ELEPHANTASTIC TIMES !!

These days seem to be going soo fast here in this beautiful country and we wish they would slow down ! After another night of some great laughs around the camp fire playing more mind bending games we once again woke up early to prepare for another action packed day here at the reserve . Today we will be heading to Bayete Zulu which is an Elephant interaction place about 90 minutes from here so we didn’t have much time for our morning activity before we left .

After a quick light breakfast our Team Leaders decided to line us up and give us a number , 1 or 2 and split us up that way so that we would get a chance to spend time with everyone . Ben’s group consisted of Drey , Doug , Keira , Amelie , Phillipe , Dan , Chris , Emily , Eric , Elisa and Alyssa and our task this morning was to head out on one of the game vehicles and try and track the Rhinos !!

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We loaded up the vehicle and headed out , Riley who was our driver for the morning decided to drive out to a well known spot that the White Rhino like to hang out . Before we had even got to the spot Ben and Riley heard a shout from the back of the vehicle .. RHINO !! And As we all looked to our left we could see 2 White Rhino bulls .. yoh was it really going to be this easy ! We followed them for a short while but they seemed to be on the move and quick … we were told that they may have caught the scent from a female .. what male wouldn’t move quick if they caught the scent of a lovely lady !! haha

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They began to head further into the bush so we tried to cut them off further up the road but these Rhino can be very sneaky and as we were sat there they crossed further up the road knowing we would be sat there . Riley then gave us a quick briefing on the Rhino and why we track and monitor the before showing us the telemetry equipment which is used to track them as they have collars on . It is literally a small signal box attached to an antenna and will give off strong or weak beeps depending on where the Rhinos are .

As we were short on time this morning and it had just began to rain slightly Ben and Riley controlled the equipment so that we could have a better chance of finding the Rhino and will teach us how to use it later in the week . We got close and found fresh tracks again but time was pushing on and we had to head back to camp for a warm breakfast and get ready to leave for our afternoon with the Elephants .

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Tara’s group included James, Will, Scout, Jordan, Devon, Shelby, Deborah, Elissa, Nikkita, and Cheleigh. We like mixing the groups so that everyone gets a chance to talk to everyone and so we can all be besties! This morning it was our turn first to do some chopping. What I mean by chopping is that we are cutting down invasive plants in the area.

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See, these alien species serve no purpose other than to suck up all the water in the ground and to be in the way. Plus, a lot of them are dead, so it’s important to get them out of the area so the animals have more water saved for themselves and to bring more species into the park. We hacked and sawed and chopped our arms out. We were very successful too! It becomes a fun challenge when we have an whole area to clean out and everyone gets motivated to finish it all. I love that about this group!!

IT WAS THEN TIME TO HEAD TO THE ELLIES !

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Driving was quick because we were excited, but we were finally there! We entered and sat patiently for the family and they came sauntering up together to greet us. We got to meet Rambo, his mate, Rachel, and their daughter, Jabulani. Rambo and Rachel were in a herd that was set to be culled, which essentially means it was supposed to be killed off to keep numbers down and upkeep the ecology of the park. However, the day they were supposed to be culled, the people had struck up such a good relationship with them that they couldn’t follow through with it.

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They instead took them to another park. During this time, these elephants got so used to human interaction, that when they were put into a wild environment with no humans, they began to cause trouble in order to get the humans back. Now, they need to be around people everyday, which is why they have this set up. It is a really beautiful story, and it was cool to hear about the history of these massive, gentle giants. We all got a chance to feed them, feel the back of their ears, underneath their tusks, and to feel their tongues as well. We can’t even explain the texture of his tongue. It is the weirdest sensation you’ll ever have. Rambo is seriously massive too!! Most of us barely came up to part of his ear! Some of us who have short problems hardly reach his knee… If we didn’t already feel short, right?

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We also got to feed Rachel and the little one. Jabulani is a cheeky little girl, trying to steal the feeding bowl all the time. She is five years old, but she is almost as big as mom. She’s growing so quickly! They are amazing gentle giants, and it was probably one of the only time we’ll be able to get this close to real wild elephants. It was beyond awesome!!

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When we got back to Somkhanda, we were about ready to leave for our afternoon activity when a sudden downpour of rain sprung out of nowhere! It was the first rain they’ve had in months. They are so desperate for water, and it was a huge saving grace that it rained today. However, it did delay us a bit for our afternoon trek. Luckily, after about 45 minutes of rain, we were able to go out for a little while before the sun went down.

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Tara’s group switched jobs and went out rhino monitoring this time. We had a new guide named Sipo, who is a newly trained guide from the community. He is such a sweetheart, and he is really happy to have such a great job to provide for his family. He just got back from 5 months of training to be a guide here at Somkhanda. They feel very strongly about helping out the community in surrounding areas by providing them with jobs and a steady income in as many ways as possible. They buy meat directly from the community, they train locals in computer work, they give them security jobs to protect the park, and they’re also training many of them to become guides.

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After our introductions, we all got into the vehicle to go find us some rhinos! Along the way, we practiced using the radio telemetry to track them and most of us got a turn to try it out. We all thought we looked like lady liberty holding that thing up above our heads. Unfortunately, the rainy conditions blocked the signal of the rhinos and made it impossible to get a signal. We do, however have a whole other day to find some more, so we are not worried!

Ben’s group donned their Pangas ( machetes ) and saws and headed down to a small wooded section of the reserve below the lodge with Izzy to carry on Tara’s groups work from this morning . Let us tell you , it was easy , especially after all the rain we had just had .. even walking down to where we would be working we gathered about an extra 5kg of mud on our shoes !!

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We only had an 1 ½ hours or so before darkness fell so we had to work fast and hard . The easiest way to get more accomplished was to split up into smaller groups and tackle a tree between us . We are doing this because the local community has had a problem lately of Hyenas getting through their fences and taking their cattle which is a very precious commodity for them , each cow is worth about $1000 !! So by cutting down these Sickle Bushes which are packed tightly with thorns we will use the branches to form a barrier around the cattle so that the Hyena won’t even bother trying to tackle them and the rest will be used for firewood so that nothing goes to waste .

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It was actually really hard using these small , semi blunted pangas to try and cut down these trees but everyone gave it their all even if the sacrifice was a few blistered hands . As the sweat poured off of us and hands were getting tired ,darkness fell so we collected all of the trees we had cut down and put them in one huge pile .. and what an impressive pile it was !! You could literally have built a mansion treehouse from it ! We gathered the equipment and headed back to the lodge after a group photo of everyone trying to behead our T.L Ben haha .

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Ad we hit the lodge a few of the boys decided to stupidly jump in the freezing cold pool to cool off and have some bro bonding time .. Eric was first to take the plunge followed by Ben , Doug and James who also decided to have a relaxing beer at the same time .. what did they do next you ask … in their undies the all stood around the fire trying to warm up haha !! Needless to say the rest of us stayed clear and just sat around having a good old gossip and played a few games .

Tonight is our social night so we are having a Braai ( a local South African barbeque ) maybe a few little drinks and just to catch up on everyone’s experiences from the week while getting to know each other a bit better .. we are going to leave it at that as the rest of the night is just for us to know and maybe you to find out when we get home :p

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