Thu 31 Mar-Black Thursday

We started out the morning walking the 2B’s. We tried to get them hunting and took them near the impala but they weren’t very interested as usual.

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We scored painting Ngamo poles in the hot sun next and broke the record by painting 27 poles. We were rewarded after lunch by getting Bomas. Usually this is simple but we had to move 6 or more months of elephant poo from where people had been dumping in the wrong spot to it’s correct spot. We were cracking through it when I slipped on the pile of poo as I lunged the fork into the pile and managed to put it through my shoe, sock and toe. Luckily it kinda bounced of one toe and hit the corner of the next one. Split my toenail and bruised the other one bad but at least I still have all toes!

One of the P cubs had been sick and when we returned we’d learnt it had died Sad smile Then the terrible news came that the 3 cubs up in the breeding program had also died today! 4 dead cubs in one day is very sad. The remaining P was really upset calling out for her brother and running around in her enclosure..a very sad day indeed.

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Last up we had the MK’s and took them down to the jetty for some pics.

Wed 30 Mar-School visit

Today I spent the first 3 sessions at a local school while John stayed behind to do 2Bs walk and a bunch of animal poo shovelling jobs. We drove out to the school and were given a quick tour. The school is the oldest in Zimbabwe and many of the rooms are utilized as classrooms instead of their original purposes such as laundry etc.

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We spent the morning painting the concrete curbs to spruce up the place a bit. Then were we taken to a class to teach. Having no idea what to teach 8 year olds in Zimbabwe I opted for PE over English and maths and took them out and played soccer for 1/2 hour. The kids seemed pretty happy with this idea…but no so keen on playing co-ed soccer as they were keen on boys verus girls so had to encourage mixed teams. Then we had assembly and then they had some sort of health lessons that weren’t in English. We had our packed lunches and headed back to the park.

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Last session took out the 2B’s and they were up for posing as usual.

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Finished up the night trying to take some star pics.

Tue 29 Mar- Off morning

This morning we had off. I opted to jump on a walk with the MKs as we don’t get to walk them very often. It was quite cool this morning and there was mist on the river.

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There were a bunch of clients so didn’t get many photos but they were definately in a posing mood as we took them up the big rock and down to the jetty.

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After lunch BPG – enclosure cleaning was cancelled as they’d fed the lions and they didn’t want to move, so we got to do cub descriptions for the 2Bs. We were told they were only 19 months just over the usual 18 for retirement, and I’d always thought they were massive, but when we did the descriptions we discovered they were actually 21! It was good to sit down and work out which was which.

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Bakari has a rounder face with lots of spots and a very curly pig tail and big eyes.

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Boma has a longer face with hardly any spots and is a lot more golden.

Then we took the 2B’s for a walk for the last session and they were feeling quite lazy so posed for lots of pics. Now that we knew how to tell them apart we’d realised we had hardly any of just Boma so ensured we rectified this. Listening to the lion handlers talk to the lions is quite amusing. I would never have thought to say “Sit down Kitty” to a lion!

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After we got back there was a night encounter that we managed to get a spot on. We took a few of the hunting lions out in the night…which is a lot more black and dark then the morning encounter so most of the time I had no idea where the lions were. We drove around for over 2 hours and only spotted 1 jackal and some giraffe so the poor lions went hungry that night.

Mon 28 Mar-Intro to Birds

After yesterday’s early start we decided to skip today’s 4am trip to hear the lions roar to catch up on some much needed sleep. We started our morning with an introduction to the birds around Antelope Park. There’s quite a few plovers around but they are a completely different colour and don’t have the hooks on the wings like we do but make a similar sound and behaviour.

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Next up we had BPG – cleaning out the lion enclosures. We ripped through the first two and got stuck at number 3 when we could only get 2 of the 4 girls to move into the holding pen. We eventually gave up and went and cleaned out 2 of the big male enclosures. I’m surprised after doing Bomas at the small amount of mess they actually make.

After lunch we had cub descriptions. We sat inside the MK’s enclosure with them and spent time describing distinguishing features and behaviour. Wish we’d done this earlier so we knew how to tell them apart!

