Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, July 24th

10:32 pm (SA)
          This morning after breakfast, Brendan taught us how to use the radio tracking devices.  We all went out in the land rovers and attempted to find the male that we had darted and collared the other night.  Unfortunately, we didn't have much luck.  But while we were looking, we had to drive down this incredibly steep hill and Jonty didn't even have his foot on the pedals!  The land rover just went down on it's own with him steering!  And because Jonty is such a wonderful game driver, our vehicle got to drive down the the base of a cliff and listen to our own echos.  We shouted "M-I-Z.....Z-O-U" of course!
          It was time for Peter to leave to catch his flight back home, so after taking a group picture and saying goodbyes, we had a tracking contest to take our mind of the sad part of the trip.  They had taken a radio collar out and hidden it in the bush for us to find.  The tracking devices were trickier to operate than I had thought they would be and since we'd never done anything like it before, it was quite a challenge!  The other group had been bragging the previous night about how they knew that they would win which made it all the sweeter when my group found it first!!!  Yay!
          Then it was time for more goodbyes.  This time we had to leave Jonty and Robin which was really hard because we spent so much time with them everyday.  I absolutely hate this part of trips!  It's so sad!  After I gave Jonty a big hug, I told him to keep practicing his Chewbacca impression because the next time I come, I expect to see improvement!  :)  They were absolutely incredible guides and were always so fun to be around.  I wish they could join us for the rest of the trip!
          We stopped at the gift shop on the way out to spend some of the rands that had been burning a hole in our pockets!  I think I did pretty good by only spending the equivalent of around 50 US dollars.  We ate lunch at a very unique place called Nanaga Farm Stall.  They are know for their pot pies and had all different varieties!  Their bathrooms were also interesting in that you had to pay 2 rand to get into them!  We kind of cheated and just went in as other people were leaving!
          We arrived back at AEBS just in time to see the elephants being put to bed in their bomas.  They aren't allowed to wander around at night because they will just walk right through the fences on the property.  They each received a huge pile of hay and more than 100 oranges!  They really like them! 
          Tonight's dinner was the best so far, not necessarily in terms of the food, but the company and conversation.  There were so many guests at the restaurant that the tables were split up and our group was divided.  Colleen, Dr. Cott, and I got to sit with Brendan and his family.  His wife, Carrie, is so nice and easy to talk to!  This entire experience is just more than I could ever have hoped for!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday, July 23rd

10:52 am (SA)
          Right now we are waiting for a large (~1600 lb) eland to wake up.  He somehow jumped the fence and ended up separated from his herd on a neighboring farm.  It took a lot of drugs to get him to go down.  The capture team then loaded him on a truck and transported him across the road to his proper enclosure.
          Before that, we worked on two buffalo.  They had already been separated from the larger herd and were being kept in separate bomas with a few others.  Brendon darted them and 4 students got to go in and work with them - taking blood, treating the dart wounds, testing for TB, and reversing the anesthetic agent.  The bomas were nice because they had an upper level where the rest of us were able to go and watch what was going on.

10:45 pm (SA)
          What an amazing day!  We've done soooooo  much!  If I had to leave Africa today, which I don't, but if I had to at this point, all the money and travel would be worth it!  After we left the buffalo, we went to dart and transport 2 white rhino from bomas on another part of the reserve.  I was one of the lucky ones who actually got to work on one.  It was difficult because my rhino was led into a huge truck and since I'm so short, it was quite a stretch for me to be able to reach him.  I did it though!  I treated the dart wound with penicillin and antibiotic topical spray and administered reversal drugs in a vein in the rhinos ear, which was very tough to get a needle through!
          Our rhino adventures continued on and we darted 2 more from the helicopter (one white and the other a black rhino).  We ear-notched these for identification purposes and put microchips in the rhinos as well as their horns so that they could be traced back to the correct rhino and reserve if they ever ended up on the black market.  So many rhinos have been poached already since the beginning of the year.  It is so sad that people actually make a living killing such amazing creatures!  After we finished notching the black rhino, myself and two other students were able to ride back to the main compound in the helicopter.  It was a really short ride, but it was really neat to see everything from the sky (especially the groggy rhino waking up)!
          Two hours of lecture in our living room followed a quick lunch of cucumber sandwhiches.  I've noticed that many of their sandwiches don't include any meat here.  Interesting.  And not very appetizing.  Peter gave us a lot of good information on carnivores and general wildlife care.  He's a really good teacher.  We went for yet another game drive before dinner and were lucky enough to see an ardvark (which Jonty says is pretty rare to see)!  We also saw a mongoose and a bat eared fox! 
          Right as the sun was setting we found the north pride male who had beat up the three young sub-adults.  He roared right after we pulled up - it was really awesome to watch - his whole body moved!  Then Robin showed up with the other half of the gang.  It was getting dark so Robin shined the red light on him so we could get some better pictures and he roared again!!!  This time, we had moved so that he was facing us and I could feel the vibrations from his roar through my chest!  It was breathtaking!  They call him "Brad Pitt" and he really acts like a spoiled movie star, moving his head so the wind blows his mane just right.  He even graced us with yet another roar when a third land rover pulled up!  What a ham!
          We arrived back at the house to find the chef's having a braai in the back yard.  Jonty and Robin pulled the couch and other seats out on the grass and everyone sat around the fire till the food was ready.  They also taught us a new drinking game that is a weird mix of several games now combined into a crazy fun time dubbed "Kwandwe Rules".  The girls loved it and are looking forward to teaching it to everyone back home.  It might be a challenge to get to sleep tonight with all the continued partying going on across the hall, but it's our last night here, so I guess I understand their desire to live it up.  As for me, I'm gonna hit the sack - it was a very long but rewarding day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thurday, July 22nd

