Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Secret Elephants--Christmas and New Year's

Photos above:

The "two boy's" in the fynbos at Gondwana Game Reserve. Photo by Karin Saks

Gareth looking out early one morning at the magnificent Gondwana Game Reserve

Over the Christmas period, this elephant battered trail sign was removed from the tree by a Knysna elephant.

The Secret Elephants Christmas Time, and into the New Year!

Firstly, all the very best to everyone for this exciting New Year!

My Christmas time and into the New Year was like a swirling whirlwind of activity and interactions ( please see website list below of some of the people/places mentioned).

On my return from The Secret Elephants Book Tour I visited, with baboon expert Karin Saks of the Darwin Primate Group, the magnificent Gondwana Game Reserve here in the southern Cape. Gondwana is the only Big Five fynbos reserve in the world, and is owned and run by the Mark and Wendy Rutherfoord. I visited the reserve to assist Mark with the setting up of remote cameras with the reserves knowledgeable field guides. It had been suspected that leopard are occurring in parts of the reserve but had not been sighted, and we hope to establish the status of these magnificent animals through the use of the cameras. Appropriately, as we had Karin with us at the time, the very first images captured on Gondwana, was a large troop of baboons. Gondwana is a really stunning reserve. I always enjoy seeing the “two boys” there, two fantastic elephant bulls who always move together.

At the end of November, Tim Jackson, Scientific Editor of Africa Geographic visited me for a photo shoot in the forests for the Knysna elephant article he is preparing. Weather was good, and I am sure Tim captured some great images.

In December Trevor and Caroline Carnaby of Beat About the Bush Safaris visited me, and we went on a route through the forests. Trevor is one of southern Africa's foremost professional field guides and is the best selling author of the book, Beat About the Bush : Mammals. Early into our foray into the forest. we amazingly came across fresh sign of one of the Knysna elephants, the female I had named Strangefoot, whose name will be familiar to readers of The Secret Elephants. What was doubly amazing about this find is that I had not had sign of elephant activity in that particular portion of the Knysna forests for almost three years. And as I write this some weeks later, we still have elephant activity in this area. A female and a 6 - 8 year old youngster. Very kindly Trevor and Caroline wanted to contribute to my work here and donated two new remote cameras for use in the Coastal Leopard - Mammal Diversity Project. Thanks again, Trevor and Caroline, and hope to see you both again soon!

Trevor and Caroline's visit was followed by me then returning back to Cape Town for The Cape Times The Secret Elephants literary lunch with Gorry Bowes Taylor. The literary lunch was hosted in the magnificent Allee Bleue Estate in the heart of the Franschoek winelands. It was a lovely event and attended to capacity. My return to Knysna, flying into George Airport was not so relaxed though. As we were about to board the plane, fellow passengers mobile phones rang and buzzed and soon we were seeing images that the flight before ours had over shot the runway, coming to a halt on a road outside the George Airport. Mercifully and miraculously, no one was seriously injured. Our flight, in terrible weather, was a nerve racking one to say the very least...

In the middle of December filmmaker Nicole Schafer visited to film a story for Reuters Television. Nicole's good fortune in the forests matched Trevor and Caroline's. It was suspected that a musth bull was in the area and Nicole filmed this evidence with SANParks personnel. The following day during filming with myself, I found extremely fresh sign of the female and the youngster. After following up for a while, and sensing the elephants were close, I turned to Nicole as she filmed and stated we were going to leave the elephants be. I have a firm policy of absolute non-disturbance of the elephants. And so we turned back. But almost as a reward, twenty minutes later when we had finished filming, I heard a rumbling communication call move through the forest. It was great to hear one of the elephants. The rest of Nicole's filming went equally well apart from right at the very end when she mysteriously lost the microphone for her camera. But....just this last weekend as I was driving through the forest, I was flagged down urgently by a lady who lives close to where we had lost the microphone. The lady had found the microphone, in the shrubbery along the side of the road the week before! My thanks to this lady was profuse. On reflection it was very fortunate that we had lost the microphone where we had, as if this had occurred in the area of elephant activity, the outcome might have been very different. Elephants being highly intelligent and curious, might have taken Nicole's microphone into an unknown dark depth of the forest!

After Nicole's filming for Reuters Television, I was visited by an old friend of the Knysna elephant project, Michael MacIver. Michael, through the Baobab Charity UK, and through his generous personal donations, has contributed much in terms of equipment to the elephant project. Michael is also a trustee of The Gareth Patterson Wildlife Foundation. Great seeing you, Michael!

Following Michael's visit to the elephant project, I was visited by another old friend and elephant supporter, Andreas Liebenberg and his lovely wife Melina. Andreas and Melina own and run the very successful Bateleur Eco Safaris in the Timbavati, which is a part of the Greater Kruger National Park. While walking one of the public trail routes in the forest this last weekend, we again came across fresh sign of the female elephant and the 6 - 8 year old youngster.

Some people/places mentioned :