Tuesday morning’s game drive had exciting potential from the outset-we found Inyanga, the female cheetah, not far from our house, and within striking distance of 5 or 6 impalas. Even Liezel was getting very excited-she’d seen Inyanga make a failed attempt at a kill before, but never a successful kill. In fact, she tells us she’s not going to call this one in because all of the game drive trucks that will race over will scare the cheetah off. So, we sit there, getting very excited for a few more minutes until Inyanga finally stops planning and starts to make her move. She disappears into the bushes, and we can see her intentions nicely. She emerges again quietly, this time within meters of the closest impala. The impalas can’t see her and continue their fine dining (grass), clueless of the threat at hand. She lays flat to the ground, clearly in pouncing stance and at the very last second….the impalas see her and run off. Hopefully it was as anti-climactic for you as it was for us. One thing we’ve learned this week is that Inyanga really seems to lack confidence (outside of breaking into our yard to kill one of our pet springboks)!
Ah well, the day must go on, and it’s time to move into the manual labor portion of the day. This morning’s assignment is cleaning the elephant boma, a lovely duty somewhat similar to the cheetah camp but without the immediate threat-the elephants are out in their yard, so as long as we avoid the electrical chains, safety for once is not an issue. Once again though, the real issue at hand is poop. So, we shovel and shovel, then rake and shovel, for the rest of the morning until lunch. This is our second dung detail, and by our third (rhinos) on Wednesday, Dave and I are fondly reminiscing about Willie and Felicity’s poop. And Liezel is picking up most of it with her hands which absolutely amazes us.
Come afternoon Dave and I are on fence patrol duty. Basically Liezel drops us off at one spot, and then drives pretty far away to wait for us to finish walking the perimeter of the reserve, checking the fence for holes, filling the holes with stones, and checking to make sure the electronic fence is operating properly by running into it every so often. Just kidding, but we did run into it accidentally once or twice and nothing happened, so we weren’t sure whether to feel lucky or less safe! Liezel drops us off and tells us to walk the fence until we reach the spot where Inyanga was on the kill a few hours ago and she’ll pick us up there. Wait-what-why there??? Too late, she’s gone. So, off we go…once again we found ourselves in tall grass that had to be rife with snakes, so we decided that one of us could handle fence patrol, and that Dave would switch to snake duty. I realize this doesn’t sound like the most fun job in the world, but it also wasn’t that bad although we later learned that the sun did pierce our protective layer of sunscreen pretty well. We filled a few holes with rocks that were laying around until we got a little more artistic about it. To leave our personal mark on the park we found an impala skull with two huge horns, and used it to fill the hole and simultaneously scare off anyone thinking of coming through. The spine complemented it nicely in the hole next door. Talk about going above and beyond. Eventually we make it to the last place we saw Inyanga, but we’re relieved to see there’s no sign of her hungry face!
Even though no specific job has been that physical so far, our bodies are starting to feel the effects of a couple of days involving manual labor, and my body is literally exhausted (thus the delayed blog entries). I hate the thought of standing up for another half hour to shower, get dressed, etc., but, with the kind of work we’ve been doing, optional showers are a thing of the past. We both shower in the outdoor shower which I absolutely love by the way, and though the game drives often go right by, we’ve both been lucky as far as that goes (knock on wood). When we get out we see a fire being built-another braai! This is of course great news, but the meat doesn’t tend to end up being cooked until 9 or so, so we prepare ourselves for a “long night”. 8pm is seeming later and later to us these days. Once again the food is worth it though, and we fall into bed stuffed. With Inyanga stalking nearby, Dave does not want to be going to the bathroom in the middle of the night so he brings two bottles to bed to use, but lo and behold, at 1am or so he actually wakes me up because he hasn’t been able to sleep due to extreme thirst and he HAS to go to the house for a drink, so I get up to go with him and there’s no sign of the cheetah. It was pretty funny how hell bent he was on not going to the bathroom in the night when it was mere thirst that finally (after 2 or 3 hours) took him down!! The reason became clear the next morning though when he began coughing and sneezing constantly- baby’s got a bad bad cold .
Wednesday morning’s game drive was a cool one! Cool as in cold. It was probably as uncomfortable as we’ve been with the cool temperature, cloudy skies, and the wind blowing in the open air vehicle, but by our 9am breakfast the day was warming up quickly as usual here. The rest of the morning we were working on erosion control which sounded misleadingly like a cake job!. First we were gathering leftover branches from the elephant yard that they had already eaten the leaves off of, which was a pretty fun game because they were chasing us, so we would hop off the truck and start gathering for maybe 2 minutes and then Liezel would scream to get back on the truck as they closed in. We repeated this 6 or 7 times until we’d filled two of the large truck seats, and then we headed out to the site. After filling the lacking soil with the branches, Liezel explained we’d be filling two large bags with rhino dung (us with a shovel and Liezel with her hands), and then the entire truck with as many rocks as possible, to add to our pile of branches. So for at least an hour we’re hauling rocks back and forth to the truck from a huge pile of rocks a short drive away (watch out for snakes AND scorpions this time!). After the truck is full, we drive back to the site and start the unloading, despite our arm’s protests.
