The big elephant relocation
Monday was Shaka and Clyde day. I was out in the morning watching them from the platform. Not a lot happened with the boys, but when I came in there was some pretty exciting news. The elephants were finally going to be moved on Wednesday, but they still had to confirm it for sure and then all systems go! Lisa and I decided not to jinx it and said we would wait until the elephants were loaded this time before we even started packing. So with that all sorted, and being in a pretty good mood I went off to check my emails. My good mood did not last long. I had an email from Ben which I guess was not at all what I was expecting. Things were not going well what with being so far apart and I think it was the beginning of the end for us. It upset me a lot and I ran off to the room upset and tried to calm down but I had to go back out in the field, so out I went still crying and trying to hide from everyone how unhappy I was. At first it was ok, I just sat on the platform and carried on watching Shaka and Clyde, but then I had to go out on two walks with the elephants doing rides, so I tried to hide from the guests. The walk did clear my head a bit, I guess keeping busy and doing data collection helped. When I had finished my data collection I went back to camp on Shaka and Clyde, which should have been an enjoyable perk - as is the usual case, but my mind however was in overdrive, and for the first time of being at the elephant park I wished that I was somewhere else and hadn't left everything behind to go and chase my dream.
That evening I was not really in the mood to socialize, so instead I had a shower, put on a movie and went to bed. My head was pounding, and I thought I would be so ready to sleep, but then once again my mind would not stop racing and all I could do was lay there and think.
I woke up at 4.30am Tuesday morning after a pretty sleepless night so I was happy to get up and go to do boma observations. I had to try and sneak around the room without waking Charlotte, but I managed to creep out and get there in time. The ellies were quite quiet, most not waking up until early morning browse came in. Then once 6.30 rolled around the quides and the volunteers arrived and the boma was as lively as usual. I went down to the boma after observations to help out, then after that went for breakfast and a nice long break. I tried to have a bit of a nap, but still my mind was racing and I could not shut off, so instead I did some data entering until it was time to go out in the field.
I went out that afternoon with George to do Herd Activity. The elephants were being really playful and a bunch of school kids had turned up to see the elephants too. While they were off having a lesson about elephants, I went up to Keisha who was waiting patiently by the barrier for some fruit, and I gave her the rest of the squash that I had in my drink bottle. Her face literally lit up as she got the first taste of the Mango squash. She soon finished my bottle, trying hard to suck out every last drop in there, but finally the others came out to take over our shift and George and I walked back to the base.
That evening I did not get up to much. Lisa had some great news, we were off to Indalu!!! Finally it was confirmed that Wednesday morning the elephants were going to be relocated and we could finally go and do our research! I was rather excited, and especially after the last couple of days I could not wait to get away from base and get stuck into some work! Indalu here we come!!!
So Wednesday was officially the day of the big elephant relocation! While they loaded the boys on at Elephants of Eden in Port Elizabeth, we were all out in the boma on the early morning shift. I then tried phoning Ben, but my battery kept cutting out, then his did, and it was all a bit of a polava so I went and started my packing for the next week. We were then all taken into town to do grocery shopping because it was going to be a busy week and therefore no day off on Friday. I picked up a few bits to take to Indalu and then once we got back to base I quickly packed and Laurie took Lisa and I to Indalu. We left before the elephants passed us so that we could arrive first and record them arriving.
The journey took us to Mossel Bay, well about 20 minutes outside of it, to this beautiful 800 ha dairy farm that was slowly being transformed into a new game reserve. We met the owner - Gerrard, and once we had unloaded our bags, went up to the elephant boma to await the arrival of the elephants. We waited for less than an hour before the truck finally made it. Brendan the vet gave the elephants some more sedatives before they were unloaded, and then we watched as one by one Mooketsi, Bakari and Tobogo emerged from the huge transport truck. Bakari and Tobogo settled in well and promptly went to find some food while Mooketsi just stood next to his pile of browse drifting in and out of sleep.
Eventually though Mooketsi woke up and started eating. The three of them kept close and wondered around the camp perimeter, stopping at a rather tasty looking bush, which Lisa and I knew would not survive the night. The guides, Sias and Gerrard went home leaving Lisa and I with the new elephants. It was lovely to sit with them and watch them settle in. We managed to do a fair bit of Activity Budgets that day despite the video camera not working, so when it got to about 7pm Lisa and I called it a day and headed back to the bush camp.
Gerrard took us back to the camp, with a slight detour on the way. He stopped at the open field just before the camp and took a bucket of pellets with him to go and find his two white rhino - Shrek and Fiona. After a few minuted of calling for them, I saw two big grey lumps emerge from the bush a couple hundred meters away, and they slowly made their way up to where Gerrard was with his food for them. It was amazing to be standing 20 away from a wild white rhino. I could not believe it! It was the first time I had seen rhino since leaving South Africa in December, and I could not wait to tell everyone what an amazing sighting it was.
