Buffalo Escape and Re-Capture for My Birthday

Trip Start Dec 25, 2009
Trip End Dec 14, 2010

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Where I stayed
Siyafunda, Makalali Private Game Reserve

Flag of South Africa  , Limpopo,
Friday, March 26, 2010

I really don't think anyone has had a birthday like this one!
It really started a few days ago when we arrived back from town and realised that the elephatns were all around Twines Farmhouse. For the next few days they were all around the area and got so close to the house even Mr Kitty (the cat) came out for a look at what was going on!
Over the next few days we'd been following their steps, particulalry because there is a new calf who we worked out is part of Holey Ear's herd but we're still not 100% sure who the mum is. We think it might be Finn but the issue is that she is one of the contracepted elephants... oops!
We also got word that a pride of lions had brought down a wildebeest. So off we went to try and find them and got right up close to them. We didn't find them initially but we found them about 20m away in the veld - 4 cubs and 1 lioness. We knew the second lioness would be close but no-one saw her in the 2 days following either. She was seen yesterday though so it's all good. It was amazing to see the cubs (all about 1-2 years old) learning how to pull apart the meat and how they ate the rump and stomach first and they'd started on the neck and legs by the time we got there. They stayed near the kill for about 3 days and are still not far off even though they've moved on now.
The day before yesterday we were looking for cheetah. The telemetry wasn't working too well as we weren't getting any signal what so ever. A report over the radio said that the elephants were nearby on Old Dam Rd- in the dam. So we went off to see them. All 3 herds were there - Queeny, Holey Ear and Dracula's plus a few bulls. But they went just in the dam - they were SWIMMING! It was the most amazing sight. Elephants jumping all over one another; immersing themselves in the water, trunks up in the air; play fighting; hippos telling them when they got too close... Then the baby baby came to the edge and it was so wonderful to see the females gather around her to get her across and past the hippos and then go in for a little dip with her. (or him... we aren't too sure yet). You could have stayed there for hours simply watch them in their pleasure. We then got word the 2 collared cheetah brothers were trying to get out of the main gate so off we went. We found them and tried herding them away from the gate... but they're still there, haha. We also caught up with the tail end of the combined herd by the river. Dracula decided to live up to her name and gave us a little attitude and a mock charge but all was well.
The next day was my birthday. It started with the plan to head out and weed and pick up rubbish but after cutting down a few trees the radio came out with the fact the electric fence to the buffalo boma was down and they saw tracks OUTSIDE the boma! The trees took alot out of some people (the elephant can be real buggers piushing down the biggest trees over the roads some times.) but none the less off we zoomed to the buffalo boma. (A boma is an enclosure within a game park. They're used to separate the animals inside from the animals outside either for their protection or the protection of the other animals. Often they're used in re-introductions to get the animals used to vegetation and the general area but in this case it's to protect the asset of a non-TB infected buffalo herd.) Unfortunately for the dogs, Kahla and Shungi had come along to enjoy the day by the river whilst we worked but instead they were stuck in a hot car on a blistering hot day with no shade. The poor things. It's great to see them though when we're moving becasue Kahla enjoys the wind but every now and then sooks up to M whereas Shungi rides on the dashboard (where there is no window screen...) and gets all the action.
Anyway, we arrived at the boma and not only was the fence down it was fully broken. For an electric fence that can keep elephant in/ out that's a big deal! The theory of what happened (it was slightly amended during the day but the end result is such...) is that 3 buffalo were fighting. 2 against 1. They got cornered and the only way out was through the fence. We did a search of the area to find any more tracks or evidence (ie. poo). We found some but then decided we should confirm how many were out. The gate to the boma was affected in the escape so we couldn't initially get through but it was now fixed enough that we could - and off we went. We found the herd using the now fixed telemetry and confirmed there were 8 inside - 3 calves, 4 female and a male. We then found a lone male (who we think is now the culprit attacker...) but 2 were still missing. Over the rest of the afternoon (which was an insanely hot day) and the morning today, we were looking for evidence of their location. They had been found last night near Camp2 but we still had to re-find them this morning. We found fresh tracks by about 0930 and then the helo arrived with vet and tranquilisers onboard. The helo flew overhead and the buffalo came charging out of the veld towards the fence to the boma (purposely being herded). When they were near the fence they were darted and they went down. We approached with caution (the most dangerous and agressive animal in Africa isn't to be taken lightly of course). The vet checked the first was ok, we left 2 people to keep it cool and moved on to the second one. The second one was down and we had to first off get it cool so buckets of water were tipped over it and we rubbed it in. It's head had to be kept out of the dirt and then it was onto the heavy work. A net had to be put under it so the bull was moved so it was upside down then the net moved under it, and the bull returned to be ontop of it. It took 15 people to lift it a few metres at a time. (Lift 4 or 5 steps, down) It would have weighed about 800kg at the vet's estimate! We got it under the fence (which due to my arm, I had the job of lifting that up because I couldn't carry the weight of the buffalo with one arm after a few meters.) Once it was in the boma, we removed the net from underneath, the vet did a quick check (it was bleeding due to the dart on it's bum) made sure it was ok then everybody got out and back to their vehicles... at speed. Next we had to be as quiet as possible. The vet reversed the drug and it woke up within a few seconds and ran off into the boma.
Then it was back to the first buffalo. The same process was to occur, only problem was, the tranquilliser was starting to wear off this one. By the time everyone was lifting, it started to regurgitate - the first signs you need to get a move on (apparently). We moved at speed got it under the fence and then got out. This one got it's reversal drugs too but when it got up it did a quick stare back at us before strolling off.
The fences had to be fixed up so we waited for the guys to arrive (just to make sure there were no new break outs...) and we drank most of our water there and then. Not only were we high on adrenalin but it was also a stinker of a day and we'd been in the sun for most of it. But we didn't care - we'd just touched WILD male African Buffalo - you can't get much more dangerous game than that. 
Now, that's a birthday to remember!  

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