Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Story

Sunday morning at 5:15, Erin, Anja, and I met and drove out to where we'd been leaving meat in hopes of luring in Pride so we could exchange her radio collar for one that worked. No sign of her at the site--the meat was still there and no paw prints. We waited for about 30 minutes, walked up and down the road, called for her, drank some coffee, watched the sun rise.

Erin said she wanted to drive the area, so she and Anja sat in the truck cab while I stood in the back of the truck. We all scanned the area as we drove, and I called and called for her

We drove slowly so if she heard us she'd have time to come to the road. At 7:15 I heard the amazing and wonderful three words I'd been waiting to hear. Erin yelled, "There she is!" Sure enough, running to us through the high grass came Pride, followed closely by her two cubs, Merci and Denga.

Erin hit the brakes and bolted from the car. She met Pride halfway, crouched down, and gave her a big hug. Notice the cubs coming in the background. It was an emotional moment.

Then it was cuddle time. Pride jumped into the back of the truck and let us all fuss over her--kiss, hug, pet, and coo to her--and eventually change her collar. Through it all she purred. She seemed as happy as we were to find each other.

Her cubs were born wild, so we don't touch them. They see Pride interact with us but stay a respectable distance, hissing if we get too close. As it should be.


Merci
We spent 90 minutes with them, watching the cubs wrestle and tumble. They explored the truck, eventually both getting in the front seats. Suddenly Merci hissed--she had caught sight of herself in the rearview mirror and thought it was another cheetah!


Denga on roof
It was so wonderful. Pride and both cubs looked fit and healthy. Erin said they looked better than she had ever seen them. It was clear Pride's hunting had been successful lately.

Merci and Denga through the windshield
Finally, we felt we had to leave and take the happy news to everyone back at the lapa and office. As we drove away, all three were lounging alonside the road in the shade. Chapter closed!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Africa Normal

Things are really different in this world, but it's never hard for me to make the transition once I get here. It's just a matter of thinking in the "Africa Normal" mode.

a peacock shows off on the lapa lawn
In the US we are obsessed with safety. Heaven forbid you should drive to the neighborhood convenience store without putting on your safety belt--or ride your bicycle in your driveway without a helmet on. At Harnas, though, you might find yourself standing on the sidebar of a truck, dodging thornbushes as you careen down a bumpy, winding dirt road, holding on for dear life.

Baby caracal Annabel at play
Speciesism is rare at Harnas. For example, yesterday at lunch I shared my waterbottle with Rica, a baby baboon, and later on a bushwalk, Atheno had a drink from it. Never did it occur to me to wipe the bottle opening before I drank. We're all friends here!



A kiss from Atheno
 Dinner conversation usually avoids things like world events and focuses instead on such issues as poaching or the lax laws in South Africa that lead to inbreeding in lions. And oh yes, we talk about the food. Last night Erin commented brilliantly that there was an "overexcitement of condiments" in the food.

BUT

Conversation comes to an immediate halt when the lions roar. Everyone stops, listens, and tries to determine if it is Zion or Macho who has started the symphony. Then we bask in the music. After 2-3 minutes, conversation continues where it left off.


Zion enjoying the morning sun
 Fashion is something very different than you'll find in Paris. Tank tops and shorts rule, and the value of clothes is determined by the experience they exemplify. My favorite shorts have a mended "L"-shaped scar that marks the spot where Martha tore a large hole while play-attacking me on a lion walk. They're a prized possession because of this.

And finally, at any given moment, you can stop, listen, and the odds are pretty good that you'll hear Marieta somewhere on the farm, yelling at a Bushman.

An update on Pride: Erin has stayed two nights in the Lifeline area to try to catch Pride when she comes to get the bait meat. No luck so far. I'm planning on joining her tonight. Hope for the best!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Updates on Old Friends

I thought I'd give updates on some animals that have been around awhile for the readers who have been following Harnas and/or me for some time.

