Back to South Africa!!! African Elephant Research Unit, Knysna Elephant Park
South Cape Dc, South Africa
Back to South Africa!
I cannot believe I finally landed in South Africa! After leaving home on Sunday afternoon at 5pm and saying a very sad farewell to Mum and dad at Gatwick airport, I was finally on my way back! I milled around the airport for a while, and bought a watch seeing as I had stupidly left mine behind, then eventually was able to get on the plane to Dubai. I was sitting next to a lovely lady who I chatted to for a good hour or two, then for the last six hours I tried to sleep but abandoned that and watched a couple of movies instead. I was then at Dubai airport for less than two hours, where I tried to catch some sleep, and almost missed my plane in the process, but finally we all got on and I was headed for Cape Town, and so excited!
I landed at Cape town airport around 5pm on Monday, then after having gone through passport control, luggage collection and picked up my rental car I was well on my way to Knysna. At first I took a small detour into Cape Town (totally on purpose…erm not…) but I did get to drive past Table Mountain, so even though I took the wrong direction down the N2, I was soon back on it the right way round and heading along the coast to the mountains.
The drive was pretty long, and I thought it was getting dark rather quickly, even more so when I put my full headlights on and not much happened…I then realised I was still wearing my sunglasses, so I hastily removed them much to my embarrassment. I stopped around halfway at a petrol station where I refueled and got a drink, then carried on all the way up to the park. I did not arrive until about 11.30pm so I had to wake the poor security guard and Laurie the student coordinator so I could get in. I felt bad for turning up so late, but I said goodnight and quietly tried to unpack a few things so I could go to bed.
Once I finally climbed into bed, amazingly without waking up Alice my roommate, I tried to fall asleep, but for the longest time I could not seem to drift off. I was so tired that I could not understand why, but then I guess it must have been half excitement at finally being here and half sheer panic at the realization that this would be potentially my last six months in South Africa. The thought of that really worries me, the fact that I may not get a visa and have to go back home, I only just got here but already I don't want to have to leave the country. Fingers crossed things go well over the next six months and something comes up. Anyway after laying awake for ages and then hearing the elephants trumpeting I drifted off to sleep. Finally!
Tuesday morning Alice and I were up bright and early, even though we had both arrived rather late yesterday and were allowed a lay in I think we were too excited to stay in bed any longer! So I got up, showered and unpacked, and then went to have a look around the place and introduce myself to the other volunteers.
Alice and I went out with Laurie in the morning for orientation and to learn who all of the 12 different elephants were. We first went and looked around the camp and got to know where everything is kept and how everything worked. Then we went to meet the first three elephants - Harry and Namib who are male and Tosha who is female. They are shortly to be relocated to another park so they won't be here for long, but it was still nice to meet them and watch them in the orchard for a bit.
We next went and saw the two boys - Clyde and Shaka - who are kept in a field separate from the others because guests ride them, and the matriarch of the hard does not like Clyde very much. The last seven elephants are a herd that wanders around a huge park all day, followed by the handlers, and guests come to feed them fruit. All the elephants in the park are basically habituated so they are not as wild as the usual African elephants, though one must always remember that they are wild so you must never get complacent with them. The herd consists of Sally - the Matriarch, Nandi, Thandi (Nandi's daughter), Keisha, Shungu and Mashudu - the two little boys - and lastly Thato - the little female who is only three and a half but is already bigger than me!
So they are my new best friends for the next five months!
The rest of the morning was spent on a tour to experience what the guests do, and then we started work with recording data and starting to identify between the different elephants. We stayed out for a couple of hours with them and occasionally one would come up and have a sniff, then we could give it a little bit of attention before they ran off for some more attention. Little Thato and Mashudu kept coming up trying to get my orange squash bottle, apparently it resembles the bottle Thato was fed with, but then again it could have just been that the orange smelt nice!
