It has been too long since the last update of what we have been doing down here… But here I am back again, sharing the latest news!
Let’s just start by saying we’ve had lots of problems with the car since last time. The last week in May and the first week of June were spent mostly waiting for the car to be fixed. Since then there have been some other minor fixes to be made as well. The car will never be entirely good again we presume, but with so little time left down here, we just do our very best to get things done, despite the car’s many problems.
On the other hand, we spoke to Dr. Robert when we had 80-something samples, and he said it was enough. As of now we have 93 samples, and are aiming for 100, which won’t be a problem as long as the car works! When it comes to Lisa’s foraging, she is uncertain of how much she has (it’s not easy with all the plants and plots), and how much she needs, but we hope she will get enough data to write her thesis before we finish!
The period from last blog entry until now can only be described as the period of close encounters outside the vehicle! We have really felt how we are living in the middle of the Serengeti. For starters, the dwarf mongoose around the area has gotten really friendly with us, solely because we feed them popcorn, but still! They get less than a meter away from us, and almost go into the house sometimes! We’ve had baboons in the house grabbing stuff, while we are in there, meters away! We chase them out, but still, the males who enter houses are only the biggest and boldest of baboons! Also other animals get closer now than before. We’ve had giraffes just outside our house; we could walk only meters away from one of them. Buffaloes have gotten closer, but never dangerously close.
The first of the really cool experiences was the herd of elephants walking past the saloon where we often go to be social and see the World Cup matches. The elephants were pretty close to us, and they didn’t seem to be bothered with us that much at first. But when they came really close to where we stood, one of the females, probably the matriarch, gave us a fake charge, making us run, heels on shoulders, closer to the saloon door! She calmed down though, and we all relaxed and got back to taking pictures! And we really got some cool ones that night!
The next experiences are the most amazing when it comes to wild animals, especially for me! The first event is the least exciting, but still it was amazing. It was to be late evening when a male lion made his way onto one of the kopjes outside our house. So, we went out to take pictures of him. He was about 100 meters away, so no worries there. As time went on the lion got out of sight, but we could still hear him roar in a safe distance. But close to dark I went out to see where he was, as he was roaring still. Suddenly the roaring got closer and closer, but I saw nothing because of the tall grass… So I ran back to the house, and Lisa, who was reading a book outside, followed suit. And when we came to the door, we saw this huge male lion coming out from the grass, only a few meters away from where I was standing only seconds before! As he didn’t’ seem to mind us that much, we followed him with our eyes and cameras in a safe distance to see him walk down the road past our house.
The second event was for me even more thrilling. We had just come home early from a trip. Heidi and I were walking down to the office to use the internet. As we came around the corner to see the headquarters, we waved at some people down by one of the buildings. They answered by pointing to the kopjes just beside us. And as we turned our heads up to look, there they were! Two lions, one male and one female, just relaxing and sleeping only a few meters away from us! They were lying well into the 4 meter tall rock, with only their heads visible, and they didn’t seem to mind us that much, so we stopped and took some photos. This was more than exciting enough, but still… Down at the office I found out I had forgotten my laptop cable! So, I had to go back home to get it, and… well… I had to pass a couple of lions on the way! So there I was, walking towards the kopjes trying to remember what the locals had told me: “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” But as I closed in on the kopjes I saw the lions had changed positions! Both were now lying upright, paws positioned out over the edge of the big rock, head held high, and both staring right at me! As long as they don’t bother me, they won’t touch me I thought, and forced myself to keep my pace. So, there I walked, looking straight into the face of a big male lion, which stared right back at me. And as I got closer the female raised up slowly. I hesitated for a moment, but when I saw she just moved to hide behind the big male I walked further and finally passed the kopje, looking at the big male the whole time. Afterwards, I told Lisa at the house she had to come see something cool, but when we came to the kopjes they had laid down to sleep, heads away from the edge of the rock. A position they held most of the remaining hours of that day. I rank this as the most thrilling experience of my entire life! It was amazing! I regret not taking any pictures or filming the whole thing, but I never dared to make any sudden and unexpected moves.