Elsa, the first lion born on Harnas and the oldest living lion here, turned 26 on Christmas Day. Her back legs don't work so great, but she gets around amazingly well with the front. She's living near the main house in an enclosure where we can all keep an eye on her. She's groomed every day, her enclosure is kept spotless, and lots of people talk to her all day. She seems content. In this photo, she is upset with me because I'm sitting too close to her meat. She wasn't interested in eating it, but she sure didn't want me even to look at it. She kept up a steady stream of "talking" to me. After the pictures, I moved away and she settled down. Clearly, she's still a woman with opinions.

Audrey is our blind vervet monkey. She was kept in a dark room as a pet when she was young. When her owner suddenly exposed her to bright light, she went blind. Soon after that she came to Harnas. She is way over 20 years old--impossible to know for sure since we don't know how old she was when she came. Almost all her teeth are gone, but she lives in her little house and eats fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. I take her a peanut each day, but she has trouble cracking it now, so I do it for her and she takes it from my hand. Then we talk awhile.

Next, Juliet is a caracal who was born two years ago about this time. She and her littermate, Romeo, were taken from their mother who had a history of abandoning her babies. They were bottle fed by Willi and Cornelia, some good German friends, but it was determined that they were blind. Romeo was killed by a snake last March, but Juliet is fine. The great news is that the vet did some treatment of Juliet's eyes, and if you look closely at the photo, you'll see that her eyes are clear and focused. She can see--very well, actually. I saw her swing at a low-flying bird. A success story.


Finally, about three years ago, Simba and Macho became parents of a litter of four lion cubs. The smallest--who seemed fragile and who needed special care--was removed from the family and hand raised. She was named Martha. Martha not only grew and thrived, but she quickly gained a reputation of being one of the fiestiest cats at Harnas. I, myself, have several scars from the girl. Now she's all grown up and living in an enclosure with a young male from an earlier litter, called Z. She's quite beautiful, but still shows her temper when her meat isn't delivered fast enough. Some things never change.

If there's an animal you'd like an update on, let me know!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

a deluge

I thought I'd start with this picture to keep you entertained while I tell you today's story--which has nothing to do with the picture. This is Ronnie, usually bouncing around causing general mayhem, but on this day he fell asleep at the lapa bar and looked so angelic. His real personality shielded for a time.

The story today starts yesterday afternoon when Erin decided we should put out some meat in a cage (without a door) near the place we believed Pride was living. Then we should set up a motion detector camera to see if she came to eat the meat with her cubs. The odds weren't very good--jackals, caracals, warthogs could all come and take the meat, too. But it was better than just driving around, hoping to run into her.

So Erin and Anja sat in the front of the truck and Alice and Laurent (a couple from Paris) and I stood in the back of the truck, dodging the branches of camelthorn trees as we drove. About 30 minutes out, nearly to our destination, it began to rain. RAIN. I mean RAIN! We huddled in the back of the truck, but it got harder and harder until we were drowning.

Erin stopped the truck and we all tried to pile into the front of the cab. Five adults trying to fit in the cab of a small truck! It was like clowns at a circus getting into a small car. We pushed and shoved and finally got 4 1/2 of us in. Poor Laurent was only half in, the other half being pelted by the deluge. We began to see that this would not work, so we made a plan to drive about 10 minutes to the dam house for protection. Again, poor Laurent got in the back of the truck and the four women in the front. We wanted to take a picture but none of us could reach our pockets because we were so tightly packed in, and besides, we were not a pretty group.

Finally to the dam house where we fell out and went inside to dry off a bit. It rained for a long time, but we were snug in our house. Volunteers had left the place a mess, so we spent our time cleaning it up and making it presentable for the next group that slept out.

When the rain stopped, we got back into the truck. The temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees, and of course we were still wet, but we gritted our teeth and wrapped damp towels around us to try to stay warm. We set up the trap and the camera and went home to hot showers.

BUT it was all worth it because today Erin went back to the camera and found the meat gone and pictures taken. When she looked at them she saw a beautiful picture of a very healthy Pride and two cubs! Everyone here is ecstatic now. Erin is planning on sleeping out there tonight, putting more meat out, and finally capturing Pride and fitting her with a new, working radio collar. Yea!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

this and that

Christmas at Harnas was low-key and nice, as usual. This is my 4th Christmas here! Christmas Eve the Bushmen children put on a show, singing and dancing. Then Santa showed up and had presents for every child, every volunteer, and every staff member. It was great. Christmas Day the children recreated the Nativity Scene and then we ate all day in between feeding the animals. That was it! Nice and simple.

