Our final week working on the game reserve is flying by, as I write this we only have one day left! We’re “off” for today as it’s after 5 but we actually still have a rifle and darting lesson later this evening as Hein kindly offered last night to teach us a few things on the side, and we’re trying to get as vast an experience as we can while we’re here. We never ended up having to dart the male cheetah as expected since he started hanging out close to Inyanga, the female cheetah, which almost certainly means they’re mating since normally they want nothing to do with each other. The nameless male has a pretty specific corner of the park that he generally sticks to (away from prying eyes of guests and volunteers!) and the lovely Inyanga wanders about freely around the rest of the park, not camera shy at all! We’ve completely fallen in love with her if that hasn’t been clear yet.
Wednesday morning, as usual, she was the star of our morning game drive. We found her pretty quickly and followed her as she slinked into some thick brush on the side of a mountain. This isn’t her typical hunting arena since she has no way of building speed, but we quickly realized she was indeed creeping on a group of about five kudu. Now, we happen to have some affinity for these particular kudu as well because we discovered a couple of days ago that they were hiding their baby in the brush near our house-extremely effectively. The baby, tiny with HUGE ears, is about 2-3 weeks old and none of the reserve staff had seen it until we spotted it one evening. So, we’ve been secretly hoping they continue succeeding until it’s big enough to be less vulnerable. We didn’t see it in the brush with the rest of the family that Inyanga was stalking, but surely it was hidden in there somewhere. So, when the kudu spotted her and then ran, we weren’t entirely disappointed (though still somewhat). Inyanga was outed again. The kudu bulls started repeatedly making this enormous sound that sounded more like it belonged to a bear that effectively made Inyanga turn and slink away, but the noises continued even after she was gone.
Yesterday was our lucky day though! After our morning drive and then breakfast, we found out Hein wanted us to do a “game count”. The meaning of this phrase is pretty intuitive-we spent about two hours driving around the reserve counting and logging every animal we saw. We found each species minus the buffalo but trying to guess their genders was quite a feat! I wouldn’t rely on this week’s gender count if I were Hein. We also spent a good amount of quality time within 20 feet or so of the three giraffe while they browsed in the trees above. The male is incredibly tall, I’d like to guess 20 feet but have no idea of the actual measurement, and the female is also “large”, but more in a sideways manner --she so evidently has a baby giraffe that’s about to pop out-her stomach looks incredibly distended and uncomfortable!! I love giraffes though, nothing else in the world looks remotely like them.
After lunch we were on our second and final cheetah camp clean-up. But first we have to feed them so that we can walk through their cages with a little less danger. We arrive at the “shop” to find out what’s for lunch. We find what’s left of a giant horse hanging by one leg from the ceiling while two guys hatchet away at him. For those horse lovers out there (including myself), the only horses they get are those from nearby farms that are lame and have to be put down. These are then used to feed the cheetahs and the lions. So, as usual, Dave and I are supposed to rub a protein powder into the fresh meat before we load it onto the truck. And when I say fresh, I mean FRESH-the meat is actually still warm and with the hair and all intact it actually feels like a horse, so that was a bit hard mentally. However, I did the work. Please refer to the picture above for a comparison of work ethic on this task-my hand is on the right, Dave’s is on the left.
We worked from 2pm until 6pm cleaning, coaxing, and especially, looking for cobras. It’s actually really long and exhausting so as much as I love working with and around the cheetahs, I felt great about being done with it for the last time! We did go into the cheetah cages again, but stupid or not, this barely registers as scary anymore (but of course we still carry big sticks). When we got back the fire was already going for us, a sure sign that there’s a braai on for tonight! This time though, Dave and I were in charge. They had promised we wouldn’t leave here without knowing how to braai, and they were true to their word! It was only pork chops, sausages, vegetable and bread, but we did a pretty decent job, and we’re looking forward to introducing the braai to America! This was the first night we stayed up past our childhood bedtimes though, so it was MUCH appreciated when Hein told us to start an hour later today (Thursday).
And so today started with a bit of a headache and an awful exhaustion but luckily it was an easy day. We found Inyanga in the morning on her own fence patrol-literally walking along an exterior fence on the reserve that we’d never made it to before, staring at the bottom of the fence the whole way. I think her fence patrol had a different purpose than ours do though since there were cows right on the other side! We followed her along for quite awhile and then she plopped down in the middle of the road posing for us. It’s a good way to spend a morning. We then watched another half-assed attempt of hers to hunt but I’m so tired of talking about them I’m not even going to make you wonder if today is the day we finally saw her make a kill. It wasn’t, but we still love her.
When we get back to the house for breakfast we realize for the third day in a row, the male elephant, Selati, has walked straight through the electric fence into his boma looking for food. We suspect he’s in heat (or whatever the male version is) and that’s why he’s getting so crazy lately, but it’s obviously a serious problem that needs to be solved. If they increase the voltage it’s going to really hurt Kidibone, the female elephant who is ¾ the size of him and obedient. But, in the meantime, he asks us to fix the fence, which is a new one for us! It involves a lot of tying and untying of cables, tightening, and rewiring, and looks good when we’re done. I’m positive Selati will never break through again! Next up is cleaning the boma which is DISGUSTING today. We realized afterwards we should have taken before and after pictures but we didn’t unfortunately, and if we just put the clean picture up here you wouldn’t even think we did that good of a job.
We’re supposed to do shooting lessons after lunch but Hein postpones until 5 and so our “cake afternoon” is threatened and Liezel tells us to get ready to work. Luckily, as it turns out, we were able to create and suggest jobs that weren’t too bad. We checked on the cheetahs in the rehab facility to make sure they had water and collect a few samples from where they looked sick, we put up anti-poaching cameras, washed the car…you get it. The cake afternoon was a cake afternoon after all! We also requested a field trip to the reptile house to buy more time where Dave bravely held his very first snake!