A Billinghams Web page

  Menu
  Events

Quick Links

HOME
 
Amateur radio
 
Birds
 
Cats
 
Dogs
 
Events
 
Photo's
 
Plants
 
Yoga
  Links

Web Links

Dr. Heike Lutermannr
The Big Boss

Dr. Katarina Medger
Our Technical Expert


Sasha Hoffman
Scintific Researcher


Eastern_Rock
Elephant_Sengi


GORO
22 59'15.58" S
29 25'52.96" E
GORO

In December 2011 I was offered a temporary position as an academic assistant on a game farm in the Northern Province. I put in leave at my regular job and Maureen and I went up for a week to GORO game farm in Limpopo province of South Africa. Maureen was prepared for anything so we had food, clothing, entertainment as well as all her camera equipment: in fact we had everything packed except our tent. We were delayed by a day and so it was only Sunday that we got away. We packed everything in the car and were away by 9:00 in the morning. It took us five hours to drive up to GORO following the highway all the way and turning off on the other side of Louis Trichardt. We arrived at around 2:30 that afternoon and agreed to meet my new boss Sasha Hoffmann at the Reception area.

GORO
GORO

My little corolla had a rough time just getting across the flat dusty dirt road to the reception area touching down several times and almost getting stuck once or twice. We met with Sasha at the Reception area and followed her to the farm house where we left the car and transferred all our goods and chattels to her 4x4 bakkie. Then started the half an hour journey up into the mountains the first part was reasonably flat with a slight rise but very stony. The road then got progressively rockier and steeper till it was very steep and in many of the really bad places the road had been concreted over completely. Over the top of the first ridge the road dropped a little and became sandy. In some places old tires has been buried into the road to give traction through the worst parts.

GORO
GORO

The other side of the valley the road continued upwards along the ridge and then down a steep road into a small valley with a river down the middle. When the journey started we were surrounded by grassy lands with a few bushy trees but as we progressed upwards the trees got more numerous with the stones being replaced by more and more rocky outcrops. Over the first set of hills the valley had a lot more grass in between the trees but the second set of hills has trees routed into the rocky walls. The little valley with the river was heavily wooded and the road followed the stream up the valley. The camp was at the head of this small valley and surrounded by trees.

GORO
GORO

It was here we met Maxine Chelsea Whitfield, Sasha's present assistant. Our sleeping arrangements were a separate bungalow about 100m away from the main hall on the side of a hill. This bungalow consisted of a set of two rooms each with two beds and a wash basin and a bathroom and loo in between. Out the front was a balcony shared by both rooms and a staircase down to the ground. Sasha and Maxine shared one room and my wife and I the other. There was electricity in both rooms and hot and cold running water if the donkey behind the room had been stacked with firewood and lit. This we had to do each time we wanted a wash or have a shower / bath.

GORO
GORO GORO GORO
GORO Most of our time though was spent in the main hall which like the room was also thatch covered. It was made of stones cemented together while the bungalow was made of bamboo lattice between gum poles. The one wall of the main hall was the rock face of the valley, the other had a wooden deck which went out high above the valley floor and the little stream below. The entrance to the hall was lined with soft couches with side tables followed by the exit to the deck. After this came the dining area which was dominated by an enormous wooden table with wooden benches down each side. The side of the room had a concrete serving area built into the rock face which we appropriated for a bate production area. This was followed by a bar and the stairs up to the kitchen. The bar we appropriated for the holding cages for our captives and their care. Up the stairs was a pantry and the kitchen.

GORO
GORO

This had a large gas stove as well as a gas fridge. A big stone preparation table sat in the middle with counters all around the sides. There was loads of crockery and cutlery and we even found an electric mixer in one of the cupboards. The one wall had a window with a double sink in front and a beautiful view up the valley. There was a wash room out the back which we never used plus a toilet outside the front which we definitely did. It had a large opening in the wall so that as you sat contemplating life you could gaze out over the valley and river below. On the side of the river was a braai area with seating and stairs up to the main hall. There were 3 other bungalows and a pool which we never used due to the cold.

GORO
GORO

We arrived at the camp and while we emptied all our gubbins out of the 4x4 Sasha mixed up her special bait of oats, peanut butter and sardines. Collecting a big bag each containing 75 traps as well as a small bucket of bait we headed out for our first trap location. The traps were supposed to be put down in a straight row and an even spacing. This sounds easy until you see that it is on the side of a hill full of rocks and bushes. It was over an hour's work for the three of us to put down 150 traps I believe mostly because of Maxine having to train the big lunk beside her. She was very patient and by the end of the evening I was beginning to get the hang of this business.

