October 4, 2014

Just another day in the Makuleke Camp


It is getting hot, summer is close
Woke in the wee hours to what sounded like an alarm, presumably someone had set their time a little wrong.  However it was nice to just lay in bed and start to hear the day walking up.
A chorus of hyena calls and whoops, then the faint call of a Three Banded Courser to the eventual frantic morning call of the francolins.
Baboons sound their morning exit ritual, and start their day.  Often dispersing early to come back later in the day and wander around camp.
Wake-up drums is now 5am, with duty team starting much earlier than that in the kitchen, so the nature sounds are then interspersed with the filling of a kettle, cupboards opening and closing, chatter, which is not quite as quiet as what the girls think J
It is already light, and I walk down to the deck to see the huge fireball just rising in the east – another hot day on the way.
It is still quiet in camp, just about everyone has left for morning activity and the ladies are yet to start work.   It is the best time of the day.
A cup of tea, drinks reconciliation and then to work.  The birds are all calling, flitting around.
I have an Ashy Flycatcher nesting in the hinge of the satellite dish – has done this for the past few years, however at the moment, I think he/she is just pretending, as he only comes every few days, perhaps checking that the spot is still all good.  But eventually I will see both of them flying around and then getting serious about having chicks.
I have only once seen a chick emerge and it was a frantic flight to find something safe, a branch on the cucumber bush outside the rear of the kitchen.  I didn’t see the chick again after that, so not sure if it survived or not.
An active weaver nest hangs from the Acacia tortilis above the pathway to the office and staff area, clearly assuming it is a safe spot from predators. 
Impala, Nyala all come and wander around camp – not disturbed by anyone.
The sun slowly creeps up, sunlight filtering through the trees, lighting up the camp
The quiet of the morning only lasts for a short time, with staff commencing their daily duties, radio chatter and eventual return of students for a well earned breakfast.
Afternoons usually bring in lots more impala, nyala, with the impala especially being relatively at ease with people walking around.
This day, I was working in the office and Steve (instructor) walked past and said ‘just so you know, there is a big bull ele down the end of camp’.
I asked if it was Dave and he wasn’t sure.  I then asked if he had one floppy ear and 1 tusk and he confirmed it was in fact ‘Dave’.
I took a stroll down to the study deck and Alan (instructor) was standing with 3 students on the pathway between the Study Deck and Tent 1.  Dave was feeding on bushes close to tent 8, but in the inner circle of camp.
Dave fed for a while and then squeezed himself through a gap and started ambling towards tent 1.
There is a tree that had been previously nudged by ele’s that is now continuing to grow at an angle and effectively hangs over the path.  Just high enough that we don’t hit our heads on, but clearly at a nice height and angle to be used as a great elephant scratching pole.
Dave walked towards it and placed his trunk over the tree trunk and started to rub it up and down, clearly enjoying it immensely.   From there, he then stepped over the lower part of the tree and started to roll backwards and forwards, to rub his underbelly.   Again, you could imagine how good that might have felt.
During this time, the students were still standing with Alan on the pathway.    Dave then started to again, squeeze himself between trees to come closer, but this was the point where Alan got everyone to slowly back-off, towards the study deck steps.    Dave then proceeded to amble to the deck, down the side, to his favourite branches to again start feeding.
Everyone was now up on the study deck, with great views of this giant of an elephant, peacefully feeding less than 2 metres from the study deck.
Eventually, he wandered off, feeding along the way, leaving a trail of broken branches over the pathway and left camp.  Max (new back-up) was left to tidy up the pathway.
Excitement over, I headed back to my office, and within 15 minutes, our other friendly visitor, the Rock Monitor came walking by.  He is a constant in the camp and over the years has grown quite massive.   He often scares students as he enjoys it under the tents and just happens to come out as they are coming down stairs or on the pathways.  We did see 2 in camp for a while, obviously male and female, with the male doing lots of chasing in the nyala tree by the deck, but of late it seems to be just this big fellow.
Late afternoons, with the sun setting, the baboons start to plan their evenings rest, often with a lot of chatter and discipline.   A calmness creeps over camp as the last light fades, campfire is lit, solar lanterns throwing a gentle light over the set dinner tables and study deck.

I retreat to my deck and relax in the cooler air, and catch up on a couple of pages of my book until the drums talk for dinner.
Writer: Dee Lawson
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