Rhino, rhino, it’s off to track we go!

“ IT’S TIME TO GET UP “ shouts Berti from across the campsite this time at 05:30am :O !! It seems to get earlier and earlier every morning .. hmm maybe we should slip something into his drink in the evening so we can have a bit of a lie in …hehe .

We awaken to a very misty and chilly morning which is a good thing , it means it will be nice and warm during the day for our activities which will include heading out on the game vehicles and on foot to track and monitor the Rhinos using the telemetry equipment and going out to collect the data from the camera traps which have been strategically placed around the reserve. We are working on the Black Rhino Range expansion project, in affiliation with the World Wildlife Fund. Rhinos on this park have had their horns professionally removed to reduce the chance of poachers on attacking these rhinos for their horns.

The main aim of these traps is to see if the reserve has any new species and to try and gauge the Leopard population also and these Leopards can be identified using ID kits from previous pictures . It also helps to monitor the movement patterns of the animals if they are regularly caught on the same camera traps .

After some luke warm showers and throwing on some warm clothes we head down for our first light breakfast before breaking off into our groups to start the days activities . We ate breakfast to the sunrise, where we all sang the signature “Circle of Life” song from the Lion King. #perfection. Then, Group B went out to monitor the camera traps while Group A, with the help of T.L Ben and guide Oomps, headed out on the game viewer towards the main gate area which is where the Rhinos are likely to be hiding out .P1080800

As we are driving along, Oomps uses the telemetry equipment to try and find a basic direction for the Rhinos before showing us all how to use the equipment to pick up a signal from the collars on the Rhino’s ankles . Brett and Sam are first to have a go and manage to find a strong signal which seems to be coming from the thicket in the bush which is a favourite resting place during the day for the Rhinos .P1080805 P1080806 P1080802

We head out on foot and catch a glimpse on our right hand side of a Rhino Cow and her Calf but they get a little spooked and head off down the hill , a few minutes later the group head further into the bush and suddenly stop about 10 metres behind a bush … !! A RHINO !! and her young calf were lying down behind the bush and we didn’t even see them after being soo close !!! They stood up for a few seconds and stared at us and then just got startled and ran off down the hill towards the other two we saw earlier . WOW THAT WAS INCREDIBLE !!!

Because they’d ran off we went back to the vehicle to follow the track further down to cut them off . Using the telemetry equipment again we pinpointed their location and headed into the bush again only to walk up on all 4 of them !! We sat there for a little while and watched them until they decided to have some privacy and return to the thicket .. what a morning !!!

Group B packed up the car again and went out for a drive to find the camera traps. It was quite chilly this morning, but we all huddled together and laughed about the cold and dew. We came upon more nifty animals, but what we really enjoyed was trying to find leopard prints on our way out to the cameras. We found a very distinct one too along with some zebra tracks! When we returned with the sim card of the camera, we found an amazing picture of a male leopard from Monday wandering through the trees. Then we studied other pictures of leopards in South Africa along with their territories while learning about their habits. Leopards are such cool animals!! We found a team name finally! Wait for it… Wait for it… The Zebros! Oh, we hang loose, get jacked up for rhinos, and trek through the forest like bosses. Plus, we’re all bros, so it’s pretty fitting. We were so excited that we sang warrior chants all day long. I’m sure the other team appreciated that a lot ;). We like friendly competition, though it keeps things interesting.

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After lunch, Kevin sat us down for a discussion about rhinos and why it’s so important to monitor them. They are extremely endangered in Africa because poachers are cutting off their horns and selling them for ridiculous amounts of money on the black market. The problem is that they cut so deep to collect the entire horn that it causes the rhino to bleed out. It has gotten so bad that over 1400 rhinos were killed just last year. Therefore, monitoring them and keeping up to date everyday on their whereabouts are so important. We can now say that we’re helping protect these amazing creatures.P1080813

For the afternoon it was the turn of Group A to head out on the game vehicles to go and check out the other 2 camera traps that have been placed around the bush . As we are driving we see a lot of the game we have already seen while still keeping our eyes peeled for anything new . We pull up at the trap site and disembark the game viewer .

Kevin explains to us a few of the reasons why it is imperative to set up these camera traps and how important they are to the conservation efforts of our volunteers and the lodge employees and interns . Lydia was coaxed into acting like a Leopard infront of the camera before being shown how to collect the data .P1080816

When changing the cameras we have to make sure that the batteries are changed and replaced with new ones , the memory card is swopped out with an empty one and to be sure that it is set properly and tested before being put back into place .. there are two cameras exactly opposite each other so that the animal is taken from from both sides making it more easier for ID kits to be made up . T.L Ben went wandering off and found Hyena tracks close to the cameras so hopefully we find some on the cam !!P1080823 P1080821Heading back to the lodge we stop off for a short while to watch a family of Giraffes before making our way back to the lodge so we can check the memory cards on the cam . Unfortunately nothing out of the ordinary pops up L . We then got the chance to try and ID some of the new Leopard pics that have been taken recently which is surprisingly difficult trying to find the very small differences between the rosette patterns on the Leopards . We managed to ID one and thought the other may possibly be a new Leopard on the scene. P1080829

This afternoon, the Zebros finally saw our first rhino!!! Yee haw! We drove around learning how to use the radio telemetry equipment, but it certainly didn’t take long. We found them within fifteen minutes and it was epic. When I say epic, I mean epic. There were four massive rhinos just wandering along eating together. There were two moms and two calves. Apparently it was the time of night that they get together and socialize, so we got to witness a little rhino happy hour! This group are a bunch of goofballs and we got a bit giggly due to an unfortunate coughing attack and our silence was broken. They immediately knew we were watching them, so they ran off. The time we had with them was amazing though. We can’t believe how much we’ve seen and learned in the last few days, holy moly.

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Tonight Group A is changing it up slightly and instead of going on a night drive we have decided to go on a night walk even after being threatened by Ben to be scared out of our wits during the walk … we don’t think he will …. will he ??!!!! :/ For the Zebros, tonight is another campfire night!! Man, we just love sitting around the campfire chatting. We’ve already become so close and it has only been five days. I’m so glad we all have another week and a half together!! We also decided to have prank wars. And so the prank wars begin. I think they underestimate us.

See ya tomorrow!

The Prank Stars- Ben and Tara

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