The rest of the afternoon was spent in town because I had to take the rental car into Plettenberg Bay. Laurie and I picked up a new volunteer called Michelle once I had dropped the car off and then we were able to pick up groceries… well for me a nice non lumpy pillow, so finally we were able to go back home. We got back around 5pm so we had a few hours off to relax until dinner. Alice and I had a nap because both of us were completely pooped! Eventually Charlotte came and woke us up and we all ate a lovely dinner together that David had cooked for all of us. It was great to sit with all the new volunteers and get to know them, but I was so tired that I could not stay up any longer and finally went back to bed to have a nice night sleep before a busy day tomorrow.
On Wednesday morning I woke at 6am bright and early, had a quick shower and was out helping get the elephants out of the boma at half past. We started off by clearing out all the eaten branches and putting them on the fire, and then went around collecting samples of the older boys dung for Lisa's GnRH project. We had to pick through the boluses to find any that were warm enough inside to give viable samples, then put small amounts in a test tube, labeled them and put them in the freezer…with the food, which is just a little disturbing!
After that was done I went out for my 8.30 - 10.30am shift recording the data for 'nearest neighbour' while Joan took the other set of data down. Nearest neighbor consists of a matrix of all nine elephants names down the side and top and every five minutes you pick the next elephant down the column and write down how close the other elephants are in terms of A - touching, B - 1-5m, C - 6-10m, D - 11-15m, E - 16-25m, F - 26-50m and G - 50m+. So I do a two hour shift and then the next volunteer comes up and takes over so that we get a whole day worth of data.
So once I had finished my shift I went back to the camp to do my data entry and have a break, and then went out again for my 12.30 - 14.30pm shift. This time I went out to do 'herd activity' and Joan did the 'nearest neighbour'. This one consists of recording what every elephant is doing every 10 minutes according to an ethogram. It was fun because between the 10 minutes there was enough time to take some pictures and give the elephants a little bit of attention. Little Mashudu and Thato kept trying to get hold of my bottle full of orange squash. Either they could smell the citrus or else the bottle reminds them of what they were bottle fed with. It was getting hot by then as well so most of the elephants were getting under the shelter and kicked us all out so we were standing in the sun and they got all the shade!
After that shift though we got the tractor back with the guests who had come to meet the elephants and feed them fruit. I then had another break to enter my data and get some lunch before going out for my last shift of the day. Alice was not feeling well as she got heat stroke the day before and so stayed behind, so I attempted both 'nearest neighbour' and 'herd activity'. Once the last guests had gone the handlers took the elephants up the ridge so that they could relax before going back in the boma for the night. It was lovely watching the little herd of elephants get joined by the two boys after finishing their guest rides and see them interacting. At about half six we then walked them back to the boma and I went and had dinner
After a shower and some pasta, I went out to the boma and helped put out all the branches for the ellie's dinner. Then Alice, David and I chilled out outside with a drink and chatted about University, South Africa and loads of other things in between. Eventually though it was getting pretty late and time for bed seeing as we were to be up early.
Today was busy again. I was out at 6.30am in the orchard this morning before Harry, Namib and Tosha were let out to pick up all the left over branches and stack them onto a pile for collection. After that I went out with Clara to learn about activity budgets. Basically you sit watching a single elephant and record its every behavior minute by minute. It's really hard actually, because while you are writing things down you can miss another small behavior. Every trunk movement, excretory habits, approaches or contact behaviors with other elephants and sounds are recorded. So we sit there for two hours watching them and then swap with the next person that comes up.
I then had a break and had a quick nap before going out to help sift through the sawdust in Mashudu's pen to try and find glass from a window that he had broken. It took ages sifting through it all and trying to piece the window back together to see if there were any pieces left. I then went and had lunch and read my book for a bit because it was too hot to go out in the sun.
