Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Mapogo’s encounter - Sue’s version

So I’m fast asleep. I directed the drive last night, and well, I think I deserve a lie-in. Pieter, very gingerly knocks on my door at 4.45am. Rexon has had to deal with an emergency in the village, and I’m the only one left to direct. How can I refuse?
Just as I turn up, so does Rexon. Fantastic. I can hear my duvet calling.
It felt like about 1 second after I had fallen into the most beautiful sleep ever – yes,another knock on my door.
A rather dishevelled Jan arrives saying something about lions. Maybe I’m still asleep? Then there’s Jan and Nonhlahla at the gate with the bubaloo. Definitely a dream.
Fortunately, and this is very important, I remember my manners, even if it is a dream, and I take the really uncomfortable seat in the middle, between Jan the driver/guide, and Nonhlanhla, on the outside edge. And off we go.
Jan is in radio contact with someone. I can just about make out that Pieter is on the other end. This is getting stranger and stranger. After a short and quite bumpy ride we come to a bend in the road, with a few scrubby trees on either side. I am worried that my unshowered self might be causing my close companions some problems, but the atmosphere is so tense, I don’t want to say anything. Anyway, the bub is a very, very open vehicle, so hopefully that fresh air will disguise my lack of soap this morning.
Jan tells us both to keep quiet and not make any large movements. I am pinned to my seat, and still half asleep, so no problem there.
Then I hear a sneeze. The air is now electric with anticipation. That was a big sneeze, a lion sneeze.
Unbelievably, a huge male lion appears in front of us. Plodding along the road, without a care in the world, and weighing in at about 200kilos He’s not stopping. He’s coming straight at us, in our extremely open bubbaloo.
I feel Nonhlahla start to shake, or it could be me reverberating off Nonhlahla. I remember thanking my lucky stars that I’m in the middle, and that he’s going to eat either Nonhlahla or Jan first because I’m in the middle.
Then the sheer adrenalin kicks in. I am unbelievably thrilled and excited to see this guy. A real live lion now inches from the vehicle, and Nonhlanhla. I feel compelled to look into his eyes. You are so right about that, Jan. I manage to look the lion straight in the eye for about one second until blind terror takes over and he stares me out. He’s now passing us really close by. Yes, I may have shifted a few centimetres towards Jan, and away from the big guy.
I remember thinking that he’s a really strange colour. Not what I would have expected at all. He’s a sort of greenish grey, with a bit of brown thrown in. He has the most unearthly shining huge yellowy eyes. Then the other four turn up and silently, carefully tread the same path as their leader. They all glance at us, in a really disconcerting way. Like they’re thinking: “ which one shall I munch first? “ At one point I realise we are surrounded by four of the most threatening and dangerous lads in the area. They pad off.
It turns out that Piet, Rexon and Jan’s skills have guided us to this spot, and that Piet and Rexon are filming from the vehicle ahead of us. Those pictures tell their own story, and thanks to the guys for giving me one of the highlights of my life. Who needs sleep, anyway? I’ve heard a lion sneeze.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

WE camp news ...

Pieters still looking for the big grey ghost of the bush. It has been almost four weeks since we've seen any Elephants - looks like they have had their full of marula fruit- and the guides say that most of them have tracked east towards Kruger because the Mopane trees are busy fruiting. The Mopanes carry fruit during the winter months up until the end of June, but its the leaves that they are after, which are in their peak round about now. Rex mentioned a couple of drives ago, that Elephant find the large shiny and young leaves and twigs of the round leaved Teak very palatable - and its about time for the Teak to reach that stage ... so I think WE can all look forward to some amazing Ellie sightings. Hopefully Somalie an her family comes back into the area.

I've just spoken to Rex and he is feeling great, over the weekend Rexon fell ill - and the possibillity that he might have had malaria arose. WE immediately had him checked out at a medical clinic nearby ... luckily no malaria. He is back to being his good old self, finding us the great Big 5 sightings to enjoy. WE spent a couple of days with him and Mafufunayne, the male leopard, at an aardvark kill. With a glowing face Rex truly enjoyed the time spent with his favorite leopard ... it was a good welcoming back from the 'sick bin'!

