This morning, rather than going on our usual safari, we went to the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center. When we arrived, 2 warthogs bounded up to greet us; however, we soon discovered what they were really after—belly rubs. They were happy as pigs with all of they attention our group gave them! We then went into a room with lots of benches where one of the guides there explained the situation of many animals that come to the center and what the center’s mission is. As he spoke, a large black bird the size of a cat was making the weirdest noise. It sounded like a hollow bottle being squeezed really hard. Despite the distraction I learned a lot. Due to human over-population, African animals have very little places to call home any more. As a result, they run into conflict with industrial areas and particularly farmers. Farmers, in an attempt to protect their livestock kill predators, further contributing to their endangerment in doing so.
They showed us heart wrenching pictures of a leopard who had been caught in a snare and then stepped in a trap that sliced its foot off. The poor leopard was rescued by the center, but unfortunately had to be put down because of its horrific condition. With 3 legs, it could never survive in the wild. The non-prophet rehabilitation center offers an alternative to killing animals by assisting farmers and citizens in removing animals from their property. They then relocate the animal to a safer area away from civilization. The center also takes in animals from humans who ignorantly have adopted orphaned baby animals, raised them, and discovered how much of a handful they are when they grow to adulthood. These animals can never be released, but they try to give them a comfortable lifestyle and use them for educational purposes.
We were led to a large enclosure where a cheetah on a harness was led onto a table. They allowed us to pet it and surprisingly, the cheetah was purring like an engine! I never realized that cheetahs could do that! Afterwards, we saw 2 honey badgers wrestling playfully, some lion cubs, a small spotted cat called a serval that was hissing at us, a full grown lion that the man fed meat to through the fence, wild dogs, hyenas, and a variety of birds such as eagles, vultures, etc. In the bird enclosure, some of the eagles even bowed their heads to us, inviting us to pet them!
When visiting the vulture enclosure, the man asked if anyone wanted to feed the vultures; I had to volunteer. He suited me up in a thick leather glove and stuck a piece of meat in my hand. The giant vulture flew onto my arm and ate the meat. It was a lot heavier than I thought it was going to be and definitely shocked me! However, it was also the highlight of my time there and was a great experience! A baby giraffe grazed the Acacia trees in the lawn and many of us got pictures with it. Luckily, no one got kicked… it certainly looked like it wanted to a few times!
Our next stop was at the Women’s Co-op center. This center takes in African women who are in desperate situations and struggling to make a living. Many of these women are single mother, taking care of a relative’s children who lost their parents to aids, or even have aids themselves (a whopping 40% of South Africans have HIV/Aids). There is no doubt that they come from hard, sad lives; but the center offers them hope. There, they are given the resources and taught to weave. Selling these weavings allows them to feed themselves, their families, and afford the medications they need.
We were led around a school sponsored by the center and the young children sang us some songs in English they had learned. Another teacher showed us the art room where they allow any child who wishes to come to the class and create artwork for free. Next, we were served a lunch of chicken, pap, a delicious gravy, butternut squash, a green spinach-like dish, and jelly beats. The women were adorable! Several came out of their building and were wearing traditional African garments. They sang grace in true African fashion with perfect harmony and dance moves! Lunch itself was delicious. The pap (a grit-like food) with the gravy especially hit the spot!
When we had finished, we went into the center and were explained the process of weaving. The women were very enthusiastic and had smiles plastered on their faces the entire time! I purchased some beautiful hand-made things from them that are particularly special because I got to meet the people it benefits. When we had finished making our purchases, the women began singing and performing for us. They sang songs from the Shaagan tribe and looked like they were having the time on their life. One woman, Anna, appeared to be the oldest, but was particularly vivacious and really put herself into it. After a while, they pulled some of us in to dance with them. Luckily, I quickly picked up the dance I was pulled into—it was essentially the same as doing America’s new age dance move, “the jerk!”
When they had concluded, they asked if we could perform for them. Although we sounded like nails on a chalkboard, we gave it our best efforts and sang Wagon Wheel. Trying not to be outdone, we added some very unsynchronized hand motions and swung dance with them! As we left, the women sang, “Thank you my friends” and shook hands with every one of us using the colloquial hand shake. This was such a wonderful experience. These women are incredible; even with such hardships in their lives, these women can be so full of life and song!
We got back in perfect timing for an afternoon safari, and boy it was not a disappointment! We saw lots of elephants! One group in particular contained a couple babies and a protective mother. The mother trumpeted at us and shook her head agitatedly. She even bluffed a charge at the other safari car. It was an exciting ride!
Afternoon Field Notes:
1. 2 male elephants about 12-15 years old eating the vegetation.
· Both had mud all over them. They cover themselves in mud then rub against trees to rub ticks and parasites off of them.
· One grew wary of us, put his ears back, and shook his head. This means that he was agitated.
· Elephants create a hierarchy amongst each other, especially when water is a scarce resource.
· Males only stick around females when they are in estrus and the male is in musk. If this is the case for both, they will mate.
· Musk is taxing on a male’s body because they are using more energy traveling and searching for a female. Meanwhile, they are not eating, drinking water, or resting enough to replenish their energy.
· Females have a 22 month gestation period and typically give birth at the end of summer (Feb/Mar); however, elephants can be born at any point throughout the year.
· Mature, dominant males often go into musk when females are in estrus. When in musk they secrete a chemical in their temporal gland, have an increase in testosterone, and a high drive to find a female.
· When ready to breed, males move a far away from their birth place as possible to get away from their gene pool.
2. 1 male elephant about 12-13 years old.
· This elephant is beginning to get kicked out of his herd by his mother and other female elephants, so he is keeping near the herd, but staying away.
· When we approached, he raised his trunk in the air. This is how they smell us and determine if we are a threat.
3. Elephant herd with several babies and protective mothers
· The mother trumpeted and displayed protective behavior. She even bluffed a charge at the other vehicle. Once determining we were not a threat, the mother still kept a watchful eye.
· When the dominant female turned or walked, everyone followed.
· Baby is around 2, still trying to suckle.
· They began making low growls; this is one of the communications calls we can hear. Many are low frequencies and travel long distances. They were possibly communicating to elephants we could not see.
· A female can have a baby from as young as 11.
4. 1 steenbok out in the open
For dinner we had a delicious steak cooked over the fire and a special “extra dessert”… roasted marshmallows! After dinner, we spent time roasting marshmallows and chatting around the fire.