Anthropology: the study of humankind in all its aspects, especially human culture or human development. It differs from sociology in taking a more historical and comparative approach.
How is this opening statement relevant? As far as Roehampton University is concerned this statement is very relevant as the group consisted of both Social Anthropologists and Zoological/biological Anthropologists. An interesting mix as the socials and the bios’ have very different interests so we constantly run the risk of boring ½ the group at any given time. Mostly the students appeared to enjoy delving, albeit superficially, into the others areas of study.
Roehampton University is unquestionably one of my favourite groups to lead which Picket and I, with Stuarts help in the Kruger, led between 28 June and 10 July 2013. Due to British Airways missing a member of their crew they departed late from the UK which resulted in us only leaving O R Tambo after 12pm. Departing this late resulted in us arriving at Mt View in the dark, missing the spectacular views at Strydom Tunnel and missing out on lunch at Harries Pancakes.
Day two was spent at Moholoholo Rehab Centre which the students always enjoy but where they always pick up on issues that they didn’t enjoy and felt should not have been included. This year’s ‘didn’t enjoy factor’ was the showing of a wild leopard. Many felt that the leopard was unduly stressed and the students couldn’t justify the value of seeing it compared to the amount of stress that the animal was subjected to.
Thesaurus gives this description as to what Rehabilitation is. Rehabilitation: to help somebody (something) to return to good health or a normal life by providing training or therapy. Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre, as it calls itself, always falls short on the rehabilitation part of their name in the students’ eyes. An animal that is to be rehabilitated and released should never come into contact with anyone, including its handlers, let alone a large group of inquisitive students.
Khamai Reptile Park was up to its usually high standards with Donald Strydom doing the lecture and most of the tour. His unbridled passion for reptiles and the Centre always captures the students interests and attention.
Our next port-of-call was the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. This Centre is always unpredictable as far as student feelings are concerned, some love it and others don’t. These feelings are directly proportionate to the amount of info and the willingness of the guides to share this information. Unfortunately a common thread with all groups is the inconsistency of information regarding what happens to the young that are bred at the Centre.
A project that we don’t normally visit which Garry and Caroline requested was to the Buffalo Breeding Project. It was also my first visit which, from a photography perspective, was very disappointing as all the animals have huge, bright plastic ear tags. Besides the photo opportunities it was very interesting and Picket, who showed us around, did an excellent job.
On day five we bid farewell to the Hoedspruit area and headed off to the Kruger National Park. In keeping with tradition we arrived early at Timbavati Safaris Lodge only to find that one of the open vehicles that we were due to use had a faulty immobilizer which when activated set off a constant stream of deafening hooter blasts. Not something that one wants when approaching dangerous game. Kylie resolved the problem by hiring another vehicle from a nearby lodge and off to Kruger we went. The first day is always very tiring as entering the park mid way and travelling to the south west is a full day’s travel. It is a ‘game drive’ but a rushed one allowing only for brief stops at the more ‘interesting’ sightings such as leopards and elephants. We managed to slip in three stops along the way and arrived at Pretoriuskop at 16:45, tired and ready for a shower and excellent dinner prepared by Liz and Henry Venter. Unfortunately another challenge awaited us – how to get 29 people into 28 beds? Being school holidays the camp was full so no other guest accommodation was available. Thankfully Henry works in the Kruger and managed to get us an Honorary Rangers tent which Garry gracefully claimed as his own. Picket, Stuart and I quickly made the bed, fixed the light and did minor housekeeping. The tent almost became the demise of Garry, firstly by almost freezing him to death and secondly by tripping him with a full cup of boiling water, hurting his knees and hands quite badly.
After this all ran pretty smoothly for the second day and night.