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Mara is bigger than the other girls and has a 1/4 moon chunk out of her ear.

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Moyo is the only boy in the group.

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Meeks is lighter in colour and has a shredded pattern on her ears. Kali has a smaller face and has near perfect ears.

Last session we took out the 2Bs again. Today they felt like a bit more of a walk which was really good. Tom was on hand to help with pictures as always.

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We came across some zebra and impala and they gave a very lame attempt at stalking them. The spent much of the time looking back at us like .. hey guys aren’t you going to help?

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Sun 27 Mar-Cultural Day

This morning started at 4 am with a day encounter. We took the trucks and the 3Ks out in the morning to find some game. They were hungry as their food had been withheld for a few days. We came across a few impala in the distance and they did a bit of stalking but they didn’t make any kills.

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They didn’t look happy on the way back to camp as the sun rose.

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Next up we had a lion walk with Lewa. She was feeling quite naughty this morning, wanting to jump up and ankle tap the group so lots of strong NOs were used. Feel a bit sorry for her as she just wants to play but there’s no other lions her size to play with and us playing with her like that teaches her bad things for when she gets older.

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John went to the cultural day, did some dancing, drank some beer and cooked some food while I stayed behind and set up a Pivot on the Ngamo Pride with Rae.

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We finished the day with a leisurely elephant herd

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Sat 26 Mar-Orphanage Day

We started the morning with a walk with the 2B’s. They seemed quite docile this morning and were happy to pose for photos.

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2nd session we headed off to the orphanage and played with the kids for an hour or so. John became a jungle gym and we did lots of aeroplanes and skin the cat. Gave out a bunch of balloons which they seemed to enjoy and pens seem to be like getting treasure. I put a texta down for a minute after drawing a face on the balloon and it was gone in a flash.

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3rd session we did our data induction and snake induction to learn after being here a week if we get bitten by a black mamba there’s no ant i-venom in the whole of Zimbabwe. 4th session was supposed to be a trip on the boat but the rain had other plans so gave us a bit of free time to catch up on email etc.

Fri 25 Mar-Duty day

Now that we’ve done all the fun intro activities, today we have a few more duties. We start the day with a walk with the 2B’s. They decide to head left straight out of the pen and soon we can see the other group walking the MK’s. The handlers eventually get them back on track. They aren’t particularly playful today and we get a few photos with them on the way back in.

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Next up we have meat prep. We get to hack up a dead donkey and load some really smelly old wilderbeast into the truck. We have to hand the vehicle back over to research so wait for ages for another vehicle. Apparently I’m good with an axe…so I’ve been renamed Savage. Once it arrives we have to re-load the meat which is really smelly by now into the truck and head off and feed some of the big males, 2Bs and MK’s

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After lunch John and I are split up. I’m on Boma – shovelling elephant poo. It hasn’t been done properly for ages so there’s a lot to move! John’s on Road Repair with some of the other guys.

Last session of the day we’re with the MK’s. There’s clients on this walk so they get first go at all the picture opportunities but the lions are feeling lazy after their donkey feed so gives us a few good opportunities to get photos with them.

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Thu 24 Mar-A day of research

Today we’re on research duty with Ray. The morning session we headed out and found the pride at the release site. Milo is a massive and impressive looking lion.

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The lionesses get a bit upset and he comes running back to calm the group. They spend most of their time this morning laying down in the shade.

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Before we head off we find Athena and her 3 cubs well hidden in a thicket and looking safe and well.

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Our 2nd session of research is cancelled because we can’t get a vehicle so we end up at painting duty, without gloves, sunscreen or water and get covered in green paint and cobbler’s pegs.

Our 3rd session is cub-sitting Lewa and looking at the 2 P’s. Lewa is hungry and doesn’t seem to want to play much until I start dragging around her favourite mat. She soon livens up a bit and we take her out for a walk. She’s really not keen so we leave her like you’d leave a stubborn child and keep walking. Eventually she gets upset that she’s by herself and catches up to us.

