Thursday, February 16, 2012

School visit!

Zebra posing at Thaba Tholo
HI everyone!

I have taken over from Emma Loader as the head researcher for the Ingwe Leopard Research and team leader for the new Black Leopard Campus volunteer scheme.We are busy rebuilding our research camp, which is due to be finished at the end of March! Until then I will be based at Black leopard Camp and will move down to my new accommodation in April

Volunteer camp building so far
The time between now and then will be spent finding my feet in these roles and working with our volunteers who will be staying with me at Black Leopard Camp. I am extremely excited to be involved with this and helping to continue what the project started in 1999.

School buildings at Sizo
Apart from assisting with the research on Thaba Tholo, we would like the volunteers to contribute a bit of their time to the community, in particular the local schools. Involving the community is one of the most important parts of conservation and I believe a key in making a project a success.

Building needing renovation
The Sizo primary school situated between Lydenburg and Thaba Tholo was visited by 2 On Track Safari Guests Karen and John to help us distribute some much needed gifts for the children donated by previous guests.

On Track safari Guests meet the children and teachers
Sizo was one of 5 schools that Carol and I had visited a last week. Each school needs help in different ways. None of the schools have computers for the children or even a TV to show educational dvd's etc. Sizo has a couple of nice classrooms and a library. But like many schools in rural areas, 2 or even 3 grades are taught together because of the lack of teachers.

Organizing the gifts for the children
All of the schools we visited teach in English, but one thing that struck me was how shy the children were. As the gifts of socks, pencils, rubbers etc were handed out they began to smile, but when I told one of the girls she had a very pretty smile and she went all shy again!

The principal told us they teach in English to give the students more confidence for when they reach high school and the work place. I could see already just visiting the school with the volunteers would be a huge benefit to the children to practice their English with us and to hear different accents!

The school principal showing us around.
It reminds me of a visit to I made to Sumatra when I was in my early 20's. I was sitting in a building, in a small village close to Way Kambas National Park, where I had been staying. The building housed a number of phones and this was how the local people could communicate with the outside world. I was sitting minding my own business waiting for my friend to finish his phone conversation when a little old lady who was sitting next to me, turned to me and spoke in Indonesian or her local language. I replied “I am sorry, I don’t understand, I’m English”. At this she turned to her children, pointed animatedly at me and shouted “English”. Suddenly I was surrounded by 4 or 5 children all giggling. One asked me “How are you?” I replied “I am fine thank you and you?” They went into a fit of laughter as the next one asked me a question. The penny dropped, they were so excited to practice their English on a real English person and they were beside themselves! Their mother was touching my hair and saying “beautiful, I love you, please come home with us!” Quite a surreal but heartwarming experience!

School drinking water.
Written by Tara

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A week to remember!

HI everyone!
I can't believe what a week it has been. I feel like a human pinball but it has been fun for sure! I arrived at the Black Leopard Camp on the 1st Feb after quite an eventful drive from the sands. I met Patrick Gumede on the road at Hluvukani. He is looking well and is enjoying life at the Manyeleti! For those of you who haven't met him, he was a guide on WildEarth when I started! After a quick catch up I hit the road again, saying goodbye to other friends along the way and filling them in on developments! As I headed towards the Blyde River area,  parts of the road were undergoing repairs after the flood and it is clear to see how serious it had had been. 
The tar road completely fell away.
The dirt is the only way through!
The road to the luxury tented camp is about an hour of spectacular scenery and vegetation that I remember from my Waterberg days. Trees who are like old friends made me feel like I was returning home! What made it even more poignant was driving past the spot I remember congregating at before walking up to see the leopard Lucky, who was caught last time I came to visit Inqwe Leopard research! A cat in his prime, one of the largest leopards I have seen! He would give the sands boys a run for their money any day of the week! The camp it self is nestled in the picturesque mountains surrounding Lydenburg, at height of around 1,500m high. (I really have to adjust to the altitude again and the free exercise!)

