5th April 2018
Hi everyone! I am back again with a new African adventure. I left Amsterdam the 5thof April and arrived in Johannesburg around 21:30. I booked a hotel close by the airport just for that night so I didn’t have to drive at night. I thought the hotel had a free shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel, but unfortunately that was not the case and I had to pay about 10 euro for a 3-min drive!! So, I got ripped off, but well, I had to sleep somewhere.
The next day I woke up at 8 to go the airport again to get my car and drove 2 hours to meet Jurg&Karen. Jurg and Karen are the people I trusted Elsa with, and they were looking after her since. But now they moved to Rustenburg for another job. Luckily the boyfriend of Bianca, Jurg and Karen their daughter, is still at Jukani, where Elsa is now to look after her.
Why I am meeting them, besides just visiting friends, is because our dream is to start a sanctuary of our own and wanted to make plans for it. Via friends of my father I got in contact with someone who got a piece of land in Rustenburg and wanted to do something with it, for animals. And Jurg also had friends with land there so we could visit it and see if this land can be used for our future sanctuary.
I met up with them at Rustenburg city center because they had to fetch a new birdcage for their parrots. After that we drove to the farm they are staying now, that is about a little hour from Rustenburg. We chatted and made plans for the next day to visit the two properties.
On the 7thof April, we left at 8 o’clock because first we needed to bring back the trailer we rented to move the birdcage at Rustenburg, and after we visit the first property of the friend of my father. When we drove up there we were a bit anxious if it was not the right place because the land was to flat with no trees or bushes, and a long bad off-road route. But after we got there, it looked so much better. A nice area for animals to shelter. And the people of the land have a big heart for animals, so that should be fine.
On our way back, we drove another road and we got a flat tire! Luckily, we had a spare one, but after wanted to replace the broken tire, we discovered the wrong tools were in the car to prepare it! And the whole way to this property we didn’t had any cell reception. fortunately we could find reception where we were stranded, so we tried to phone the police, but they didn’t pick up, haha! Only in Africa… So, we googled close by farms to ask for help. We heard from one guy that there was a car repair shop close by, so we were so lucky! This old man came to our rescue with his two big Great Danes.
After this little adventure, we didn’t had time to see the other property so we got home earlier and decided to visit it tomorrow. When we got home we heard loud music, and Jurg told we that the neighbors always throw parties in the weekends, what is very annoying, because you will hear it the whole night.
I was lucky that in my room I didn’t hear the music, but Jurg&Karen couldn’t sleep, and when I woke up at 8 o clock the next morning, the party was still going on. So Jurg called the police, and it stopped for a little while, but then it continued.
Next day we went to the property of Jurg his friend and at first it looked like the perfect place. But after seeing more if it, now knowing that is was split in two pieces of land by a road, and the ground was very rocky, it wasn’t the right place for us, unfortunately.
9th of April
The day that I had to be in a car for about 10 hours! The first 7 hours I drove from Jurg&Karen their place near Rustenburg, all the way to the border of Botswana to a small town called Alldays.
Before I came to Africa, I searched for all kinds of volunteer project/sanctuaries and I came across Vision Africa wildlife, founded by Anthony Peniston. This project looked a bit different than the other projects I had seen because they stated on the website you help with care and rehabilitation of lions and wolves who are rescued from hunting facilities and relocated to a nice game reserve. Your work will include some veterinary experience and game captures and some hands-on with rescued lion cubs and anti-poaching efforts. So, I emailed them and Antony contacted me soon after. He told me a bit more about the project and that he was excited to show me his project and asked me to meet him in Botswana, close to the border of South Africa. He told me that that place is going to be an imported part of the project.
After an 9 hour drive I met a guide of Anthony, Freeman, and we drove to the border of Botswana. We were lucky that this border was open again, because it was floated the past days. The border is the Limpopo river, and the road where you cross the border is just a very small path who only fits one car. Antony was still busy with some business for the project in South Africa, so he will meet me tomorrow.
We crossed the border and entered Botswana. It is so funny that it is a lot different comparing to South Africa. Botswana is almost only bush, haha! Or maybe that is the only thing I have seen. Also, there are no real roads, only sand roads. We had to drive this sand road for another 45 minutes to get to the lodge. I was so happy to finally arrive!
I got a very nice dinner and met two other guys from South Africa, who were there for business. They are in construction and helping the people in Botswana building churches.
Vision Africa Wildlife
today my day started very earlier, because my alarm went off at 5:30 to do a game drive at 6, to finally see some animals in the wild.
Unfortunately, we only saw some elephants, but no other big animals, next to some antelope species and bird. But Freeman also know a lot of things to tell about the plants and trees, so he taught me some new stuff!
