After 45 days, Kaizer and I go back to the Pafuri section of Kruger Park. It is great to go back and see what awaits us. I was hopeful we would get lots of leopard pictures. However, I was dreading the drive. The thought of driving 80 kilometres per day to and from the study site (and driving between camera stations) didn't sit well with me. Luckily, the people at Pafuri Camp, run by the Wilderness Safaris, offered us accommodation. This was very good news. It meant we would spend less time traversing and more time collecting cameras.
From the time we go out to collect the cameras to the time we find our leopard photos, we have many mixed emotions:
1. Driving to the camera station
Emotion: Feels like going bungee jumping
Questions: Will we find the cameras where we left them? Are there dangerous animals at the camera station? What are we going to walk into today? Hmm...
2. Parking the car and walking to the camera station
Emotion: Feels like going to buy a lottery ticket
Questions: Will we find the cameras? Will we walk into a dangerous animal?
3. Arriving at the camera station
Emotion: Unwrapping a present
Questions: Are the cameras there? Are they still working? Are the battery cables still connected?
Scenario 1: Cameras are there and intact. Maputla: “Hurray!”
Scenario 2: One camera has been removed, but the other one is still there. Maputla: “Aarghhh! We’ll search the area and hopefully, we will find it.” (Most of the time we find the cameras thrown on the side of the path by vandals)
Scenario 3: Both cameras have been taken. Luckily this hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, I am going to yell “Aaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhhh” and other bad words.
We then take the cameras back to the camp site to see what we have captured.
4. Scanning through the pictures for images
Emotion: Feels like opening my first report card in my first year of high school. I am tempted to close my eyes and slowly open the one eye to see if the card is working. After the one eye says it works, then I open my other eye.
5. Finding the leopard picture
Emotion: Hurray! No more questions to answer. If Kaizer is around, we’ll give each other high fives. If I’m alone, then I'll put on a crocodile or hyena grin.
It takes us about seven days to remove all the cameras in each 400 square-kilometre study site. Walking is mostly fun. Kaizer and I talk about a whole lot of interesting stuff. The most interesting moment comes when we walk past an old site (approx. 2000 years old) where boys used to look after livestock. The place is really beautiful and the sandstone still has depressions where the boys played, and a water well is dug into the rock.
Kaizer says: “Does this mean we will find the Bushmen (the San people) here in the Park?” My answer: “No.” Then he looks really disappointed in my answer and says, “Well, but we will soon find them as we move south right?” Maputla: “Sorry to break your heart, but there are no San anywhere in Kruger. If you want to see the San, you must go to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape Province”.
We discuss the Bushmen daily, until one day we come across a pile of rocks. I mention to him that a long time ago someone had accumulated a lot of gold and hid it somewhere in South Africa, but nobody knew where exactly. Now, in the middle of placing our cameras and collecting them, a pile of rocks appear. Of course we know that the story is not true, but it doesn’t hurt to take a peek.
In the next blog, Michael Gallagher, a student from Ireland who came to visit the leopard project will write for us.
Joining AWF in 2007, Nakedi is the latest addition to AWF's team of species researchers in Africa. Working in the Limpopo region, where he's from, Nakedi's studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies that will benefit communities he's known all his life. Looking at Nakedi's focus areas as a zoologist – Cytogenetics, Molecular Biology, and Geometric Morphometrics – it's easy to see he is serious about conservation. Leopards as a species especially interested him because they are both powerful and elusive – making it a challenge to study and protect them.
AWF Blogs bring you to the African Heartlands, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.