Wednesday 29 January 2014

From pond to Phinda

Phew! It's hot work, hanging motionless over the pond in the baking sun, waiting till my golden bell frog tadpoles are lulled into revealing themselves so I can see how many legs they've got now. Game spotting: that's my focus for the day, specifically writing about Phinda's Rock Lodge, where I stayed for just two nights during my trip to South Africa last September.

I didn't have much opportunity to blog about it at the time because it's full on while you're there: up at 5.30am for tea and rusks before the first game drive of the day, then back for a full breakfast three or four hours later. Then, before the afternoon drive and dinner, you could go and laze in your room and wallow in your private plunge pool, or use the provided 'gym in a bag' or the yoga mat - but that would be to miss the chance to do other animal-spotting activities elsewhere in the 23,000 hectare private reserve with its seven separate ecosystems.

We went to see cheetah being fed in a boma, or enclosure, where they were being kept before being relocated - Phinda has a great record for breeding cheetah. Of course it's in their interests to keep game numbers up, but these reserves have a genuine commitment to preserving species and increasing their numbers, and they really are doing a great job. If only it were just about ensuring that they have sufficient space to keep the gene pool stirred up - but sadly it's even more important to keep the poachers at bay, and though Phinda has a man keeping an eye on their rhino, as well as other systems of intel and protection, they recently lost two: a white rhino and, even worse, a black rhino cow which not only had a calf at foot, but was pregnant too.

I heard baby rhino orphans wailing when I went to the Centennial Centre at iMfolosi Reserve - they sounded like whales. It was heart-breaking. One of them had scars on his face from being beaten away with machetes from his mother while her horns were hacked off.

Being an animal in Africa is hard enough already - I saw that on the afternoon game drive when the gaunt mother of three gawky and useless cheetah cubs finally got the chance to run down a nyala for them all to eat, which they started on before it was even dead - without people making it worse purely for money. Bastards.

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