When we got home my breakfast was served at the deck near the Limpopo river. I felt like a royal! There was only one plate on the table for me, facing the river. During breakfast, I casually saw a crocodile swimming, like was nothing.
Around 12 Anthony arrived at the lodge and we talked about what I do for the Moomba foundation and what he is planning to do with his new project, and what he has done already regarding relocation animals.
Everything that he has told me about his new project, I cannot make public right now, because it’s a fragile stage of the project, and he is waiting for some contract to be signed. When these are signed, I can tell all about his big plans. The only thing I can say about it now, is that is a thing that has never been done before..
During the afternoon, Anthony and I did another game drive, because he had to check something, and this time we saw a little baby elephant of about 5 weeks old; so cute!
The next day we had to fetch dead chickens and a dead zebra for the lions. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a proper trailer and had to borrow one at one of the farms near the small town Alldays. Then we drove for little more than an hour to a crocodile farm.
This farm bread crocodiles, and chicken, for the crocodiles. But when they have leftovers or in winter, the crocodiles don’t need food, so they donate the chickens to projects like Anthony’s.
In South Africa, there are a lot of farms like these, only because one time Gucci, the brand, needed a lot of crocodile leather, and was willing to pay a lot for it, so many farmers started to bread them. But now there are too many of these breeders, and Gucci doesn’t need that much leather anymore and most are now sold to Asia.
Also, most of these farms are open for public; and that I don’t understand. Why should you go to a farm like that, to see so many crocodiles piled up in a small enclosure knowing that these crocs will be killed in a few years only for their skin…?
We loaded the chicken and zebra in our trailer and drove to the park where the lions are, that Antony is going to rescue. These lions will be part of the new project of Anthony. When we arrived there, I literally got sick, by seeing the animals in this condition… Hopefully the contract will get signed soon, so Anthony can save these animals.
Because of a few little setbacks during our roadtrip I couldn’t make it to the border on time, and had to sleep on the South African side, at the volunteer house of Anthony his project. There he had two young wolves about the age of 1. He got them from people who couldn’t handle them, and just left them in their garden but wanted to get rid of them.
But now they fear people, and Anthony wants to try to train them for a anti-poaching unit. And this will be part of the volunteer project too.
This day was a bit of a disappointment because we, another volunteer who was there already for 4 weeks and worked there with a local veterinary, and I, were supposed to work with this vet but he got delayed, and then later canceled. So eventually we sat in the local coffee shop for like 7 hours doing nothing. Also, because I had to sleep in South-Africa, I didn’t have any stuff or warm clothes with me. And this day was so cold!
But fortunately, the night game drive made up for this little disappointment because we spotted a wild African cat and a Genit.
Riverside Rehabilitation center
Next day I drove to my next project, called Riverside rehabilitation center. I read already good things about them, and now wanted to see it for myself.
Last year I also visited a monkey sanctuary in the same area as this one. So very excited to see the difference between these places!
When I arrived, I got a quick tour; the place wasn’t that big though. What I could see is that the main things were the same. The difference to Vervet Monkey Foundation and this place is that the volunteers have a better sleeping place, don’t haveto eat vegetarian food, and this place already did a big release of Baboons.
Also, a thing that I noticed was that most of the volunteers came back and this was their second, third or even fourth time volunteering at this place. And during my time, there were two whole families, working here. And I think that says a lot about how good Riverside is.
Today was a Friday, and every Friday they go to the local restaurant/pub, just to get out once a week. That was a good opportunity for me the meet all the volunteers.
At riverside there are a few different shift, and one of them is the ‘babyshift’, and when you have this shift, you need to start your workday at 6 in the morning. And of course, I wanted to spend some time with the babies, so had to get up early.
We had to feed the babies, and every day they are keeping logs of how much every baby has drank from the bottle. Also, every other day, they get a bath.
Two of the most important rules here are: if you wouldn’t eat the food you are giving to the monkeys yourself, don’t give it to the monkeys, and second, the monkey eat first!
So, when all the babies had their bottles, clean enclosures and the rest of the monkeys had their food, we can have breakfast at 9 o’clock.
Weekends are mostly more relaxed. But we still had to do the feeds and went on the baboon walk to the river. This is so cute to see how excited they are when getting out of their enclosure and walking with us to the river, and then see them play in their natural habitat. And of course there is always a cheeky one, who bullies the others and wants to test you. This one stole my hairclip and didn’t want to give it back..
At Riverside rehab center there is a process of 5 steps the monkeys need to go through; the intake. A form needs to be filled in, where it came from, why it is in the possession of humans, and any injury or medical treatment received.
Processing and quarantine. All incoming animals are placed under a 40 day quarantine. The quarantine period gives care-takers enough time to detect any possible illnesses or other problems, and treat accordingly.