9:28 am (SA)
          Quick note:  we just saw some black impala while driving.  I guess they are pretty rare!

11:22 am (SA)
          Brendan darted a white rhino from the helicopter at a reserve called Samara today.  We got to watch the capture team place microchips in both horns as well as behind the rhino's ear (this enables autorities to  trace the horns back to a specific rhino/reserve in the case of poaching and black market trade).  Brendan took blood for DNA testing and also gave preventative penicillin in the dart wound and applied fly spray.
          After Brendan reversed the sedative, the capture team worked to get the rhino up so he could walk himself to the waiting truck.  Let's face it, no one wants to carry a full grown rhino!  Once he was loaded, we all got to climb up on the truck and touch him!  His skin was so rough and dry! 

4:38 pm (SA)
          We went out searching for the 3 male sub-adult lions again.  Brendan will try to dart the one that sustained the most injuries so that we can examine him and put a tracking collar on him.  Jonty found me a porcupine quill while we were out looking too!  I hope I can get it home in one piece!

12:44 am (SA)
          Brendan darted the young male as well as the older female with the 2 young cubs.  Our land rover followed the female.  We had to chase off the other 2 sub-adults (her sons) that weren't darted as well has her adorable 3 month old cubs.  Once we made sure they were a safe distance away, we got out and rolled her onto a tarp and lifted her into the back of a truck.  She weighed roughly 200-300 lbs and I was in charge of her head, which was super heavy!!!  I then got to ride all the way back to the compund with her in the back of the truck!  It was probably the best experience of my entire life!  I was sitting in a truck holding a lioness' head!!!  Those who were riding in the land rover behind the truck later told me how tiny I looked compared to the large lion!  Her paws were gigantic as was everything else about her!  I was literally shaking with adrenaline when I got off the truck!
          The other group followed the injured sub-adult male and cleaned up his wounds and put a tracking collar on him so that they could monitor him for the next few days.  When they got back to the garage at the compound where we had the lioness, we started prepping her for surgery.  Peter planned on spaying her.  I guess last year, another team of vets attempted to tie her tubes, but obviously with 2 young cubs, the procedure was unsuccessful!  Unfortunately, Peter was unable to complete the surgery.  There were 3 radio tracking devices free-floating in her abdomen that had caused a build-up of fibrous tissue that had somehow fused her uterus to her kidneys!  In order to spay her, he would have needed to open her up further to visualize the vasculature and make sure she didn't bleed out, but we were definitely in a less than sterile environment, so he and Brendan just closed her up and will dart her again in the future and place a slow-release birthcontrol microchip in her. 
          The surgery took about 2.5 hours (and she was under anesthesia for even longer).  There were 2 really scary moments during this awesome procedure though.  Peter had his hands in her abdomen when all of a sudden, she started growling and moving her front paws!!!  I grabben onto her left hind leg because Brendan put me in charge of making sure the catheterized vein remained patent and open so that he had access to it at all times!  Knowing that this was the fastest way to get her back under anesthesia, I held on with all my might and pulled her leg out so that there was direct access!  It was a heart-stopping experience!  The second time she started waking up, we were a bit more prepared and she didn't get the chance to move around as much as the first time when we thought she might come up off the table!  What a rush!!!
          After driving the lioness back to the area where we picked her up, we finished the evening with a late dinner of partially burnt lasagna (due to the fact that the chef had been out with us watching the surgery) and a game of Uno with Colleen, Meagan, and Dr. Dani Graham (a Mizzou alumni who works for Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus).  We were fuddy duddies and decided to stay at the house while the others went out to go check on the female lions recovery.  And now, it's time for bed!