Some odds and ends you might find interesting: Doing my laundry has become a contact sport--me vs. the ostriche. For some reason, when I hang up my clothes, the ostriche that hangs out near my house comes and pecks at the little clips, the clothes, and my hands. I chased him away several times, but he's persistent. Maybe he thinks there is food there. Who knows? They came up with the term "bird brain" for a reason.


Next, babysitters are very different things here. When Marieta needs someone to watch the baby baboons, she turns to her trusty dogs. Here's Captain giving the youngsters a ride. If you can get the dogs to go where you want, you get the baboons to go there, too.

Finally, we haven't found Pride yet. Today makes a week she's been missing. The day before Christmas, though, Erin and Anja found her tracks and those of her two cubs. They also found a recent kill, showing she's all right, her cubs are okay, and they're eating. That afternoon, I went with them to track her with Bessa, an expert Bushman tracker. We started at 3:00 and tracked until the sun set around 7:30. It was truly amazing to watch this guy track. He saw signs that were invisible to me. Unfortunately, we didn't find her and that night it rained, washing away the tracks. Back to square one, but at least we know that she and her babies are all right.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Pride the Cheetah

I was waiting to write this until I had an ending to the story, but I don't yet and don't know when I will, so here's what's been going on the past six days.

Pride, the star of Harnas, the face of the mission of Harnas, has gone missing. She lives in the lifeline with her two cubs, and Erin, the research person here at Harnas, goes out to find her every day to make sure she's hunting and taking care of her cubs. Pride was the first success story here--hand raised but now living the life of a real cheetah, hunting, bearing cubs, etc. She's one of the two cheetahs that I slept out with, the reason why I have a cheetah paw tattoo on the inside of my right wrist.



Six days ago, I went with Erin out to check on her, but we couldn't find her signal. We saw the 4 wild dogs out there, and the two cheetah brothers--Max and Mauritz--but we couldn't find Pride. We went out again that afternoon and scanned the entire 30 square miles that is the Lifeline area. We went out the next day and the next, driving around with volunteers on the roof of the truck, scanning and calling for her. Day 2 and 3 passed and we suspected that her radio collar had somehow gotten destroyed. We looked for tracks and found some but weren't sure if they were hers. Day 4 and 5 we intensified the search, using all 40 of the volunteers to walk through the bush, looking for her in suspected areas. Some days we were out there for 11 hours, until the sun set and we were forced to give up.

So it's day 6 and we still haven't found her. Erin is very frustrated: Pride is her "baby" and she's worried about the cubs, Merci and Denga. All we can do now is wait and hope she wanders out to the road when she hears the truck. Despite living the wild life now and hunting on her own, she still comes to humans when they arrive, purring and waiting to be petted, so we continue to call for her to come. She's amazing and all of us are worried. I'll keep you up to date.

One other notes on the lighter side: our Christmas tree--not the kind you'll see anywhere else, but very African, is set up by the lapa. All the decorations are like big toys for the baby baboons, and we spend most of our time at meal time chasing them away from the decorations. Most of the ornaments have been converted to "balls" for them to play with, and the tree is a haven for them to sit in. Look carefully in this picture and you'll see one on the branches. Christmas at Harnas!


Saturday, December 22, 2012

the great escape

Just when I think I have nothing to write about in this blog, something happens!

I was walking to the lapa for breakfast this morning, crossed over the bridge that goes over the crocodile enclosure, and--oops--there's a full grown crocodile lying on the grass outside of its enclosure. Just sunning itself in the early morning.

Recently, the edges of the enclosure were moved, and I think the croc wanted to go back to where it had been. Easy to understand, rather shocking to see.

Well, you can imagine the commotion. Everyone gathering around, much figuring about how to get this massive beast (I've always called him Kramer--his friend Newman)  back where he belongs. I have to tell you, African men are very brave. First they tried to lure him along with some meat. He moved a little but it was pretty dangerous since he kept lurching toward the meat--and therefore lurching toward the man doing it, Johan.

