Barbara Merolli: close-up of a cheetah

Moloko, ACE's sponsored volunteer, shares her diary entries from Zingela

Day 1 (6th July 2010)

I do not know where to start but allow me to acknowledge this opportunity that I am given. Today is the day to remember as I started with the placement. The day of my arrival here at Zingela. It did not start really well as I was very nervous, but as the night went on I became very comfortable and this will make my placement much. I surely cannot wait for tomorrow. The other thing is that the people I met today are really really awesome!

Day 2 (7th July 2010)

Today I really really had an awesome day. We went for the fence check with Franziska. We then went to set up cages to trap the brown hyenas… The traps were set at different spots were the hyenas had grouped themselves and there are about 5 cages of which 3 are remaining and 2 have already been transported with trapped brown hyenas and we are hoping to get others too. The main reason to trap them is that they are too many and because there are no bigger predators on the farm, they feel they own the farm thus they kill too many other animals, so we are basically trying to make a balance. Now this was great – like really, I enjoyed every moment of today, we even fixed the fence as we had the electrical faults, and we also covered the holes that were dug by the predators by the fence. One of the most important things is that I appreciate every individual I am surrounded by, they are indeed the greatest people. I wish I was gonna be here forever because I have seriously fallen in love with this project.

Fence patrols are a regular part of life for Moloko and other Zingela volunteers. The predator proof electric fence around the 10,000 hectare reserve is key to creating a sanctuary for the cheetah, as it prevents them from hunting on the surrounding game farms where the farm owners would shoot them on sight. At the same time, the reserve is big enough for the cheetah to live and hunt naturally. As the fence is many kilometres long, it gets checked in segments for electrical faults, interference or holes dug by other animals. While “fence checks” doesn’t sound too exciting, they are also an opportunity to patrol the reserve, observe wildlife and spot any other problems, as Moloko has found out:

Day 3 (8th July 2010)

Today we did the fence check again and we discovered that our giraffe has jumped the fence to the neighbouring farm. What happened to the giraffe as, Anthony thinks, is that it might have been scared of an aeroplane sound that flew so close and he could hear the sound too at the house. That was on Monday or Tuesday night. It looked so sad, poor thing. We also managed to trap a brown hyena, now that was awesome!

Day 4 (9th July 2010)

“Well today we fed the roans at the camp, and it was great watching them eat. One only gets only 0.5% of doing that especially here in South Africa, and considering the fact that they are rare, it makes it even greater. We then went to check the remaining 3 cages (for the hyenas) but unfortunately we got not none but me and my team believe that tomorrow we surely gonna get something. Yummy Yummy…. We then did the cheetah tracking and it took us less that 30 minutes to track them and find them. In such a less time we managed to see Rebecca the cheetah. She was so so lovely. I was close to her but couldn’t touch her as she wanted to take a nap, but she never even gave us a scary look. It was so nice watching. Everyday I fall in love more and more with this project and I will definitely do this for a living.” Rebecca is one of the collared cheetah in the reserve. Zingela volunteers pick up the radio signal from her collar and then drive to the approximate location, before proceeding on foot until they get a sighting. How close volunteers get to Rebecca depends a lot on the local conditions and the mood she is on – Moloko had a lucky day, with Rebecca feeling relaxed and permitting her to get to within a few metres of her!

Day 6 (11th July 2010)

Today it was our rest day but I went for the fence check because I like it. With all the experience I’m getting, my research is making so much progress!

Day 7 (12th July 2010)

As much as I enjoy the fence checking, we started the day with it. It may be a hard job but indeed its the most important one and more interesting because I actually learn about electricity which I knew little about – and now I can fix an electrified fence! We also fed the roan antelopes and the nyalas at the camp which constitutes of elands, kudus, springboks, steenboks, tsessebee, impalas and other animals which we try as hard as possible to protect from the predators which we have like, jackals, hyenas, leopards and cheetah, to list a few. We could not do the tracking today as we had to fix the fence and we could not find the fault. This is it today, watch out for more tomorrow.

Day 8 (13th July 2010)

We fed the roans and sables and we also made food holders for the nyalas and we fed them as well. I also learned to use the telemetry equipment for picking up the radio signals from the predators’ radio collars and then we tracked them. We tracked the leopard, Rebecca the cheetah, the buffalos and the hyena. We did not get a signal for Rebecca today but we saw the leopard just on the tree. In the afternoon we fixed a fence that was damaged by two giraffes that had been fighting, whereby they are at different sides of the fence. We were supposed to go and shoot (but not to kill) one so as we can move them apart but we were a bit too late. Hopefully tomorrow we can complete our mission. The reason to shoot one of them is basically to scare them and to be able to let it go far from the fence and join the other giraffes.

Day 9 (14th July 2010)

Feeding the roans and sables and nyalas is a daily routine and if we don’t, our beautiful creatures will starve, thus we fed them and made sure we see them eat. We then took our paint-ball gun so that we could go and shoot that giraffe but again we couldn’t. I am actually too ready to do it just to experiment how it feels! Later after lunch we then went tracking. We tracked Rebecca and we found her. She was hunting by the time we got there but when she saw us, she just went under the tree and lay down as if she knows me and knew I would come. We spent about 15 minutes with her but we could tell she was hungry and we disturbed her hunting so we had leave earlier. But she’s a nice cheetah overall and always relaxed when it sees humans, just like she waved her tail for me when I was saying bye to her… awesome.

Day 10 (15th July 2010)

Today we spent almost the whole day tracking Jackal the leopard. Earlier today he was just around the house so we had to make sure he stays in the bush and away from people. He is not a bad boy but I guess he was just looking for Anthony, who he thinks of as his mother. Francizca tried calling his name but he never came out of the bush which is not that far from the house but when Anthony came and called his name, he came out and then he moved him. We then tracked the brown hyena so as we could learn his behaviour well but we could not succeed -but tomorrow is yet another day!

Day 11 (16th July 2010)

We started our day by feeding the roans and sable antelopes and the nyalas at the roan camp. We then went to put the salt blocks by our dams. Then we went tracking and it was great more especially because every day I get to see different species I have not seen and I get to learn about their behaviour.

Day 14 (19th of July 2010)

My two week placement ended so fast and I could not believe it but I know two weeks might seem like a short period but within this time I learnt much more valuable stuff. Today we fed the roan and sable, antelopes at the roan camp, and we then tracked. We started by tracking jackal the leopard, we found him, and we spent about 15 minutes with him. We then tracked Rebecca the cheetah, today unlike the other days it took us longer to find her (about 40-60 minutes). When we saw her she was just walking but when she saw us, she just lay down. At first she was not relaxed but she got better after some few minutes. We were about 3 feet away from her and she's just an awesome cheetah. It's not like I just saw that today, it's just that today she was so lovely. We were with her for about 20 minutes or so.