Pedicure

All girls are vain. We all love wearing that little something extra to make the world take notice of us. A different hairstyle, some mascara, changing our shows a dozen times before going out, almost becomes second nature. The wild world to my surprise isn’t that much different. Not because we’re human and screwed up means that animals don’t like to stand out either.

Female rhinos are a particular and delicious case of inherent flirtation. Every time they take a bath, after a few dry or muddy days, a few drops of water are all that’s needed to a French pedicure. Perfectly demarcated nails, they have set a trend that elephants seem to be catching on.

They may not change shoes everyday… but they sure know how to rock the natural world!

Rhinos 1000 – Girls 0

 

Tiny love

Windows are one life’s greatest inventions. If you have ever driven at more than 20km/h in a game drive vehicle, you will know. Dung beetles flying straight into your face are no fun, kingfishers flying into your office windows..twice.. is, well just as bad!

I’m no bird fan. My relationship with them over the years has been an interesting evolution and serious of strange events. Obviously because I don’t care all that much I’ve seen some of the rarest ones around, which makes all my birder friends upset. They don’t hide away the fact that I don’t deserve such sighting, I just stick my tongue out at them. Haters gonna hate.

Over the past few years they have come to grow on me, mostly because I broke up with a boyfriend that was obsessed with them. Don’t get me wrong, he was a superb birder but he didn’t know how to teach me how to recognize them or how to get into the world of “that black bullet flying was a “(insert random bird name)”. I think he didn’t get me, which is probably the main reason why I said ba-bye to him and birds for a long time.

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Now, I’m better at birds and slowly but surely letting that competitiveness against them take over. I will ID them… until it’s too hard and I get bored. But hey! My list of birds I can recognize has grown – partly thanks to Tristan who gets birds and gets me. Having said that, there are around 500 species of birds alone in the Kruger area – this may take a while.

I’ve always liked owls, vultures and kingfisher – of which there are plenty around the Kruger Park area. That’s why when this tiny little gem of a bird flew into my window twice, I ran out in hope that he would be fine!

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This is a little Pygmy Kingfisher. The tiniest of them all and because of that, it deserves all the love. This little one however, it’s also a tiny little lie. It may be called a kingfisher; truth is, like some of its other kingfisher cousins, it rarely eats fish. Mind blown.
It feeds mainly on insects and some small vertebrates on occasion. Because of its diet it then migrates from the warm places within Africa and arrives back to us around September-October until summer fades away.

Pygmy here was fine. A little bit concussed ,it took a while for it to come back to its senses. He seemed to enjoy my company for a little while and then dumped for a guest’s hat before deciding wild was his best colour. He flew away, and next time I saw him he kept away from the windows.

Caffé á l’ant.

In all types of life – especially the working one – there are little routines that are a common topic of conversation everyday however they are so small that are forgotten just as quickly, only to be remembered the next day at the same time.

Our common everyday topic is ants. Ants in our kettle. You know, the little tiny black things that live everywhere, inside of the great human device made to boil water so the coffee can be had much quicker every morning.

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In another life, being a coffee “purist”, I would have loved to say that boiled water is only for tea however, in this bush life boiled water normally goes with instant coffee “Ricoffy”. I apologise Italian gods!

I drink it everyday, every morning and every time I feel how its sugar sits forever on my hips – as Jan happily reminds me everyday.

This coffee process is Tanya’s routine and mine. Tanya is my African Robin in my new Batman phase. She arrives, drops everything off and with the biggest grin she eyes me and asks:

“Wat se jy? Koffie popi?”
“Ja! Baie dankie”

Afrikaans is a new language to me. Coffee skills were the first ones learned. It’s really all about survival and the elixir of life!

After this daily ritual one of us will then proceed to boil the kettle and make coffee. The part of the process we don’t really understand is why our kettle – and hence our coffee- always comes with ants. We have cleaned, and done everything we can to avoid this part of the process. Batman and Robin cannot understand how 87598456 milions of ants – sometimes in the form of a big ball – end up drowned or boiled in the kettle everyday. Is there an ant sacrificial process to the gods of the sugar we don’t know about?!

We’ve done everything we can to avoid this part of the process. Batman and Robin cannot understand how 87598456 milion of ants – sometimes in the form of a big ball – end up drowned or boiled in the kettle everyday. Is there an ant sacrificial process to the gods of the sugar we don’t know about?!