Looking at the waterhole, (Gowrie) between and during game drive, WE have noticed that the remaining water is rapidly disappearing. The animals are leaning deeper and deeper into the waterhole to get a sip of water andit's getting trampled more and more. With the fast approaching winter comes a number of different variables that WE have to take in to account when thinking about Gowrie waterhole. First of all in South Africa in this particular region we're not part of the winter rain fall area, so with every day passing so does the hope or chances of rain! Secondly, when last have WE seen any big buffalo herds? ... in winter time the Buffalo form big herds of up to hundreds. Such large numbers can change the state of a watering hole in mere minutes, especially Gowrie with it's receding water levels! Lately WE have been starting the morning drives in the dark. In the winter the nights become longer and the days shorter therefore WE start in the darkeness. With all the other things that are changing due to animal movements and climate changes WE will also soon be changing the GameDrive times but WE will let you know before hand.

A new member has been welcomed to the WildEarth team, its a member with a hard outer shell ... as usual. It's a lean green mechanically sound driving machine. WE got a new run around vehicle (not game drive vehicle, yet!) that Pieter has been lovingly customising. With it's 2.8i BMW engine our new Landy is great- its a pleasure to drive, and it looks cool too! The other day, while standing with Pieter in the workshop, we talked about what WE could call this new addition to the team. Everyone is still thinking about names and when we have decided on one we will let you know.

Our comforting, soothing and narrating voice over Gowrie during drive time, Director Sue, is currently on leave. She looked forward to her leave, jumping into the deep end here at WildEarth, only directing for a couple of days with not a lot of time to catch up, she did so well and deserves a good long leave with a lot of shopping and good rest at the seaside! Alex just returned back from the Congo where he was filming chimpenzees in the Lawiro Sanctuary - close to Bukavu in the Democartic Republic of the Congo - I picked him up at Oliver Tambo International airport- and with his large bright welcoming smile he explained that he just had the best time of his life in the Congo and some of its neighboring countries, Rwanda and Uganda. I'm also really excited to be back in the bush it's really like coming home ... Once you have lived here in the WildEarth camp for a while if you go on leave you frequently find yourself missing the naughty vervet monkeys stealing your toothpaste from your bathroom. You miss Karula and you wonder how her cubs are. You catch yourself dreaming of theMapogos and what their next move is going to be ... and are constantly worried about the Kahuma's well being ... You wake up thinking you have to start the drive in 10 minutes and ... smile, and wish you were on the Tank or in the Final Control, it truely is an honour working here in the bush and to bring to you Live Game Drives from Djuma in the Sabi Sands.

Written By Jan Harm Robbertse

Rockin Your World

The morning drive on this beautiful day started at a slow pace ... general game here and there. When suddenly we were amazed at how perfectly the sun warmed the feathers of a Coqui francolin on the top of a termite mound. WE were so close and enjoyed watching the francolin reappearing time after time to give us its characteristic welcoming call, it was so clear above all the other bush sounds. In the distance its friend or neighbour was responding to its call. The drive was coming to an end with Pieter approaching Gowrie Waterhole. Someone said something over the radio and WE were off again - barely hanging on to the tank, Pieter keeping us in the shadows about what we were going to see. After a couple of minutes of flying through the bush WE finally came to a halt with Karula and ... there stalking in the dry grass- one cub and then the other. The family WE have grown to love so dearly- playing in the late morning sun- it was one of the best leopard sightings WE have ever had. Pieter was so brilliantly excited, that listening to some one who was so truly in his element right there and then for the whole world to see was very special on its own.
Rex and Alex opened the afternoon drive with a special look at the sky through a female Marula tree's fading green leaves and panning to a male giraffe lying down in the open on Quarintine. WE were in bush school with Rex educating us on how to distinguish the male from the female giraffe. The bell rang on this sighting and WE were heading west, Rex wanted to follow up on the morning's sighting of Karula and the cubs and maybe also grab a look at the Wild dogs that were spotted during the morning drive by the other Game drives. The queue to see the African painted dogs was (as usual) python like long. So Rex cruised along with the hope to see Karula. In the west almost exactly where WE saw Karula on the morning's drive Rex came around a turn and things changed dramatically, in long yellow thatch grass next to the road three big, fluffy dotted/ringed dog like tails appeared and WE were suddenly in the Wild Dog sighting. The three dogs we have seen on numerous occasions were vigorously hunting and WE followed them for the next 15 to 20 minutes. They were heading east on Gowrie Main, then to our excitement made a 90 degree turn and headed north alongside Shabam road. Rex followed them all the way to Phillimons cutline and through to Finn's road where they chased and tried to kill a waterbuck. WE lost them for a couple of minutes, with a lot of radio communication going on trying to relocate the dogs, Rex showed us the exhausted waterbuck.
A short distance to the north west of them, Rex with his eagle spotting eyes saw whitetail tips wagging above the grass.The bush is so unpredictable, WE had lost the Dogs for less than 10 minutes and within that time they had killed a young kudu. It blew me away how fast they ate the kudu! To my knowledge the kudu they killed was just bigger than a full grown impala ... and it was was stripped down to a bloody carcass in less than seven minutes. I always knew that they kill and eat fast, but this was lightning speed.
What made this sighting so special, despite the fact that it is so extreamly rare to see Wild Dogs in their natural habitat, is that people from all over the world could share this with us LIVE! There is no better way to truly appreciate the shear beauty and excellence of these animals than grabbing a seat on the tank with Rex or Pieter - and to trust the bush and it's inhabitants to rock your world!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Look in to my eyes and you will see...