Wednesday, July 21st

8:18 am (SA)
          The elephants came to the watering hole at breakfast again!  Just toast, yogurt, and granola today.  We're trying to get on the road to Kwandwe as soon as possible.  The fog on the mountains this morning at sunrise was absolutely beautiful!  It was also very windy this morning, but once we got through the mountains, the weather turned overcast and grey.  Andre said that the change in weather conditions was common to see.

11:34 pm (SA)
          Wow!  What a day!!!  After driving for three hours to Kwandwe Game Reserve ("kwandwe" means "blue crane" in Afrikaans), we threw our luggage into our rooms and headed out to try to dart an eland that had jumped a fence into a neighboring farmers pasture!  Brendan and Pete took a tracker and attempted to dart him on foot, but he was not cooperating, and they decided to wait until they could get a helicopter in there. 
          We went back to the main house for lunch and some snacks.  Colleen brought out her fruit roll-ups, gushers, and fruit-by-the-foot for the guys (Andre, Jonty, and Robin) to try.  Even Brendon and Peter had some!  They enjoyed most of the american treats except for the gushers - I don't think they liked the squishy juice in the middle.  Robin then took us out back where they had an enclosure with two servals (these are the wild cats bred with domestics to get "savannah cats").  Robin prefers to call them "gay cheetahs" which is pretty funny.
          Next we tranquilized and watched a $250,000 buffalo bull be relocated to a new herd.  They are hoping he'll become the herd bull in his new setting and bring some fresh genetics into the herd.  We then went on a little mini game drive and saw giraffe, oryx, spring bok, 2 white rhino, kudum and an old bull elephant.  Jonty even introduced us to a local plant called spekboom (also called hog bush) that you can eat.  It is bitter in the afternoon, but sweeter in the early morning.  The thing we noticed the most was that no matter what time you tasted it, it had the ability to suck all the moisture from your mouth - it was really weird!  At one point, we were too busy taking note of some weird type of algae in the ground and distracted our driver Jonty so that he drove us straight into a patch of mud and we got stuck!!!  After several failed attepmts to jack up the wheels so we could back out, we had to radio the other vehicle to come rescue us (which had them all laughing).  We then came back and watched a National Geographic special on darting wildlife starring our very own Brendon Tindall!
          Dinner was really good and was followed by homemade ice cream which didn't help us warm up any!  The plan for the evening was to try to trap some hyena, so while the trackers went out to set all the traps, Jonty and Robin took us on our first night game drive!  If any hyenas were caught, they were supposed to radio us so we could go help them, but they never caught anything which was okay with me because the game drive was so amazing (cold, but amazing)! 
          We saw 3 "sub-adult" male lions that were around 2 years old.  We were able to get really close to them for some pictures.  At one point, one of them started heading for the land rover and I think my heart stopped!  Jonty said that sometimes they get ornery and like to chase the vehicles!!!  Yikes!  All three of the lions were somewhat injured - I guess they got into a fight with the neighboring male lion from another pride.  We followed them for a good hour, waiting to see if they would decide to go hunting!  It was so surreal! 
          On our way back to the big house, we spotted a lone female giraffe, which was very odd (they usually travel in herds).  We watched her for a while (being careful not to shine the light in her sensitive eyes) and realized that she had a little baby with her!  She must have separated from the herd earlier that day to give birth!!!  It was so tiny and cute!
          I can't believe we've seen so much already!  Today was wonderful (minus a few camera issues - my digital camera died) and tomorrow we're going to be doing some rhino ear notching!!!  It doesn't get any better than this!  Goodnight!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday, July 20th

9:54 am (SA)
          We shared our breakfast with elephants this morning!  After taking guests on rides, they are walked down to the feeding area and watering hole near the restaurant.  When we saw them, everyone jumped up and left their half eaten breakfast to go see the elephants being treated to a huge pile of oranges!  They absolutely love them!  It is so beautiful here and the weather is perfect!  This just might be the best breakfast I've ever had!  Eggs, bacon, cereal, yogurt, toast with strawberry jam, delicious peach/pinapple juice, and elephants to share it with!!!
          I can't wait to see what the rest of the day holds!

