A tense assessment

7th December 2013

Friday 29th November 2013

Rather than going on one of the assessment drives in the morning I stayed behind and did some last minute preparations. This was focused on trees and collecting a few props including a lucky find of a cicada nymph exoskeleton.

I didn’t have much chance to worry about my drive as normal camp life took over. I was on duty and had to make myself useful, there was lunch to set up and gas bottles had to be shifted.

The latter was actually a blessing in disguise as it meant I was able to take the Landy out onto the reserve and escort the delivery vehicle back to the gate. Being able to drive through the reserve and get the senses switched on behind the wheel was like gold dust.

Once I returned I gave the vehicle a thorough check and clean and then I was ready. I wasn’t too worried about any last minute cramming, it was more important to be relaxed and to go out and enjoy myself.

For my actual drive I had a full truck, nine passengers including the assessor and also instructor Margaux. It was good to have her in the vehicle but it also added pressure.

The drive is three hours with 15 mins leeway either side. Whilst it’s meant to be conducted as a normal game drive it’s not. There is so much you need to cover that paying customers wouldn’t necessarily want. That is unless they’re the nerdiest of tree spotters and have traveled to Africa to have twenty trees pointed out to them.

Despite having to tell stories about trees and rocks I pledged that my first stop would not be at anything without a pulse. This was a bold move and the first ten minutes of the drive were painfully long, but it paid off and the first thing we stopped for was a giraffe.

The trickiest part of the drive were the elephants and I bumped them twice. These aren’t normal elephants, they’re Selati elephants and need to be approached with care.

I was too cautious with the eles and I should have been bolder in my approach to a pair of young bulls. But colleagues had been failing on small safety indiscretions so I didn’t want an epic fail by bringing on a charge.

On my way back to camp we came across very fresh signs of the eles, first it was the tracks, then the smell, then the dung and finally the breeding herd themselves.

This is when things became much more tense. At one point a large cow came into the middle of the road, flapped her ears at me and moved on.

Time was running out and I needed to get back to camp so it was a case of driving parallel with the herd as they were walking alongside in a sickle bush thicket.

On the final approach to camp we spotted a wasp dragging a paralysed baboon spider across the road, I’d already been given an extra fifteen minutes due to the elephant ‘negotiations’ so we spent ten minutes watching this amazing sight.

On my return I was given the nod that I’d passed subject to some homework on birds, elephant social structure and an astronomy test as soon as we had a clear night.

After my interview it was time for a few beers but I couldn’t really celebrate, it felt wrong with many others having not been as lucky as I in passing.