"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." Lao Tzu
Over the past three months the Kariega Conservation Volunteers have been committed and passionate about working in conservation and the community alike. As hard work so often proves, many massively rewarding experiences have come forth, with incredible wildlife encounters and magical moments under the African sky. By working together, volunteers from all over the world have achieved much in their stay, and taken with them precious memories and newly forged friendships.
Lion monitoring and tracking has been an excellent experience for volunteers. Learning how to track animals using radio frequency, as well as signs and tracks in the bush, has been very exciting. Such sessions have been conducted at least once a week and have yielded incredible sightings, including five sightings with lions on kills. Data has been collected on all social interactions and kills encountered.
Rhino research and awareness has been a big focus in these months with volunteers not only monitoring these animals, but also engaging with other like-minded individuals. Rhino monitoring has been conducted at least once a week. It has been an absolute joy watching the young calves grow and observe how they are gradually switching over to more frequent grazing as they are weaned. Volunteers also assisted in locating and treating a rhino cow who required veterinary treatment. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our volunteers to help with the handling of this amazing animal, allowing close contact. One hour later the cow was able to re-join her family unencumbered. All our volunteers at the time participated in the annual Rhino Run hosted in Kenton-on-Sea on the 24 September. We greatly enjoyed the event and atmosphere, sharing a day interacting with other conservationists who also care about the well-being of these incredible animals.
Elephant monitoring has been carried out at least once a week with the volunteers also enjoying some special sightings. Elephant identification has been of high priority with volunteers working together to take frontal images, illustrate identification diagrams and to observe family relations. Apart from this, elephant feeding preferences and movements were also observed and recorded. A preference to browsing has been apparent over these past months, with prickly pear, wild fig tree and bee-sting bush being utilized most abundantly, followed by a variety of grasses. We have also welcomed two new calves onto Kariega in the past three months - a most adorable addition to Kariega's elephant family.
Serval Breeding Project
The volunteers have assisted with the maintenance and care of the servals in breeding enclosures on the reserve. This has involved cleaning water and waste from their cages, improving facilities by creating additional shelters and constructs for the animals to utilise, and feeding. Volunteers have enjoyed the thrill of being in such close proximity to wildlife and to assist in their upkeep and maintain their well-being.
Camera traps have been setup to observe elusive wildlife with a continued focus on brown hyena. Traps have been setup on roads where tracks of these shy animals have been observed. Footage of two different brown hyenas has been captured which is very exciting. Other special sightings caught on camera have included aardvark and caracal.
Birding & Birds in Reserves Project (BIRP)
Birding has been a fun and interactive learning curve for most volunteers, training their eyes to observe the smaller creatures that dwell on the reserve. Monthly surveys have been conducted, adding a new element and perspective on viewing wildlife. This has been a most enriching experience all round. The photography enthusiast volunteers have assisted in improving the photos of many species in the volunteer bird species record. Some sightings in recent months have included African fish eagle, Knysna turaco, jackal buzzard, and pied kingfisher to name but a few.
Alien Plant Eradication
The control of alien invasive plant species has been considered of high importance, with volunteers continuing focus on black wattle. Volunteers have worked on this fortnightly, sweeping through areas cleared before to root up new seedlings as well as taking on stands of mature trees. Black wattle stands have been decimated in some areas. In the past three months volunteers have removed 3890 plants with about 8% of those being mature seed producing trees
Volunteer House Upgrade and Indigenous Plant Nursery
A great job has been done in renovating and improving the facilities and garden at the Volunteer House. Two stone pathways were created and we collected and planted 18 aloes, as well as stands of carpobrotus and porkbush to embellish the living space. The volunteers have been expanding our plant nursery facilities and have created seedling tables for nursing plant seedlings. So far, we have taken on an initiative to nurse 1000 coral trees from seeds, and maintain a healthy porkbush nursery of 700 plants. The coral trees are being grown to assist in the greening of Ekuphumleni township, especially where new homes have been built. The trees will be gifted to the community once they have grown. The porkbush is being cultivated for future replanting on the reserve to expand the presence of this desirable and ecologically significant species.
A brand new world awakens when the sun sets and the nocturnal wildlife become active. Volunteers have enjoyed weekly night drives and enjoyed various sightings of nocturnal animals. Some wildlife seen at night included springhares, scrub hares, porcupine, active lions and hippos out of the water grazing. The sky also comes alive at night revealing the evening stars, planets and the stunning Milky Way. What makes these skies so spectacular is that they are unobstructed by urban lighting. Insights have been shared with volunteers about the interesting constellations visible at this time of year including Leo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Capricornus, as well as the mythology surrounding them.
Our community outreach projects, where our volunteers lend a helping hand at one day a week, aims to empower the community for a brighter future. We have primarily focused our outreach on the Farmerfield school and the Helping Hands soup kitchen during these past months. At Farmerfield, volunteers have gone to great lengths to prepare and teach constructive lessons that combine typical school subjects with environmental awareness and education. This has been a huge success for all grades, from preschool to grade 7. The new perspectives and creative lesson plans have been a breath of fresh air for the children and encouraged them to open up and think outside the box. At the Helping Hands soup kitchen, volunteers have given their time to play, help feed, and support the children, as well as assist with general operations like cooking and cleaning. The volunteers have done an outstanding job in fulfilling this role.
Thanks to all Kariega Conservation Volunteers
Overall the Kariega volunteer programme has enjoyed an adventure packed quarter, full of unforgettable sightings, inspirational people and exemplary teamwork. A big thank you to all the volunteers who have given their time to contribute to conservation work and community upliftment in the past few months. Your passion has been the driving force of the success we have had. We look forward to an exciting summer, to build on the incredible year that has come so far.
Yours in conservation, Jarrett Joubert, Kariega Conservation Volunteer Co-ordinator.