All Settled in!
Monday I woke up and I was in a wee bit of pain to say the least. My sunburn had not gone down the slightest, in fact I think it was worse, but I lathered on some After Sun and went out to help in the boma. This morning we had a lot of dung samples to get so after all the elephants had had breakfast and were let out we were able to collect the dung and put it in the test tubes for the freezer. Once that was done all the pens could the n be cleared out, so we picked up all the shredded branches and carted them off to the fire pit.
After the boma I went out to do some data collection. I was doing nearest herd activity so I was writing down what each of the elephants were doing every ten minutes. After two hours it was time to go back, and just in time as well because it soon started pouring with rain! I went to my room for the break and put more lotion on m back then laid on my front and had a nap while it did its magic. Then I went back out at 12.15 for another couple of hours doing to do nearest neighbour. After about half an hour it started to rain again, and I had stupidly brought out my fountain pen, so the ink was running on the page and I had to run back to the office to see if I could save the data. I went back out with a big poncho and a biro to finish the shift, and it worked pretty well. The elephants were having a far better time in the rain than we were, and decided to spend the entire time playing in the dam, unless a tractor full of fruit bearing tourists arrived, then they ran to the barrier, ate all the fruit and ran off back into the dam.
Eventually we were able to go back for a break and have a shower. I really wanted to warm up and have a nice hot shower, but the sunburn made sure that it was freezing cold and I was even colder than when I got in it. My last duty of the day was herd activity. I went back out with Laurie, Michelle and Charlotte at 4.15pm and we stayed with the ellies down near the dam where they were still playing. There were some Italian tourists that were going crazy with the elephants and I think it finally tired them because after the tourists had left the ellies just stood by the fence falling asleep while waiting to go in the boma. Thato squeezed in between Nandi and Sally at one point so that they would hold her up while she tried to sleep, it was unbelievably cute! Then at 5.10pm the boma was finally prepared and the ellies ran into the boma with Nandi trumpeting away until all the elephants were safely shut away and eating dinner. Little Thato basically fell asleep as soon as she had finished her dinner and Keisha fell asleep almost instantly too. All that playing in the dam really wore them out!
I then had to come in and move my stuff to Laurie and Lisa's room because the new volunteers are going in my room, and Alice and I are moving in with Charlotte when Johanna and Katherine leave. So I am in here for tonight then moving room again tomorrow, then I will stay there for the full 5 months. It wasn't too bad to move because I hadn't properly unpacked, it was just that I had no idea how I managed to get it all in my suitcase, because as I was throwing it back in I had no idea how I was going to shut it!
When I was moved in I got changed, and we all went into the kitchen area for a leaving party with the German girls. Because of the rain we had to do the braai inside, which was pretty cool having this huge built in fireplace in the kitchen, and it was nice and warm all night! We listened to music, chatted and ate food, all in all a really nice evening, but it started to get late and my sunburn was requiring more lotion so I decided to call it a night.
Tuesday morning I was up at 6am, as usual, and was out with Clara learning more on Activity Budgets. Between 6.30 and 8.30am we watched Shaka and Clyde and wrote down everything that they did. I was still learning the different habits when we were in the boma and out walking with them in the field, but I think I started to get the hang of it.
I then had a couple of hours off before going back out in the field, so I grabbed some breakfast and wrote up some of my data from last week. I had just about enough time to put on a bit more moisturizer on my sun burn, and then it was back out for another two hours of doing Activity Budgets on Shaka and Clyde. This time round I did all the writing, but I never realised it was so hard to write down everything without missing something else, so when we came back I sat there rewriting my notes in short hand to learn how to write them faster next time.
We came back for lunch and I made some dough to make another loaf of bread, so while that was busy rising Clara and I went out for our last shift of the day. This time we both watched Shaka and Clyde, but it was a test to see if I got similar habits written down as Clara and that I hadn't missed out too many interactions etc. It was hard not having Clara telling me what to write down because sometimes I was unsure if Shaka had twisted his trunk or touched his tusk on the opposite side to what we could see, so I hope I haven't done too badly.
