This is it, the day I’ve been dreading for 3 months. Today is the day I board a plane that will take me to Heathrow and then DFW. I realize that I must return to my American life; college, pets, sisters, preparing for the dreaded GRE. After my first month here I called my parents and my dad was worried that I wasn’t going to come home. I assumed he was just being funny about the whole “don’t get eaten by a lion” thing but he was worried I wasn’t going to get on my plane because I was having too much of a good time. Well don’t worry Dad, I’m coming home!
I came to South Africa to learn about veterinary medicine in game animals but I got a whole lot more bang for my buck. I met people from all over the world; Holland, Canada, Taiwan, Australia, England and many more. I met people who are similar and completely different from me, students accepted to and declined from vet schools, kids on gap years, game farmers, trophy hunters, the upperclass, the lowerclass, people I hope to keep in touch with for as long as possible. I even spent 2 weeks on a project with a Kappa Delta sister! While I was here I scaled cliffs, ran from Buffalo, played with animals that could eat me, tasted new foods, attempted to learn more Afrikaans, saw every animal present in The Lion King, tried to resuscitate a giraffe and enhanced my pool skills (who am I kidding I’m still horrible at playing pool). As cliché as it sounds, traveling to South Africa has taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.
I just want to thank everyone who helped me go on my summer journey; Kim Sotman, Lauren Mims and her family, Leanne Lowry, Stephens College, the Russell family, and my family members. I want to send über thanks to my parents, Lisa and John McCurdy, who allowed their only child to travel to a third world country for the whole summer without question.
See you later South Africa, I’ll be back as soon as possible!
I have almost spent 2 weeks at Blouberg Animal Clinic in Louis Trichardt, South Africa. We’ve done everything from vaccinations to an impromptu doggie c-section to a stillborn giraffe calf to Tuberculin testing Buffalo. The small animal work and routine care of the game animals (antelope, giraffe, buffalo etc.) is pretty cut and dry but emergency care on game animal is tough. When you neuter a dog it’s pretty self explanatory, unless the dog has an underlying condition not yet found (we found a heart condition in a Rottweiler going under the knife last week, surprise!) but when a Sable has disgusting sounding lungs and a racing pulse what do you do? You have to act fast and concisely to save the animal as well as yourself. Running from Buffalo awaking from sedation is not fun, take my word for it!
This weekend we went to Kruger National Park. Naturally since I was wishing to see a lion we saw antelope and elephants. Our elephant sittings were spectacular. Being here for 10 weeks I have my share of amazing and terrifying elephant stories but some really neat ones took place then. We hadn’t really seen anything and were starting to worry when BAM! an elephant stepped out on the round in front of us. There huge so you’d think they’d be easily spotted but they’re really good at hide and seek. We went around the corner and started a young bull who was first scared but then wanted to get us back. He turned around, spread his ears and lowered his gaze to see past his trunk. Luckily for us it was only an empty threat. We saw elephants playing in the waterhole, digging water from the ground and playing in mud. We saw a large herd of females and calves. The babies were really interested in us and kept sticking their trunks in the air to get a sniff and inching closer. The mothers weren’t too keen on this but never threatened just got in front of the youngsters.
My last week with Bundocks Game Capture was amazing! We had time off at the beginning of the weekend so we went around Mapumgumbe Reserve, where we were staying at the moment. We went to where South Africa and Zimbabwe meet in the Limpopo river, the water was so clear and it was breath taking to know we were standing on common ground between the two countries. We also stood on a large hill where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana can all be seen off the cliff. In the picture Zimbabwe and Botswana can be seen in the background.
I also got to ride in a helicopter! The view was spectacular! We were looking for waterbuck that we were catching that day but nyala, giraffe, impala and wildebeest could be seen.
My last day was probably my favorite day in South Africa thus far. We did paperwork on a rhino like my other rhino experience but we didn’t dehorn, blood tested and microchipped 4 buffalo and did some more paperwork for a roan. Not only are rhino my favorite animal but buffalo are really dangerous and unpredictable leading to an adrenaline rush like no other.
I’ve arrived on my next project with Bundocks Game Capture team. My first day with them I was taken to the darting team who’s task was to dehorn and microchip 3 adult white rhinos and 1 baby. The rhinos had already been caught and we just had to dart them for sedation to do the tests. Dehorning is government regulated so you have to send the horns in along with the microchip numbers and hair, skin and blood samples. The rhino is then loaded into a large crate so we can transfer it to another farm to be released. This is all done to protect the rhino from poachers. The poacher will gain nothing from shooting a rhino without a horn besides a wasted bullet. If the horn gets in the wrong hands in transfer, or if the horn on the rhino grows and is then found in someone else’s possession the poacher can be caught.
