““All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Harnas Week Four
Days 184 – 190 – Harnas Wildlife Foundation, Harnas, Namibia
It’s been both a fantastic and heart-breaking week. I was able to stay on the Research project this week, and we had some amazing moments. While tracking the two released male handraised cheetahs, Max & Mauritz, we came across them on a kill! They had taken down a teenaged wildebeest, and were so fat they could barely move! Erin talked us through the kill, explaining how the cheetahs eat their prey, and how to tell what was what. Surprisingly, it wasn’t gross, just incredibly interesting! Then the next day, the Team got to spend the night at the Dam House station inside the Lifeline. It was so cool to be just a small group,outside the farm, watching the sun set over the waterhole, and just really feeling like we were in Africa. In the morning, as we planned to go find Max & Mauritz, we spotted them only a few hundred meters from Dam House, on another kill! God knows where they found the room (or the energy!) for another meal, but they did. It was just such an incredible experience to be able to see that up close.
But we also had to experience the flip side of allowing animals to live as nature intended. Over the weekend, we had found Pride, but not seen the boy cub. That’s not unusual, as Pride hides them awaysometimes, but after not seeing him a second day, Erin was worried. The next morning, we took the bushman with us to search for him, and within minutes of finding Pride, we found the baby. He was lying about 15 feet away, and was already cold. There were no marks on him though, so we aren’t sure what happened to him. We won’t know until there is an autopsy, later this week. But it was a horribly sad time, and we were all in tears. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more heart wrenching then when Pride licked her cub one last time before we took him into the car. Hideous hideous moment. RIP Beaucoup.
With that happening, they aren’t sure what the plan is for Merci. She’s been brought back to Harnas, and a few of us are spending a little time with her just to socialise her a bit, but trying to keep her wild. So, not touching her or invading her space. She’s very scared of humans, poor thing.
There were some other good times this week- I got to spend some more time with my lovely baby leuws (baby lions). They are just so amazing, you really can read each one, and what they are thinking. I just sat at the fence, with them four inches away, just totally relaxed. They truly are big kitties. My babies!
And another week, another rowdy Lapa night! This week was quite hard as we had to say goodbye to a really a really great group, most that had been with us since the beginning. Malin & Gerhard, two simply amazing people who will make us travel to the frozen north to visit them (we want wedding invites!), Victoria & Petter, who brought all the Vodka in Norway with them, Felix, our German pretty boy with great taste in music, and Ben, our Mr Singapore, transplanted to UCLA.
Goods and Bads, Highs and Lows, but I wouldn’t trade in a minute of it…
Harnas Week Three
Days 177 to 183 – Harnas Wildlife Foundation, Harnas, Namibia
And another week gone by!
This week, I’ve started on the Research Team, helping Erin Rainey & Juanita De Villers with their Lifeline projects. I knew Erin when she was originally here as a volunteer so it’s great to see how she has helped move Harnas forward. The Research itself is really interesting, as we go into the release site and use a telemetry device to track and find the released cheetahs and African wild dogs. We see how they are doing, if they are hunting or if they have fed, if possible, what they have fed on and how big it was, if they look healthy, and how they are interacting with each other and with us.
When I was last here, they had just started putting Pride, a handraised female cheetah, into the Lifeline for day releases, and she had just started teaching herself to hunt. Now, it’s fantastic to know that for two years she has been out there full time and living life in the wild without human help. Even more amazing news is that she has had two cubs with a wild male cheetah, and is raising them herself. The little girl cub, Merci, broke her leg before we arrived, but has had treatment in Gobabis, and is due back any day now. We’ve seen the male cub, Beaucoup, regularly, but he’s not accustomed to humans, and doesn’t come close. Still, very cool to see them! The other good thing is that we get to help start the release programme with Atheno, the male teenage cheetah, by taking him for short outings into the Lifeline, getting him used to seeing game and being out in the bush. He won’t go out for day or overnight releases until the end of the year when he is older.