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We try to entice her into the water but she’s not interested. She just wants to hide under people’s legs. We start to head back and she’s much more cooperative and is head of the pack. We take a few more photos of the 2Ps and head off.

Last session we get to do more research. We go looking for Athena and Kenge to get GPS positions on their dens. We find a lonely zebra we think may be the last of the 6 added a few weeks ago and it’s heading towards the lionesses. We scoot around to see if the two will meet. We wait till after dark and give up and head back for food.

Wed 23 March-A day with the horses

Today is horse induction day – 3 sessions with the horses. First up we did horse management which entailed grooming the horses. We were lucky to get the mares and their foals to brush. The mum’s were quite friendly and the babies were very inquisitive. Then we helped brush down a bunch of other horses. These guys had heaps of ticks and most were filthy from rolling around in mud.

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Next up we had our riding lesson. I haven’t been on a horse since in was a kid and never really learnt to ride properly so it was a great session to get some confidence with the horses. For this session I had Jacko, who was a nice horse..but you had to literally whip him to get him started. We played a few games with Chris and John who were very good riders and made it a bit of fun for everyone.

After lunch we were off on our bush ride. I upgraded to Casper, a young male who was a lot quicker than Jacko and very well behaved. We walked and trotted for an hour and a half through the reserve and got so close to the giraffe you could almost reach out and touch them. We spotted lots of zebra and impala. It’s a very beautiful ride but boy was my butt sore by the end!

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Our final session for the day was a walk with the 2B’s. These guys are 19 months old and they are so massive. They were very well behaved and I actually felt more secure walking with them than the MKs. They were feeling a bit lazy but were posing for some great photos. It did get interesting when the spotted the elephants moving back to their bomas and they split up in the grass and headed off with the handlers running after them.

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Tue 22 March-A day with the elephants

Today we had three sessions with the elephants. First up we watched the four African elephants perform a routine including some soccer skills.

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This was followed by a one hour long ride on the back elephants, John and I shared, which was very different to riding on the neck like in Thailand. We had a few pit-stops when the elephants found a favourite bush or something to dig at that they were particularly interested in.

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Elephants are awesome, these guys are only young and it looks like although they 3 females and 1 male they are too much like brothers and sisters now to breed. The plan maybe to bring in a prime bull.

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Our 3rd session of the day was our lion induction qualifying us to go on client walks as volunteers. We took out the MKs again but they were so different to the day before. It was quite hot and all they really wanted to do was find some shade and sleep rather than walk around. Leanne the Lion Manager took us through more in depth safety information and how to discipline lions.

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Last up was elephant herding where we follow the 4 elephants through the bush and generally direct them back to their Bomas for the night. These guys had fun finding bulbs and digging them out with their tusks and feet. As they got closer to the Bomas they really picked up the pace and the last km or so was more like a jog than a walk. They all headed straight for the troughs to fill their stomachs with hay, and left over vege scraps. I really enjoyed the last session as it was a leisurely stroll through the beautiful bush with the elephants.

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Mon 21 march – antelope park introduction

Our first real day at Antelope Park! We started the morning with information sessions on the park, the program and then a drive around the breeding program to meet the lions. I’ve never been this close to a lion before. They are really massive, such big paws and teeth!

After a great lunch, we’re taken on a game drive around the park to meet some of the animals. JB finds the 4 elephants that are used for client rides. These guys are really young (22ish) compared to the 80 year old elephants we were with in Thailand.

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We venture further into the park and find the giraffe. These guys are so tall. JB takes us cross country to ensure we get up nice and close. We also spot Zebra, Impala and wilder beast. A massive set of storm clouds can be seen rolling in and we make it back to camp just as it starts to rain.

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We wait awhile to see if the rain will clear so we can do our first lion walk as they don’t like the rain. It clears pretty quickly, just like a Brisbane afternoon storm and we head out on our first “Client Walk” where we’re treated like a client.  This afternoon we take out the MK’s. They’re still young but boy are they big!

As the temperature is quite cool due to the rain, these guys are really playful and rush off into the bush and they are quite naughty and want to run off and play rather than walk with us.  One of them manages to stay still long enough for me to get my picture taken patting her. It’s wasn’t as scary as I thought it’d be but still very surreal walking around the bush with lions!