Introduction. The monkeys go into an introduction enclosure. These are next to the semi-wild.Animals will be sedated before being introduced to the other inhabitants. This gives the established group the opportunity to smell and explore the new member without facing any defensive behavior, greatly reducing the risk of injury. The established members will touch, taste, smell and get a general sense of the new member and grow bored of the intruder and go about their business as the new addition awakens. Once awake, meeting no conflict, the new addition is free to explore its new surroundings.
This will take several weeks. And once the introduction group is ready to be integrated into the main troop, staff members will be there to observe from within and outside of the enclosure and ensure that there are no serious conflicts
Semi-wild. Riverside makes use of natural enclosures in which the animals are conditioned to be returned to the wild. Most of the animals in Riverside’s care will spend most their stay at Riverside in a semi-wild enclosure with other members of their species. This is the troop they will be released with.
Reintroduction. The animals within the semi-wild rehabilitation enclosure are captured, identified, processed for the final time, and relocated to the release enclosure. The animals are given 2 weeks (still electric powered) and 2 weeks with electric wires switched off to acclimate to their new surroundings within the release enclosure.After the initial 2-week period, since the animals will not go over the fence even if it is switched off, a tree-bridge is erected from inside to outside of the enclosure. When the animals are ready they will eventually explore the bridge, and climb over, making them finally, officially free.
And I am so lucky and came at the right time, because on Monday they are darting a whole baboon troop of about 105 baboons to release them on Tuesday around the border of Botswana.
Today for dinner we had a typical African meal; Braai and pap.Then went to bed early because my alarm is set again at 5:45….
I started with the baby shift again, because that is always fun! Just can’t get enough of these baby monkeys.
What I want to make very clear, is that the rehabilitation with monkeys differs from the rehabilitation with big cats. Big cats you can’t hand-raise and re-wild them. With monkeys, it is easier; when they are brought in when they are babies, they needhumans to look after them, and give them milk every few hours, depending on their ages. And here at Riverside they give the babies a lot of different surrogate ‘mothers’ (read, volunteers), to look after them, so they will not get attached too much to one person, so that it is easier to later look for a surrogate monkey mother. And these mothers will learn the babies everything, and then they can be re-wild, and be taught to be scared and stay away from humans. Unfortunately, this is not with big cats.
After we fed the babies, they showed me how they clean their clinic every morning. They are very strict with this, like it is supposed to be, of course!
Then Bob, the owner, showed me how they keep logs of all the animals they rehabilitated, and that was very impressive.
Later during the day, we did the baboon walk again and I had a late afternoon shift with the babies again, yes!
Today was D-day! The first day to start the relocation of a troop baboons they formed here, since 2010. My planning was to leave in the morning for the other monkey rehab place, but I just had to watch this, because today they are going to read history!!
The troop they are going to release are about 80 baboons big, and that big of a release has never been done before.
The 2 vets arrived and everything was prept, so we started to lure the biggest baboons in a smaller enclosure, and tried not to capture mother baboons with babies. Because when you are touching a baby baboon and it will scream, the whole troop will try to rescue him/her. And if we captured the alfa male and the rest of the males who are high in the hierarchy, we will have less trouble capturing the rest, as you can understand.
But easier said than done, of course. And Bob had to capture one mother baboon with her baby the first time, because it was in the small enclosure with a few big male baboons. So he started to dart all the baboons in this small enclosure. When they all fell asleep we had to move fast and everyone had to pick up the baboons and moved them to the area the vets were about to examine them. Also, all the baboons had microchips so we could identify them from the day they were brought in. We measured every part of the baboons and filled it in on the forms what was filled in the day they were brought in (remember step one from the process). And that was so cool to see how big all the baboons were grown the last years.
Today we only captured about 1/3 of the troop, so the next 2 days they had to do the rest. But unfortunately, I couldn’t stay longer because I had to go to the next project; Bambalela.
And while I was sleeping the first baboons we captured today were brought to the release site…
I left early, around 6am so I had a whole day at Bambelela, because the next day I had to catch a flight to George, to see Elsa again! So a short time to spent at this place.
The drive was about 4 hours. And when I arrived at Bambelela I had a very warm welcome…..
When I got out of the car I saw a lot of vervet monkeys and baboons just walking free (Bambelela is located in a reserve). And what I had learned from Riverside is that monkeys like to grab everything you are holding and also your hair band, so I left most of my things in the car, and asked Sue, who welcomed me if it was ok to take my camera and water bottle and she said yes.
