Comments from recent volunteers
Week number two arrives and I’m finding myself as energetic as week one, despite my failed alarm clocks and a swollen toe (yes, I stubbed my toe on a rock --- epic injury for someone studying leopards in the mountains). By this point, I’ve had a chance to explore the reserve further on foot and in Talula (our favorite 30-year old Toyota Land Cruiser with a heart of gold) gathering data from camera traps and grappling with identifying some of the more challenging spoor left behind by resident carnivores. In addition, I’ve been living it up as a guest of the FGASA student, Becky, while she has been doing practice guided tours throughout the reserve. Can’t complain about the service! I’m lucky she’s been around during my time here!
I’m slowly but surely becoming a little more proficient with the elements of the research and have now started to work on some interesting projects including identifying individual leopards from camera trap photos and organising ID kits for resident and vagrant cats using the reserve. Since I’ve arrived, we’ve captured leopard five times, three separate individuals, on cameras throughout the reserve. Not too shabby!
From Becca Croucher
That moment in life when you think nothing can break you, just come to the bush. Everything I have experienced here is an experience I would never trade for anything in the world. The moment when you are on that life high and think you are unbreakable this place will not only put life in prospective, but it will show the beauty of the world that most individuals couldn’t even dream of in there wildest dreams. On the walks we get to study spoor (tracks) of not only leopards but hyenas, civets, baboons and everything in the bush. One walk we do every week is on the top of the mountains and when you reach Blesbok Ridge the view goes for miles of untainted life in its most pure of forms. On today’s walk, we came across a herd of Kudu, some zebra, a warthog, Nyala with babes, and the herd of giraffes. We sat down and the mother giraffe actual came within a hundred feet of us just because she was curious. If that isn’t enough to write home about then maybe the four impala gentlemen that basically live in front of our tents within ten feet of me should help set the unrelenting beauty of this place in prospective. Ingwe Leopard Research camp is a once in a life time experience that beats the crap out of you and has you loving every second of it.
From Dani Solomon
The South African bush was the first place I made chicken stir fry perfectly. They say everything tastes better over an open fire, but is it the fire that improves the taste? Or is it something else, perhaps more internal. There are few places left in the world that are truly wild, places where humans have not interfered to the point that they affect the environment they wish to observe in its original state. But this is one of those places that has not yet succumbed to the intractable arm of human interference. Here at Black Leopard Wildlife Campus (BLWC), you are expected to part ways with some of the very things that have come to define this generation: Internet, which is in some sense a quality, a quality of being connected to people and ideas and
places and cultures that are not sitting right there in front of you. BLWC expects one thing of you: that instead of being connected with things that are not physically there, you open yourself to the things that are. In the wild, morality does not exist. In the wild, cleanliness does not exist. In the wild, you are the only thing standing in the way. For humans in the wild, the first step in equipping yourself is using your senses to inform your mind of what’s happening right in front of you. It sounds easy enough, but when you are faced with tasks, animals, and even other people that you’ve never seen before, you are tested. Maybe that’s why cooking over an open fire always seems to taste better. Out in the wild, you must focus on survival. And the basic need in all of us for sustenance will make almost anything taste good.
After a long flight from Europe it was great to arrive here in the bush. It’s a real sweet set-up here at the Black Leopard Conservation village, and a lot more luxurious than I had imagined. Although the elusive leopard is rarely seen, by tracking on foot we also become more familiar with the smaller and often overlooked forms of life in the bush. Since we’ve been here I don’t think I’ve seen two members of the same species of insect. Some are as big as your head and others are colours yet to be described. The diversity of birds here is also enough to satisfy one’s craving for wildlife watching. Everyday a new species is seen or heard. So apart from the toad on the toothbrush, life’s pretty sweet here in the bush.
Freds first week
Africa is also the perfect place to learn or develop life skills. Of course there is lighting a fire, cooking and cleaning in an unfamiliar environment, but that stuff is pretty easy-peasy. What takes some real guts is holding your ground against the beasts of the African bush. I am here with my wife on our honeymoon. She is French and so has not had a lot of experience with the African beasts. One day she stayed back at camp while the rest of us were out on a walk and had a scare when, what she described as, a giant baboon burst out of the bush nearly knocking her out of the hammock and screamed in typical baboon fashion. The next day we were all out on a walk when we saw a troop of baboons ahead of us on the path. This is when I saw a change in the woman I thought I knew so well. She was no longer going to be pushed around and intimidated by a bunch of lousy primates; she was going to stand her ground. She sized up the troop then released a ferocious scream that echoed throughout the valley and sent every baboon within ten kilometres fleeing in terror. I thought I was sure before, but now its certain that I have married the right girl.
When one thinks of Africa, they usually picture images of the Serengeti with large open plains, roaming prides of lions, and the occasional flat topped umbrella thorn. They rarely (if ever) picture in their mind something more in line with the Scottish Highlands. Down in the valley at the Conservation Village, the area is thick with a variety of dense growth, but up in the highlands of these mountains, there are green fields of endless grass conjuring up imagery not normally typified of people’s thinking when it comes to African landscapes.
Evans last week
Every Friday, the assistants for the Ingwe Leopard Project go for a highland walk to search for carnivore spoor, collect SD cards from cameras for sorting, and to see if they can catch any good sightings of antelope (or maybe even a leopard!). The walk takes us along Cliff Road, which overlooks the large valley 400 meters below. In fact, Cliff Road itself is a solid 1600 meters above sea level, which once again surprised me with its altitude
I have come to look forward to this Friday walk every week due to its unique nature. It makes me sad thinking that this morning was my last time taking it (although waking up at 4am for the walk is never my favourite moment of the day - - I’m not really a morning person). The great diversity of landscape in South Africa far exceeds the foreigners Lion King perspective that we all have before stepping off the plane onto Africa soil and I will greatly miss this place when I am gone for the animal life, the varied terrain, and the wonderful people I have met along the way. It has been a damn good month here at the Conservation Village.