Then they went to get a heavy duty strap, used a pole to get it around his gaping mouth--which was like trying to rope a bull at a rodeo. Finally they got it around the top of his jaw and then pulled him along like a resistant puppy. Truly amazing and a fun way to start the day.


On a different note, I got bit yesterday aftenoon by an African wild dog--a pretty fierce predator, even though this one was fairly young. He grabbed my fingers as I was closing a gate and ripped down. It could have been much worse. It's just a couple of gashes and some puncture wounds, although one gash was quite wide and probably could have used stitches. I only bring it up because I realized that with this bite, I've now been bitten by all the major animals at Harnas--lion, leopard, cheetah, baboon, vervet monkey, meerkat, and now wild dog--and I've got the scars to prove it. Quite an accomplishment, I think. :-)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Atheno

Some of you might remember when I was here last year and I fell in love with the cheetah cub, Atheno. He was about 4 months old then, fiesty, cuddly, and wild, depending upon the moment. Here's a picture of him and me then.

Well, he's all grown up now. He hasn't filled out yet--very skinny--but he's tall and lanky. He's staying in a huge enclosure out to the side of where the 3 cheetahs stay, so every day at some point, I walk through their enclosure and go to his.

Yesterday when I came through his gate, I called, "Atheno! Atheno!" and he came running from behind some bushes. I flopped down cross-legged on the ground under a tree, and he walked right up to me, licked my face, and then hung his head over my right shoulder. I just wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a big hug. How magical it is to embrace a cheetah!

Then he started to purr, so I pulled my camera from my pocket, put it right in front of his face, and filmed it. I hope you can hear it.


video

Thursday, December 20, 2012

hard work

The last couple of days I've been anything but a pampered guest. I decided to help out in the creation of two waterholes. Dirty, hard labor, but very rewarding. First we dug the holes--about 6-8 feet across and two feet deep. Then we lined them with stones, fitting them together like a puzzle.

The next day we mixed cement to cover the rocks. There's no better way to do this than getting IN the hole, letting our bare feet squish through the cement, filling every hole around every rock and then smoothing--all with our hands and feet.

Then they dried and we filled them with water--one for the cheetahs near the lapa (their fence had been moved back, excluding their other waterhole) and one for the wild dog puppy next to the cheetah enclosure. I can't remember the last time I got so dirty. I had cement dried between my toes! But it was such a sense of accomplishment. I was so tired the last night I barely remember hitting my pillow. But oh such good sleep that I really felt I earned!


And now, because this probably isn't very exciting for those of you working on things you can actually put on a resume, I'll include this hilarious picture I took of a volunteer named Melissa. In normal life, she's a police detective just outside London, but on this day, she was a visitor to one of the meerkat enclosures. Meerkats love to get as high off the ground as they can. A moment to remember!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Brothers

One of the things I love about coming back to Harnas on a regular basis is being able to watch animals grow up from little babies to juvenile to full adulthood. I've been lucky enough to do it with many animals I've loved--Jakob the baboon (whose tail was cut off by its owner as a baby because she didn't want to cut holes in his diapers), Pride the cheetah (who is a star here at Harnas--raised by hand but now hunting for herself and 2 cubs in the Lifeline area), and the Brothers are just a few of examples.

The Brothers are a group of 3 lions who were born here on Harnas--sons of Macho and Simba. I got to meet them as babies in December of 2008 when they were just a few months old. How adorable they were, tumbling over each other in the grass, stalking anything that moved, and making everyone howl with laughter over their awkward antics. (see pic 1)

I visited again in January of 2010 and stayed for 3 months. They had grown so much were still so gentle. In fact, they became know as gentlmen--never bringing their claws out or jumping people the way their younger siblings from a later litter did. They'd sit and let me pet them, never complaining when over and over I'd be driven to hug them like in this photo. We'd take them for walks, and they always walked along placidly, accepting drinks of water from my water bottle when offered.

