This is my first post as part of the WildEarth team, and it is also my first time in South Africa, so I thought I should introduce myself, and write about my initial experiences here so far.
I grew up on a coastal farm in Central Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, so a love of the outdoors was in my blood from birth. I have joined the WE team coming from a media and television post production background recently working in London.
I am an African bush rookie, so it is great to be with such knowledgeable guys such as Rob and Garth as I have a million and one questions about the different animals and birds we come across each day, and at the end of the day my head is normally buried in a field guide book. I think I can distinguish a Tsessebe from a Red Hartebeest now, so I feel like I am getting somewhere slowly.
Arriving into the Tswalu game reserve on the first day was worth the trip from Europe alone. Flying from Johannesburg to the Kalahari the land looked to be mostly flat farmland, but suddenly as we neared Tswalu the beautiful ranges came into view, and I was surprised to see so much green. There had been recent heavy rains which is a blessing for the animals and will be a bit of a curse for us trying to find 12 inch Meerkats amongst the long grass.
Coming into the Tswalu in style on a private plane was pretty special and the boys Rob and Garth were there to meet me. The 30 minute drive on the back of the open top land drover “ganda” – (which looks like a guerilla combat vehicle) was the best airport pickup I have ever had. We passed warthogs, springbok, kudu, roan, red hartebeest, eland and gemsbok – (whose beautiful markings and incredible straight horns make it my favourite antelope so far). Just as I thought the new surprises for the drive were over, a giant head appeared over a tree and suddenly we were next to a herd of giraffe, their towering stature and graceful elegance is something I don’t think will ever fail to impress me. Seeing them grazing in their own habitat is a thousand times better than all of my zoo experiences put together.
|Me watching the lovely and very round Cleo|
My first afternoon spent with the Gosa meerkats the family dynamic is immediately apparent, with Cleo the alpha female heavily pregnant and her trust companion Gandalf(as he has a grey face and neck) taking charge and doing most of the work checking for danger, a group of sub adults – one who looks suspiciously like being pregnant also, and 3 cheeky juveniles who just want to play. It is easy to get lost just admiring the way they go about their social lives and I think it will make for great viewing live.
|A king cricket in our room|
Working at ground level with the Meerkats is giving me an appreciation for life in the shadow of giants, and in a place like Africa it is very easy to feel pretty small. Each day in the bush there always seems to be a new surprise or memorable experience if you keep your eyes out for the little things – from adorable bat eared foxes at night time, to a desert tortoise making its way from shade to shade, even the insects are full of colour and character.
Having come from living in the Spanish island of Fuerteventura for a year, I am very familiar with a siesta way of life, and the Meerkats here are no different. Regular breaks are taken during the heat of the day, and when they head for their burrows we head for the nearest shade. If you can stay awake despite the heat, it is a great way to have unique close encounters where both man and beast share a few moments each with a surprised stare. Luckily for us Tswalu has 2 separate areas of the reserve and we are not in the lion section – as I hope to avoid close encounters with large fangs of any kind :)
|Some of the Gosa Meerkat gang sunning themselves|
Day by day I am getting more familiar with the Kalahari, and luckily the same is true for the Gosa meerkats becoming more familiar to us. I was lucky enough to be part of the first successful full day following the group foraging, and as we spend more time with them I am setting myself the task to try visually identify as many of the group as I can by their markings and colourings. Yesterdays success was noting a unique square/star shaped mark on the right hip of one of the young male juveniles, so we have named him “Starsky”.
I will try and blog again soon, – Paul