10:31 pm (SA)
          Everything is much slower-paced here in South Africa (or maybe they're taking it easy on us for the first day).  Breakfast took two and a half hours and lunch wasn't much shorter, lasting about two hours as well.  We finally got around to taking a nice hike around 4 pm.  Andre led us around the north side of the valley.  We were able to see some giraffe, impala, bush bok, wildebeast, and several vervet monkeys!  They also have huge termite mounds here too!  Some are nearly 3 feet high!  The hike ended with a surprise bonfire and drinks at sunset.  This place is just so wonderful!  After relaxing around the fire, they drove us back to the restaurant for dinner around 7 and we just got back to our rooms now!  All in all, this has been a very nice first day in Africa!
          The two vets also got here today.  Peter has a clinic near Pretoria and does specialty work with cheetahs as well as handling small animal clients.  He's more shy and reserved than the other vet, Brendan, but is really nice once he's comfortable.  Brendan works with many reserves and private parks as well as running a small animal/equine practice in the off season! 
          We also have 2 "game drivers" here at AEBS that have been shuttling us around and sharing their knowledge.  Walter loves to blast Lionel Richie in the combi and self-admitedly is the "garnish in all our pictures"!  Andre was a game driver at Kruger National Park for 9 years before coming to AEBS as the General Manager/Pilot about 3 months ago.  He's super smart and was the one who took us on the hike this afternoon!  It doesn't hurt that he's really cute too!
          Oh!  I almost forgot!  We had a dung-spitting contest up on the airstrip today courtesy of Andre!  Yup, I had impala poop in my mouth!  I promptly lost the contest due to the fact that I consider least amount of time the poop spent in my mouth to be a higher priority than how far I could actually spit said excrement.  It didn't really taste, but the whole thing was still pretty gross, but at least I participated.  Plus, now I have a great Africa story to share when I get home!  As they say here, "TIA (this is Africa)"!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Monday, July 19th

9:06 am (South Africa)
          We're flying over Africa now!!!  Wow!  I can't really believe we're really here!  A year and a half in the making and we're actually doing this!!!  I have a great view of a large river with its tributaries out of my window.  We just refuled in Dakar and still have another 8 hours in this plane (ug), but at least I smell breakfast coming!

Sometime later that night....
          We made it to Addo Elephant Back Safaris (AEBS) around 11:30 pm (SA).  I am so glad to be done traveling!  The road from Port Elizabeth (PE) to AEBS was rediculously bouncy and winding - it's a good thing I don't get car sick easily!  I had no idea Africa was this mountainous!
          Our accomodations are nice and I'm sharing a room with Colleen R.  Addie and Stephanie are just down the hall and Joshiah has his own little man cave in the back of the house.  All the others are down the hill in the owner's newly remodeled home (I think some of the staff usually stay at our house).  Our living room and kitchen are larger though, and we have a flat screen tv too (not that we'll have a lot of time to use it)!

Sunday, July 18th

5:50 pm (Washington DC)
          Our plane has just taken off and I'm watching it on my personal TV screen!  They must have a camera fixed on the tail of the plane!  It's really cool, I've never seen this before.  It's neat to watch.  South Africa Airlines is pretty awesome and I don't think I'll want to fly on any american airline anymore.  They gave out these cute little packs with socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste!  Their blankets are thick and warm as well!  We're being spoiled!
          Our layover in DC was about 6 hours long so we killed some time playing Uno and walking up and down the gate looking in the shops and restaurants.  We even saw Liev Schreiber and his girlfriend Naomi Watts with their two little boys!  She actually bumped into me while she was texting.  Now we're in for 18 hours of sitting/sleeping/reading.  And then.....Africa!!!

9:13 pm (Washington DC); 3:13 am (South Africa)
          I'm sitting by Vicki and looking out of the plane window right now.  The view is absolutely amazing!  It's so beautiful up here!  It almost seems like I could reach out and touch a star and it's so clear out that I can see the moon's reflection off the ocean thousands of feet below us.  "The heavens declare the glory of God...."  He truly is awesome!


So, needless to say, I wasn't able to update my blog like I had hoped to.  We had very limited internet and phone access and I was lucky to get to talk to my mom twice!  South Africa was absolutely amazing!  I'm sure that particular word will continually pop up and be severely overused when describing my experiences while I was away, but there are just so few words to describe the awesome time I had.  This was by far my best trip ever and the first time I really didn't want to return home.  I really think I could live there forever! 

Here are my journal entries from when I was away (I'll try and arrange them in chronological order).  I may only be able to upload a few a day, so keep checking back for more entries!  I'm just as excited to retype and relive all my adventures as you are to read them, so here goes nothing!