September saw the second South African tour by Roehampton University to South Africa with Professor Garry Marvin and Dr Caroline Ross leading their charges of 3rd year anthropological students from both social and biological studies. Andrew Anderson led the tour assisted by Picket Chabwedzeka and Nigel Anderson who were both doing their first tour with African Insight (AI).
Pick-up was at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg followed by a six hour drive to Moholoholo where we stayed for four nights, first in the up-market Ya Mati accommodation, followed by Mountain View’s slightly more basic accommodation. Whilst there we spent time at the Moholoholo Rehab Centre, Khamai Reptile Centre and the Hoedspruit Endangered Wildlife Centre. Unfortunately a visit to the Buffalo Breeding Centre was cancelled due to heavy rains. Brian Jones from the Moholoholo Rehab Centre was an absolute hit with the students, many of whom wished to adopt him as they found his dedication and commitment to conservation exemplary. Close quarter interaction with Cheetah, Wild Dog, Lions, Leopards and a baby Honey Badger, to mention a few, was more than the students had imagined or expected. A very brief encounter with three very wild, recently captured leopards was also offered which raised a major discussion point amongst all present.
Khamai Reptile Centre was also very well received where many of the (braver) students held a python and a huge spider. The displays were very interesting and informative as was the pre and post tour lectures.
From Moholoholo we headed to the Kruger National Park for our first two nights stay at Tamboti Tented camp. Most of the time was occupied with game drives and the first of three early morning walks done. Catering was done by Liz and Henry Venter at the day visitor area which is situated just outside of Orpen Gate meaning that we managed to squeeze in short night-drives. Tamboti’s array of nocturnal animal visitors included Genets, Honey Badgers, scorpions and Bush Babies. Tamboti’s array of diurnal visitors included thieving Vervet Monkeys with ‘butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth’ faces concealing the nimbleness and cunning of a thieving pick-pocket. Any food left outside on the table with you more than a meter from it was stolen, rushed up a tree and consumed with absolute impunity.
Our next stop was Hundzukani Community roughly 12 km from Orpen Gate for a further three nights. This community was moved from the Kruger Park when it became a Reserve and the students wanted to get an impression of the feelings of the community members towards the Reserve. Accommodation was with a number of the local families so that a true feel for ‘life in an African community’ could be experienced. No less than two students were placed per home and in some of the bigger ones four.
On the first night we were welcomed by their local singers who managed to get most of the students to dance with them. Lunch and dinners were had with all students and staff with breakfasts being had at their host-families.
During the day the students wandered around the community interviewing as many people, from as many walks of life, as possible. Visits were also paid to any families or individuals who made crafts such as wooden spoons, bead works, jewellery etc. Another interesting visit was an early morning visit to the cattle dipping. All cattle are dipped every Wednesday morning and all have to be dipped.
Prior to visiting Hundzukani most of the students were excited and dying to get there. After the visit they were depressed and burdened. Life in a rural community is hard IF you were not raised there. To the locals it is what they have been brought up knowing which is very different to our ‘western’ standards and norms.
From the community we returned to the Kruger to Skukuza Camp’s tented accommodation for two nights. On arrival the students managed to get their one and only swim in as the weather had been very unkind. The other two bush walks were done from here with some of the students seeing lions on a kill during the one walk.
Here the biological and social students were separated and given tasks to accomplish, the social students to work within the confines of the camp interviewing visitors and staff and the biological students doing vehicle transects counting Impala and gaining firsthand the complexities of what appeared initially to be a simple task.
Our final night was south at Pretorius Kop. Pretorius Kop is the oldest camp in the Kruger Park and the only one which was open throughout the year when the Kruger Park was initially opened to visitors. The other camps were closed for seven months of the year due to the threat of contracting malaria but Pretorius Kop was deemed to be relatively safe from this threat due to its altitude and location.
All in all it was a great trip with great people and stunning game and birds seen. Only a few people, mostly on my vehicle, didn’t see lions but the rest all saw the big-five. Three different sightings were made on leopards which is unusual as they are normally extremely shy and skulking. To me the final cherry on the top is that a number of the students started getting interested in the bird life – a job well done!
Thank you Garry and Caroline and we from African Insight look forward to hosting you in June 2013.
Guide at African Insight