The other big thing is that Pattrik, the current manager of Harnas@Namib has been on the farm for the week, and so we’ve been able to take the leopards out for walks. They are almost too big to handle anymore, and it’s a bit nervewracking, as leopards are so unpredictable. But they are stunning creatures, and Dolce, who we walked with is really curious and playful. You have to keep on your toes! Great moment of the day was when I offered her some water from my bottle and she drank the whole thing from my hand. Very sweet!
He also loves the lions, and agreed to take me and some others to go see the ‘babies’. Wow, I just love spending time with them. They are so big but you can still see the personalities they had hen they were small. I’m not sure if they remember me or not, but they still let me rub their heads through the fence, and they also drank from my bottle. I’m pretty nostalgic for their baby years, when I could lay on their back as we all took a mid-afternoon nap.
Oh, we have a new friend! It’s been very cold this week, so we have let one of the Harnas cats sleep with us. Her name is Zoe and she’s the polar opposite of our cat at home, Jeff. Pure white, very cuddly and loves to sleep on the bed or under the covers. Such a sweetie, I’d love to take her home!
Every Wednesday, just before people leave on Thursday, we have a night at the Lapa restaurant to say goodbye. This time it was Ben’s birthday, and we all had to sing him Happy Birthday in different languages. Everyone else’s is so much better than ours!! The Norwegian birthday song is amazing, and so in honour of Ben, we learned it phonetically and danced with them! I’m determined to bring it back to the UK or US!
Once again we had some great people leave us. Big hugs to Marianne (super fierce at Fetchball, don’t cross her!), the great Germans Bjorn/Michelle/Manuel/Simona/Daniel, the crazy Belgian girls, and super nice Josh (USA, USA!! And thanks for the burgers!)
Only one big low this week. I went horseback riding and the horses went crazy! We planned to trot them, and mine immediately went to a canter and then a flat out gallop. Nothing worked to stop him, and finally I lost my stirrups and eventually went off. Luckily, I was prepared and fell well, so I didn’t get hurt, just a scraped ankle. Could have been much worse. A friend of ours Gerhard, also went off at the same time, and he’s ok but sore as well. Never thought I would have to worry about the domestic animals here!
Harnas Week Two
Days 170 to 176 – Harnas Wildlife Foundation, Harnas, Namibia
Time flies so fast here! Our first week, which is mainly training and learning the ropes (or for me, seeing what has changed) is over and now we are the ‘oldies’, with a new group of ‘newbies that have come in. Both Jon and I have been chosen as team leaders, so we now have to decide who on our teams gets which activities each day. It’s good, but tough, trying to please everyone!
When I was here before, it was all about the lions, but as they are in Phase 2, and we can’t see them very often, I’ve tried to make friends with the teenage baboons. Nearly every day, I’ll sit outside their enclosure, and give them fruit (bribes) or groom them through the fence. They are so clever it’s scary, and then KNOW when you have food for them, even if it’s hidden! We’re also lucky, as there are so many volunteers, they overbooked the cabins, and we’ve been moved to the staff quarters on the farm itself, so we are right outside the baboons enclosure and can sit with them whenever we have a spare minute. While I’m still not sure of them, as they are very strong, and have sharp teeth, it is an amazing experience to have them offer you their hand to hold, or give you their chest to groom, which is a symbol of trust.
I did have one very close encounter with them that wasn’t quite what I expected though. You are told in advance that you must leave all accessories (glasses, earrings, etc) outside as the baboons will steal them, and you shouldn’t wear strappy tops either. I was wearing one when I was unexpectedly asked to go in to help feed them. Not thinking too much about it, I went in. OOPS!! About three minutes later, I was surrounded by baboons, who had lots of fun ripping the straps off my top and leaving me standing there in my bra! Lucky for me, they didn’t get that too, and trust me they tried! Apart from one bite, I was fine, and luckily had a jumper to cover myself up! LOL!!