Last Christmas when I visited they had been moved to a large enclosure of their own. They were reaching sexual maturity, and with male lions, that is when they can become dangerous. They still came to the fence, though, rubbing their heads on it and making appealing whining noises. It was hard not to jump inside and hug them.

And now--oh now! I saw them today on the outside feeding tour. Their manes are coming in and they are magnificent--full lions who have become kings. They still seem tame, though. Unlike other lions, they don't fight for the meat thrown over the fence. They seem to say to each other, "You take the first piece, my brother!" "No, you go ahead. I got the first one yesterday." "Okay, but only if you're sure." "Please, I insist."

Gentlemen still!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Trouble with Cheetahs

This is a picture of Leuki. He lives in one of the enclosures with two females, Shingala and Jeannie. Well, yesterday a group of volunteers took them for a bushwalk. Usually this goes fine, since the three have been raised by hand and are very tame. They're really wonderful cats. But yesterday, at the end of the walk, they decided to get a little fiesty.

Getting cheetahs OUT of a truck is easy. It's getting them back IN at the end of the walk that can be a little hard. You've heard of herding cats? Well, consider herding 150 pound cats. Yesterday they threw three pieces of meat in the truck and all three jumped in, but before they could close up the truck, Jeannie jumped back out. It was simply too hot to eat, and the meat just wasn't enticing enough.

Johan knew enough about cats to realize that opening the door again to get Jeannie back in would just allow the other two to jump out again. You can see what that would lead to. So they took Leuki and Shingala back to their enclosure and came back for Jeannie.

By the time they got back, Jeannie had discovered her freedom, but eventually Johan got her back in the truck and headed home. As he bumped over the road, though, the tailgate came crashing down as it was held on only one side. (The other is broken.) Like a flash, Jeannie deserted the truck. By this time, the truck had entered the runway area where there are lots of herd animals--springbok, wildebeest, sheep, goats--and her instincts kicked in full force.

Before they could do anything, Jeannie had brought down a sheep and killed it with her powerful jaws. And she didn't want to give it up. They finally had to lift Jeannie and the dead sheep at the same time and put them in the truck. Jeannie, of course, wasn't too happy about this, but to revolt, she'd have to let go of her prey. So in she went.

They couldn't let her keep the sheep though. Apparently, she'd eat just a bit of it, and the rest of the sheep would be wasted, so they had to throw a bucket of water on her to irritate her enough to drop it so they could haul it away.

The sheep went to the slaughter room so it could feed lots of animals, and Jeannie returned to her two friends as Queen of the Hunt. The amazing thing is that although she was raised by hand at Harnas and never had to hunt for herself, she knew exactly what to do and how to do it. One minute she's lying on the ground, being petted while she purrs; the next she's a natural born killer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Harnas magic

At least one friend in my exercise class at home thinks I stay in a tent while I'm in Africa. I hate to dispel that romantic notion, but I actually have a lovely one-room bungalow--called Mowgli.--that has electricity, an indoor bathroom, and lovely African decor. I'll admit it even has an a/c unit--although I won't use it unless it goes over 100 degrees some afternoon. Volunteers definitely rough it, but these days I'm a pampered guest.

My first full day was beautiful. I spent the morning walking with Pickles and visiting old friends, including 3 cheetahs who let me scratch and pet them while they kept up their fabulous purring. Then I met some of the new arrivals at Harnas, but I'll tell you about them at a later date.


After lunch I was heading home from the office to rest duyring the hottest part of the day and suddenly over the bridge came 3 baby baboons. They had been with Marieta on the far side of the bridge where she was overseeing some work. I flopped down on the lawn in the shade of a big tree and they joined me and Pickles, where they used my body as a jungle gym for the next couple of hours. Two other dogs joined us--Brollocks (a black lab--in the picture) and Lexi (a great dane) and the baboons climbed all over them as well. Lexi even wrestled with the male baboon, Ronnie. (Yes a great dane with a baboon. It's Harnas, after all.)

One of Marieta's worker women brought by 3 bottles of formula so I got to feed them, and then the smallest, a female named Rosy, fell asleep on my chest while Ronnie and Rica climbed in the tree.

