4:45am: Wake up and take a shower (I’m extremely grumpy* at this stage).
5:00am: Still grumpy, I get in to the research car with my backpack and laptop bag and follow the bus from Shishangane (Staff Village) to the lodge (Singita Kruger National Park).
Contents of the backpack:
2. Ziplock® bags in case we come across leopard droppings
6. My note book
7. A sweater (I wonder why)
5:30am: Arrive at the lodge. Still grumpy!!
5:45am: Assemble with the tracking team (this depends on the occupancy of the lodge). If there is no tracking team I try and read. Grumpy still!!
6:00am: Tracking team departs for the Concession. I’m slightly grumpy at this stage.
6:30am: The sun comes out! Hooray! I start smiling.
Any time after departure if we come across tracks of animals that need tracking for that day, we get off the Landy (Land Rover) and start tracking (Depends on how old the tracks are). One of the guys remains in the Landy and drives around the block to meet the team on the other side should they not find anything. I take my backpack in case we come across leopard droppings, a leopard, leopard tracks or a leopard kill. If any of these happens, I note it in my notebook and GPS the position.
One of us, usually Glass or Christoff, always carries a rifle and a radio. For my own personal reasons I always walk next to the guy with the rifle. It might have to do with being the immediate building block of the food chain. I refuse to share this sensitive piece of information.
Half the time I step on the man with the rifle’s heels. Christoff complains and someone remarks how scared Nakedi is. Everyone starts laughing. I’m not grumpy anymore, so I also start laughing.
The tracking team is phenomenal; they know the area like the back of their hands. They follow tracks on some of the most unlikely places where one can follow an animal such as on the mountain. I’m not lying; it has something to do with the direction in which the grass is bent. It is incredible what they can do. I’m not that far behind in my tracking skills! I feel like I’m improving by the day.
After walking for a while Christoff might suddenly turn without warning and walk back in the direction we just came from. I know if he does this there is something farther down the path, usually lions. When I first got here I used to stop and look around, extending my neck and asking questions: “What is it? Why are we turning? Where is it?” The response: “Hai, Nakedi u lava ku dyiwa mpfo!? U ta dyiwa buti (pronounced: boot),” Christoff would say. Translated: “Hey, Nakedi do you want to get eaten boy!? You will get eaten brother!”
After walking as far away as possible from the animal that was supposed to eat me I would ask again. 100% of the time the answer is: "Di ta ku dya tingala (lions) mpfo!" (Didn’t you see those lions? Lions will eat you, boy!) And I would say: "Was it lions?"
9:00am: We are all hungry and tired from tracking. I’m grumpy again. We get in to the Landy and head back to the lodge.
9:45am: We are back at the lodge, breakfast time, Yay!! I’m not grumpy anymore. I eat enough food so that I don’t come back for lunch. After breakfast I wait for the guides to bring their guests back to the lodge. While I’m waiting I do some admin (Grumpy!).
10:45am: I try and get an update of where all the lions were spotted on that day. I make a mental note not to go near those areas.
I'll fill you in on the rest of the day in my next post.
* I’m not really a grumpy person! Nothing really matters when I’m in the bush.
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.