The first day started with a bang, straight into Buffalo capture! In the morning we set off to a private game reserve, accompanying the vets to disease test some Buffalo. We were testing for TB, Foot and Mouth, Brucellosis and Corridor disease. This involved a skin test and a blood test, both of which the state vet carried out. Our job was to monitor anaesthesia that involved measuring vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature.
First a few facts about Cape Buffalo. An adult bull typically weighs up to 800kg whereas a cow is smaller and only weighs around 400kg. They are ruminants much like sheep and cattle, so it is important during anaesthesia to keep them upright to avoid them regurgitating their food. On this occasion we dealt with cows and a few youngsters. We also pregnancy tested the cows and found them all to be not in calf. At the moment the value of Buffalo in South Africa is very high due to popularity in trophy hunting. To be sold they have to test negative for the above diseases in order to be moved from the reserve, as they are known to be natural carriers of many diseases.
We waited outside the Boma until Dr William Fowlds had darted the animals and they had become unconscious. We swiftly entered the Boma carrying drugs and our monitoring equipment. The first thing we did was to blindfold the animal to keep them relaxed. We worked in groups of 3-5 and each person was responsible for a different task. One person was responsible for making sure the animal was in the correct plane of anaesthesia and wouldn’t wake up; another was in charge of giving important drugs and vaccines. The third person would record all of our readings throughout the procedure. Whilst we were doing this, the state vet carried out the testing. Once every group had finished with their animal, together we all reversed the anaesthetic drugs, so that all the Buffalo would wake up at the same time. Lastly, they were carefully monitored from outside the Boma to make sure they recovered smoothly.
In the afternoon we were lucky enough to go on our second game drive around the Amakhala Reserve. We had some amazing sightings some of which were Zebra, Giraffe, Warthog, Buffalo, Ostrich, Waterbuck, Blesbok, Impala, Hartebeest and Vervet Monkeys. The best of all was the lion sighting. The pair are very elusive, but our guides have lots of practice spotting them! First we saw the female hiding in the bush and after a lot of patience she eventually decided to show herself, followed not long after by the male. Both lay very close to our vehicle but didn’t seem bothered by our presence. The day before we had experienced an amazing sighting of around 19 elephants as they meandered across a regular crossing point of theirs. Norman, the eldest bull elephant was the most impressive and it really took our breaths away how quiet even he could be as he crossed in front of the game viewer – despite weighing 6.5 tonnes! Unfortunately, this sighting was cut short due to the fading light – but it is one none of us will ever forget!
Written by Gemma Dewar and Jenny Wrangham