We walked up, to where the enclosures were, and I saw a big baboon walking towards us. I asked Sue if he was ok with new guest, and she told me to give her only my bottle and that he only wanted to greet us and that I had to stand still and let him sniff me. So, he, Merlin, sat in front of me and sniffed me, and while I looked down to greet him, my hair fell from my shoulder, and he jumped up to grabbed it and out of a reflex I grabbed it too. That was a mistake, because what a baboons grabs, it is his and you don’t have to try to get it back, otherwise he will get very angry. And that is what happened, and Merlin went ballistic and he attacked me.
What baboons do when they are angry, as a attack, they jump on you and will grab everything they can grab, and will pull very hard (hair, nose, ears, skin, everything!). Merlin jumped to my face to do this after I grapped my hair back from him, but I managed to grab him instead, in his neck and tried to push him to the ground. But Merlin is a grown baboon of 4 years old, and very strong. While I was holding him, he sort of turned in his skin and managed to bite my wrist. I immediately felt that he didn’t have any K9’s and I was so happy. Because a K9 of a grown baboon is bigger than one of a lion… But still his bite hurt like hell, and he also pulled my skin on my legs. Because the wrist he was biting hurted so much, I grabbed him with my other hand, and he also bit this wrist. But I was only thinking that this was the best way to hold him, because if I let him go, he will pull everything he can grab and that will probably hurt more. Luckily Sue interfered just in time, because I couldn’t hold him any longer. And Merlin finally calmed down again.
I was in shock after it happened and I had wounds on my wrists and legs. They later told me that Merlin had epileptic seizures and that is why they removed his K9’s so he couldn’t injure himself (lucky me and my wrists). And that is also why he still lives at Bambelela and couldn’t be releases. He was in need of life saving medicine twice a day and his chances of staying alive anywhere else was zero. His first prognosis was that he would probably not outgrow his daily and frequent fits and wouldn’t live very long and Bambelela decided to give him the best short life they could give him. But he did outgrow his conditions and unfortunately now that he could move off with the wild troop in the reserve around Bambelela, he is too human orientated, and that is a problem. And accidents like this will happen. Now Bambelela decided to start his rehab soon away from bambelela.
Of course, this was not a good start, because I was here to ‘judge’ this rehab facility. But I didn’t want to hold them accountable only for this accident.
When I was cleaned up again and the wounds were threatened, I got a tour around Bambalela and more information about the work they have done, and what they are currently doing.
What I have learned from all the different parks, sanctuaries and rehab centers is that most of the ones I visited are doing a lot of good things for the animals and have good intentions, but everyone have another vision of what they think is best for the animals. And most of them also have a lot to say about others who are doing it the other way or just different than they are.
I do not judge them about their different visions, but I judge them on the work they have done and how they treat their animals, and if they meet up our qualifications of our Foundation. But not all our qualifications can be meet when the place is doing rehab for animals.The first important rule of our foundation, no interaction with the animals, cannot always be applied when we visit a rehab facility. So when we visit rehab facilities, we can’t judge them on all our qualifications what is established only for sanctuaries.
And from what I have seen at Bambelela, they did good work, and released many vervet monkey troops and they love their animals. I think what has happened with Merlin and how they deal with him, in his situation, was not the best way to handle it, but they handled only out of love for him. And as I said before, I believe that we can’t hold them accountable only for how they handled Merlin his situation and ignore all the good work they do and did. I can just hope that they have learned from this, and next time they will handle differently in a same short of situation like Merlin’s.
today was the day I had to meet my best friend Luna from the Airport in Johannesburg, and catch a flight to George together, and see Elsa, and have a little vacation.
Unfortunately, we arrived too late in George to see Elsa today, but we did some grocery shopping and went to our Airbnb.
Yes, finally I got to see Elsa and Lia again, and I am so excited. Every time I visit her, the question remains if she still recognizes me..
When we walked up to her enclosure I felt nervous, but when I saw her, she immediately came up to the fence to greet us. It’s incredible how good their memory is, because it was almost a year ago we saw each other. So we just sat there next to each other with the fence between us and enjoyed the company of each other. And I was also excited to show Luna Elsa and Lia. She was never this close to a lion before.
We stayed in George till the 22th of April, and every day we visited Elsa in the morning and late afternoon. The rest of the day during this time, we went to the beach, and one day we went to Addo Elephant park where we enjoyed a guided tour. We saw a lot of elephants and buffalos, but unfortunately no wild lions or other big cats….
The 22th of April we drove to Capetown, and went to a nice restaurant. Later in the evening the restaurant became sort of a club, and we danced the whole night!
The next day the weather was very bad so we went shopping and did some sightseeing. Capetown is full of nice lunchrooms and restaurants, so we did a lot of eating too!
On the 25thwe had a late flight, so we decided to climb Lion’s head. We heard this climb was not that high, but after almost an hour of climbing, it was pretty hard to climb! But we made it, of course!
After the climb, we had some dinner and went to the airport, and my Africa adventure had ended again…