The afternoon is spent back at the cheetah rehab center changing out the pulley ropes (remember the one that broke?). It’s a pretty fun job really, with the cheetahs constantly present, and often pretty close. A lot of logistics are concerned, and we’re really as involved in the decisions and the work as Liezel is, so it’s rewarding when you finish each cage, often redesigning the system for various necessary reasons. The cheetahs hadn’t been fed in 2 days though so we ended up deciding to leave our old friends Kevin and Caleb for another day. Now would be a bad time to take a stroll through their cage. Our last job of the day is pretty easy, riding around the reserve hiding anti-poaching cameras in various rock structures that we built to conceal them from view, but once again, when we get back to the house I just want to lay down all evening, but, as always, a shower is the final unnegotiable requirement of the day.
So Thursday begins as usual until we get an urgent call from Hein that we need to find the male cheetah as he may be lurking around the neighbor’s sheep farm that he recently stole a sheep from. We’re instructed to find him and, if he’s close, get him away from that area, which will be no short order! So Liezel hauls it out to the far perimeter and we track him using the telemetry device. We can ascertain that he is indeed nearby but can’t quite pinpoint his location, and then the truck gets stuck in the sand. She eventually gets out of the rut but the truck can’t realistically go on any further, so we have to park it and go on foot, sticks in hand. We’re talking loudly, whistling, clapping our hands-it reminds me of the girls’ prank in the old Hayley Mills Parent Trap movie actually but most of you won’t get that, it’s a pretty obscure reference. Hopefully our efforts are more useful in this scenario than in the movie! We are eventually able to confirm that he’s up on the hill near the farms, and not stalking the actual farms themselves, so we’ve done our duty and start to head back, but when Liezel calls it in, Hein suggests we do a fence patrol since we’re already out there. Since it’s the 6-9 shift Dave and I haven’t applied sunscreen yet and this day is shaping up to be the hottest one yet, the sun beating down. Also, sand is hard to walk in! So, this time we’re exhausted even before breakfast!!
After breakfast we’re supposed to walk the same route as the fence patrol from days before, but this time with a 50ish pound, hard-cased pack of Round-Up on my back, to treat the invasive plants around the fence. Dave of course offered to do it but he’s been asking enough of his back lately so I take this one and Dave’s on snake duty, right where I like him. I’m not sure how long it takes, but in the 31 Celsius heat it feels like forever. Then after lunch, we’re off to feed the cheetahs. It’s a little different than last time though-last time was a huge crate full of raw chicken bits, so food we’ve handled in our own home. This time we arrive at the shop and see a huge horse hanging from the ceiling, being butchered (something we barely escaped helping with, thankfully). We get our crate which is full of huge slabs of horse ribs, and Liezel hands us some powder to rub into the raw bloody meat. Dave’s having a hard time with this one and claims he’s cut his finger shortly after he starts, so I dig in so as not to embarrass us. He gets some good film and pictures though so I’m glad he abstains! It is soon revealed though that the cut he claimed was his was actually just blood from the horse carcass. The cheetahs are famished after a long 3 days without food and so eagerly attack the offerings that Dave tosses over the fence (too heavy and high for me to heave over!).
We leave them and head off to find the buffalos for a quick check-up. They’re in the midst of the thickest brush so it takes a long time with the binoculars to actually find them, and of course it’s Liezel that finds them. When she does she starts calling them repeatedly-phonetically it sounds like “Comb Biffils, Comb!”, presumably Afrikaans for Come Buffalos, Come. It’s the cutest call ever, definitely my favorite thing she says. Once they hear her, they actually come running-quite impressive for such feared beasts! As they’re running towards us, Dave is tasked with making eight piles of their de-worming supplement, and it quickly becomes evident he does not possess a healthy fear of these animals. Liezel keeps telling him to hurry up and get back on the truck but he just watches the buffalo running at him in awe, and finally jumps in, with what he claims was plenty of time. By the time we get back it’s after five so we call it a day, and Dave’s and my first week of work on the game reserve is officially over. Or so we think-Hein calls Liezel shortly thereafter and asks us to clean the elephant boma and get their food ready for a drive that’s coming through, so we take care of that and then Dave feeds the baby gemsbok (which he doesn’t seem to like at all, the gemsbok is a little too enthusiastic for his liking). Now, it’s officially done.