Thursday – A faded, dirty cap
This is the story of my cap. My ‘pet’ (that’s Dutch for cap).
If this cap/pet could talk it could tell you thousands of stories, for it’s been on my head through most of the happenings I write about here. It would tell you stories about the countless hours in tough conditions it’s endured. About all the times it flew off my head. About all the cool things we’ve done together. About the countless thoughts that have gone through the head that it covered. Happy, sad, calm, excited, desperate, confused or clear as day. It could sing you a thousand songs, because it’s heard them being belted out over the open plains.
If my cap/pet could talk, it would tell you about the many hours following cheetah out on the plains. About climbing trees to get as high up as possible. About hyenas on kills. About surprise meetings with lions. And planned ones. About hundreds of wildebeest herd counts. About scanning the vast plains looking for animals. About the thrill of seeing vultures land. About sunrises, sunsets. About finding shade under the tiniest trees. About flying. About landing. About breaking down. And fixing the problem. About the thinking, the endless thinking. About tough times. Physically, mentally. But mostly about the happy times. The euphoria of finding something new, something old, something surprising or something extraordinary. Bouncing around on the car-roof during prey surveys. Gliding through the tall grass on motorbikes. The cutest cubs, near or far. Hyenas that come very close, without doing any harm. Bright sunshine and the odd bucket of rain.
People often ask me what the hell I’m doing here. My cap/pet was first placed on my head on the 15th of May 2017, and has been there pretty much every day of the past year. After that one year it looks like this, it is ready to retire, it’s done its job, it’s become unrecognisable, it’s time for a new one. If my cap could talk, it could tell you exactly what the hell I’m doing here.
Saturday – See ya later Noeles
A bit of a sad day. Our neighbour, friend and first hour fan of this crazy Wild&Beast thing is leaving… And I kept saying: ‘Noeline, don’t go, you don’t have to, you can just stay.’ But it hasn’t worked. She’s leaving Liuwa and that’s a little sad. Over the past 1.5 years Noeline has become a great friend. Always in for sundowners, lion searches or a simple good talk.
Tonight Daan, Shadrach and I were invited to attend a surprise dinner that Namasiku (the new lodge manager) organised as a farewell for Noeline. The entire staff of the lodge was present, there were many speeches (she almost cried… almost), lots of food and a great atmosphere.
We will miss having Noeline around for sure but I hope she’ll have a good time in Cape Town (and I will visit, of course).
Sunday – Cheetskis
Peter, Daan and I are in the cruiser. We are driving on the road that brings us north, to a point somewhere in the middle of the park from where we will start our prey survey transects. These transects (8km long straight lines) we drive three times a year meanwhile counting and noting all prey species we see, as part of ZCP’s long term research into the Greater Liuwa ecosystem. But we don’t reach that point at the planned time… Because, obviously, something comes up.
As we are driving I see some movement from the corner of my eye and look up to see an animal. Out of habit my first thought is ‘oribi’, but I look again and see that this is quite a strange oribi. In fact… It’s not an oribi, it’s much bigger, but too small to be a wildebeest and too thin to be a hyena. I blink and gasp ‘Cheetah?!’. Then my brain finally believes my eyes and I shout: CHEETAH!!! STOOOOOPPP! NO TWO CHEETAH! OH MY GOD THREE CHEETAH!!! STOOOOOPPPP! Daan stops the car abruptly and we all look at this new, totally unexpected and drastic change of our plans. It’s crazy. We know that there are cheetah in Liuwa (duuuhh), we often know where to find some of those cheetah, we know that there are cheetah that we don’t know, but to actually see some of those all of a sudden is mindblowing and probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen here in Liuwa.
The three cheetah are not too bothered by the car but we don’t see a collar on any of them, meaning that these could be new to our database (we later find that one of them is known to us and has found two other males to form a coalition with). Now we have a choice to make, we could stay with the cheetah (and hope to eventually, in a few days, be able to collar one) which has our preference of course, but we also really need to finish those transects. Buuuttt ZCP Liuwa is a team, meaning we do teamwork and stuff, all day, every day. And so we call our colleague Shadrach, and he will stay with the cheetah today. As we wait for him, the cheetah take down a young oribi, just a little snack for three hungry predators.
"What happens next?" You may wonder. Well… they casually kill a wildebeest calf (quite a big prey) and then bed next to it for the night. I go there the next morning before sunrise, hoping to find them at the same place, but unfortunately they have left the carcass overnight, probably because hyenas are very likely to find it as well. I spend my morning searching for them but the grass is tall, the cheetahs still a little wary around cars and the plains big. So all we can do now is hoping to see them again soon, probably with the same dose of randomness and most likely when we are on our way to do something important.