An incredible day in the life of an Endangered Wildlife Conservation volunteer in Zululand!

5 July 2018

This is my second time on the Endangered Species programme in South Africa, and round two was just as special as the first!

One day, we were up and about early (just after 4am!) before dawn had even considered breaking. The silence across the reserve was deafening. Our focus species for the morning was to find one of the packs of wild dogs in the area using our telemetry. Two spotted hyena ran across the road. We were all thrilled. One volunteer wrote down the sighting, but were not quite what they were after - what a good start to the day!

I gripped onto the telemetry harder, thinking that would make a difference. Then slowly, the beeps started. I was waving the antenna over my head, trying to narrow down where the signal was coming from. I made my choice, the dogs are at 11’oclock. Go straight! We powered down the road, hardly noticing the bumps and being thrown around - it was prime time, we had to find these Wild Dogs!

Eventually we caught up with a straggler of the pack, who led us to her entire group of friends… 11 dogs! Such a thrill. We took down the location of the dogs, and then noticed they were looking a little on edge. Our monitor alerted us to the fact that they may very well start to hunt. In not another minute, they were off, in full stride. With incredible precision, they split off, cornered an impala cow and worked together to take her down. It was a brutal scene, but something off National Geographic. The data sheets quickly filled up - there was so much to document! We watched and photographed until the dogs had polished off their meal, soon after retreating into the thicket for a long nap. That was our cue to head back to camp, exhausted with all the excitement!

During our break we made some food, took a much needed nap and started on data entry. All of the data is collated and turned over to management for them to share with National Parks and research bodies. We felt incredibly humbled to have witnessed such a scene as we did this morning, so we were very eager to see what the afternoon had in store.

At 4pm we piled onto the truck. As soon as we had left camp and rounded the corner, we came across a crash of white rhino. There were six adults and two juveniles, I was absolutely over the moon. Over another hill we heard an all too familiar sound of breaking branches, it could mean only one thing. Elephants! A herd of more than thirty littered the whole of the skyline. They were eating, playing, and drinking from the water hole. Another amazing sighting. More writing to be done.

As we reached the highest point near camp we started to scan using the telemetry, for the cheetah male. He had not been seen in months, but his GPS collar let the monitors know he was okay, he was just very elusive. When the familiar beeps started, we couldn’t all quite believe it, and nor could our very excited monitor. We covered metres in seconds as we followed the direction of the signal. We entered an entirely different environment in an old river quarry. Everything was burnt orange and muted brown. An incredible chirping sound started to emerge, so we turned the car off and listened. Behind an enormous boulder a cheetah emerged. Vocalising. He stood proudly on top of the rocks and called. He called and called, desperately trying to find a female. We watched in awe for over an hour, the time felt just like seconds. To be in the presence of such a threatened carnivore was nothing short of remarkable. He was completely unfazed by us. After another thirty minutes passed, he decided that was enough and slowly moved toward a thicket area where there were no roads.

We were blown away, left without words: the day had begun with wild dogs, and had ended including rhinos, elephants and a cheetah.

The sun started to set, the colours flashed across the skies. Silhouettes of giraffe and zebra could be seen on the horizon. As we drove back to camp, we looked at one another: nowhere else in Africa had we ever seen so many animals in one day, in their natural environment. It couldn’t actually be possible for the day to get any better. BUT! Before we entered the camp gates, a large spotted genet darted in front of the car.

My goodness, just to top it all off - what a perfect day in Africa!

Blog by Rob, Australia October - December 2017


To join our Endangered Species Conservation Programme, please click here or on the image below.

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