Monday, 14th of August – Big paws
Today I was lucky enough to be so close to a lion that I could measure the size of her paw against my hand. AP, DNPW and ZCP together put a VHF-satellite collar on lioness LLi-281.
We gathered at the location our colleague was still watching these lions from (after a whole afternoon, night and morning of following them). ZCP vet Dr. Kambwiri Banda then darted the lioness and after ‘she was down’ we all moved in to put on the collar and help Dr. Banda with health checks and sampling. I was on breath-counting duty, which means I had to watch the breathing and inform the vet about any anomalies. Meanwhile I still had plenty of time to be mesmerized about the situation I was in. I was sat next to a beautiful adult female lion. I was touching her, stroking her fur, talking to her, I could see every hair, every muscle, her claws, her paws, every detail. It was amazing!
After an hour of being under, the vet administered the reversal drug, which woke her up and after a few minutes of drowsiness and imbalance, she was lovingly greeted by her sister and adopted child (nephew). The reunion was beautiful and showed perfectly the strong bond these lions have. For over 10 minutes they did not let go of each other and kept rubbing their heads and bodies together as if LLi-281 had been gone for days.
Thursday, 17th of August – Roll it gal
I’m at a den watching a hyena mother lovingly nurse her 2-3 month old black cub. The cub is suckling happily, squeaking sometimes when it won’t go fast enough.
Another slightly older cub (4-5 months) is watching jealously. His mother is not around but he would like some milk too. He’s trying to get in on it next to his younger friend. Hyena mothers nurse their own offspring only and momma is having none of it. She snaps in his direction and he backs off a bit.
He is determined though and soon approaches again. Again the nursing mother snaps at the cheeky cub and again he backs off. Still not enough of a warning, the little culprit tries again. Alright, that’s it, momma is done. She is fast to raise her head and give one more good snap to the cub standing at her tail. Because of the force behind the upwards-backwards move she rolls over on her back. For a moment, all I see is 4 hyena paws up in the air, then… she’s gone. Leaving her cub looking around in utter confusion. A few seconds later her confused head, covered in sand, appears. She was bedded on the edge of the den burrow and has rolled straight into the hole. She climbs out, casually pretending nothing has happened and lies down again far away from the edge. While I struggle to not burst out laughing, her cub continues its happy suckling and the older one has understood the message, he beds down a few metres away and falls asleep.
Friday, 18th of August – When kickass motorbike carnivore researching goes wrong
I am out on the motorbike again, planning a den visit at the Mutata clan. I am hopeful, some days ago I found a place that could possibly be a new den and I hope to find some new cubs or hyenas we haven’t seen for a while.
On a not so bumpy short grass plain I speed up a little bit and I look around to find the familiar shape of a walking hyena. When I look back down I see a massive hole (they are dug by wildebeest to lay in), it’s too late to do anything and I know: I’m screwed, this is not gonna end well. The bike goes down into the hole, my body is thrown forward, same moment the frontwheel goes up again out of the hole, but my face is still there… My head, eye and cheekbone hit the handlebars full speed and I’m thrown on the ground. The first seconds I see nothing and I freak out, thinking I have shattered my eye socket and/or just partially blinded myself for the rest of my life.
I start to blink and soon have visual of the world around me, my scattered fieldgear and the motorbike on its side next to me, the engine still running. I switch it off and try to sit up. I’m fine. My eye hurts and starts swelling immediately, but I’m fine. I’m even thinking that I can climb on the bike and ride back to camp, but I stop myself from doing that, not a great idea. So I grab my radio and start calling ZCP base. When I hear my own shaky voice and feel the pain around my eye I start to cry my eyes out (haha… joke), because I realise how damn lucky I have been to be fairly ok. After some communicative detours (thanks Papa Mike) I reach Daan and within 10 minutes he comes to my rescue. He gives me some first aid care, together with a colleague who came to help, he loads the bike on the car and we drive back to camp. With an icepack and a ‘Happy plaster’ (this one has watermelons on it) I am sent to bed. I have the first black eye of my life and, because of the swelling, it’s a struggle to keep it open. But I know for sure that from now on that is exactly what I’ll do every second I am on that bike!
Sunday 20th of August – When the urgent meets the unexpected
The camping trip we are on since yesterday (wildebeest counts again), will last for a few nights. During trips like this we go to the absolute middle of f**cking nowhere, we live and work outside and say goodbye to the very few luxuries we have, including a toilet. Luckily, Daan and I are very open about our inevitable courses of mother nature.
And so it happened today that around noon we were on our way to the next collared wildebeest that had sent the receiver into a beeping fit when Daan announced he was going to look for a nice spot to take a dump. We are driving through a scattered woodland and in the distance he sees some palmtrees that seem like the perfect bushtoilet. I am on the roof of the car which makes it difficult to communicate while driving, so naturally I think I misheard when I hear my boyfriend shout: ‘CHEETAH!’
Me: Sorry, WHAT?
D: I said: CHEETAH!
D: Over here San, RIGHT WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM!
And indeed… I change my gaze from far distance to 20 m ahead. Right under Daan’s proclaimed bushtoilet-trees I see 3 pairs of cheetah-eyes looking at this weird big car with a person on top. It’s cheetah 180 and her 2 cubs. 180 recently received a new collar that only sends out VHF signal on certain days, making it extraordinary to find her on days when the VHF is off… Such as today. What a coincidence to just see her right there, under the trees that we were only driving to because they seemed a nice place for a shit! We look at the 3 dozing cheetah for a while and then turn around, off to find a new spot.