Hundzukani was our next venue for three nights. Hundzukani (meaning remember) is a community that was displaced when the Kruger was formed and is located very close to the Paul Kruger gate. This part of the trip is more relevant to the social anthropologists but by all accounts all the students enjoyed the experience except for the ablution facilities. Students are hosted by community members where they sleep and have breakfast, lunch and dinner is a combined affair at the central house where the lecturers and guides were housed. The students were shown around the community by four local guides where they had the opportunity to speak to community members to try and gauge their feelings towards the Kruger, and I’m sure a lot more in-depth research than just mentioned.
Roehampton always raises funds to assist the local school and this year their money was used to purchase building materials to complete one of the school blocks.
For two evenings the local choir entertained the students and managed to entice them to join in the dancing and attempted to teach them some local songs. The local choir director is an interesting character and kept us all amused as he put the students through many testing exercises.
On the Sunday we had an early breakfast, packed the trailer and headed back to the Kruger for three lectures at the Game Capture Auditorium. Solly Themba gave the first on his work with the community as the liaison between the Park and the local communities. Solly was followed by Dr Danny Govender who spoke on diseases in the Kruger Park and how they manage them and the final lecture was by Izac Smit on the water management in the Kruger Park. Historically management had built many watering holes throughout the Park thinking that it was a good idea to supply water points in the drier areas. This, they have now discovered, was not a good initiative as it causes an imbalance with the animals, particularly predators that were moving into areas that they never previously used, feeding on the rarer or more endangered species that are adapted to the drier areas. These artificial watering holes were also prime disease spreading spots. The Kruger has now closed a large number of these watering holes.
A leisurely lunch followed before heading back to Pretoriuskop where we stayed for the last three nights. On the Monday morning the Biological Anthropologists with Picket and I conducted transects to give the students a feel as to what the difficulties are when doing them. Stuart and Garry headed back to Skukuza to meet with the shop manager and to do what Social Anthropologists do. Our drive was very interesting as we started off in the mist. Our first sighting was of six huge buffalo bulls sleeping adjacent to the road. Lots of general game was recorded with the best sighting being two hyenas strolling down the road in the mist, stopping briefly next to the vehicle to peer at us.
After breakfast we decided that a dedicated birding drive would be in order as many of the students were very interested in birds. Most groups aren’t really interested in birding so for me it was a huge bonus and, as usual, we saw a lot more animals as when stopping for birds you often come across other wildlife. This proved true when we stopped for a Pied Kingfisher and Caroline spotted a Honey Badger snuffling in the under growth. Picket who had taken the other students to look for general game was very close to us and also managed to see the badger. Another sighting worth mentioning was of a young teenaged elephant who took an exception to us being near him, trumpeting, flapping his ears and crashing wildly through the scrub in an attempt to scare us away.
Two more transects were done on the following days followed by general game drives. Stuart and Picket decided that a trip to the Kruger without seeing lions was unacceptable so off they tore in two separate directions. My group, furtively looking for lions, decided that a trip up the Napi Road to Transport Dam would be a good way to end off. Nearing Transport Dam we were told that there was a leopard just past the turn off. What an amazing sighting this was as there weren’t too many vehicles and the leopard was lazing on a thick branch of a Marula Tree, high up so other vehicles didn’t restrict the view. Many photos later we left for Transport Dam where we saw hippos, a number of birds and a very grumpy Mercedes driver who someone had just reversed into. Back on the Napi Road heading for camp we came across another sighting of a leopard that was trying unsuccessfully to hunt a large warthog. (This trip was unquestionably the trip for leopards).
After our last dinner we held a quiz to see if the students had in-fact learned anything during the trip. Thankfully they had and the quiz went very well with Caroline acting as Quiz Master.
The final day had arrived so back to Johannesburg we went, travelling via Schoemanskloof as per Garry’s directives as the one coffee shop on the pass sells the best Espresso in South Africa, or used to. Unfortunately he was not impressed by the Espresso! Sorry Garry but it couldn’t have been too bad having two cups?
It was a great, hassle free trip, and credit must go to Garry and Caroline for their continued support and excellent organisation abilities. Thanks to you both.