When we were back at the camp we tried to get a nice fire going so that we could braai, however the wood was so wet that we had to give up and go and get some nice dry stuff from the supply room up by the main house. It was a great drive because we saw three honey badgers on the way up there! Two babies and we think the mum or perhaps another young one. The two small ones were a little unsure with the headlights so they did not run away as soon as we saw them. Instead the scampered around a bit until eventually following mum into the grass.
We finally got to the store room where the fleet of game viewers was kept and got some dry wood. I was rather excited about the cars and didn't really want to head back, but then we were all rather hungry so we made our way back to the camp, had our braai and sat around the fire chatting about elephants. It was such a great day, and I felt so lucky to be doing research with Lisa. It was the perfect job in the most amazing place. I can in all honesty say that there is nowhere I would rather have been right at that moment.
Thursday morning Lisa and I were up and out at 6.15am to start our first observation shift 6.30 - 9.45am. We were to do six half hour slots of Activity Budget, alternating elephants like I do with Shaka and Clyde. We also had to collect dung and Saliva which I tell you now was no easy task! The elephants were not in a boma like ours back at KEP so we had to basically wait at the fence watching each elephant until it defecated, then trying to keep an eye on it while watching the others until the guides turned up and could help us collect them. We managed to get the samples though, and were just wondering how to take them all back to the freezer when Nico turned up in a Bronco, or in girl talk a 4x4 golf buggy. It was awesome! I had so much fun driving us up and down the track to the bush camp, it was like a me sized Safari vehicle, though I would still choose a land cruiser any day!
So once we were done with the dung and our last data shift we got Saliva samples from them. It was meant to go something like feed the elephants to make them salivate, then get some cotton wool on a stick and get some saliva from where it collects near the back of the jaw. Instead though the guides stood there rubbing the tongue of the elephant which Mooketsi did not enjoy very much and so promptly ate the cotton wool ball with his sample. Little w***! It took us ages to get those samples; and then Mooketsi went and ate his…well that's an elephant for you.
Once the Saliva was collected we came back to the bush camp for a quick breakfast, then it was back out on shift from 11am- 12.30. Nothing much new happened and I was just happy to watch little Tobogo try and graze with his stubby trunk. Then after a nice long lunch we went back out for our last shift 2.30pm-5.45pm. The elephants got their dinner at around 4pm, plus a little bit of browse, then the guides left for the day. Lisa and I stayed up by the boma admiring the sunset and the bull elephants until finally it was time to head back. Gerrard had a special treat lined up for us. He took Lisa and me out on the Bronco to go and find the Rhino's. We drove up the hill and eventually came across Shrek and Fiona with the spotlight. We stopped a little bit away from them and turned out the lights. Gerrard got out to feed them, and as he called them over, a huge grey blob appeared from the distance to the side of the Bronco. Now I am not one to get scared by animal encounters, but having a Rhino that is standing taller than where I am sitting is rather unnerving. Shrek was so close that I could have put out my hand and touched him, but I didn't! Instead Lisa and I sat there absolutely silent and waited for him to turn and walk off towards Gerrard, which thank goodness he eventually did. I eased up a little then and actually sat there enjoying the sighting of the rhino eating the pellets. They were so interesting to watch as they munched away and you could even hear their jaws moving.
Well after that we got back to the bush camp and had some dinner around the kitchen table. Gerrard and Lisa went to bed and I stayed up a bit later waiting to hear from Ben (the signal seems to be best at the kitchen sink), then finally when I had all but gone to leave for bed I got a message. It wasn't quite what I was expecting; well I guess that's not true. Anyway he decided that we should break up, and so I went to bed that night a little relieved that finally I had heard from him, but also rather upset that we could not work things out. Well there was nothing more I could do in the middle of nowhere, so with that I went to bed and I tried my best to fall asleep to some Stephen Fry reading me Harry Potter.
I woke up Friday morning after a pretty sleepless night. There was so much going through my head that not even Stephen Fry help! However, I did not let either my tiredness or my thoughts get the better of me and instead got stuck right in to work because the female elephants were arriving and the rhino's were being dehorned today!
So we went out first thing and watched the boys for a while. The rhino had walked pretty much up to the camp so luckily for us we would be able to see the dehorning and do our research at the same time! We had to quickly run the dung back to the bush camp, but we got back to the ellie camp just in time to see the second rhino get darted. Then while the vet was waiting for them to go down Lisa and I were able to finish taking down our data then rush over to see the Shrek have his horn removed. The poor thing lay there shaking and tried to get up even though he was heavily sedated, so everyone jumped on top of him to stop him from moving too suddenly. The chainsaw cut through the horns sending dust and shavings flying everywhere and once they were removed they were thrown on the ground like rubbish with everyone running to the aid of Shrek. I stared for a long time at those horns not believing that they were the reason why our beloved rhino's were going to become extinct.