After that we came in and the bread was looking rather good so I got it ready for the oven and while that was cooking went and typed up my Activity Budget data. It was a bit tricky to figure out but after a few minutes I was really getting into it so I started to forget all about dinner and the bread! However, I eventually finished, cooked the bread, had some dinner and then went to move all my stuff into Charlotte's bedroom, where I shall now be staying for the remainder of my time here. It was nice to unpack properly, get all my photos up on the wall and have everything out my suitcase. It's a lovely bedroom and Alice is going to move in with us for the two months that she is here, so the three of us I am sure are going to have a great time!
So Wednesday was pretty fun. Today I was out in the Orchard with Charlotte and Alice and we spent ages collecting up all the branches that Harry, Namib and Tosha left lying around, and then one of the guys drove the van in with all the new branches and walked off, so we got panicky that they were letting in the ellies so ran away! Just as well, because I had to go out to the ellies to do my Activity Budget on Shungu. I watched him for my two hour shift and it was such a pleasure, the weather was gorgeous as usual and there were no tourists yet so the ellies were happily playing. I then came in for ages to do an afternoon in the office inputting all the data from the last few days, plus my Activity Budgets on Shaka and Clyde. It was a little tedious but rather satisfying getting it all done! I then had some lunch before going back out to do the next shift of Shungu's Activity budget.
When I came back, I had a shower and cooked some dinner, then got ready to go out with the girls for farewell drinks. I then realised that I was on browse, so I had to go out and do it practically all done up! But it was lovely going out there to say goodnight to the ellies and give Keisha a little hug. The browse only took a few minutes to put in front of all the pens and then we rushed back inside to get changed and before we knew it the taxi was there to take us into Plettenberg and the Surf Café.
The Surf Café was great! There were loads of us there, Charlotte, Alice and I plus David, the German girls and their boyfriends and Andrew, one of the guides, so we had a great time! There was live music which Alice and I took much pleasure in singing along with, and a couple of yummy mojito's to accompany it. When the guy sung 'Wonderwall' Alice and I kept singing the extra back up bits and the guy turned round and said we were awesome. Then another guy came on stage and the singer said give a warm welcome to Matthew so I said 'welcome Matt' but no-one else did so I looked like complete muppet and the whole table started laughing at me. The singer then asked us to come up and sing a song, but I was now far too embarrassed so thought it best to wait till another time! We stayed there for a couple of hours, having a great time but then the others fancied going to another place so we went there, but it was not all that great so Alice, Charlotte, David and I decided to come home. I guess it was getting pretty late anyway and some people had to be up early. So that was our first adventure out in Plett! And what a lovely time it was too!
Thursday was another day of Activity Budgets, however I got the morning shift off because I was scheduled with Lisa all day it was the first day I had to do it all by myself, so I was little worried that I would do it all wrong, but it actually went really well. I followed the boys while they were taking some tourists on a ride, and I went on foot with Mac writing down all the little behaviours that the elephants do when they are being ridden. So that was a nice couple of hours.
Then I came back for a break and some breakfast before heading out again to do my next two hour shift with Shaka and Clyde. They didn't have a ride so I was able to sit up on the platform in the sunshine and observe them. Clyde was not his usual self today, he was acting out and not listening to the trainers and just being a general naughty boy so Dr Debbie came out to see how he was and what I had observed so far. I asked when his last GnRH vaccine (contraceptive for male elephants) was and wondered if his testosterone levels were rising and causing his change in mood, so it was decided to put Clyde and Shaka in with Harry the big bull ellie on Friday to see if being around the bigger bull might suppress the behavior until next week when they get their boosters.