And I'm not referring to the Canadian singer Bryan Adams’ song. No this time it’s a different pair of eyes you’re looking into: the eyes of the notorious Mapogo male lions.
Thick fog and mist made visibility rather difficult on this early morning. The radio cracked out something and we found ourselves heading west- fast! Pieter wasn’t telling us what was going on, nor what we were going too see ... and kept us on the rims of our seats, holding on to the tank as WE flew through the bush! A coalition of five lions had killed a buffalo on a neighbouring farm and had just left the kill to the scavengers. Full-bellied, and with an almost staggering walk, they headed onto Djuma! On arriving close to the sighting, Efraim was already on the lock. We had to wait for a couple of minutes to get a view of the ghosts of Pieter's imagination, who were supposedly 100-odd meters away. When Efraim finally gave Pieter the go ahead to pull into the lock and the fog cleared up before my eyes, I was amazed about where we actually were. And there they were - Mr T and Shaka - or WE thought it was ... appearing like ghosts out of the darkness - one of the best sightings we have ever seen was unfolding right in front of our eyes.
WE enjoyed the scary company of the two Mapogo male lions - when another one came from the north. With a quick face rub he fell down and lay still next to his brothers. After some confusion - Pieter realised that there were more lions not too far away. The Djuma vehicles had all gone off, so there were other lions in the area. WE tracked along through the clearing mist and only then a couple of hundred meters ahead, two other males were also relaxing in the road. Eventually
WE had visual of all five Mapogos, on the road, lying down, really looking great. They are truly big, huge, humongous. Pieter’s description of them as being Spartan warriors is quite accurate. After the game drive ended, I took Sue and Nontlantlha, to go and see the Mapogos for the first time. Using the bubbaloo (which is much smaller than the tank), Pieter guided us in with me driving - "Jan turn off the road, and watch that space ..." the handheld croaked. With hearts beating at a seriously fast pace, a ghostly shape approached us edging closer and closer- slow but focused. With him passing less than a meter from the tiny babbaloo - poor Nonthanthla and Sue moved further away from the lion and on to my lap. The next followed, and one by one they all passed. Looking into their eyes - it’s something I can’t explain - I really just can’t! There is something about these lions, some thing that pushes me away, and makes us all want to run so fast at the sound of their roar, but once WE are with them, you are hypnotised by their immense power, grace and the secrets in their eyes ...
(Written by Jan Harm Robbertse)


On a different note ... there will be no drives on Saturday or Sunday. The reason is that Emily and I are getting married and some of the WE crew are coming to the wedding in Johannesburg. Also, Emily and I will be on honeymoon until the end of March and there will be fewer postings on the Blog. I will try and get the odd one out, but I am sure that you all understand ... it's in your nature.

Monday, 3 March 2008

what's up with Gowrie Cam?

For the past 4 days, Jan has been doing everything he can to figure out what is going on with Gowrie Cam. You see, when the game drive is not out and if Gowrie Cam is not working, WE have to stop encoding the stream, because WE have no source to encode. When this happens you get the dreaded 'sorry' screen.
WE have taken the camera down from the tree a few times. WE have checked all the cabling, power and connections, and we are now fairly convinced that the problem is inside the camera, although it is doing some things that we have never seen before on over 50 LIVE wildlife webcam installations all over the world ... you learn something new every day!
While Jan continues to try and figure out what is going on, WE are waiting for the Buffelshoek camera to be repaired in Cape Town and when it is ready we will send it to Djuma to replace the Gowrie Cam.
The reason that Buffelshoek has not been repaired since the lightning struck and that young elephant bull decided to attack the camera cabling, is that we are in the process of a massive, and very expensive, upgrade in anticipation of the new WildEarth 24/7 LIVE High Definition TV channel, and don't want to spend any more money on the existing system as it will be 100% replaced. However, because WE are still a few months away from bringing the new system online, we now have no choice but to do something about this failing old technology.
In any event WE apologise for the confusion and inconvenience, but assure you WE are not sitting around and WILL get these issues resolved ... its in our nature!