GORO
GORO

We returned to the lodge arriving after 7:00 PM and long after it was already dark. Sasha and Maxine then processed the last of the animals captured that morning while Maureen and I started on creating a macaroni cheese in the kitchen for supper. After supper was eaten, the washing up done and the captives all cared for and put to bed, we all retired for an early night. I woke up at 5:30 AM the next morning and had coffee and rusks ready for everyone when they awoke at 6:00. By 6:15 were already in the 4x4 and on our way back out to the site to release the last of yesterdays captives.

GORO
GORO GORO GORO
GORO

We then headed out to the location we had been to the previous evening and my training started all over again. It was as if I was little again and it was Christmas with 75 presents to open as we started examining each trap to see if there was anyone inside it and if so what it was. Each time an eastern rock elephant sengis (Elephantulus myurus) or sengi as they are more commonly being called was trapped. Sasha with the GPS took the exact coordinates of the spot where they were trapped and recorded it. This was so that we could release them exactly where we caught them and not accidently on someone else's territory. The other animals we caught in the traps were taken note of and then released immediately and all the traps folded and packed away in the big bags again for the next night.

GORO
GORO

On returning to the camp all the sengi were immediately registered and put in cages for processing. Only then were we allowed to head to the kitchen for our breakfast and a welcome pot of coffee. After breakfast the next phase of my training began when we started processing the animals we had caught. Each sengi was weighed and samples taken and tagged. Sasha then took them off one by one alone for behavioural tests away from any human influence. Then we examined each for whatever parasites they were carrying and collected them all. Maxine and Sasha taught me how to hold the sengi so that I did not hurt them or get bitten and they did not manage to escape. It was easiest when one person held them and the other removed the parasites.

GORO
GORO

The sengi had very different attitudes, some were docile and some wriggled like mad or tried to bite me. Lastly they were each measured and all the measurements noted down with all the other information collected. It took us the rest of the day to process all the sengi we had caught and by the evening we had them all packaged up and ready to return to where we had caught them. Sasha mixed up her special smelly bait and we headed out to the first trap site again to release the critters. Each animal was returned to the exact GPS coordinates where we caught them and then released.

GORO
GORO

After releasing them all we headed out to the next trap site started putting out our 150 traps all over again. This time I had a far better idea of what was happening and Maxine and I together almost kept up with Sasha, but not quite. Each trap had to be opened up and then tested to make sure that it was working properly. Some had been damaged by whatever had been caught inside and others by something outside wanting what was inside. Once working properly a small ball of bait was put inside and the trap placed in a strategic position. A stone was placed on the first and last trap and another stone any time the direction of the trap laying changed. This occurred whenever we had to circumnavigate boulders or trees or change our trap spacing for some reasons.

GORO
GORO GORO GORO
GORO It was late again when we eventually returned to camp exhausted and happy to cleanup and start supper. Sasha was an incredible cook and cooked up a delicious chicken bake and veggies for dinner. We all sat around the kitchen while she worked and filled the air with discussions about the day and plans for the morrow. After we had all eaten our fill and done the dishes we all retired exhausted to bed.

GORO
GORO

It was up again at 5:30 and coffee and rusks all around before we were again on our way. We were again out at 6:30 to collect all the traps we had put down the previous evening. Once all the traps had been collected they were counted to make sure that they had all been recovered and none left behind. We returned to the camp with all our little captives and checked to see if they had already been our guests before then we gave them all some apple and at last were able to get some food for ourselves. After breakfast we collected Maxine's gear and started down to the Farm house. There we said hallo to the new litter of puppies and pumped up the 4X4's tyres for a tar road travel. We headed out to Louis Trichardt, the bus depot and civilisation.

GORO
GORO

The bus decided to leave early and we ended up spending almost the whole day trying to get Maxine back to her loved ones. During this process we managed to replenish our food supplies and fill up the 4x4 for the next week. On our return to GORO we stopped at the farm to let the tyres down and were told that a leopard had been spotted within a half kilometre of the camp. We now had a curfew of 5:00 PM in the evening and had to be back inside the camp area by then. This meant that we had to go out at 3:00 instead of 4:30 in order to be back by curfew time. With all the nonsense with the bus we were too late to process our captives from this morning so we left them and went out immediately to place the night's traps. It was a lot more difficult as this was the first time I had to do this all by myself and I really missed Maxine's help. I used my rucksack strap to support the bag of traps which is quite heavy with 75 traps in it and this made it easier to manhandle while I was putting traps down.