Basically male elephants go into 'musth' which is when a huge increase in testosterone makes the male very aggressive as well as causing them to secrete from the temporal glands and constantly dribble urine (up to 400L a day!). These aggressive males get the mating rights to the females during this period as they are more likely to win in a stand-off against males who are not in musth. Amazingly males are never usually in musth at the same time and take it in turns because they will suppress the others around them. This is good for young males when they are kicked out of the matriarchal herds as it stops them going into musth at an early age and being a bit of a naughty know it all, so this is why you generally find a group of males together in 'Ascari' herds where the older males can teach the younger ones to not be naughty but instead be a good male elephant. This is what the idea behind putting Clyde in with big bull Harry to try and suppress his surge in testosterone. The good thing is that Clyde does not yet go into full musth and his outbursts are more like male PMS, so his behaviour is not as bad as it could be.
So yes Debbie and I had a nice little chat about Clyde and then we talked a bit about what the plan is for my stay here, and it seems like I am going to be up to a lot more than first planned. I originally came here to do the statistical analysis on the last year and a half's worth of raw data but I am now to assist Lisa with her Phd with data collection and going with the three elephants when they are relocated to collect data on stress levels and behaviours. This means that I get to go and travel for a few days, plus there may be job contacts there, so I will fill people in as it happens. Greg the head manager has also taken a bit of an interest in my field guide stuff and they want me to work alongside the guides and help with their knowledge etc. Then I might be helping with the redesign of the museum/ interactive center in the reception and possibly a manual on elephant handling. But this all depends on time, resources and if park management get round to it etc, so it is going to be anything but a quiet 5 months and I am so excited to start getting round to everything! Debbie even said it was a shame I can't stay longer but I explained to her that I cannot be a volunteer forever and that after the 5 months I had to get a job, so who knows maybe there might be an opportunity there too!
Well after that I went back for a break and did some data entry until my last shift of the day. It was awesome! I was taken up to the Lapa where the weddings and sundowners are as I was to follow Clyde and Shaka for my last shift of the day. I followed the ride and they went on a long ride round the park and back to the Lapa where they stayed with Andrew the guide for their post ride sundowners. Andrew then turned to me and went 'Ok Abi get on Clyde' and I was just like 'ummmm excuse me?' and he went on to explain that I had to go on Clyde to get back to camp because I could not walk on the ground without a guide there, so guess what?! Free ride for me! I was getting on the ellie astonished and still going 'are you serious' to Andrew, but he was very serious and I had a lovely ride back to the other ellies. It was funny though, I had to keep trying to write about what Shaka was doing, but my writing turned out to look pretty much like a five year olds hand writing.
When we had reached the rest of the herd Clyde was made to stretch down and then I was able to get off and carry on with my research. Charlotte and Joan looked absolutely stunned that I had arrived on an elephant, definitely one of the perks of the job!
Then that night we were doing a night watch of the elephants in the boma and writing down everything they did - pretty much like herd activity, but every five minutes - and I had the 00.30 - 2.00am shift so the ellies were all basically asleep the whole time, apart from Shungu who decided to stay up and eat branches the entire time. Then everytime one of them needed a poo or a wee they would wake up, stand up go and then pretty much flop back off to sleep right away. It was fun, but I was glad to get to go back to bed! Luckily for those of us with shifts past midnight we were able to sleep in till 8.30, so not only was it a good day, it was a great end to a fun night too!
Friday was good, not only did I get to have a lay in I got to spend the morning watching the Shaka and Clyde introduction into the Orchard with Harry, Namib and Tosha. It was fascinating to watch. Clyde was so different compared to yesterday, he was very subdued and acted like a little kid running away from Namib anytime he walked close by or approached Clyde. Shaka loved playing with Tosha and Harry just walked around as if he could not care less. It was so interesting to watch.
