Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lion Darting at Boskoppie

Occasionally lions need to be moved from one enclosure to another or they are sold to another farm or game reserve. In order to move them they must be darted with a tranquilizer gun and then loaded onto the flat bed truck and then into a crate for transport. Seeing this process was one of those TIA moments, because in America the whole thing would be done by a vet and volunteers would most likely not be allowed to watch, and not only did we watch, the volunteers had to help pull the lion onto the truck and then we sat on the edge of the truck with a drugged lion wrapped in a tarp at our feet. All in all- a weird experience. Dartings can be great outlet for hunters and some game reserves will now even offer hunters a green hunt of their animals like Rhinos so when a Rhino needs medical care they will have a hunter come in and tranquilize it, take a picture with it and then leave without killing an animal. I still think the practice encourages the act of hunting itself by making it seem appealing, but hey it's a step in the right direction!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Willem Pretorius Game Reserve, South Africa

Whether you are staying in the Free State or just passing through the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve is not to be missed. Like any other game park each experience will be different because you are dealing with wild animals and it can be very hit or miss. I visited twice during my time in Kroonstad and the first visit was fun, but no spectacular sitings, where the second time we got seriously up close and personal with a number of animals including the white rhino and giraffe. We even saw a white rhino with her one-month old baby. For those interested in history there are also remains of a well-preserved prehistoric settlement long-vanished Leghoya people (said to have been killed by the zulus hundreds of years ago) who once lived in the area. They were a very small people and their houses are tiny.


I was lucky enough to be taken around by a wonderful ecologist named Herman who specializes in rhinoceroses and works at the park conducting research. This afforded us certain privileges not open to the public like walking outside of the vehicle, which if you are not with a guide with experience and most importantly permission can be a seriously dangerous experience for both you and the wild animals. Even with Herman I was very cautious when walking out of the car and we stayed within running distance so in case a rhino charged we could run back. We were charged once, but luckily the rhino changed his mind and didn't make it all the way to us because I promise you I am not as fast a rhino!


There are plenty of animals to see at the reserve some of my favorites were the baboons, the sable, the giraffes, the kudo, the buffalo, and the black shouldered kite, which is endemic to the area. The park has some nice tall peaks so in addition to the possibilities of close up viewing you also are afforded beautiful landscapes and the chance to see the animals from above, which is a unique and interesting perspective.


The main attraction is really the white rhinoceros. There are five species of rhinos in the world right now. The black and white rhino is found in Africa, although they are really both gray in color and the difference can be seen in their lips. There are two types of white rhinos, but the northern white rhino is thought to be extinct in the wild, the last four known were killed by poachers in 2008, you can read about it here. The white rhinoceros has recovered extremely well and is actually now considered only near threatened by the IUCN. They would even classify them as only vulnerable (which is less threatened than near threatened) but because of extreme poaching danger it is important to keep them as near threatened.

Their only natural enemy is us humans and they are hunted and killed by poachers after their horns. Just a few weeks before my first trip to WP poachers had come to the reserve by helicopter and darted two rhinos, cutting off their horns and leaving them alive, although often the stress from darting and cutting their horns when not handled properly can kill them. However both these rhinos were females and had just finished mating season and were most likely pregnant, the darting may have deeply affected, if not terminated, their pregnancies. Unlike elephant tusks, when a rhino horn is cut off it can regrow. However the shape will be different than before. To stop poaching many different methods have been put in place.


Some rhino sanctuaries will cut off the horn so poachers won't kill the rhino for it. Others have been trying to drill small holes into the horn and fill it with cyanide that way when the horn is crushed into powder for medicines or aphrodisiacs the cyanide is released and the person using it will be killed. This is being heavily protested by human rights groups, but I think it's a brilliant idea and if people are cruel and stupid enough to engage in the illegal activity of slaughtering a rhino to ingest its horn then you get what you deserve as you understand the risks going into it.