View from the main deck!
Mike and Karen, the managers, have been so welcoming, showing me round their peaceful oasis and helping me to find my feet! Although this is not going to be my last stop, my life is still in boxes, but I hope to put my mum’s mind at rest with the pictures of the tent I am calling home for the time being, so I hope you enjoy them as well! 

One of the tents at the black leopard camp
They are spacious and cozy! (The beds are dangerous though! They are so comfortable you can fall asleep and not want to leave it in the morning! ) 

Inside the tent looking towards the on-suite! 
There is even an on-suite bath room and outside private bush bath! Now this is an experience you have to try once in your life! Believe me you can get lost under the gaze of the African night sky listening to the enchanting bush vespers!

The bush bath and shower!
No sooner had I arrived, it was time to leave again. Heading back to the Kruger for Vona and Ron’s wedding! I ended up over nighting in the sands and was able to join the morning drive. For the first hour and half I think everyone was a bit bleak from the constant showers, but as we entered Djuma to catch up with giraffe, which the guests were dying to see, it started to clear. 

A cup of tea and a rusk had everyone warmed through and eager to get on the road again just in time to join a wild dog sighting! 

They were found at Sydney’s dam but our view was a pair of ears and a white tail disappearing into the bush. If hearts sank it was for only a moment as the dogs came bounding back out towards the road where we were!

They stopped to test the ground for anything interesting, milling around the vehicles for a few minutes before trotting off towards sandy patch! We had to leave them at this stage but the sighting was brilliant and at least for me the day’s excitement wasn’t over yet!

Once again Penny and Bobby were wonderful hosts as soon as I arrived at Satara in Kruger. I was even allowed to meet the rest of the family, so at least my cooking didn’t have a long lasting impact from last time! (Although I wasn't allowed near the sausages when they wee being cooked!) I arrived in the thick of it, but managed to have a quick chat with Claire and Vona, the bride, before getting ready for the ceremony as well!

Claire, Penny and the bride Vona!
I am so glad to have made it. It was such a great day, the showers had cleared up, the sun was shining and even the temperature was great as we drove to the chosen venue which over looked the park. It was clear from the couple’s faces this was the perfect place for them and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. 

Ron and Vona
Thank you so much for the invite and many Congratulations Ron and Vona!

Kudu cow on Thaba Tholo
Apart from the quick sighting of cheetah on the way back to camp after the ceremony, which   brought huge smiles to the wedding party, we also saw a few elephant, drenched lion and some lucky fishes in the big silver bus got to see a female leopard climb a tree before melting into her sanctuary! I was busy conversing with my new little friend Gabby to see, but I did catch a glimpse of the 6-8 month old cub who also disappeared into the undergrowth as soon as we saw it, although it was a few meters further up the road from where mum had been seen. We were hoping if we sat quietly, it would be brave enough to return to her, but there was soon a number of cars that joined us so the cub remained hidden or it sneaked away undetected! Either is a good bet!

Where the volunteer camp is based!
Back at the black leopard camp, I have to check the 3 camera traps we have put out with the last guests, I hope to do that over the next couple of days. One is by a gemsbok carcass, which I hope will show up a lot of activity! I have also been down to visit what will be my new home. The foundation for the tents have been laid and things seem to be moving on well! I am getting very excited at the prospect of moving there. I will share pictures of the camp once it has been finished but you can at least see where it is situated!

Foundations for the volunteer tents
If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer here is the web site you will need to look at. It answers all the questions you might have about it and the costs involved.

View from the volunteer tents,
which will have a small pan to the left of the shot!
The Ingwe leopard research site, will provide you with information about the research that will be done and who it is collected. There is a link to the volunteer scheme from this site as well.

Kitchen and behind it will be the lounge/office tent.
The braai pit is where the poles are
and my tent will be further back!
I will keep you posted as much as possible as the camp and research progresses and of course if I see any leopards or other interesting wildlife! 

I have also heard Karula was seen with both of her children on the quarantine open area a couple of days ago. They were busy eating their evening meal of impala in the light of the full moon! 

Until next time, have fun!