Floris Behnke: close-up of a leopard

Leopard and elephant studies at Tuli

After a long journey from Johannesburg airport, we arrived at Tuli around 6pm in total darkness! As there isn’t any electricity we had to find our way around camp with lanterns and torches. I didn’t expect the tents to be as nice as they were, with two beds, sets of drawers and plenty of room to walk around.

The first-night sleeping was difficult, there were so many noises around the tent! Arriving in the dark we had no idea of what surrounded the camp. On waking the following morning the view was amazing, as the camp is set along the banks of the Limpopo River. The noises from the previous night turned out to be baboons that roam freely through the camp and surrounding areas. Facilities at the camp were great, with two bathrooms, a large kitchen, a scullery, leisure and eating area.

No two days are the same, you can be up and out from early as 3am! It’s amazing to be so close to wild animals and worth getting up at all hours in the morning to see them. We saw so many animals whilst out driving through the land, including many antelope species, elephants, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, spring hares etc. along with many different bird, reptile and insect species. It was fantastic to see them all in their natural habitats.

The best sighting was the leopards as we were so close to such beautiful animals. A scary moment was when a huge bull elephant came from nowhere and charged towards our vehicle, we made a very hasty retreat! Stuart our leader had seemingly endless knowledge of all the surroundings and animals and taught us such a lot.

There can be up to eight people at camp and everyone gets to do duties such as preparing meals, washing up and keeping everywhere tidy, which changed at the beginning of every week.

During the day it gets extremely hot but can be very cold at night sometimes down to –2 degrees!

We spent two nights out in the bush, which sounded quite scary but was actually really good fun! The first was at Mamatumi, a lookout over a watering hole, and the second at Elephant Springs. We each in turn had to take shifts to keep watch for any signs of movement close by, whilst keeping the fire going to deter any animals.

Every other day we would go on game counts whereby all the game species, such as kudu, zebra, impala and wildebeest etc. were recorded onto data sheets. Each drive took a different route and could sometimes take hours to complete. Specially prepared data sheets were used to record all information ranging from raptor recordings, mortality records, elephant sightings, weekly rainfall and vegetation monitoring. This information is then typed up onto the laptop and copies are sent away for analysis.

Every Sunday was our day of rest! By this time we were all shattered from the week's events. This was our time to stay around camp and do as we wanted. At some point during the day, the whole group would come together and join in an activity such as craft making, Afrikaan lessons and volleyball matches. Volleyball seemed to become a regular thing whenever we had any spare time to play.

Once a week we would go to Polokwane, the local town in South Africa. This was a four-hour drive there and back, crossing the border to change countries along the way. It gave us an opportunity to buy anything we needed including food and souvenirs. One of the main reasons for going into town was to pick up new students coming to stay at Tuli and also to drop off those who were returning home.

During my third week, I took a trackers test. This involved studying animal tracks, prints from a book, identifying them on the ground out in the bush and answering questions about them. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be as there were so many different prints to learn! But everyone managed to pass it before they returned home. Passing the test meant that you gained the position of tracker on the front of the vehicle. This was fantastic and gave me the opportunity to spot animals before anybody else and to use the spotlight when out on night drives.

I had an absolutely fantastic time at Tuli and was really sad to be leaving as I met so many new people and was really welcomed into the camp as soon as I arrived. Once I arrived home I had my photos developed straight away and they were amazing. They are a constant reminder of the best experience I have ever had and I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone, as Africa is such an amazing place.

A special thank you to Stuart Quinn and Annelien at Tuli for providing a truly fantastic experience and African Conservation Experience for such excellent organisation of the trip.

Steph Taylor