Seeing them in the wild in their natural elements reinforces the importance of conservation efforts to keep them there. When I saw the baby rhino, only one-month old, with her mother I couldn't help but hope that she has a better chance at survival than her mother's generation. The white rhino population is on the rise and the recovery of them since the 60's has been incredible, now this same recovery must occur for the critically endangered black rhinoceros and we must continue to protect the white rhino. For more information and to see how you can help check out here.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Scariest Animal at Boskoppie: Api the Vervet Monkey

While working at Boskoppie I encountered many vicious and ferocious animals, but without a doubt the scariest animal was the owner's pet monkey Api. On the first day I thought the monkey was cute and was so excited to share my breakfast with her. On the third day when she stole my yogurt off my plate I was a little pissed off. On the fourth day when she raised her eyebrows and puffed out her chest at me while I was trying to feed the lion cubs I knew I was in big trouble. Api rules the sanctuary and she knows it, she can go anywhere and do anything. Sometimes I could scare her off by stomping my feet, but other times it just made her mad and she would lunge. As I mentioned she was the scariest animal there because she had bigger teeth than the cubs and a bite from her meant diseases so I wanted to keep far away. I did get slapped a few times, but managed to run away before she landed a bite. One night when I was moving the cubs from their day enclosure to the nursery she started raising her eyebrows at me, which I knew meant trouble so I started to move faster and she grabbed my ponytail. The last day when I went to say goodbye to the cubs she swooped down and tried to attack me, her teeth actually brushed the top of my hand, but luckily it didn't break skin. Like I said...evil menace monkey!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Boskoppie Lion Breeding Center, Part 3: Working with the Lion Cubs


Working with the lion cubs was the highlight of the entire experience for me.  I tried to spend every free second I had with them.  We had two sets of cubs while I was working there, one litter of five cubs turned five-weeks old the day before we got there so they were seven weeks when we left.  The other group consisted of six cubs from a few litters and ranged in age from 3 to 4 months.  The size difference between the babies and the older cubs was amazing, a few weeks makes such a difference!  Even in the short time I worked at Boskoppie I saw the cubs grow so much.  The second week they switched to meat and we watched them turn from these adorable sweet babies to ferocious little lion cubs growling at each other over tiny pieces of formula-covered meat.  I spent most of my time with the babies- both on duty and relaxing time.  Duties consisted of making formula, preparing and cleaning the bottles, bottle feeding, peeing and pooing them, then washing their faces and paws.  We also just spent a lot of time cuddling them and playing jungle gym where they would crawl all over us.  The first week there they had almost no teeth, but by the second week they were sharp and could pierce the skin on our fingers which they liked to try and suck on as they were teething and hungry.  I say try because we wouldn't really let them as our hands carry germs and they are babies (also the second week their teeth really hurt)!  By the sixth day I knew all five cubs by name and I could predict who would eat what and when they would each poo/pee.  There were 3 girls and 2 boys: Daisy, Amelia, Tilly, Mozomba, and Teddy.  Daisy was my favorite and I like to think I was hers because every time I went into the enclosure alone or with other people she made a beeline straight to my lap where if she had her druthers she would remain for hours on end.  During the second week they started pooing on their own so we were able to stop helping them, which was nice because while you do get over the initial shock of having lion poo in your hand, it never stops being pretty gross.  However since they were getting bigger they became more mischievous and began naughty things like chewing on our hair and often Tilly and Amelia would try to climb up my back to eat my hair.  They also liked chewing on my camera strap, thinking it was a very fun game.  One of the cutest things the cats would do was when we picked them up under their arms, which is how you must pick them up because their bellies are full of milk, they would go very limp and their arms would stick up over their heads, which I repeatedly referred to as "vampire cat."  However on the last day when I realized I didn't have a picture of them doing it one of the other volunteers, Tifanny, and I enlisted Daisy to pose for us and she was not in the mood and just squirmed and meowed so instead I got an adorable picture of Daisy complaining.  Working with these creatures makes dealing with all the other problems worth it and will be an experience I cherish forever.  All the photos here are of the babies, I will post more of the older cubs soon.

This is what my lap often looked like covered in cubs, with Api the monkey trying to groom them. She was a menace of a monkey and I will post more about her soon!

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