Once it had cooled down a bit a few of us went out to sort some enrichments for the elephants to keep them entertained in the evening. We lowered some buckets on string that had hole in the bottom, filled them with straw and pellets and yanked them back up so that they have to pull the straw through the holes to get to the pellets. I then ran off to go out in the field and do the 4.30pm - end shift of 'herd activity' data. Again it was lovely to watch all the elephants together and being able to stay outside relaxing without the tourists there interacting with them. I was by myself again, but at least I didn't have two sets of data to do because it was pretty hard yesterday!
Once I got back I was thankful to have a shower and get into some non sweaty clothes! Then while making dinner Alice, Charlotte, David and I played Perudo. I did not fair too well and so I went back to making dinner while the others carried on playing. Once dinner was finished I came to the room to answer emails etc while the others were out in the boma putting the ellie's to bed. Then after they came in a load of us played some card games around the table. We played a bit of poker and another card game where we had to make elephant noises… I wasn't really paying much attention because I kept giggling so much. Anyway it started to get late so we decided to call it a night and continue with the game tomorrow when it's time off and we can have a couple of drinks with it!
Today has been so relaxed. Alice and I woke up this morning hoping that we were going to the beach with Charlotte, however it started raining last night so the weather was not so great for lounging at the beach. We went back to sleep instead and had our first lay in of the week. At 10am I woke up, got dressed, had some breakfast and settled myself down with a book. Then when the girls were up and about we watched a film while the rain kept pouring down.
After that I thought it would be fun to bake some bread, so Alice, Charlotte and I attempted to make a loaf of brown bread. While leaving it to rise we went back into the 'living room' shall we say, and thought about what we should do next. I thought perhaps a board game, then realised we didn't have any, so my next thought was to make one. And so Knysna Elephant Park Monopoly was created. Between checking on the progress of our bread the three of us drew up our new concept of the game, and I must say it is going to be epic! Well that all kept us busy until dinner time, at which point the bread appeared ready and I was very excited to have some with my salad, but being too eager to get stuck in it turned out it had not quite cooked through, so we munched on a slice and put the rest back in the oven to cook.
After dinner we went and watched another film while everyone else went out or else had gone to their rooms. It was loads of fun having the three of us singing along to Hercules while munching on chocolate, a thoroughly enjoyable relaxing day. Fingers crossed the weather clears up enough for us to go to the beach!
Sunday morning we woke up around 9am and saw that it was bright sunshine outside! Yeah! Beach time! So the three of us got ready, sun creamed up, filled our water bottles and called a taxi. When we got to the beach I was blown away by how breathtaking the view was. We were standing on olden and with the most beautiful blue sea and the outline of the mountains as far as the eye could see. It almost looked like they merged straight into the ocean. It was really stunning. I could not believe I was in Africa, it felt more like a Greek Island or something.
So Alice, Charlotte and I settled ourselves down with our books, read for a while, then went in the sea paddling (because the waves were far too big). Once we had had enough of that we sat back on the beach and chatted while the sun dried us off and went for lunch at a restaurant to keep out the sun for a while. Alice and I had a big bowl of grilled prawns and chips while Charlotte had a yummy looking burger, then we finished off with some strawberry crush cocktails and went back out to enjoy the sunshine. The other girls from AERU had come to the beach so we joined them and again I read my book for a while before Alice and I went back in the sea for one last play. The Waves were so big that they kept knocking us over but it was so funny that we kept on playing anyway! Then all of a sudden I got this weird stinging sensation down my leg and we ran out the sea, I think I was stung b a jellyfish because there is some sort of burn marks, but I think it wasn't that bad. However we decided it best to go home and so got a taxi back to the Elephant park.
When we got back and I got in the shower I suddenly realised how red my back was, I could not believe that I was burnt after having put so much sun tan lotion on! But all of us were red, and all of us had been applying it so we couldn't really see why we were so burnt. I just know its going to hurt in the morning, so after sitting in the room with a lot of after sun, Alice and I went and made a quick dinner, during which I put a wet towel in the fridge, so now I can go to bed with a nice cold wet towel on my back and just hope that it helps! Eek!