Almost 500 rhino were poached last year in South Africa alone, and already 100 this year. If things like dehorning, horn poisoning and anti poaching units do not work then the white rhino are going to be extinct in less than five years. The black rhino will be extinct before that. The thought that people in eastern cultures will use rhino horn because they think it is a potent aphrodisiac makes me feel sick. People would sacrifice a rhino for sex when all they actually need is a Viagra. What a joke. I could go on blaming the Chinese and Japanese culture for the poaching of sharks, whales, gorillas, elephants, tigers etc, but if the governments of the exporting and importing countries are going to remain ignorant of the fact that they are tolerating the trade of endangered or near endangered animals for the sake of some pocket money then we are going to have no animals left. The animals were here first, not humans, and they let us share this planet with them. To allow the destruction of habitats and poaching for the sake of human greed, without so much as an ounce of guilt is such a failure on humankind for allowing nature's greatest creations to disappear. If it was not for us then this world would be flourishing with such life and beauty, beauty that we now so rarely get to see and not long from now the greatest beings that ever walked the earth will be nothing but stories told to our children. Oops that was a bit of an unexpected rant. Anyway moving on…
So after the de-horning we were straight back to work, collecting our saliva samples and taking down data. After lunch we went back out to the field and waited for the girls to arrive. At around 3pm the truck finally made it! I finished my last shift of watching Mooketsi, Tobogo and Bakari, and went on to collect data on the girls emerging from the truck into their new home. The girls; Amari, Shanti and little Madewa settled well and went over to see the boys who had been barricaded in the outside shelter and were desperately trying to reach the girls with their trunks. Eventually the boys were let out and there was a bit of a greeting, but not much trumpeting or anything, then they all immediately started eating the browse that had been brought in and that was all they did until it was time for Lisa and I to head back for lunch. Well we tried to head back for lunch, but just a little way up the road we ran into a very drugged up Shrek who did not seem to take too kindly to the intrusion. I backed up and waited on the side of the road until Brendan the Vet went past us in his car and we started to follow him back to the camp. He managed to get them to move but as soon as his car went past Shrek came out in front of us again and then Fiona walked out of the bushes behind us! I thought that we would be done for if the Rhino got scared of the little buggy we were in but I just held my breath and waited for Shrek to turn around then went straight past him and back to camp. Phew!
The rest of the afternoon I watched the females while Lisa watched the males. I would now only watch the girls , and I was loving watching how the ellies kept interacting with each other. That evening we arrived back at camp where there was a roaring fire and a braai with our name on it. Lisa and I had a lovely evening with Gerrard, Sias and Jackie (his wife), luckily though we didn't stay up too late and I managed to get to bed early and catch up on lost sleep.
Saturday started out pretty good, we arrived at the elephant boma at 6.30 and collected all our dung samples without too much hassle, then it started to rain. The heavens opened, and Lisa and I had to try and hide away from it underneath the only shelter we had which was the back seats of the Rhino. I reversed it up against the wall of the old house and we sat there huddled up trying to shelter our paper away from the rain. We were so soggy at one point that every time I tried to write on my paper it simply disintegrated underneath the end of the pencil
If I thought we were wet already it was nothing compared to how soaked through we would be on the way back. As soon as I started the car up and moved off all the rain that had gathered on the canvas roof fell like a sheet onto mine and Lisa's laps. It was such a shock, one which I was thoroughly unprepared for! So we headed back to the house to drop our samples off in the freezer and grab a nice hot thermos of tea. Then back it was into the pouring rain, although this time we tipped up the roof a bit and didn't get soaked by all the rain that had collected on the top.
The rest of the afternoon pretty much went the same way as the morning. We watched the ellies from the comfort of our very un-rain proof buggy while they mostly stood there in the rain waiting for some food and caking themselves in orange mud. They looked just like the elephants from Addo!
We got back to the bush camp that evening and met some friends of Jackie and Sias, chatted to them around the kitchen table, then Lisa and I enjoyed some left over potjike that was left over for dinner. It was delicious, definitely one of the best I have tried so far in Africa. Then while we were washing up the plates I asked what kind of spider it was sitting on the window, which I immediately regretted because Jackie went 'oh it's a baby rain spider, see look up there that's a fully grown one', so Lisa and I looked up to see a plethora of gigantic rain spiders. I nearly fainted I was in such shock from being so blissfully ignorant for the last few days. It was like I had walked into the house from arachnophobia, I bolted out the door and ran for the cover of our bedroom. Only to immediately spot two on the roof of our bedroom. So with a full tummy and after a long day of sitting in the cold rain, Lisa and I came back for nice warm showers and off to our cozy warm beds.
