Welcome to Karongwe

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Now I get to see what I came to Africa for, the animals. And if the first week is any indication it's not exactly going to be a boring few weeks. First day there's elephants wandering through the back yard, and an awful lot more wandering around the larger backyard that is the reserve.

Guess I should start with an explanation of where I am and what is happening. I left Cape Town and flew to Johannesburg and met up with the rest of the volunteers that I'd be spending the next 5 weeks with. Then it was about 4 and a half hours drive to reach the reserve, starting off through country that looked very much like that around home, with the fields and lots of gum trees. And then we happened to come across a patch of snow - the last thing we expected to find in this area, but there it was. Eventually we reached the Drakensburg mountains and came into the area where we'd be based, about 70km from Tzaneen. We pulled up at the gates of Karongwe and waited for Sophie to arrive and let us in to our home for the next 5 weeks.

Driving through the bush on the dirt tracks gave us our first glimpse of the place and the bush we'd be driving through a lot. After unloading at the farm house and getting a rapid run through of who the staff are, we set up our rooms before it got too dark. Next job was to head out to Pride Rock for a sundowner. Jumping on the back of the ute we drove out to a large rock, and after a quick check for lions, climbed up and settled down on the cushions and started introductions. There was an amazing sunset, a few drinks and a bit of background info about who everyone was. There's 7 new volunteers, plus two returning from the last phase, and the staff. It was definitely a nice way to start the trip.

So what is this place? Karongwe is a private game reserve of about 9000 ha (with plans to expand) which has over 60 species of mammals including the lions, leopards, cheetah, wild dogs, elephants, white rhinocerous and hippotamus. It was established by the coming together of several farms, with subsequent reintroductions of larger animals including elephants, lions, rhinocerous, and wild dogs. In 1999 Karongwe Ecological Research Institute (KERI) was set up to look at the impact of the relocated animals within the small reserve, and Global Vision International (GVI) works with KERI to collect the data that is ultimately used to aid management decisions and to assist other small reserves in understanding their systems. And that is where us volunteers come in. We join GVI and come out to the reserve for 5 or 10 weeks and get to see and be involved in the research first hand, as well as helping it to happen through our contributions.

So over the next five weeks we'll be heading out into the reserve and recording animal sightings both in the morning and the afternoon (with time for a snooze around midday). Several animals have been radio collared, including some of the elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs, and using the telemetry we can locate most of the major predators each day to gain an understanding of their movements, success in kills and also mating information. But aside from the daily work there's time off (for good behaviour) for the odd trip around the area, plus the resupply once a week, although we only get to town on every second one, ie each fortnight. I'll gradually be putting up bits about what has been happening, but I can't promise it'll happen in a rush.
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