Friday, 13 May 2011

Kruger adventures

After two days of non-stop talking about fire, I finally made my escape on Wednesday morning (after one last, long breakfast meeting with one of the key people I'd come to talk to), jumping into a hire car at 10, and then driving, driving, driving, until I finally made it to the Kruger gate at about 5pm, with just enough light left (it being winter, of course, and South Africa's time zone stretching from one side of the continent to the other!) to collect the key to my research house and find my way there. (I still enjoy being able to drive past no-entry signs in protected areas!) Having been assured that everyone doing research in Kruger is very friendly, I set out to meet my neighbours and within 10mins had managed to send a message via one of them to the people I'm here to see, and got an invitation to one of the student's leaving party, as he had a 5am departure after 3 months in the park. All very good.

Research accommodation is very fine!
Today started with a meeting with the person I'd come to see, and after an hour or two we decided the best thing for the rest of today would be to head out and see (a little bit of) Kruger for myself, before continuing the discussion tomorrow, once I actually had a better idea of the local context. So, armed with maps of fire frequency and biomes,I headed out to explore the key parts of this southern section of the park. As should probably not be a surprise to anyone who's been in the bush with me before, my driving times were rather slower than anticipated, so I only did what had been recommended as a usual morning drive (and I still only made it back with 10mins to spare!), but I did see lots of habitats, lots of places with different fire regimes, and lots of birds too.

Burchall's Coucal warming in the morning sun

Mind the crocs...

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, one of the new birds I enjoyed

Crested Barbet

Cape - or is it greater blue-eared - starling?!

Fighting giraffe for the giraffe fans out there!

Invasive aliens (and eles)

 The most striking thing about the place for me has been the managed nature of the place – big tarmac roads everywhere,

Kruger infrastructure is quite spectacular compared to TZ!
artificial waterholes, etc. But after that it's the lack of animals that hits – I drove most of the day and probably didn't see many more than 300 large mammals, tops – and probably 200 of them were impala! But the diversity was quite good – my first Nyala was waiting just outside the research camp, Greater Kudu, Elephant, White and Black Rhino
White Rhino
very dainty klippsringer on his tippy toes!

And black rhino too - rarely seen in Kruger apparently.
Somewhat smarter giraffe than we have, cheetah, etc., etc. But I drove much further than I would in a day in Tanzania, and saw far fewer than I'd have seen there. This is partly a consequence of the thicker bush here, but I think it's also down to deliberate removals of animals to sell them to private game reserves (and as meat to the local population) because there has been a perception that there were too many animals in the park. This is changing, and most of the removals have stopped now, but there are still far, far fewer animals than I'd have expected, which must have a huge influence on the vegetation. Hmmm. All interesting things...

Anyway, I'm writing this now in the evening with hyaenas howling and hippos harrumphing all around, but no internet connection. But I'm hoping I might get the chance in the morning to post this, or perhaps tomorrow evening when I'm back in Johannesburg for one last night before flying back to TZ on Saturday. We shall see... Either way, it will be nice to get back home at last!

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