Scientific Stories from Sabi Sands

Most of African Safari Consultant’s clients get to see and experience the Sabi Sands Wildtuin (Sabi Sand Game Reserve) as one of the most amazing natural wonders they have ever perceived. With its lush, bushy vegetation, the incredible amount of wildlife, and the probability of actually running into these animals within their natural habitat, the reserve has gained itself a truly unique status. The reserve is part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area and it shares a 50 km unfenced border with the Kruger National Park, allowing the animals to move freely between the reserves.

As part of my MSc. Forest and Nature Conservation at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) I had the chance to travel south and join forces with Dr. Mike Peel and the rest of the scientific team of the Agricultural Research Council’s Animal Production Institute. Together with them, I visited the Sabie Sand Wildtuin on several occasions and came across many of the amazing people that make this reserve such a rare treat. The small experience that I want to share with you describes a day of working in the bush:

“Winter has kicked in in the reserve, and last night was very cold; but with the golden flames of our braai (BBQ), and with the spicy coffees from one of our colleagues, we managed to overcome the chill. As most bush-evenings, this particular one ended quite early because duty would be calling at 5 in the morning. When I first heard my alarm, I basically thought that it had to be a mistake as it was in the midst of the night. It was cold and dark and the crisp morning air was full with the famous African smells that most of you are familiar with. After boiling some water above our little “veld-stove”, I quickly prepared a coffee and got out to the edge of the little hill on which we were staying. Here, with a coffee, I enjoyed the early African morning to the fullest. As some impalas were gently making their way over the plains in front of me, and warthogs were frolicking happily, the huge red sun appeared on the horizon just over the Sabie river system. Although the world was at peace and the coffee even better, duty called and we headed out to measure grass production throughout the reserve.

Our campsite braai.

While driving around in our “bakkie” in search of our first plot for the day, we stumbled upon a huge breeding-herd of elephants that were not planning to move because of two scientists. So we had to stay and we got to observe the elephants and their amazing way of communicating and the social interaction within the herd. It did not take long for the elephants to move though, and so we continued on our way. At the first plot, I got out the gear and started walking around in the veld, which at that stage was smoking because of the evaporating dew – the African bush was once again getting ready for a hot day. I finished the plot and climbed on the back tire of the car to get a quick overview of the area. On one of the grassy plains up ahead, a huge herd of Cape buffalo were grazing in the morning sun.

The elephants continued at their own pace.

When we were finished, I got the gear back in the car and as we fired up the engine, a two year old male leopard appeared from the bush and continued his way on the tracks as if we weren’t there. After this thrill (I really love leopards) we continued but just before getting to our next stop, we saw some movement up ahead. A pride of lions was sitting in the plot and it was obvious that they had spotted something in the bush. Three old Kudu bulls did not see the lions approach and continued browsing as their chances of making it out alive of this tricky situation slimmed by the second. When the actual chase finally started, we only got to see the beginning as they moved off into thick bush in the blink of an eye.

After deciding that it might be better to leave this plot for the next morning, we made our way to a new camp with new conservationists, new scientists, new thrilling bush-stories and a new braai. The sun went down in all its splendour and as the birdlife fell quiet after surviving another day in the African bush. The calls of Hyena and Nightjars took over to rule the African night once again. Under the bright moon, a number of scientists were happily sitting around the fire, sharing their bush stories with one another and above all, recognising the fact that their lives in the bush are a true privilege. Let us hope that these, and all other scientists and conservationists, can play a vital role in protecting our natural heritage in Africa and all around the world.”

The sun setting on the Sabie Sands bush.

Guest Post

Written By: Jordi van Oort

Photographs By: Jordi van Oort

Secretary Bird.
The plains were always full of game.

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