Neil Craig has been so kind to share some of his journal writing from his experience with us here at GVI Karongwe. The following is the documentation of his first three full days on Base…
Sunday, October 21st
For our first full day with GVI we were told to be ready to go for 7am, a lie-in as normal days start at a lot earlier. First was of a series of familiarisation lectures about Karongwe, the work we will be doing, Risk Assessments, checking of details, blah, blah.
We are going on our first game drive this afternoon to try out our new telemetry skills that we were taught this morning. There are four big cats in the reserve fitted with telemetry devices, fitted under the skin rather than as a collar. Part of our role will be to track these animals and take data on them. In the afternoon we had a further series of lectures. The first was about the research overview for GVI on the reserve.
The main objective is to assess the impact of large predators within a small (area) multi-predator system. We will be looking at predator/prey relationship, their preferred prey, their movements around the reserve, creating ID kits for the non-tracked animals. We went through the various predators and the family groups. Effectively there is one pride of lions (Panthera leo). Zero is the Alpha male and there are two adult females, Maggie and Lisa and there is now one sub adult male. There are Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Leopards (Panthera pardus)and a herd of Elephant (Loxodonta Africana).
We will also be looking at the spatial movement of the predators and recording prey numbers, locations all to work out the Biomass Removal from the reserve, basically I think that is how much the predators eat and whether that is sustainable without having to bring in more prey species….I think, it got a bit technical…
We then went on our first game drive. We were led by Beth. One of the more experienced volunteers was recording the data on the sheets we had been shown earlier. Another was using the telemetry kit and our objective was to find Zero and his girls. We drove to the North of the reserve and were lucky that one of the Tourist Guides on the reserve had located the Lions. They had not moved since killing and eating a Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) on Friday night. We found them close to one of the rivers in the reserve. There are a number of tourist lodges on the reserve who we meet occasionally on our research drives and they use or sightings to let visitors view the Big Five. Zero and the girls were simply sleeping on a sandbank. As it was our first drive Beth didn’t want to stay with the Lions too long and we went on a general drive in the area.
We did have a very close encounter with the Lions after dark. We went past where they had been and they had moved. Rob, the volunteer in the cab taking data notes wanted to stop for a ‘bush pee’. Beth said we should just check the telemetry to see if we could find Zero. We parked on a high point just above the river about 2km from where we had last seen them. Ida checked the telemetry and calculated that he was quite close from the signal strength but wasn’t sure if that was below us on the bank or on the opposite side, the topography can change the signal.
Rob and Beth were standing on the bull bars at the side trying in the fading light to see them when we all spotted movement just to our left. Beth and Rob moved fairly swiftly and were inside when the Lions walked quite slowly and nonchalantly up the bank and out of the bush about 5m to our side. Very cool.
The Lions then continued walking along roads and cutting across the bush for about another half hour covering a considerable distance. Beth was able to keep getting ahead of them using her local knowledge. Eventually they hunkered down together and we left them.
We then returned to base, dinner and it was off to bed before 9pm.
Monday, October 22nd
We had a series of lectures again today. The first being about what will probably be two trips to the Mariepskop Mountains Project. I may be there next week for 5 days (Mon-Fri). We will be doing research on the biodiversity on this remote mountain which is separated from the rest of the Drakensburg Mountain. We will be looking at the mammals, reptiles, frogs and butterflies in the mountain area. It will involve the capture and measuring of small mammals such as rats, mice and shrews. We then had a lecture on Herbivore identification and how to sex and class them by age, we will have a series of tests on Saturday and this will form part of it.
The afternoon consisted of a Game Drive; we went out with Nico as the leader. Our task for the afternoon was to find the two Cheetah brothers. We used telemetry to locate then in an area about 200m off the road. It was then off the truck and our first walk into the bush. Nico, who was armed, led and Turner, another member of staff, used telemetry to guide us in. I did not see the Cheetahs until we were about 30m away despite it being a fairly open area. We walked in until we were about 10m away. We stood and watched them for about 10 minutes. They were not bothered at all by us being there. One simply slept, them both having eaten the previous day and were still very full. The other simply gave us a disinterested look. What an amazing experience and a great privilege.
We then spent some time looking for the female Cheetah who has been fitted with a telemetry device, but with no luck. We carried on researching prey species, which is part of our role.
Tuesday, October 23rd
Up early for another research drive. We were again looking for the two Cheetah boys. We started our day by climbing a rock in the reserve to watch the sun come up, a real “Lion King” moment. We did track the boys to exactly the same place, but we had no gun with us so couldn’t walk in, but we logged the data of their location etc. We then did more prey data collection.
It was then back to the ‘ranch’ and lectures were the order of the day. We did bits on the conservation work we do in the reserve around roads, fences, invasive species removal etc. We also had a debate about hunting, poaching etc, quite interesting.
We then went out on the evening drive. We were tasked with finding Zero and the girls. Fortunately Zero was spotted by a tourist guide and we only needed to do a bit of telemetry to find him again after he had moved a bit. This time he was on his own and was again doing a typical Lion thing, sleeping. Eventually though he decided to call the girls and I got to hear a Lion roar in the wild, very impressive.
We went looking for the girls but although we could hear Maggie roaring back we couldn’t find her. On the way back in the fading light we found Zero’s son, a sub adult male aged about two and a half. He too was sleeping, although he did also make a few calls.