GORO
GORO

After all the traps had been put out we dashed back to camp only just making it before the curfew time. We then started processing the animals we had caught that morning so that we could release them the following morning. As we couldn't release them immediately they were each put in separate cages, given supper and made comfortable for the night. It was very late that night before we had processed all the animals, had our supper and collapsed into bed exhausted.

GORO
GORO GORO GORO
GORO The next morning all the captives had had their supper and were all ready for release before the traps were checked and the next day's sengi collected. After breakfast we were able to process today's collection and were finished by lunch time. In the afternoon I sat with the traps and my toolbox and started repairing and cleaning all the damaged traps. I was finished with one bag, just over half the traps before the afternoon and we had to leave to put out that evenings traps. We released the captured sengi and then put all the traps out for the next day's catch.

GORO
GORO

We were back in camp before curfew and Sasha produced the most delicious steak and kidney pie which we devoured with gusto. I hauled out a jigsaw I had bought with us and we started putting it together on the dining room table. That night we slept well and were up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5:30 the next morning to make coffee. The next morning we were out on site by 7:00. The trapping site is out on the side of the mountain and so is the only place with cell phone reception. So every morning or evening all our cell phones start going off with the collected SMS's from the previous day. After all the traps have been collected and counted a few minutes are spent every trip answering all the accumulated messages.

GORO
GORO

After breakfast we processed all the animals caught and got them ready for their return to the wild. We had some time then and decided to hike up the river to the waterfall which appeared on the map above the bar. We passed the waterfall and continued further up the river. Next we found a small dam with the input for the water pipe that supplied the camp site. We continued further until the river narrowed into a tight kloof with baboons on the heights. The baboons were unhappy by our presence and as it was already close to 2:30 PM we decided to turn around and head back. This would allow us to put the evening's traps out and be back in camp before curfew.

GORO
GORO

The day ended with toast and burgers with veggies and then an early night. The next day started as usual and after breakfast we processed all our captives. I had brought with me a GPRS stick and a wireless router. This I had hoped to use to supply Internet to the camp but first I had to find a location where I could get a gprs signal as well as electricity to run it. I tried many times but could never find this location and get a working data connection. After yet another attempt I returned to repairing traps again. The afternoon was spent releasing sengi and setting out that night's traps.

GORO
GORO GORO GORO
GORO

After another delicious dinner of sausages and veggies we headed for bed. The hot water in the chalet was supplied by a wood burning donkey which had to be lit an hour before a bath or shower was to be taken. The following day Maureen and I decided to walk down the river and we followed the road until it started climbing out of the valley. We were hunting for the cave paintings shown on the map above the bar but never found them. Sasha spent her time updating her database and catching up on her paperwork. That evening Maureen helped with the release if the sengi's and photographed their escape to freedom.

GORO
GORO

The next day we drove into Makhado to pick up our next research assistant Xia Stevens. We bought some more supplies at the shopping centre and then the whole lot of us returned to camp. Now it was someone else under Sasha's tuition and I still struggled to keep up with both of them setting out the traps. That evening the lot of us sat around the kitchen again while Sasha produced the most delicious roast chicken wings and veggies.

GORO
GORO

The next morning it was the 3 of us out collecting traps again instead of just 2 and still I lagged behind but I found the first sengi of the day which made up for this. It was fascinating helping while Sasha was teaching Xia how to process the animals. I was still learning so much every day. That afternoon Sasha showed all of us where the rock paintings were and then she and Xia went off to look at various insects while Maureen and I returned to the camp. Being from New Zealand, Xia was fascinated with South Africa’s collection of wasps, scorpions and spiders. In the evening Maureen held one of the sengi before it was released and I took some beautiful pictures of the two of them.

GORO
GORO This was our last day and so after breakfast we packed up all our stuff in the 4X4 and headed down to the farm. There we transferred all our stuff to our car and started on our way home. Maureen wanted a photo of a baobab and so we headed off to Makhado there we turned around and headed back on the R522 to Vivo. In Vivo we bought some treats and then headed home straight from Vivo arriving home just after 7:00 PM. GORO
GORO GORO GORO
no technical information was included here