Jomi Krobb of Marataba Safari Lodge continues his account of the activities undertaken when the landowners came to visit. His first blog featured rhino darting and notching, this time the focus was on game capture…
The next big activity was game capture. Due to the fencing around the Marakele National Park, the populations of some mammal species need to be managed to a certain extent. There is definitely an overpopulation of impala, zebra and wildebeest in our reserve. Before they completely overgraze and overbrowse the bush and damage the veld, Marataba conservation employs a private game-capture company to come and take some of them out of our park and transport them to different game reserves and national parks. This provides capital for the park and in some instances our animals will be traded for other species, which are struggling in our area.
Enormous trucks and trailers were at the site of the game capture when we arrived in the morning and a big boma-like structure had been constructed. I couldn’t fully picture how the process was going to work. When the wind conditions were perfect the chopper took off and went looking for small herds of animals to shepherd into the boma. The boma is basically in the shape of a large funnel, which narrows into a channel and eventually leads into the large trailer of a truck. Before I honestly knew what was going on I had been unceremoniously pushed into the boma (quite close to the trailer) beside a curtain. The whole boma is sectioned off by curtains, which are to be drawn closed so that the animals have no option but to move into the trailer of the truck.
Very soon the helicopter let off a long siren, which was the signal that the first zebra were in the boma and the first curtain had been closed. I was standing by the last curtain with one of the members of the conservation team. We pushed ourselves into the boma canvas and soon a small group of zebra ran past us at less than 3 meters. We quickly closed the curtain. Some of the zebra stopped right there and then and thought about coming back in our direction. A slap on the canvass-wall of the boma and the zebra rather reluctantly moved them into the trailer. We repeated this process twice more before giving up for the day as the wind had changed and the animals would no longer move into the boma as they would catch our scent too soon.
The next day we continued, this time with impala, in a different location. While the zebra can deliver a nasty kick they usually move into the trailer without much hesitation. With the first group of impala this was not at all the case. This time round I was positioned on the trailer that the impala would be running into and could watch the whole capture process unfold. It took the helicopter about an hour before he had a herd of close to thirty animals in the boma. Yet once inside the curtains the impalas realised they were trapped and started attempting to escape. They are incredibly agile animals and one of them almost managed to clear the boma wall, which is close to 3 meters in height. It took a lot more ‘convincing’ from the capture team to get the animals into the trailer. Some of impala literally jumped into the arms of the capture team. It all went reasonably smoothly though and when the impala were in the trailer the rams were singled out and pipes were put on their horns so they couldn’t injure any of the others. The impala were then sorted depending on which park they would be brought to.
In total the game capture team took close to 400 impala and 100 zebra as well as a few wildebeest out of the park. In about four days. Those numbers may seem like a lot but the impala population can grow by as much as 35% in a year with the zebra and wildebeest growth not far off. The numbers will have more than recovered within the year.
Witnessing the whole process was incredibly interesting, if not always easy to watch. Naturally there were one or two casualties during the capture but I kept telling myself that this was all for the greater good. My hat off to Castor and the game capture team.
I also took the landowners on a couple of safaris, while they were here and we were lucky enough to see an elephant from the air, a lioness swim across a river and a leopard feeding on an impala in a tree in the pouring rain. Hopefully they come back soon!