young bull about 30m away. I could see that he was a bit nervous and thought that it may be because he was recently chased out of the herd and not yet comfortable to be on his own. I told everyone just to remain calm and to stand still. After watching us for a few seconds he turned away from us and walked away. Just at that moment I heard a vehicle approaching from behind us and realised that we were a bit closer to the road than I expected. The vehicle was the rest of the dinner guests and they didn’t see us standing in the bush. They did however spot the elephant and unknowingly blocked his escape route. The elephant now found himself between a rock and hard place and decided to take on the group of people on the ground rather than the much bigger and obviously more imposing vehicle. He turned around and came charging back straight at us with his ears out and head down. He strategically kept a small knob thorn tree between himself and us and I instinctively knew that he would break off his charge as soon as he passed it. The tree was only afewpacesawayfromussoItooka couple of steps to my right while telling everyone to stand still. This now gave the bull a clear view of me a lot sooner than he expected and he slammed on the breaks, turned 90 degrees to his right and trumpeted into the sunset. Needless to say the first beer at the braai site went down like a homesick mole and allowed everyone time to relax and reflect.
The summer rains came a little late last year and the middle of November saw the impala females getting rather desperate. It was time to lamb and they can only hold out for so long. Luckily the rains came just in time and the veld just started to get a slight green tinge when we started to see the first little ones bounding around. The wildebeest followed suite and started to drop their calves about a week later. We received some good rains during the December break and by the time we returned to the College the transformation to lush tropical green was complete. During the first couple of weeks we have done a few drives and walks with the PH students and managed to get a few good sightings of dagga boys (bachelor buffalo bulls) and a herd of buffalo about two hundred strong. The Marulas are slowly ripening and the sweet smell is gradually drawing in the elephants. The next few weeks are going to become rather exciting with lots of elephant sightings. Watch this space, I’ll tell you all about it in the next edition.