Until we figure it out, we will carry on having coffee with ants.

How was your coffee this morning? Pretty uneventful huh?

Camera traps

Amongst the variety of things that are included in my daily routine, one of them are camera traps – movement sensitive and remotely triggered cameras that snap a photo every time something walk past its sensor. These types of cameras are widely used to study a range of cryptic creatures (a very fancy word used to described animals that are waaay to hard to see) all over the world and have an incredible value in conservation, as they can shed a light into the unknown masters that roam around.
For me, it was just fun. Whenever the memory cards would arrive, it felt like Christmas. Opening a little memory card of unknown goodies. Every beautiful photo that captured an intimate moment of wildlife made the 150 photos of grass moving in the wind worth it. Now, my boss who was already going senile at that time, liked to engrave in us that this weekly task had a conservation purpose it was not the case, but I enjoyed every minute of it. A little glimpse into someone else’s life.

These cameras I had to handle where hidden in selected spots, inside hyena proof metal boxes, close to different waterholes.

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Perfect exposure, beautiful subject and in addition, an emotional charge that is hard to put into words. A feeling that is born every time you see something mesmerising when first come across a specific photograph.

The downfall to these cameras is that, depending on their sensitivity they can capture all movements. And by all I mean the most annoying one of them all: the moving grass. After seeing the first 1000 of them, you develop an ability to scan quickly through the photographs to see what needs to be seen, and count what needs to be counted.

“There!”
“Where?!”
“Next to the elephant. No, a little more to the right, lower. There!”
“Oh I see the hippo now!”

The best part? Some animals become regulars and I learned to recognise them instantly. My best friend is the one and a half horned waterbuck (ok fine, he was an easy one to befriend). I’m in love with all the elephants and giraffes drinking water crack me up.

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When I go through this endless array of photos, there are different folders where a selected group of celebrities is categorised under. By celebrities I mean the infamous big 5 (a term I will eventually come to hate) such as rhinos, leopards, elephants, lions and buffalo, and other popular faces like giraffes, hyenas and some shier subjects like badgers, genets and so son.

Little did I know that this passion for camera traps would one day lead to get a masters degree in Conservation Science. I suppose you can only connect the dots looking back right?

Marula’s madness

A bit of background: Marula is my duiker – a small species of antelope named after the Afrikaans word meaning diver, which refers to the way the species jump into the bushes. I’ve been raising Marula since she was about 2 weeks old while I’ve been working at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in South Africa. It’s been a rollercoaster. She’s justa n antelope BUT knowing a life depends on you, how well you do your job and how much effort you put into it changes everything. It’s been 3am feeds, a few kicks and head-butts, obsessing about her poo (yeah, that happens!) and lots of cuddles. Five months down the line she’s healthy, loving and well…demented. I like to think she didn’t get it from me.

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Her teenage phase has been typical: problems with authority, becoming a rebel without a cause and believing she’s invincible. Sounds like an average human, no?
Marula is no exception; she’s a very sociable and loving antelope. The problem is that because she’s grown up in safety she believes everyone around her can be her friend – in her reality this includes cheetah, lions, leopards and wild dogs.

A few days ago, bouncing around following a group of tourists she decided to walk into Guardian’s enclosure. Guardian is a black eagle that lives here due to a broken wing however he’s remarkably fast at hoping.

“Mmm, mmm, mmm yummy yummy”.

Marula, feeding on the dried leaves of the enclosure obviously didn’t think anything about it and luckily she was saved by her uncles that came running to take her out before Guardian had a chance to feast on her. To this day I think she still didn’t know.

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A few days later Erin was walking Bullet, the one year old cheetah. Marula saw this stranger creature and of course, she wanted to say hi! Bullet is being walked by 2 people with one of those harnesses they put on big dogs. He’s remarkably strong for a one year old and just imagine the sudden hunger when she saw a tiny grey duiker bouncing around towards him. I don’t know why she thought hungry teeth were a welcome sign to her.

The joke of the day? Your baby tried to feed herself to Bullet.

No, no, no.

Luckily, she learned that some friends only want to eat you and kept her distance from then on. Bullet still eyes her like steak.