14th June 2019
With the moon on the bulge there was lots of light around but soon the little puffs of cloud arrived from the south east. Then more and more. The moon was still holding its own and managing to shine through. But before long the wind had picked up the cloud had moved in and a slight drizzle was putting a real dampner on things. I took cover for the night under a Nyala berry. The weather was here to stay. By dawn I was covered in frass from all the caterpillars in the tree. Cutting my loses I headed home to be greeted by my precious little monkey…
10th June 2019
For the last few days we’ve been following guys from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation https://giraffeconservation.org/ attaching satellite transmitters to 14 giraffe here on Sango. This is no easy task as giraffe being so tall and big are extremely tough to handle.
The operation starts at dawn. The ground crew is mobilised and move into the area where they hope to be catching that day. This is a crew of about 10 hard, fit guys who are trained to do this very operation. They’re armed only with a couple of ropes to take on the worlds tallest mammal. The chopper then takes to the air with a very experienced pilot and riding shotgun with him is the guy who will dart the giraffe from the air. They locate a giraffe that is suitable for their needs of capturing all the necessary data. Swooping low over tree tops they duck and dive after the giraffe which is swerving this way and that. It’s tough flying, not only to stay with the animal but keeping the shooter lined up in a position to get a dart into the giraffe. He might be lined up but the giraffe is now at full gallop, its body moving all the time. Not an easy shot. Bang and the dart hits its target. At the same time the chopper backs off and ascends into the sky. The ground crew are alerted. They’re now racing to get to the exact location. They have 6 to 8minutes to get there before the drug takes full effect. The chopper keeps a visual on the giraffe herding it gently towards any open area in the vicinity. The bush here is fairly open savannah, with lots of low scrub and the odd Acacia or Sickle-bush thicket. The vehicle has visual of the giraffe, which is now running almost in slow motion, the drug is kicking in. They have to get around to the front of the giraffe. She runs through a thicket, the vehicle has to detour. More wasted time. As they round the thicket the giraffe sees them and changes tack. The Land Cruiser is spewing dirt as the wheels gain traction before becoming airborne again, only to come back down to earth with a thud. Those men on the back are hanging on for dear life, putting all their trust in their driver. They manage to pass the giraffe, come to an instant stop. Like a well oiled machine all men erupt off the vehicle chasing after the animal. The 2 sprinters are up front with their rope. One hangs back as the other risking his life, sprints past the front of the giraffe. The rope is now high on the animals chest as the men take up their positions. It’s like a tug-of-war, except the rope isn’t straight, the giraffe now having formed the apex. The men are being dragged along like puppy dogs, but they hold on. They can’t dig in their heels, they have to move around behind the giraffe. The 2 ends of the rope cross. The giraffe becomes tangled and trips over its own legs. All part of the plan. And then she falls, her head falling from way up there hits the grounds with a thud. The rope is immediately forgotten about as all the men dive onto her head and neck. If they can keep her head down she won’t be able to get up. For a brief moment her legs flail in the dust filled air. A blindfold is wrapped around her head and she settles down. Other members of the team arrive. 2 holes are drilled in her ossicone (horn), she struggles briefly but the men on her neck sit tight. The satellite transmitter is attached with 2 bolts. While this is happening a vet is monitoring the giraffe’s pulse and breathing. Others are taking measurements and a DNA sample is taken. All is done. The giraffe has been down less than 8minutes. Everybody moves back leaving a couple of men on the giraffes’ head. The blindfold is removed giving the giraffe a little time to adjust to its surroundings. The 2 men jump back. The giraffe now realising it is free, reels its neck around, gains momentum and in one fluid movement is back on its feet running off wild and free. Another precision operation and another giraffe that will provide invaluable information on the plight of these animals. In this area giraffe populations are doing well, but in other parts of Africa some giraffe species numbers are declining dramatically. Hopefully the information gained from these satellite transmitters will help in gaining a better understanding of giraffe biology and what is necessary to make sure we save all those we can.
Obviously for KiKi it was her first giraffe capture and her favourite toy is Gerry. She was clearly loving the experience feeling a real giraffe mommy. One very happy, and lucky little KiK’s.
06th June 2019
How surreal. I was in camp last night and up before 3 am going through the edit on my current hyaena film. Of course I was deep in my sleeping bag sitting at my desk watching footage of hyaenas and lions, when real lions roared on the track passing camp. I removed the headphones to be sure it wasn’t coming from my screen. Tempted as I was to follow I also had to get this other work done. AND it was warmer staying in my sleeping bag. The night had gone quiet. Other lions roared quite a way north and I expected ‘my’ lions to respond. It stayed quiet for a while and then I heard the screams. Those unmistakable screams of a zebra in distress. It was like a high pitched drawn out scream and then quiet. Several baboons alarmed on hearing the zebra in distress. Then another brief scream. Out of my sleeping bag I boarded Joanie, jumping into another sleeping bag. I knew it wasn’t far to go. I crossed the track past our camp driving into the short Umbrella-thorn Acacias. At times thickets of them blocked my path but it was easy enough to go around them. A jackal ran off to the south. I stopped to listen. There was growling, squabbling over a carcass to my west. More jackals, then I found the lions. 8 of them feeding on a young zebra. Although with lions it can’t really be called feeding as the fighting is intense and at times the smaller and younger animals go hungry. The adult male seemed convinced I was about to steal his dinner. He stared me down, his tail swishing crazily from side to side growling his obscenities at me. Realising the others were feeding away frantically while he was preoccupied with me, he soon resumed to his feast. I left the real lions to return to the ones on my computer screen. So surreal.
KiKi was awake at dawn. Saskia bundled her into piles of clothes and we bundled into sleeping bags back in search of the lions. These would be KiKi’s first lions! She had her own little toy lion Leo and knew what sound he was supposed to make, but now it was for real. Saskia was driving and KiKi was with me deep in my sleeping bag riding on the camera box. It was now light, which takes the guessing game out of things one can’t see in the dark. For the lions it seemed to mean the same thing. They had lost their courage of the dark and as we approached, bolted, one of the young males leaving with the remains of the carcass. KiKi was unimpressed trying to see what we were getting so excited about as the lions disappeared into the savannah. She was more impressed with all the jackal rushing around picking up scraps. We tried to follow after the lions but they weren’t having any of it.
Already loaded with our tea basket we headed east along the boundary. There wasn’t much to see along the straight road in mopane country. Saskia brings KiKi out here most mornings. We got to the mounds of sand, the wild dog den. No sign of anybody, but they had left their ‘calling cards’ all over the place. We continued on east and there in the distance were shapes running towards us. The dogs were on their way back from the hunt. They always seem to be competing with each other to see who can get home first to feed the mother and pups. We stopped as one by one they came running towards us, ducked into the bush for a few meters and then back on the track behind us racing for home. We raced after them getting to the den when the screaming started. The alpha female, when begging for food makes this screaming high pitched sound as she gets the adults to regurgitate food for her. Still no sign of the puppies. They must be at least a couple of weeks old now so will soon be out. Not even 5minutes after the packs’ arrival at the den and all was quiet and still again. The alpha female well fed and the rest of the pack resting after a successful hunt. It was tea time…