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At the half way point the handlers spot a big python so we all go to check it out and scare it into a big hole. One of the other couples manages to get their picture taken with the lions before we head back.

Tonight we have beef stew, dahl and rice and the most awesome chocolate cake with chocolate sauce.  I’m pretty happy that tomorrow we do our Into Lion Walk Training to qualify us for a “real volunteer” and the rest of the day we get to spend with the elephants.

Sun 20 March – Off to Antelope Park

Today was a long day of travel. It started with getting up at 6am to get to our plane in Johannesburg for Harare. We were a little concerned at the route the GPS was taking us, through a bunch of back streets that were only 60km/hr when we knew that we should be able to use the motor way. After awhile we pulled over to double check the route to make sure it was in-face taking us to the airport and not some random suburb. After we were satisfied that it was taking us to the correct place off we went again.

Once we were on the motorway there are lanes marked with a plane outline which makes it a lot easier to ensure you’re in the correct lane etc.

The hire car dropoffs weren’t marked very well at all and we came to a split with probably 15 names on it and had to physically stop to find the correct lane. After safely dropping off the hire car we tried to check-in with their kiosks. It took about 10 attempts before it’d accept our credit card against both of us and then it wouldn’t scan our passports. So we abandoned this idea and went to the normal check-in counter. With tickets safely in hand we now had quite a few hours to kill. Johannesburg airport is quite modern.

We boarded our plane on time and off to Harare we went. We arrived safely at the airport and then needed to purchase our visas. There were two pay for visa lines but turned out that one was the actual pay line and the other was the we stick the visa to your passport line. This was quite confusing and a lot of people got caught out queuing in the wrong order.

This took a good 45 mins to get through with a relatively short line. We grabbed our bags, went through to the arrivals area and were greated by Simba from Antelope Park. We had to wait a few hours for 3 others that were flying in. After everyone had arrived we headed off on our 3 1/2 hour drive, with a quick stop off at a local supermarket to buy beer supplies. 5 hours later we arrive at Antelope Park, given our room keys and setup with dinner. The food was great and we were so hungry having not really eaten since 6am.  Then it was off to bed to crash for the night.

Sat 19 Mar-Free day in Johannesburg

Today we had a full day free in Johannesburg. In my true holiday style, I have a head cold, so I spent the day in bed trying to shake it. John ventured out with Dave from DPE Microsoft for the day. He’d torn up his knees at handball about a week before we left and they were really starting to heal and a quick slip in the wet today opened up one of them again.

I started to get a bit hungry all by myself at the hotel and wasn’t game to do the 3 min walk to some local food places by myself in the rain. I’m still not quite sure where it is and isn’t ok to wander around by yourself. Big gates with barbed wired on-top don’t help my confidence. So I got really lazy and opted to get something delivered to the hotel. I found these guys delivered for free and got to the last step of the online form before giving up because i didn’t have a South African mobile number Sad smile. So I had to resort to calling via Skype and hope they understood my very stuffy Australian accent for my order and address. Was very happy to see it arrive 30 mins later.

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So tomorrow we leave our comfy hotel and venture back to the airport with the hire car and fly out to Harare. We may go dark for a bit as I’m not sure how reliable and often the internet access will be.

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Fri 18 March-Monte Casino Bird Park

We had a free morning in Johannesburg today so went on an adventure out to Monte Casino Bird Park. We arrived at the public parking to realise they don’t take credit card and we hadn’t been to an ATM yet to arm ourselves with Rand. Luckily the boom gate girl took pity on us and let us in with instructions to pay on the way out.

It was just like any other mall/casino bar a few odd things:

  • A sign for the GUN SAFE
  • Being searched on the way in for weapons and guns

The Macaws were great photo specimens as they stayed relatively still and we could get quite close with our cameras.

They got a little bit friendly and decided to chase John around on foot. Wary of their strong beaks we tried our best to keep our distance till their handlers moved them back to their poles.

