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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You are entering Big 5 territory

The alarm sounded at 3:30am, was it time to wake up already?  I found my headlamp, my small overnight bag, and day clothes.  With little more to do than dress and brush my teeth, I was out into the pitch black within minutes to find 3 others to embark on a 2-day safari adventure.


Yes, I was headed to the emblem of South African tourism, where scores of visitors from around the world come to see thousands of enigmatic wildlife roaming the savanna.
Dead Leadwood tree on the savanna plains
This is Big 5 Territory: Elephants, Lions, Rhinos, Buffalo, Leopards

Kruger is where big things happen, big animals roam, and big vacations are taken.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Name Game

 My time in Olivia hok (hok = enclosure/cage in Afrikaans) is getting better and better.  Every day I have been scheduled with the babies for 2 1-hour shifts per day.  Each of the babies looks remarkably similar to each other, most coated in seemingly the same color hair and fur, the same color eyes, the same exact nose, brow, and mouth.  Some are slightly older or younger, ranging from 4 months to 11 months old, yielding shorter or taller baby baboons, and some are rounder or thinner.   At first glance, and at  second, third, and fifteenth glance, they ALL look nearly identical.  Telling them apart seriously seems impossible.  Other more seasoned volunteers simply spout off their name as if each is a childhood friend.  I just look at each one as carbon copies of the same mold.

11 of 16 babies in Olivia hok

After several days of daily babysitting, I continued to mix up one baboon with another.  I started to get a decent grasp on several of them, such as Dot always clung to me around 4pm as I started the hok cleaning.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life is not luxurious

My body: I have been bitten, peed on, pooed on, scratched, vomited on, gotten a fat lip, my hair pulled…  Sounds like I’ve been in a battleground fight!  Lest I not forget an outie mole on my neck nearly removed, too.  And it's only been a week since I arrived!

Daily shifts: The day starts at 6:50am by bringing the babies into their outdoor hok (hok = afrikaans word for enclosure/cage), and ends just before 6:00pm.  Every volunteer is scheduled in 1-hour work shifts ranging from making/cleaning bottles (for 60 or so young baboons under  3 years old) to cleaning out cages, sitting in the baby enclosure, cleaning the communal kitchen, sweeping the house, etc…  There are breaks in between, including 1-hour for lunch and any time that shifts are finished early. 

Me getting groomed
Olivia hok: The youngest baboon troupe at C.A.R.E., the babies, get brought out of their overnight indoor cages (sleeping 3-4 together) at 6:50am every day.  Until 5:00pm, all 15 play together in their outdoor hok under supervision by 1-3 volunteers also in the hok.  Supervising entails breaking up fights between older kids picking on younger babies, and generally acting as an "Aunt (or Uncle)" in the hok, ensuring order and overall peace, while also being a friend and playmate.  Playing with the kids can be very amusing watching their cheeky monkey behavior.  The mood can range from fun and exciting to relaxing or stressful.  I don a pair of waterproof pants before entering the hok during a 1-hour baby shift, as pee and poo are released bountifully.  Grooming is an essential aspect of baboon behavior, and as an "Aunt," you must be subjected to ample grooming: see picture of my hair being groomed by Jayne, while others climb/rest on me.

Volunteer Charlie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome to C.A.R.E.

In the spirit of saving $600, I took a zigzag airplane ride half around the world, quite literally, and slept in every airport in which I landed.  Picture this on a map:  Fly from Orlando to Chicago, layover for 2.5 hours.  Then to London (7 hours of single-seated madness Gumby-like sleeping), hang out in Heathrow airport for 8 hours (and sleep).  Then 11-hours to Johannesburg, South Africa, hang out in Joburg airport for another 8 hours, then on to my final tiny-airport destination of Phalaborwa.  WOW!  Most (all?) of South Africa is 6 hours ahead of East coast time.

I was collected at the Phalaborwa airport by C.A.R.E.; the airport was undeniably the most unique, quaint, intimate and warm airport that I’ve ever seen.  The baggage claim involved a staff member wheeling a buggy in from the tarmac and handing your baggage to you.  This airport is also the departure point for Kruger National Park, the most touristed national park in the country where one can see all of the “Big Five”, thus catering to many high-rolling tourists and sightseers.

The road to C.A.R.E. was full of 25 miles of bumpy, jagged potholed, jet-lagged confusion.  After we entered the guarded gates of Grietjie Nature Reserve, I noticed the sides of the road were heavily laden with great big piles of dung.  An animal must pass through or live in the area to drop dung…  this was ELEPHANT DUNG!  FRESH!  Wow! (Sadly (and safely), no elephants were spotted during the drive in.)  As we approached the volunteer house, “Mountain Lodge”, I was informed to prepare for (wild) baboon mobbing, as we were driving the open-back big truck that normally hauls daily food runs.  Immediately, fear entered my body.   I was well aware of a large wild troop that has also made C.A.R.E. home, amongst the enclosed baboons, but I had compartmentalized their activity to daylight (working) hours.  This scene was the beginning of a very interesting new chapter in my life…
Candelabra tree at the C.A.R.E. entrance in Grietjie Nature Reserve
Coming in after nightfall and 48 sleepless hours, I saw or comprehended very little.  Upon morning waking, I came to realize that THERE ARE BABOONS EVERYWHERE!  Holy shit, hundreds more than I imagined.  Approximately 650 baboons are living at C.A.R.E. (in enclosures), and there are another 300 or so wild baboons (the “Longtits”) that also call C.A.R.E. home.  In addition to baboons, there are human companions totaling about 10 staff members (7 from SA), 13 volunteers from around the world, the founder Rita Miljo, 2 dogs, 1 meerkat, 1 bushbaby, and all of the wildlife that exists in the South African bush.  It is a dynamic, exciting, and visually and auditory stimulating and colorful place.  Amazement.