Then on my last shift the ellies wanted a drink so Aubrey got the hosepipe out and put it into the bath tub that was sunk into the ground and started to fill it. Harry immediately loved the hosepipe and picked up the end to fit in the tip of his trunk then tried to suck the water out before dropping it and emptying his trunk into his mouth. Eventually he seemed to realise how much time this took and instead picked the hosepipe up, put it directly into his mouth and just stood there sucking it like a straw. It was hilarious, so once my shift had finished I ran back in for my camera and returned to see that the hosepipe was now resting on the wire fence and the other ellies had come to join Harry, taking it in turns to get to the water spraying out of the end. Once I had taken a few pictures I went back to the bunkhouse to get ready for our town trip.
We went into town around 3pm so that we could do our shopping for the week. Alice, Charlotte and I went and had a look round the shops to get some cardboard for our monopoly game, then sat in Mugg and Bean to use the internet before going and getting our shopping. We got back around 5.30pm, quickly put our shopping away, made dinner and then ran back out the door because we had all been invited to the circus. Lizette, the owner of Knysna Elephant Park invited all the guides, cleaning ladies, AERU volunteers and their family's because the park had donated loads of straw and food to the circus elephants. Also there is a bit of a history with the circus because Clyde had come from that circus and was given to AERU for rehabilitation.
I think after we saw the ellies perform, the handlers realized why Clyde is the way he is and hopefully they will have a bit more empathy for him. I wasn't the biggest fan of the circus, I was especially annoyed by the six sub-adult lionesses they had, three savannah and three white lions. They just did not want to behave and it was obvious that they are natural predators that are meant for the wild, not a cage. The elephants and horses were so painful to watch because they looked so sad and flinched every time they saw the whip, not to mention the horse reigns were so tight that they could barely lift their heads. Well we made the most of it anyway, Alice and I got into fits of laughter when two little girls laughed like crazy at two very un-funny clowns and the trapeze artists and the skipping poodle was alright, but I guess I am glad we went because now we know what some of the backgrounds of the elephants here are like.
So this morning I woke up around 9am and went outside with my book and a bowl of yogurt to sit in the sunshine and read. I didn't really do much else that day to be honest. Alice, Charlotte and I just sat outside in the sunshine reading, writing postcards and chilling out.
Then Charlotte made us spaghetti bolognaise for dinner while Alice and I made more bread. The bread somehow did not go quite as planned, it did not rise and then we left it in the oven too long because we were watching a movie and kind of forgot, so basically we have a really nice smelling rock for lunch tomorrow! It kind of just looks like a giant rusk. I wonder what it is going to taste like…that is if we can bite into it. Hmmm.
I started my lovely sunny Sunday off by getting up early and reading my book in the sunshine with a bowl of yogurt. Then eventually the girls got up and we got ready to head into Plett. Alice and I put on another loaf of bread and left it to rise then we left with the Brazilian girls and went into town. Alice, Charlotte and I fist headed to an interent café so that we could update blogs and skype etc, then after lunch (milkshake!!) we walked down to the beach and set ourselves up on the sand then laid down and read our books. After a while we went and had a paddle in the sea, then went back to read our books when Louisa and Raphaela found us, so we moved over to them and lay under the umbrella together. When the two girls went in the sea we decided to go and get ourselves an ice lolly.
We stayed at the beach laying in the sun until about 5.30pm and I was rather chuffed that I had read so much of my book as well as not getting sun burnt, so it was quite a lovely afternoon. When we got back to the bunkhouse we discovered that once again our bread had somewhat failed, but at least this one was edible, so for dinner I made a big salad with feta and bacon and a nice chunk of our unrisen but fairly tasty bread! It has been a somewhat subdued evening though, Michelle and David are leaving in the morning which is sad because Michelle arrived the day after I did, so it is going to weird not having her here. She gave us all lovely goodbye cards and we all sat chatting about what we had been up to that day, but finally it was time for her to go for her night at the lodge and we all came to bed. The people at the elephant park treat the volunteers so nicelt! Every volunteer gets a free tour when they arrive and then an elephant ride and a night stay at the lodge when they leave to say thank you for your help, which I think is lovely. It feels more like a big family here because everyone is friendly and I feel so at home!