When Lisa and I woke up this morning I really did not expect the rain to make the river as high as it was. We left at 6.15am to go and see the ellies, but were almost immediately blocked off by the first drainage line which was now a fully flowing river. I could not find a stick to test it, and the river was going pretty fast so instead of attempting it in our little Rhino we went back to the bush camp and waited for Sias to make sure we were able to get through it. Once he deemed it safe I had a lot of fun driving through the water. Now our little buggy was nowhere near watertight so as I drove on through the water the whole bottom of the buggy and our feet were completely submerged. But I knew as long I did not stop then we would be fine. The rest of the journey went fairly well, no sliding or anything, but then we came to the second river crossing just before the boma, and I could not believe had mad it was flowing! What had been a dry river bed the day before was now a stormy river. After watching Sias drive his Bakkie and see the water come up to his door I was a little dubious that we would make it safely through, but I put it on 4x4 mode and away we went, again the whole bottom of the cab filling with water. Thank goodness we had our wellies on!
By the time we got to the elephants we were too late to take our first data sample, so waited a few minutes before doing the Activity Budgets. Once again I was doing the three females and Lisa was doing the three males. We collected dung between writing data, then popped it in the cool box until it was time for our run back to put it in the freezer. We then took some cut up fruit back out with us to try and encourage the elephants to give us some decent saliva samples, which I must say worked a treat! Amari was a bit scared of the cotton wool ball, I think after having it stuck to her tongue the day before, so we were unable to get her sample, but on the whole it went well.
We came back for a break before going back out in the field to do the 11 to 12.30pm shift. We got back and relaxed for an hour, reading and having lunch then went out for our final shift of the day. It was so eventful!
First of all little Madewa managed to corner the three baby ostriches and had her ears out and was chasing them. One poor ostrich tried to get away but instead got electric shocked on the fence, the rest of the herd came over to check it out so the poor ostriches now had no escape. Lisa and I dropped everything and rushed over, I tried calling the elephants away but only Amari did what I told her, so Lisa got some pellets in a bucket and started shaking it up the other end of the fence. The ellies followed her and soon the babies were free. Lisa however hilariously managed to tip the pellets all over herself instead of over the fence so we had an issue of the really nice food being outside the fence. I ran back to grab some pellets and chuck them over, so while they were busy we picked up the fallen pellets and chucked them over the fence. After all that the crisis was averted and everyone was happy…except for us who had to miss writing down the data of the elephants chasing the ostriches!
Then when we thought everything was fine and they were all happy the ostriches managed to get themselves back into the corner. Now not a half hour had passed so little Madewa had obviously remembered how much fun it was chasing them. She ran up to them ears and trunk out, followed by Mooketsi and the rest of the herd. Now this was not good. He charged the ostriches and tried to kick them, they tried to run but just shocked themselves instead. So once again Lisa and I ran after them trying to get the elephants away with a bribe of pellets. The problem was that the elephant's must have thought ooh chase ostriches and get a reward! This we could not allow, so as soon as Sias came past we got him to get the guides out so that the ostriches could be herded into the boma next door where the bucks and bushpig were. It took a while and a lot of silly arm waving, but finally they were safe and little Madewa could torment them no more!
We stayed with the elephants until they had eaten and were busy munching away on browse, then came back to the bush camp where Sias and Jackie had prepared a wonderful braai for us. We had pork and liver, which I tried, but was not too keen on, however I am chuffed I gave it a go!
Well anyway Jackie showed us her bag of wedding things to help give Lisa bit of inspiration, and then we sat around the fire with Sias telling their story. It was a lovely and inspirational to say the least. Sias and Jackie met in Polokwane, Limpopo, but then Sias moved down here to work at Elephants of Eden because his dream was to one day run the elephant section of the reserve here and could not give up the opportunity of a lifetime. Jackie stayed in Limpopo, so they missed each other terribly and I was hard, but at every opportunity they flew up or down to see each other even if it was only a few times a year. This carried on until finally the elephants were permitted to come here, Jackie moved down, they got married this year and now here they are living on this beautiful reserve with the elephants and their dreams finally came true. The whole theme of the wedding was birds and flying because they were always flying to see each other and the whole thing brought a tear to my eye…which I just blamed on the smoke from the fire. But it made me fall in love with South Africa all over again, knowing that there is nothing better than being able to live the rest of your life with the amazing wildlife in complete happiness and have all your dreams come true.