Other highlights – having the meerkats use my head as a lookout point, getting a cheetah bath from Atheno, Jon taking the baboons for a walk (ie they ride on his head!), cleaning out the cheetah enclosure and having a sunset sit down with four cheetahs.
Also, the people here are a really good group, and both those that arrived with us and the ones who were here when we came are really good fun! I have to give a special shoutout to the few that did leave us this week – Talia and Stuart from Australia, who proved that Aussies know their campfires, Sonja, showing that age NEVER matters, only spirit does, Maiken/Veronica/Christine for showing us how it’s done (Detroit!!), and Isabella, Helton & Bruna for proving you have to watch out for the quiet ones (Where is the Alcohol?)!
Only a few lows to speak of – I managed to get lots of deep scratches from a ornery Vervet monkey. I should have remembered that from last time, they are pissy little things!
Til next week!
Harnas Week One
Days 163 to 169 – Harnas Wildlife Foundation, Harnas, Namibia
Yay, we do have internet here at Harnas but we don’t have much time to write so I’m going to try and update as often as I can rather than every day. For those that don’t know Harnas is an African animal sanctuary located in the bushveld near the Namibian border with Botswana. They take in orphaned, abused, illegally trafficked and captured wild animals, and if possible, attempt to release them into a safe environment. They have two current release sites with 26,000 and 8,000 hectares respectively. However, many of the animals are too small, or too injured to stay in the wild, and those we volunteers take care by hand, as well as helping with the feeding of the rehabilitating wild animals. The majority of the animals here are Big Cats –Lion, Leopard, & Cheetah, but they also have a large Baboon and African Wild Dog population, as well as a score of smaller species. As some of you know, this is my third time coming here and I also have helped start a UK charity to raise money for the foundation. I’m very happy to be back and to have been able to include it in our Africa trip. It’s Jon’s first time here so I’ve been looking forward to introducing him to this great place.
This first week has been fantastic! After arriving and getting shown round both the main area and the volunteer village (where we have our cabins and eating ‘lapa’), we and the other 21 new volunteers introduced ourselves and were set into groups; Jon in Crocs and me in Hound Dogs. The groups are each responsible for the feeding and enclosure cleaning of certain animals. Jon’s group has the Four Cheetahs, the teenage Cheetah, Atheno, & the Bat Eared Foxes, and I’ve got the Three Leopards (Dolce, Gabana and Matsumi) , three teenage Baboons (Elvis, Lloydie and Yanni) as well as the most fun animals to feed, the Mongeese.
Days here are split into morning and evening activities, with the most important being Food Prep – like it says on the tin, it’s getting the animals food ready. We are given sections of donkey that we have to cut up for the various animals – from bite sized chunks for the meerkats and mongeese to whole pieces for the leopards and hyena. The baboons get something called millepap, a mixture of fruits and grains mashed together into a greasy mush. It sounds gross, but after a few minutes you get used to it, and hey, the animals have to eat! After all the food is ready we head to the enclosures, and go in to feed. Anyone not on food prep gets given other things to do: Farm work – cleaning out waterholes, building or fixing enclosures, removing old bones and poo from the big animals areas, etc; Walks – taking the cheetahs, caracals, baboons or leopards into the open bushveld to let them experience new smells and environments, work on their natural hunting and hiding skills, and give them more room to play; Interactions – playing with them inside their enclosures (for the babies or those not able to go into the bush) & Research – helping the permanent research team on their biologing science & observation in the Lifeline release site. Then it’s similar in the afternoon. In your spare time you can go into the enclosures and interact with the animals to bond with them and learn about their behaviour.
We also sometimes help with the feeding of the Phase 2 animals – those too big to be handled and those who were brought to Harnas wild, and are awaiting release. Those don’t get any hands on human contact, purely once a day feeding over the fence. But it’s amazing to see them, the fully grown lions are gorgeous! When I was here in 2009 and 2010, some of them were babies, small enough to be fed from a bottle, and now they are 150 kg! But lions are definitely my favourite, they are so easy to read and in many ways are just like overgrown housecats, intelligent and loving.
More next week!