As this was a crazy experience for me, the other people living here have even more amazing stories! Like Onesmo who had a sudden errand in the night, and had to run to the car parked outside his house. While running in the pitch black towards his car, he couldn’t see the big elephant in the way! So, he ran head on into its stomach! Realizing what he had just done, he ran back to his house. But he had locked the door, so he had to kick it in to get in safely! Or like Maliki, head of the garage, who heard sounds in the garage at night. Thinking there were car thieves, he got out to check. Suddenly he stumbled upon lions, who had managed to destroy the garage gate. And word told us he had a bit of a fight with them as well! Real hand to paw stuff! But he came away unharmed! So, it’s pretty wild here! But only really dangerous at night!
As for field experiences there is seldom any new stuff to document any more. The coolest thing has to be two leopards in a tree along the Seronera River on my birthday! Other cool stuff are: A puff adder crossing the road (one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa), the eland (the biggest antelope in the world, but really rare), a porcupine in the night (only the girls saw this one), a cheetah relaxing under a tree (before we scared it off...), Lions with semi-small cubs, the migration reaching the Masai Mara in Kenya, a martial eagle with a chick in its nest and a leopard kill in a tree (but no leopard). It’s still cool to see all other animals, but there is just not much new to document… There are still lots of animals we want to see though, like the serval and caracal, and any of the other snakes! Lots of the night creatures would be cool too, but as our car is as it is, we don’t dare taking it out for a night run…
And last but not least, the major experience for us in June! A late birthday gift for all of us you might say! It started when Lisa met one of the guys involved in the Rhino Project on the local gas station, and she got his number, and he told her which times are best to go see them! And one day, as we headed up north, we were running late because of too many elephants. Suddenly we were in the area, not too far from where they keep the rhinos, at the evening time it was best to go! So, we took a phone call, found out exactly where it was, and headed out! We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but what met us was amazing! The people working on the project were really nice, and more then wanted to show us around! It was Berry, from the UK, and Juliet, from South-Africa. In total, they are more than 20 working on the project. The girls took us on a tour around the bomas where the rhinos live. Each rhino lives in enclosures separated from each other. They were supposed to live like this for only 2 weeks, but since material for building the bigger 44 km2 enclosure has been delayed, they have been there for over a month. But still, the animals are doing great! All, except one though… She is really angry, and needs 4 whole bomas for herself. The rest have 2. People seldom get near her, as she might hurt herself by throwing a fit! The other animals though, were gentle and docile, and all went up to greet us when we popped our head over their wall! They all seemed like big dogs, especially when the youngest one started rolling around on the ground when taking a bath! When we left there that night, we were ecstatic and had found new joy for our time down here! So, we had to come back!
The next time we went there were even more amazing! They had said they would love to have us back, and they clearly meant it! This time, only Juliet was there, of the two we met last time. But now we met Shane, the project manager, and Martin, the anti-poaching specialist from South Africa, the one training all the rangers for protecting the rhinos when they are released. They were really nice! We also got to know a couple of the locals too, working with the project. Again we said our hellos to the Rhinos, and this time they were really talkative. Especially Cleo, one of the younger ones, made sounds all the time. We didn’t even know they could make any distinct sounds! What really made this second time around even better was the fact that Juliet allowed us to touch them! And even more special, she even thought us how to feed them! So, now we’ve actually fed and touched soon-to-be wild black rhinos! It can’t get more amazing than that!
The people there even allowed us to camp there for the night, so we made our dinner in their tented kitchen and had nice conversations with Juliet, Shane and Martin! Even the night at this place was amazing! The whole area where filled with buffalos! I could even hear them tear up grass and chew outside the tent, I even heard them breathe! A bit terrifying, as buffalos don’t have the best reputation of staying calm, but exciting too! The next morning we said our goodbyes to the rhinos, talked for a while with Shane and Martin, as Juliet was busy with giving the rhinos their breakfast! We also got breakfast, and tee, alongside our own oatmeal we had brought with us! They would all want to have us back, and we hope we’ll have time to! But for now we hope to see them on the party we are throwing July 1st!
We are nearly reaching the end down here, and the Professor is coming already this Tuesday! He’ll then check our work, stay for the party and leaves again Friday, July 2nd. Then we’ll probably work only for one more week before we wrap things up and prepare for further travel! For me, that will be home, for the girls it’ll be a month in Malawi and Mozambique! On another note, we’ve heard there’s a leopard living around where we live, and it’s frequently seen behind the office. Spotting it will be a personal final mission for me, alongside spotting a serval or caracal in the field… But time is running short! And next time you hear from us, we will be finished! Until then, kwa heri!