We nearly froze our asses off to start off week 2 at the game reserve. Maybe our escape to Jeffrey’s Bay just got us out of practice but even my 3 long sleeve shirts and 2 pairs of pants couldn’t cut it this morning. I decided I would easily pay $25 for a chai latte at the time but if it were in front of me I bet my price would have gone a lot higher. We had a pretty disappointing drive-unable to pin down either the male or female cheetah, although we did meet a new baby kudu and a baby wildebeest, so that was something! Oh, and we finally met the female lion so I really shouldn’t have called it a bust but we missed Inyanga this weekend! And, she apparently made a kill right in front of a game drive yesterday so that cuts down our odds of catching one this week.
We called the drive a little early this morning at 8:30 so that we could spend a solid hour with the elephants, logging every single thing they did-a project a PhD student is working on with the cooperation of the game lodge. We did this once last week and I don’t think I mentioned it because they essentially did absolutely nothing. This time was way more exciting-primarily because they were playing very affectionately with each other, and secondarily because it got us out of the wind chill and into a nice spot in the rising sun. But seriously, between their extreme affection and, umm, some other indications from the male elephant, we thought they actually might mate which is extraordinarily rare. In fact, we haven’t previously heard of anyone witnessing these two mating. Once again, the actual event didn’t happen, but it was an entertaining hour watching the dance!
I’m really loving the way our day is set up-a half hour breakfast at 9 is perfect, and Special K has really grown on me, I might like it more than Dave! After breakfast we’re instructed to lay some game blocks around the reserve-similar to salt lick but actually full of a ton of minerals, and brown, not white. The first block is set for the giraffes and when we see the destination we both freeze. You honestly believe we can get this 25 kilogram (55-ish pound) block up a 15 foot pole using an 8 foot ladder? No, says Liezel, not you Kate-Dave will have to do this one. I quietly set about the preparations (unwrapping the block) while Dave anxiously paces back and forth between the block and the pole, alternating between looking up, and looking queasy. There are two pegs at the top that could, theoretically help you bridge the gap between the ladder and the top-if you weren’t carrying a very large heavy block with you. As the block is just about ready to go, Hein and Super Dog (Cat) come flying into the scene. He pulls his fancy game reserve golf-cart-like-but-way-cooler-vehicle right up to the pole, and instead puts the ladder on the back of that-adding the necessary 5 or so feet to reach the top. Even Liezel had no idea he was coming, so I still don’t know if it was a complete coincidence he was driving by, or if he was watching from somewhere to see if Dave would really give it a go, because that was only moments away from going down (well, hopefully not going DOWN)! As it stands, Dave and Liezel just helped hold the ladder for him as Hein somehow got the block all the way up (even with the full height of the ladder, that thing is hard to maneuver!). Driving around the rest of the reserve Dave was all too happy to volunteer to drop the other blocks in the middle of large fields-I think he was VERY relieved with the seemingly impossible task he narrowly missed. On the way back home we spent about 45 minutes removing an invasive plant species from an area of the reserve using a machete. Obviously even the word machete is cool, but the actual tool is cool as shit, both aesthetically and effectively. Unfortunately after about a half hour I had blood all over my hand from a blister that popped and the subsequent ripping of skin, so I handed my machete to Liezel and continued killing the plants in other manners. Dave was rocking it though, for the entire time-he cleared a substantial path.
Maybe he would have saved a little energy if he knew what was coming next. We got back to the house for lunch and Liezel asked if we could quickly break the last remaining game block into two to split between the two pet springbok and the one pet gemsbock. Sounds easy so I ask Dave to help her and go off to clean up several cuts I’ve collected in addition to the big one. I hear them chopping at it, wash my hands, clean my hands in alcohol, apply Neosporin, search everywhere for band-aids, change my clothes, and….still hear them chopping at it? So, I wander over to where they’re working and see that they’re about 15-20% through the game block. We all thought it would take minimal effort but this thing is SOLID. Since I’ve just cleaned up my hands this is the first task I don’t participate in, which feels really awkward when I watch them working their asses off for the next 15 minutes taking turns ripping at this block with the machete. Eventually Dave prevails, and I’m SO proud of him-my arms would have given out after one round, and this is after he’s already spent 45 minutes in the bush with that thing!
I do offer to take some things back to the elephant shelter where I find…an elephant! Doesn’t sound that strange to you maybe, but we definitely laid the 9,000 volt lines all over the ground this morning to keep them out during the day as usual…I call Liezel who shakes her head, annoyed but maybe slightly amused as well, and tells me this is classic Selati, he’s just a trouble maker! He’s already eaten all of his and Kidibone’s (the female) food for the night and we can’t get him out so we go for our lunch to see if he wanders out on his own. Of course, he doesn’t, so we call Hein in who drives his cart straight INTO the boma (trust me, it’s very odd), sets off the car alarm, the horn, revs the engine etc., until Selati unhappily stomps out of the boma, trumpeting loudly, and causing Kidibone to start trumpeting. The whole scene is something to watch, and Hein’s little boy Milan comes out, upset. He tries to tell me why he’s upset by saying “Selati” and then stomps around making loud noises, trying to imitate him. Cutest. Kid. Ever.
After lunch we’re back to the cheetah rehab to feed the cheetahs and grease the cages. Horse meat’s on the menu again today, this time with all the hair still attached. I dig in though, spreading the protein powder all over the meat, needing to make up for my non-participation in the machete lunch project earlier. We throw the food to the cheetahs first since greasing the cages is going to mean we’re in each and every cheetah’s cage with the gates open. Best to do that on full stomachs. We start with the one female and get to work. We have about 8 tracks to grease with our hands for each cheetah, and it’s the final 2 tracks during which we’re exposed to them. As I approach this cage door to let it down, it actually falls completely off its track into her cage. Unbelievable. I’m able to reach it and pick it up without alerting her too much, but it takes a fair amount of effort to get it back on its track. Good start. We get this one greased up though and move on to Bobby who’s the most actively hateful today, and Liezel actually stands inside the cage with a stick to keep him away from us during the last two tracks. She said we could do it ourselves if we wanted but for once it was me who said a third hand would be helpful! Next up we have Midala, and Dave and I expeditiously grease all of these tracks too, with minimal interference from him.
And then we find ourselves back at the brothers. And, once again, they will not relax, or leave the vicinity of the gate we’d need to enter in order to walk through their camp and reach the ropes we (still) need to change and the tracks we need to grease. Once again, it’s gotten late on us and we still need to set up the anti-poaching cameras so Kevin and Caleb win again…it’s now on the docket for tomorrow…along with cleaning the cheetah camps…or cobra camps as I now think of them…. It is interesting how quickly fear dissipates though, we were face to face with 3 cheetahs today and neither Dave nor I thought too much of it this time around, which is very different from last week!