The next couple of days the darting team didn’t have anything lined up so we joined the mass capture team. Instead of darting they use nets and bomas. We caught Nyala, Impala and Zebras. A boma is a big structure that starts wide and gets narrower. It has curtains that get shut once the animals pass so that they can’t turn back. The end of the boma is a loading truck were the animals are organized and given injections. It’s really dangerous because the animals are confused and can run right at you. For some of the animals we climbed in trees so that we’d be more safe.
I’ve left Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center after 4 weeks and moved on to Hanchi. It’s a barn on a game reserve that tracks and monitors the game animals. Everyday we feed, muck and take care of the horses but we also spend about 5 hours in the saddle riding around the farm. We ride english so I hope Sara Linde-Patel has taught me all I need to know to successfully ride in the African bush! We’re responsible for monitoring the baby count in the roan and sable camps and making sure there aren’t hyenas inside their fences. I haven’t even been here a week and we’ve already tracked cheetah and buffalo! We were 20m way from a herd of Buffalo yesterday! The accommodations are a tent that I share with another girl. There’s literally only room for us to sleep. There’s also no electricity and very little cell service. It’s nice to disconnect for a while though.
We go on night drives through part of the property multiple times a week. I’ve seen a couple pretty rare animals. We saw a pangolin my first day here! Pangolins look like they’re wearing armor and the points are really sharp! We’ve also seen brown hyenas and an aardvark. That ball of light in the picture is the pangolin.
The past two days we’ve ran the cheetahs. This means that we take a cheetah in the back of a closed truck and pull a string attached to a lure up to the back of the truck to get the cheetah to chase it. When the lure is released the cheetah is let out and it runs to the other end of the dry lot. The fastest cheetah on record ran 65 mph. Bullet was running about 40 mph in 4.5 seconds. He didn’t have enough distance to get any faster. And since he lives in captivity he doesn’t run as fast and isn’t as fit since he doesn’t have to hunt for his own food.
We also ran Saturn who is only a year and is just learning how to be ran. He’s afraid of the box with the lure in it so he always runs off before the end.
I’m going to be in a honey badger documentary in my unflattering safari pants and sun burnt arms. We have been catching a lot of these guys at a pig farm and released them into a private reserve. A film crew has been following us around for their documentary on honey badgers and I got to pull the door to release one of these little guys.
Honey badgers look super cute and cuddly but they’re actually quite intensely vicious. The one at Moholoholo, Stuffles, used to escape his cage and got into the male adult lion’s camp. The lion was found on top of his hut trying to get away from the honey badger. They have really loose skin so they can get away easily from large predators by wiggling out of their paws.
The second honey badger trap to be released had two honey badgers in it. One tried to attack the camera man.
Three of the honey badgers were released before mine. The others had their doors opened all the way. For mine I opened it up a little and we let the honey badger find his own way out. He flung the door as soon as I cracked it open a little and it flew up in the air, almost hitting me in the face. In the photo you can see the trap door about to hit the ground again.
The next day we went and got another honey badger from the same farm. His pig food must taste really yummy!
A few months ago I decided that I wanted to run a half marathon in February 2014 so I starting running some to start training. I knew I wouldn’t have anywhere to run when I came to South Africa so I didn’t do anything too exciting with my training. I kept joking though with my friends that I would just find a lion and I’d run in front of it to learn to run faster and that’s how I could train while I was overseas. Well, that kind of happened today but I was chasing after the lions instead of them chasing me.
We were told to walk the lion cubs down with us to breakfast this morning. The problem with this was that there are three of them and they have really short attention spans. Luckily they were better than normal about staying with us and we got to breakfast just fine. While we were eating though they got distracted and went adventuring. Naturally they ran into baboons who have the most horrendous warning call. The adult male baboon would have tried to kill them so we had to leap from our seats and run down the trail to find them and scare the baboons off. It was a most eventful morning.
Half of the volunteers got to go to Nhoveni private reserve for a camp out. We were there for 2 days, cooking our own meals and driving around all day in search of wild animals. We didn’t sleep outside but the cabins didn’t have electricity. The first day we saw buffalo, rhino, impala, giraffe, elephant, zebra, warthogs, a goshawk and a bateleur.
The second day we woke up at the crack of dawn and saw some amazing animals; hyena, elephants, buffalo and much more. We came back to the camp for lunch and right as we sat down one of the workers ran up a told us that there was a cheetah on the other side of the river at the watering hole. The camp had a little viewing area where you could see across. When we got there it was just running away so we jumped in the mahindra (your stereotypical safari car) and raced to other side. We got out of the car and walked down the riverbed, super dangerous by the way, and saw her in the clearing. When we got back we left once again for a rhino seen in the same clearing. Missing lunch was definitely worth it though! The rest of the day we spent tracking a lion pack but sadly never saw them. We did see a leopard which is a rare sight and an African wild cat. One of the locals with us said that it’s even more rare to see a wild cat than one of the Big 5 because they’re so small. They literally look like a grey house cat.