Rino Eliassen: elephants in the sunset

A typical day at Tuli

A day at Kwa-Tuli, Botswana

The day at Tuli usually starts with one of the coordinators, whether it be Duncan ringing his makeshift bell, or the always loveable Stuart (well, not in the morning!) driving in on his motorbike or land rover beeping the horn at the pleasant hour of around 5.30am, it's then straight up and out into the beautiful harshness that is the Tuli block on a game drive. These drives have different purposes, and you are told before the drive what the focus is on that particular morning. These include specific elephant drives, observations and data collection, following up any predator activity, which may be leopard, lion and or hyena (spotted and brown) and baboon drives. Game counts need to be done twice a week. On these game counts any game seen is counted, put into sex categories and recorded where on the reserve they were seen. Game likely to be seen would be depending on the time of year: impala, kudu, zebra, steenbok and elephant to name but a few.

Depending on what is found, the drives will last about 2-3 hours and will be about 2/3rds of the reserve in that time. It is then back to Koro Camp for breakfast and, depending on the heat, may head out again to follow up on anything found that morning. If leopard tracks for example are found, then a bush walk is a likely prospect. You will on these bush walks be taught the tracks and other signs left by animals, and if you wish you can take a tracker test which will then allow you to sit on the tracker seat which is a very exciting experience, especially if ellies are around!

Walking in the bush is an incredible experience and is a very educational exercise for those who want to learn about Africa and its animals. If the weather is too hot then you will likely stay in the camp and either have some time to yourselves or the coordinators will organise a light activity until about 4.00pm in the afternoon. This gap in the day is an excellent time to study and learn more about the animals and the environment you are living in from the various books the camp has at its disposal, as well as getting to know the other students and coordinators who will be from a wide sweep of different backgrounds. The light activities may include discussions about topical subjects, such as hunting or conservation and whether the two can interact or help each other. Feedbacks are set by the coordinators and these are subjects that you as a student will be expected to do some light research on and present to the group. The subjects will range from different animals, poaching and its impact, and animal interactions between themselves, for example the hierarchy system of a baboon troop.

Late afternoon is another game drive into the bush. Late afternoon is a very good time to observe game which in the case of the ellie herds will be moving down to the river to drink. Climbing the local koppies to watch the sun go down is probably the most spectacular view you will see in Africa. No sunset is the same, and you have a grandstand view sitting on a koppie looking out over the bush, watching animals that have no idea you are there under the African sun's beautiful harshness.

After the sunset on the koppie, a return journey to Koro Camp for dinner is prepared by different students each night. After dinner, if the day hasn’t been too hectic it's out on a night drive with the spotlights to see whether any leopards are around. A night drive is a great experience because you see animals that only come out during the night and you are more likely to see leopards at night and for longer periods of time. Leopards are abundant in the Kwa-Tuli region with at least five in and overlapping the boundaries of the reserve, but it's still very difficult to see them.

Tuli is an incredible place and for those who want to rough it and are prepared to graft and work hard to see the animals, the rewards are boundless. Speaking from experience, sitting on the tracker seat with a spotlight in my hand and having a leopard five metres away was the single, most incredible experience I have had in my life. If you go to Tuli and make an effort for yourself and all others present, you will not regret it and will get so much out of it. You will meet some fantastic people, some you will stay in contact with for the rest of your life. An experience you will never forget!