Walking with African Wildlife
8-23 September 2008
The project starts with our training day; first an interesting lecture on the science behind the data and the observed trends in herbivore densities over the past several years, followed by a Zulu lesson! Then it was out into the field where we were taught how to use the equipment (GPS and range finders) and how to behave in the bush. We will individually walk a different transect each day, accompanied by a ranger, looking for herbivores. For each sighting we will record our position and the distance and bearing of the animal(s), the number of individuals and the vegetation type. At the beginning and end of each transect we will record the cloud cover and wind direction and strength.
There are 11 team members of all ages, seven will be based at South camp and four at North camp, and we will rotate so we all experience both camps. I am based at South camp first, which is the larger of the two, featuring a fabulous camp fire which attracts us all like moths! This evening we were each given our transect numbers for the morning and now we can’t wait to get started and put all our training into practice!
South camp and its wonderful camp fire
We woke at 4 am, long before dawn, as we needed to be at the start of the transects in time for first light. Hot porridge was most welcome as we prepared sandwiches for the trail. Then, after applying the all important tick repellent on our trousers, we clambered onto the trucks in huge excitement to go to our individual transects. Walking in the African bush was everything I dreamed it would be; what a fabulous and special experience! We saw so many different animals: buffalo very close to the trail, giraffe, nyala, blue wildebeest and zebra were just some! It is surprising how difficult it is to spot animals, even close to the path. Being new to this, I find it quite tricky counting the number of animals in a group and judging distance if bushes obscure the range finder, but the rangers are so skilled in these arts it isn’t a problem, and their contribution is invaluable. We are accompanied by a different ranger each day, and it is so interesting chatting during our rest stops, munching our snacks and asking each other about our different lives.
Transects through the African bush
Saw my first white rhino today, grazing some distance away. It is such a different feeling being on foot watching these beautiful animals, rather than being stuck in a vehicle. Even when we don’t see many animals the feeling of walking out in the wild, with the vastness of the African bush stretching into the distance, is just incomparable with anything I have ever experienced!
We returned from the walk around 11 am and spent a lazy afternoon chilling in the camp. Afternoons are spent reading or chatting to the camp staff, who are so friendly, and who make our stay delightful and provide us with delicious meals! And of course we keep watch for any game chancing to pass by our look-out post (an elephant has been ambling around the river bed and today some giraffe and nyala could be seen on the far bank). There are opportunities for game drives and a visit to a local craft centre and school. Evenings are spent around the camp fire, sharing our experiences of the morning transects and eagerly anticipating the next day’s walk.
Got to do a “wilderness trail” today, where we just headed off into the bush with no trail to follow, navigating using only the GPS and the uncanny ability of the ranger to find his way!
This afternoon four of us headed to North Camp. It is a charming, cosy place, with little tents nestled in the bushes. The warm, bucket showers are amazingly efficient, and most welcome to dissolve away the dust from the trail. The northern part of the park offers a different walking experience, more hilly with different vegetation.
North camp and an efficient and warm bucket shower
Today was our rest day and we headed to St Lucia National Park. A boat trip up the river rewarded us with views of hippos and crocodiles and beautiful wet land birds. Then it was off to the beach for a walk along golden sands and a swim!
Back into the swing of walking today. On the transect we could hear an elephant somewhere ahead, trumpeting at us to keep away! We couldn’t see him and we made a long detour to ensure we didn’t disturb him!
Tomorrow we leave North Camp, and we spent this evening laughing, chatting and singing with the rangers around the fire. It was such a jolly evening, spent with wonderful new friends.
Back at South Camp, and it’s cold and raining! Because we can’t walk when it rains we have been making ourselves useful doing data entry, typing in all our field records from the past few days.
It has been such a fantastic trip, and I will miss everyone so much. We’ve made great friends and experienced so many special sights. Not only has it been a perfect holiday, but we also feel strongly that we have been able to make a useful and valuable contribution to the conservation efforts of the park and that, after all, is what Earthwatch is all about: making a difference.
A beautiful male kudu on our final game drive and a giraffe in the evening light
Volunteer on “Walking with African Wildlife”, 8-23 September 2007