We checked for more snares

29th July 2014

Fever trees scattered along the Limpopo floodplain on the Makuleke concession, Kruger.

Friday 25th July 2014

Not many takers for this mornings walk, just Duncan and Will along with Brian Kelly who was walking as my Back-up. Brian has joined us for the consolidation few days as well as graduation as the instructor in camp. He was happy for it to be my walk and told me to lead on. I explained that we had some distance to cover so whilst we’ll stop and look at cool things there wasn’t going to be any interpretation, even if it were it would be a case of teaching grandma to such eggs etc given the make up of the group.

Given that we were walking from camp to Mpimbi it was always going to be a long walk. As the crow flys the distance was only 12km but we don’t possess wings so there were many an object that we’d need to navigate, our estimate was seven hours.

Straight off the bat we found lion tracks just outside camp which we thought about following for a while as they were fresh, really fresh (Jomi told us later that they were also on the camp drive way). However, we ploughed on with our original plan which brought us our first major diversion as we had to circumnavigate a breeding herd of 100 elephants.

Whilst we were diverting I heard some vervets alarming and they were close so we quick marched towards them. I was convinced we’d find a leopard as we made it there straight away, we had a vantage point, the ground was fairly sparse and the monkeys were still going mad. Instead there was a crowned eagle which was not a bad sighting at all. Brian summed it up nicely by saying that he’s seen many more leopards than crowned eagles so the sighting was pretty special.

We had our second encounter as we crossed the flood plain. I was too engrossed in the brilliant substrate which made many a different track shine up like the billboards at Piccadilly Circus to notice the small breeding herd of elephants making their way down the kopje towards us. Thanks for the nod Will. We upped our pace to the safety of high ground and ate a couple of rusks whilst watching the eles go about their business.

This was a long walk, seven and a half hours in total covering 22 km so there was always going to be a lot going on. The next encounter was a herd of buffalo in the adrenalin grass. There was no other way around them other than to go down wind and pick our way slowly through the equally tall grass stopping every now and again to stand on a log to check that we weren’t going to walk into any stragglers.

We had lunch looking out over the Limpopo in the shade of a some apple leaf trees. It wasn’t fine dining but we’d worked up a big appetite so we woolfed down the bully beef which resembled dog food and the canned chicken which was akin to cat food.

The next destination on our walk was the Jackal Berry Forest which has been on my to do list for sometime. I’d barely had a chance to take in the sights of the tall dark giants when I saw an impala ram 100m to the north acting strangely. It then dawned on me and I turned to Brian and said, “Impala in a snare up ahead”.

The impala was struggling to free himself and in the process had broken his leg. we backed off to give him space. We radioed base camp to contact the Section Ranger. It was then a case of waiting for our instruction. It wasn’t long before we got the call back over the radio confirming what we should do.

Duncan gave me a pair of ear plugs to wear. I put these in straight away which made the whole affair muffled, it gave the whole thing a strange and eery feeling. I walked up to the impala as it struggled but at the last minute as I chambered a round it froze and simply looked up at me. I took aim and pulled the trigger. The round found its mark, the central body mass, hitting either a lung or the heart. He went down straight away but kicked a little, certainly within 20 seconds. I think (hope) he died quickly.

We moved the body a good couple of hundred metres out of the forest into the open where the poachers would hopefully be beaten to their quarry by the vultures and other scavengers of the veld. To speed up the process I cut open his belly, no need for lappet faced vultures this time round. He was a heavy chap, how a leopard can carry something like this up a tree is beyond me.

We did a quick sweep of the area to check for more snares. We found one which I’d inadvertently stepped around. It looked very fresh, the grass that had been used to tie it into position was not old at all. We removed the heavy duty wire snare and logged the GPS coordinates and carried on our way.

Despite the walk turning into an anti-poaching patrol the forest did not fail to amaze. I actually found myself walking round with my mouth open especially when sycamore figs, sausage trees and fever trees were mixed in with the jackal berrys.

Rather than jumping straight into the Landy that had been left for us at the end of the walk we stripped down to our boxers and jumped into the Limpopo to cool off and sooth our scratched shins from the thorn-veld.