For most of May I have been out of the camp – a week at the annual Indaba in Durban (rather large marketing event), a few days shopping in Joburg are always in order, and then I had a week to spare.
Where does a girl from Luangwa go when she has a week to spare? I am fortunate enough to have friends ….with the right connections … and as Indaba was drawing to a close I was trying to locate a place called Thabazimbi – landing in Johannesburg, I collected a car from the airport, negotiated some hectic traffic which slowly petered out to a trickle of 4×4’s (driven by rather large men) and a few farm vehicles, and found myself about 3.5 hours north west of Johannesburg.
Thabazimbi is an iron ore mining town, but my quest was not in this field, but rather to gain some experience in game capture. Mark and Jacque run Procap and specialize in game capture and animal transportation. For one week I accompanied them, capturing approximately a hundred animals a day. I have always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie; so flying anything upwards of two meters in a R22 helicopter, no doors, herding game, with Mark as the pilot, certainly fulfills any adrenaline need. I have tried to write down the sensation you get doing this type of flying and have completely failed – just take my word for it –it’s stimulating.
Coming from Luangwa where there is very little hands on management of wildlife; it was interesting to see how much management and control of wildlife there is in South Africa. Generally each day we were working on a different game farm. The crew of about 30 would go out and under Jacques’ instructions and would set up the boma for the days capture. The boma would have to be positioned correctly taking into account many factors such as wind direction, game fences and access for the trucks.
The boma comprises of a series of overhead wire cables and canvas curtains which tapers down to a narrow tunnel that connects directly onto the trucks. At the start of the capture all the side walls (apart from those in the tunnel) and all the across walls are opened and the canvas and staff hidden by cut branches.
Mark is in constant radio contact from the air and once he finds a herd that is suitable (taking into account many factors such as young animals, keeping breeding herds together, leaving certain males behind etc and of course what is on offer) he then slowly pushes the animals from the air towards the boma. At this time wind direction is an important factor as one does not want the animals to smell the boma and people and turn in the wrong direction. Things now speed up and the animals are herded into the boma area.
From the helicopter Mark uses sirens to signal to the staff to close the outer walls and this is done by pulling the canvas curtains along the overhead wire cables. With incredibly skillful flying and good team work the animals are pushed to the neck of the tunnel, at each stage curtains drawn behind them, finally they are up the ramp on onto the trucks where Jacque sorts them into different loading configurations and does any injecting of tranquilizers, putting pipes on horns etc. While this is being done the pilot is already looking for the next herd and bringing these closer as time is a crucial factor.
It was interesting to see how the different species reacted to the whole process. The zebra are incredibly wary and sensitive to smell, Blesbok like to run along their known routes, impala hide under the bushes and have to be “flushed out” by very low flying until they start to move forward as a herd and many other interesting observations – I also noticed a difference in how the same species on one farm will react differently to the capture process compared to the same species on a different farm. The understanding of animal behavior is crucial in this business as well as a lot of patience and empathy with the animals you are dealing with.
I saw some amazing kudu bulls and for the first time the black impala (melanistic form of the regular impala, Melanin is the dark pigmentation which is responsible for the tanning process which occurs in humans when they’re exposed to sunlight. A melanistic animal has an increased amount of this black or nearly black pigmentation in the skin, feathers, hair, or other outer tissues. Melanism is the opposite of albinism and occurs with about the same frequency. The genetic basis is not clearly understood, but inbreeding is considered partially responsible. The gene for melanism is recessive so melanistic lambs can be born to normally coloured parents).
After the wilds of Luangwa it was certainly different to see all the fences and controls. I also went to Marakele national park to get an insight into the South African park system and loved the terrain and spent a memorable afternoon on the mountains.
Unfortunately I did not have a great camera with me, just a little point and shoot one but this did let me get a few shots. The flying was incredible, the company great fun and it is something I would like to learn more about and get more experience in.
All good things do come to an end and my time was limited, I had to head back to the valley. It was great to come back to the wide open spaces and yesterday I went into the park and appreciated once again the sunset, fantastic game and the atmosphere as the night got darker.
Comments from Coll..
As May draws to an end, I can’t believe how quickly it has flown by. The temperatures are starting to drop and winter is definitely on its way. It’s a great time to visit the valley; we have had great sightings and the perfect weather, not too hot or too cold.
In the first week of May our guides got their results from the guide exams they sat at the end of April. We had great results and are very proud of the guides.
I would like to congratulate, Philemon, Andrew Mweetwa and Sylvester on their passing of the grade one guides exams with fantastic results.
Our guide team now consists of 4 grade one guides (they have both the walking and driving licenses) and 1 grade two guide (driving license). Plus of course Herman who does walks as well.
Andrew Bwaliya is our most experienced grade one guide, he has a great wealth of knowledge and stories.
Philemon is one of our more serious guides, but don’t be fooled by his quieter manner, he was a dry sense of humour and is a wonderful gentle guide. Phil is very passionate about educating not only visitors to Zambia but his own people on the importance of conservation.
Sylvester has done fantastically well, with passing his grade 2 exam just last year and then sitting and passing his grade ones this year. He has a bank of knowledge and loves to share his experiences with everyone.
Andrew Meetwa, is a talented guide with an ear for languages, he loves to learn about different dialects, countries and cultures. Andrew’s passion for wildlife and cultures is a perfect blend for anyone wanting to learn more about not only the animals of the Luangwa but the people too.
Billy, is our grade 2 guide, he has a heart of gold and a laugh to go with it. Billy’s bubbly, easy going personality ensures everyone comes off their drives, happy and excited about their next drive.
Every year the Valley remembers a special Guide, Jonny Ambrose who was killed while on duty. In his honour a Touch Rugby tournament is held and the funds raised are donated to SCLS. I went to represent Wildlife camp this year, it was a great day, with lots of fun, and a great turn out. I will admit that I was very stiff the next day but it was well worth it.
Colleen, Dora and the Wildlife Team