The sessions I missed were quiet; not much seen on Monday night, Tuesday the dogs were south and out of reach. Wednesday morning however – another uncollared cheetah was with a kill on the roadside. They’d darted him and tried to collar, but once again the attempt was unsuccessful. When I re-entered Mkhuze with PJ I found the cheetah still near the kill, a single dart in his rear, the drug not injected correctly. There were no more darts to try again.
After the morning’s drama there was no time to sort out the rhino camera traps. We went straight there; it was sunny and warm when we left, but turned cold quickly, shorts perhaps wasn’t the best idea. There was a road with fresh rhino tracks and recently used middens; we attached a camera on an appropriate tree.
While waiting there was an odd noise, like rain, but we had clear skies. On closer inspection it was coming from beneath a bush, small little nuts were all hopping about, by themselves. I picked one up and held it in my hand, palm flat, not touching it, it jumped, then jumped again. What is this black magic? We took the beans and cut one open, inside was a grub, its powerful flicking motion was causing the beans to hop about. They were tambouti jumping beans; their fruit are often parasitised by a moth.
Probably the coldest morning I had. Clear skies, bitterly cold wind, the day’s forecast was a scorcher though; from 11C it would reach 37C. I wrapped myself in a blanket to buffet the wind chill. Today we hoped to find MLF4 and MLF5. The signal took us to dense thicket where we found a single lion, one which quickly moved out of sight. Here on the roadside we waited for them.
To pass the time we told riddles; things you put in toasters; secret passwords to get into secret clubs; forty foreheads; I have a bed but don’t sleep; something the poor has and the rich need. Of course we had coffee and rusks here too; debating which rusk brand is best; Ouma or Spar’s own. A quiet morning, but it was sunny and soon warmed up, and we were all in good company.
We didn’t spot the lions again, and left for the Kalihari males in the boma. For the birders, myself included, an exciting sighting; an uncommon juvenile hooded vulture, outside of its normal range.
By now we’d turned the kitchen table into an office; I wrote my blog notes, Kelly typed up our sightings, triangulations and notes, Brendan studied his psychology notes and PJ worked on reports, playing us his good music. “Uhh, do you have those TPS reports?”
To help us monitor in the south, monitor of monitors Cole would come and help. He’d stay with us, and travel down south on a dirt bike to check on the dogs and other priority species we couldn’t reach. Tonight though we’d go in search of MCM17 and MCM18, two monitors scanning, we drove to the north-western peninsula, over rocky terrain, along narrow fence lines, searching for the cheetah. By nightfall we hadn’t found them, we settled on a triangulation and headed back for a braai, seeing what looked like a suni on the way back – but it might also have been a baby grey duiker.
Joris stoked the fire and we threw on butternut squash and jacket potatoes, steak and sausage. Around the fire we listened to Moby, we stared at the stars, we talked about legendary leopard sightings and the warm evening was perfect. Two bush babies climbed along the phone lines, joining us for the braai. Nowhere I’d rather have been.
A few days now and we hadn’t seen much. The animals were being elusive or unreachable. Today was no different, I didn’t take a photo all day. Cole took the bike south and tried to locate the dogs, he got a brief visual but couldn’t get a signal for Zile. We searched for MLF4 and MLF5 in the morning, and MCM17 and MCM18 in the evening, no sightings of either. Our telemetry was also playing up, that didn’t help. In our down time we all played Tuper, a Dutch card game, or 30 seconds – a game that’s at every Wildlife Act reserve.