Photograph of a leopard

Casey's diary at Shimongwe

Monday, May 19, 2008

On my second day I was told to be ready at 5:45 because a buffalo needed to be moved to another farm where the farmer was interested in introducing new blood into his herd. 5:45! I was in bed by 9:30 on Tuesday night. This turned out to be one of the most exciting days of my life. Upon arriving at the farm, Neil went up in the helicopter and darted the buffalo from the air. On the ground, we were receiving directions as to where the animal was going to fall and we quickly rushed to the scene. When we arrived, the buffalo was blindfolded and we all helped Neil collect blood. Then Neil says, “Who wants to give the injections?” Injections? “I want to give the injections!” And so I gave a buffalo two different injections that vaccinated him for about 8 different diseases. Let’s just say I was quite the happy camper for the rest of the day. About 10 men then moved the buffalo behind the trailer, which was only in the bush and at that point 6 men had started clearing a path right after the buffalo fell. Neil gave it the antidote and as it started to wake they helped it stand up and pushed it into the trailer. As I discovered that day and on Saturday, I need to start lifting weights because my strength has become a little bit of a brick wall when dealing with extremely large animals. After we transported it to another farm and were given a tasty lunch we headed out to another farm in search of a rhino.

Unfortunately, the small cow, 3 years old, couldn’t be located. Its mother had died 4 days early from unknown causes so the owner, who had 11 other rhinos wandering the farm, decided to sell the baby. We went to post mortem the mother but it was so bloated by this point that nothing could be done. Because of its position, they thought perhaps it had died calving, but Neil stuck his hand inside and there was nothing. That was the most putrid odour I have smelled.

Monday, June 2, 2008

So many first lines I could start with…

Last Wednesday I was given the following options:

  • Go on a mass game capture in a helicopter
  • Help release a wild leopard

So, I picked the leopard, but it occurred to me, “Who gets these options?” In the end, I didn’t even have to worry about making the right choice — when I returned to my flat after the leopard release, Neil called me and told me I could go on mass game capture the very next day! I am so blessed to be here and pinch myself every day, wondering if I really am going to wake up.

The wild leopard release was definitely one of the coolest activities thus far (but then everything the past week has seemed like that). The leopard, who had been caught on a farm by a game farmer, was being released in a reserve (with a 5-star lodge and lots of tourists… really a good idea?) with a new radio collar. We arrived at the reserve at 3 but ended up waiting for two hours for the owner to show up, which was extremely frustrating because it gets dark at 6 and there was a storm threatening. When he finally did get there it started storming right over our heads. Angela injected him with a tranquillizer through the cage (so brave, he was ferocious and they were lightning fast). I helped her collect blood samples while Steven helped Luke (the cheetah guy, more about him another day) measure the leopard. I think our favourite part of the day was weighing him. Angela was standing on this really-for-a-bathroom scale and asked for someone to hand her the leopard. Here Steven and I were, amidst professional game rangers, just looking at each other because no one was moving. So we said, ok, we’ll do it, and picked it up. Maybe not exciting for some, but I was pretty thrilled that I was lifting a wild leopard in the middle of a thunderstorm. We ended up having to leave the leopard under a blanket because it was so cold. The game reserve manager left a dead warthog for when it woke up, but as Angela said, who comes out of anaesthesia craving pork?

The next day was my first helicopter ride! I went with Herard to capture kudo and waterbuck and met the nicest people, who fed me delicious meat and invited me to come visit their own farms. SA people are really nice. Herard uses the helicopter to scare the antelope into a fenced-off area and eventually into a truck. Once there, I ran around with Ted making sure the antelope went in the truck and stood for a while on top watching the guys get them into their compartments. Lots of fun.

Saturday, June 2, 2008

Saturday, after watching Neil’s niece dance at the church bazaar we went out for a sable dystocia, which turned into a c-section in the middle of the bush. Neil is incredible at what he does. This particular sable cow took two darts before she actually went down — I think she knew she had a calf to protect. He quickly opened her up and he, Steven and the farmer pulled out the calf, who was fortunately still alive. After pulling her out, Neil says to me, hold this, and hands me the uterus. I literally held the uterus in my hands while he attended to the calf and he sewed it up. If only I had gotten a picture. Unfortunately, I don’t often get pictures of the cool things I do. But when you are holding an antelope uterus in your hands, how do you get a picture?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What I love about SA…

I love South Africa for the following reasons that are not in any particular order:

The bushveld. There is something about it that is inexplicably captivating. You never what is just around the next thorny tree.

The people. They are so genuinely kind. I can’t tell you how many people invited me in their homes and offered me coffee, places to stay, and game drives.

The friends I made. Faye, Kate, Kathryn, Bizzie, Stephen, and Lisa from my program were all wonderful people that I know I will keep in contact with. Faye and Kate’s love for life and lack of sleep made my stay 100 times better than I could have ever imagined. And gosh could they make me laugh. Why do all but Stephen have to live in England??

Niel. What I love about Niel is, well, everything! He’s an incredible vet, he’s funny, he loves his wife and family, he’s got awesome aim with that dart gun, he’s ambitious… he’s exactly the kind of vet I would want to be one day. Ha, and you know why Niel became a vet? Because his friend said he was applying Niel thought, well if he can do it, why can’t I?

Angela! She is also an amazing vet and a woman! A really strong woman, with a big heart that handles adversity very well. She taught me a lot and put up with all of my annoying questions and chit-chat. I miss sitting on the box of paper next to her desk, eating chocolate, drinking coffee and discussing either vet medicine or Ellisras gossip.

The Axel and Kriel Families. They are my South African family.

The wildlife – no explanation necessary.

Antelope. I had no idea there were so many different species all so beautiful.

The game industry. I didn’t even know it existed before I arrived and now have a new dream to own my own game farm one day - a dream I share with most South Africans.

Africa time. It allows you to really enjoy the moment because if you are late, who cares? Everyone else is.

I fell in love with South Africa. Before I left, I was warned that your first trip to Africa is never your last unless of course you never leave…

A good portion of my time was spent waiting: waiting to be picked up from the supermarket, waiting for the rhino’s new owners, waiting to find the buffalo, waiting for a sable to be darted, waiting for that sable to fall, waiting for anyone to come into the clinic… but I now love waiting. You can do so much thinking while you are waiting. You can think about how you’ve changed for better or for worse and what kind of person you want to be in the future. You can sit in the bushveld and compare all of the different thorny trees, and search for hornbills, rollers, and kingfishers. And in my case, you can also try and figure out how to stay in South Africa! Either way, I will be back in South Africa sometime soon. I have to, it stole my heart. The conclusion is just the beginning.