Guess Who’s Back, Back Again

I AM BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!  

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Back in Africa.

Back to present another TV series!! *Sqqqqueeeeeeeeeeeeeeel!!!*

This one is slightly different to the previous one (which is still in post production and will be for at least another 6 months). This new show is based around only one location: a family owned, family run conservancy specialising in rhino conservation and anti poaching programs. I spent 2 days filming here for the previous series and was incredibly impressed by the work they do, the effort they put in and how much they achieve just by involving the right people and working with the animals 24/7. So, I’ve come back and am fully immersing myself in the lives of the volunteers, managers and handlers that contribute to the progress of this special place on a daily basis.

I’ll be out here for 3 months (last time was 4, so this actually seems short in comparison!) and as usual- will be boring you with weekly blogs. Not that anyone actually reads them, but there WILL be pretty pictures for you to feast your eyes on, I promise!

Week 1 has already been quite incredible. I arrived, not expecting much, only to find that my home for the next 3 months is pretty much a palace. Ummmm…. I’ll take it, thanks!!

The place is complete with 2 adorable dogs: a ginormous retriever cross whom I call HorseDog and a cute terrier who loves to sit in my wardrobe for reasons only known to him.

The managers and volunteers are all pretty damn cool and have some unbelievable stories to share. I’ll actually be doing a ‘volunteer of the week’ segment for each blog just because of how inspiring some of them are.

One of my favourite activities this week was elephant training. The elephants here are extremely special as they were taken in as orphans after their parents were victims of poaching and have since developed a very, very close relationship with their handlers. So close, that the handlers have managed to train them some extraordinary techniques, such as hunting down poachers using scent trails and communicating using body parts. To demonstrate this, the volunteers and I each came up to Mack, the main elephant, and told him to point to a body part using his trunk. For ex: ‘Mack, point to your right ear’ or ‘Mack, point to your left front leg’. And sure enough:

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Not only is this RIDICULOUSLY impressive, but it also facilitates communication between the elephant and handler when essential medical procedures are involved.

We then had breakfast in the sun surrounded by these beautiful elephants, and that’s when Mack decided to get a little cheeky. First, he sneaked up on our poor camera man and ate his hat.

Next, as I was dragged up to perform a traditional African song with the handlers (oh lawd), he decided to sneak up on US and throw dust over our heads repeatedly, which sent me into fits of giggles (I was a pretty awful singer so kinda don’t blame him).

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And lastly, because good things come in threes, he reached up to the tree under which we are all standing and snapped the biggest branch off it, leaving us to cower in mercy under twigs and leaves. Oh, Mack….

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A lot of the time unexpected things happen here so it’s good to be prepared for virtually anything. One afternoon we got a radio call saying a baby antelope had been trapped in a fence and needed rescuing as it was in a pretty bad state. We all ran as fast as we could and the managers were quick to say that there are 2 main rules here: 1. Do not stand anywhere near its hind legs if they are free to kick you,  and 2. Keep its eyes covered as it will stress less if it doesn’t see how many of us are surrounding it.

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I sacrificed my cardigan to achieve the second and held its head as some managers and volunteers untangled the poor thing’s legs from the wire. The gashes were pretty bad and I actually didn’t think it would be able to get back up again.

How wrong I was….

The moment we had untangled it, it happily ran away as if it had never been stuck at all. Remarkable.

Our time spent with rhinos was pretty special too. The idea here is that the rhinos that are kept in this enormous conservancy will breed and will be released into the wild within the next 3-5 years. Every morning the handlers have to track them to confirm no poaching attempts were made at night and the newer arrivals are kept in enclosures at night to ensure their safety too. Not only did we try to track the main female rhino with her 4 month old baby one (very early!) morning, which is much harder than it looks (had to follow footprints, sounds and mud patterns… very Sherlock), but we also got to tuck the other rhinos in bed just before sunset- and yes, it is as cute as it sounds!! I got to pet and feed Taffika (sassy, right!?) and made sure the boma was safely locked before leaving for the night. Who would think rhinos can be gentle loving creatures?! I certainly didn’t before this experience…

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And lastly, check out this raft we built and raced just for shits n giggles:

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The volunteers and I divided ourselves into 2 teams and had just under 1h to construct a raft using logs, wires and empty jugs. I was, for some reason, nominated to race it, only to find out that my opponent from the other team was an ex swimmer. #unfairadvantage.

Also, this is not my best angle so I apologise in advance for any nightmares this may cause.

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I paddled my non swimmer arms and legs furiously as I tried to beat her for the first 2 minutes, and then I realised that taking a relaxing dip in the lake would be a lot more enjoyable, sooooo :

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Note to self: Do not advertise raft racing as skill on CV.

Volunteer of the Week

This is Marlena. She is from Poland and she is awesome. Marlena has taken a year off to travel and do charity and volunteer work all over the world. In the last 8 months she has been helping projects with amazing causes in India, Zambia, Galapagos, Costa Rica, USA, South Africa and Mozambique just to name a few!

Marlena is always happy, giggles a lot and loves taking pictures of elephant poop (true story).

 

Next Week: Tree chopping, visits to the local community, scary snake stories and moooore!


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