Armed with my zoom lens and Dave’s extender John got some great detailed shots. Having not been this close before I never realised the white face with black lines is actually white skin and small, strategically placed black feathers.

There was a vide variety of birds like this blue crane and some not so pretty like the one below.

Some of their prized new arrivals – white cockatoos made us feel like we hadn’t travelled very far at all. We also spotted lorikeets, galahs, black cockatoos.

There was an enclosed aviary with heaps of different birds flying around. This parrot flew on me as soon as I entered and happily sat on my head for a ride around, even under a fake waterfall for at least 20 mins. Some of the birds were quite spectacularly coloured liked these brightly coloured ibis.

There were heaps of other animals there aswell like the tortoise, lots of snakes.

Monkeys..

The ever cut Meercats…

and a few lizards

We had fun, and could have spent all day taking photos of some of the birds. We have heaps more pics that we can bore everyone with later.

The 2nd half of the day we headed over to the Microsoft office in Johannesburg and gave our presentation on natural disasters to a small crowd on a Friday afternoon right before beer o’clock. Many thanks to Dave, Kath and Gareth for being most gracious hosts and making the presentation possible.

Arrived in South Africa

We have successfully made it to Johannesburg after only two slight hiccups on our planes, making the total journey a mere 24 hours door to door. Tomorrow we are presenting a session on

visualising natural disasters using .net if you are around the Microsoft South Africa Office at 2:30pm.

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A well-deserved break

So we’re taking a bit of a break on a holiday to Africa, so you’ll have to excuse the forthcoming holiday pics until we return to our regularly scheduled program of work-related blog posts.

For those that are interested in our holiday adventures I’ll be grouping our blog posts into the sections below:

 

South Africa

 

 

Zimbabwe – Antelope Park

 

Zimbabwe/Zambia – Victoria Falls

 

Zambia – Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage

 

Natural Disasters slides from our Talk last night

We had a few requests from people for our resources and slides from our talk on natural disasters at the QLD MSDN User group. We’ve uploaded our slides to HERE for those interested.

Here’s a list of the resources we discussed in the talk:

 

We’re off on holidays for a little while so feel free to email us for more information but we may take a little longer than usual to respond.

 

Using .Net Tools to Visualise Natural Disasters at Johannesburg 18 March

We’re off on a bit of a holiday soon and pass through Johannesburg for a few days. Andrew Coates kindly put us in touch with some of the DPE staff at Microsoft in Johannesburg and they’ve arranged for us to present to some of the community while we’re there.

Using .Net Tools to Visualise Natural Disasters

Come join us for an afternoon with data visualisation experts Bronwen Zande and John O’Brien who will be talking about using .Net Tools to visualise Natural Disasters. Having a look at various techniques of visualising information. Bronwen Zande is a Director of Soul Solutions, based in Brisbane, Australia. With over 10 years of software development experience, Bronwen’s primary focus is Microsoft Live and .Net development. John is a software developer based in Brisbane, Australia. John is a Windows Live Platform MVP that empowers companies with amazing new tools to extend their reach and enrich their applications. John is the moderator for the Virtual Earth forums and co-ordinates the DeepEarth Silverlight project on Codeplex

Date and Time: 18 March 2011 9-11 am

Location: Microsoft Johannesburg – 3012 William Nicol Drive Bryanston Johannesburg

RSVP: https://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032481148&Culture=en-ZA

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Using .Net tools to Visualise Natural Disasters at QLD MSDN

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This month we’re practising some of our new presentation skills learnt at EvangelOz and presenting at the Queensland MSDN User Group to show off a bunch of tools and techniques you can use in times of natural disaster.

The official blurb:

Using .Net Tools to Visualise Natural Disasters

Australia is a country of extreme climates and is no stranger to devastating natural disasters. Join John and Bronwen as they show you ways you can utilise your current .net skills to prepare, monitor and analyse available information using historical flood maps, social media feeds, Flickr photos and nearmap imagery.

Date and Time: 15 March 2011 17:30 for 18:00 start

Location: Microsoft Brisbane Office, Level 9, Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane.

RSVP: mike@fitzsimon.com.au