As I leaned back on my elbows, surrounded by dogs and baboons, I looked across the lawn and saw about a dozen baby ostriches--about the size of turkeys--run awkwardly towards us, only to be driven wildly off course by a baby horse frolicking in the grass.

It was one of those magical Harnas moments when I shake my head and smile, knowing there's nowhere else on earth this could happen--and nowhere else on earth I'd rather be.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

harnas again

No picture today, I'm afraid. The wireless is down at Harnas for several days and so the women in the office have been kind enough to let me use the wired computers. But I can't input pictures from my camera to this computer. Ah, Africa.

I arrived last night (Friday) and promptly realized that I'd left my adapter back in Windhoek at Casa Blanca. Fortunately, I found a volunteer leaving today who sold me hers. So I have power but no internet for awhile. So it goes.

The first creature I had to find--even before any person--was Pickles, my African dog. It didn't take long. I spotted her little white body across the lapa lawn and called to her. There was a pause during which she tried to place my voice, and then the streak of white. She practically knocked me over, despite being all of about 20 pounds.

One problem, though: I had been warned that Pickles had been "adopted" from Marieta by a mechanic here named Conrad, and he might not be too happy with my kidnapping Pickles from him for 3 weeks. I braced myself. When he finally showed up after work to the dinner area, Pickles went wild to see him, and it became clear to me that he adored her and vice versa. My heart melted and we worked out a deal: I would get custody of her during the day when he worked, and he would take her home to sleep each night. It was lonely in bed last night, but we did the right thing, as any parents would: think of the child first.

Last night was heavenly. I spent the evening with about 8 staff members from Harnas--many of whom have been friends of mine for several years, including Marieta (newly nicknamed Mamba). We spent hours eating, drinking, and laughing while I got filled in on Harnas gossip and wild stories. Every once in a while a silence would fall as we stopped to listen to the lions roaring back and forth to each other. It doesn't matter how often you hear it, the rumbling roars of the kings of Harnas fill you with awe and wonder.

I put my head back and closed my eyes and felt so happy to be home in Africa again.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Windhoek

There's something so wonderful and encouraging about flying to the other side of the world, making your way through airports, customs, and immigration, and then walking out into a busy airport and finding a man standing there with your name--YOUR NAME--written on a card. I felt validated. They know me here, I felt. I'm at home (at least one of my homes).

And that's what happened today about 2:30 p.m. Namibian time, after flying from Raleigh (where I went through security) to New York (where I went through security) to Johannesburg (where I went through security TWICE--long story) to Windhoek (pronounced vind-hook). It all took about 24 hours, during which I slept only about 4 hours. But it was worth it to walk out of the airport and shed the last layer of many, leaving me in a tank top but still sweating. Ah, summer!

Things got a little interesting then, though. My transport took me to a guesthouse called Casa Blanca, where they claimed never to have heard of me. A very long story that includes a previous guesthouse  being bought, moved, sold again, and disappeared. It all turned out okay, though, because they found a room for me--a much nicer room than I'm used to for the same price as the old room. Here's the courtyard by my room. I took a swim and then a shower--24 hours of grime gone.

Tonight I dined with the owner, a woman of German descent who came here seeking adventure in 1965, fell in love with Namibia, and stayed, married twice, and had 4 children. I greedily downed my meal while she told me fascinating stories of her life during the past 47 years in an amazingly changing Namibia. Now I feel quite dizzy and tired, the last day and a half catching up to me. Tomorrow (I hope) another transport will pick me up at 9:00 to take me out to Harnas, another 3-4 hours to the Kalahari Desert. I'm ready. Being here again has touched that part deep inside me that says "you're home."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Back to Harnas

Hey Everyone, (If anyone is out there . . . )

I'm heading back to Harnas next Wednesday, arriving in Windhoek Thursday and the sanctuary Friday. I plan on writing the blog when I'm there--at least until the end of the Mayan calendar, and after that if we're all still around. (I hope you're waiting to buy Christmas presents until after the 21st. No need to spend all that time if the end of the world is here. :)

So look for blogs starting mid-to-late week, and I'll see you next on the other side of the world!