Our last day; my last day at Mkhuze, my group’s last day with Wildlife Act. Time enough for one more trip down south. At 4am the five of us, plus Cole and PJ, hurtled south, stars poked through the scattered clouds. We cross our makeshift river crossing and continue, reaching the south before the sun’s up, but we struggle to get any signal; down to one collar, this might be tricky.
On the main road we stop to try again, a 360 sweep without beeps, gain on full. The elephants are here, and we bump a small herd to our right. They eye us carefully before crossing the road, quietly shifting back into the dark. We search everywhere for signal; up and down the main roads, along the border fence, up into the hills. We find slain trees, their trunks blocking roads, scarred by elephants. An old wildebeest carcass is being gorged on by vultures; one is tagged – M038 says the yellow triangle, we record it. No dogs though. “All I want is some coffee and dogs”, Cole says.
It’s almost time to go, and we start our journey north again, stopping one more time besides the dam to get signal. And there it is, a faint beep; Fezo’s collar has resurfaced. The chase is on, we turn back and head the way we came, following the signal, it’s getting louder now, we’re closing in, back up into the hills, beep, beep, beep. “Dogs!”.
The pack are in the road, with their puppies. Gompie stares at us, his ear bent over, blood on his face; they’ve made their morning kill. They’re all moving up and down the road, puppies running ahead, chaperoned by adults, they stop and start – sniffing everything inquisitively. A small puddle gives them all a drink. We follow them for as long as we can, until they hop over an impassable tree and we have to let them be. Goodbye WD2, goodbye Zile and Dumela and all your puppies; good luck and be good.
We share in one last coffee and rusks; the truck parked up on the hill, views out across the reserve, sun shining, a grey-helmeted bush shrike calling nearby. On the dirt track we sit and ponder, kick rocks, tell stories – this has been a little bit special. Good times; the best of times. But it’s ending now, and we need to leave, there are flights to catch, life needs to resume, “is this the last giraffe I’ll see?”.
On our last drive out of the park we savour each sighting; the baby giraffe still young and inquisitive, it doesn’t run, it just stares; the tortoise crossing the road in the mid-morning sunshine, the serval at the gate – waving us goodbye. Perhaps we imagined some of it. Team Africa has ended, 6 people returning to their 6 different countries. Though my adventure continues for two more weeks, 2 weeks in Zululand Rhino Reserve, although it wouldn’t be quite the same.