Tuesday, 28 August 2012

"As big as a dinner plate"

Our safari base is the Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve, a portion of which is pictured above. All of our safari packages start form Thaba Tholo, which is also the home of INGWE - Leopard Research.
We have been running and supporting INGWE for over seven years. All of our guest have an opportunity to be involved with our work in conservation if they wish. Of-course all do. Camera trapping and plaster casting of leopard prints being not only great fun but key components of our work in conservation.
Right now my friend Dairen Simpson, has joined the INGWE team. Dairen is the worlds premier predator capture expert  and works solely for conservation projects worldwide. He is being shadowed by a TV film crew, so look out for the OTS team on a TV screen near you, in 2013.
We have identified nine individual leopards within the Thaba Tholo reserve and aim to catch and collar three to aid INGWE. The challenge that Dairen faces, within the vast expanse of the reserve, is to use his many years of field craft to encourage a leopard to walk exactly where he wants to guide it for harmless capture.
As Dairen says 'In all of this space out here, I want a leopard to put one foot in space as big as a dinner plate".
Not easy, but we're in good hands and our safari guests are having a great time being involved.

Written by Will Fox

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Exciting Times

We held a kick off meeting for our latest Leopard Capture program this morning at our research base on the Thaba Tholo Wilderness reserve.  Pictured above is myself with some of the trapping team including our head researcher Tara Pirie.
The four week event is being filmed as part of a TV series entitled 'The Trapper", which is centred around the work of my good friend and wildlife trapping expert Dairen Simpson (pictured centre below).
Dairen and the film crew (pictured below) are staying at our Safari base Black Leopard Camp.
Our aim is to collar three leopards as part of our research project and as ever On Track Safari guest will be able to be involved with the capture program as well as meet Dairen and the film crew who will be fellow guest at Black leopard Camp.
Exciting times for us and our safari guests.
Written by Will Fox
OTS Manager

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Follow the hunt

On Friday morning we were fortunate to find a pride of four lions (one male and three lionesses), that were following a  herd of approximately 150 Buffalo. 
With the wind in their favour, they were steadily working their way toward the unsuspecting Buffalo, unphased by our presence and providing us with a wonderful chance to watch the hunt.
Using all the available cover one lioness took the lead, while the others followed her at a distance that was just enough to be able to get there quickly when the lead lioness made her attack. Yet far enough away not to tip the balance.
We watched in silent yet excited anticipation as the lead lioness stalked towards two Buffalo bulls that were dawdling behind the main herd.
She slinked through the long grass getting to within five meters of her targets unoticed. Then crouched down, with every muscle tense, ready to spring forward, waiting for the right moment. 
The two old Buffalo bulls armed with powerful horns can easily kill a Lion, so she needed to be on the top of her game.
Just as she was about to charge, the wind swirled and the entire Buffalo herd smelt the lions behind them, causing pandimonium. First running away and then spinning round to face the lions. 
With the younger Buffalo safely coraled behind their elders, the lions now faced a barrier of angry Buffolo, with all horns pointed in their direction.
There ended the hunt (for the moment). 

Written by Will Fox

Walking with Cheetah

We were very fortunate to have an opportunity to follow two Cheetah on foot during our latest stay in the Karongwe reserve. 
During our late afternoon game drive, we opted to leave the vehicle for a while to take a bush walk to see if we could find two Cheetah that had been seen in an area which was impenetrable by vehicle.
Of-course we need circumstances to be right, but when the opportunity presents itself them we'll always give our guests the option to take a bush walk.
After only ten minutes walking we came across the two boys soaking up the last of the days sun, before heading off to hunt as the light faded. Our safari group had an exciting time walking along behind the two Cheetah, through the bush and out onto one of the reserve roads, which gave them easier access to find some prey.

It's an incredible experience to be able to follow these magnificent creatures on foot. Of-course there are some essential precautions one needs to take and we ensured that everyone in our group had been well briefed on what to do and not to do. For example not to crouch down in the long grass. If one stands tall then the Cheetah don't see you as a threat, but crouch down and you become prey. 
Simple precautions but nevertheless essential. After all these are wild animals in their natural environment and we have to play by their rules.
Returning to our land rover to continue our game drive, the words I heard from everyone around me were "that was very special". They were right. it was. More than just viewing animals from a vehicle we were able to walk with them, bringing a whole new aspect to the safari experience.

Written by Will Fox

It's what we set out to do

Safari guests often ask me what methods we use to find game and especially leopards while on game drive on the vast Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve. As with anything in nature there is no great mystery, it all comes down to good field craft.
In fact nature provides all the clues, all we have to do is to listen.
One of the first things we do on any OTS safari is to show our guests how to dust away their sensory cobwebs and heighten awareness of the smells, sights and most importantly sounds of the bush. 
In that way guests can enjoy a lot more than just being shown animals. They can 'be involved'.
Let me give you an example......
On Tuesday evening we were out on game drive, enjoying a sundowner as the sun set by the main dam. By now our safari guests had started to pick up many of the clues that nature provides, such as reading spoor and scats to recognise which animals had passed by. While enjoying their drink and chatting about the day, everyone suddenly stopped and all heads turned in the direction of an alarm call (actually a bark) from a bush buck further up the valley, letting us know that a leopard was around.
We quickly jumped back onto the game drive vehicle and headed in the direction of the intermitent barking. Stopping to listen for a short while to check we had the direction correct and then moving on.
At every stop senses were heightened and the excitement levels increased. Then, the warning calls changed direction, now comming from behind us. At some point we had passed the leopard, who was now walking somewhere in the bush to our rear. By now the sun had set so we set up a spotlight to help us navigate and find the leopard.
Heading back down into the valley Mike picked up a fleeting reflection from the eyes of some bush babies, sat in a small tree at the side of the track. They were also alarm calling and looking straight passed us into the bush on our right hand side, showing us exactly where the leopard was. 
We could now see him sitting down in some heavy cover about 70 meters away.
We moved a little closer, then stopped the engine and sat in the dark just enjoying being in the company of a young male leopard that we recognised as one of Diamonds adolescent cubs. These are magical moments and I know that everyone (guests and guides alike) felt privaliged to be with such a relaxed leopard.
Back at Black Leopard Camp there was excited chatter and photographs being shared, but one particular comment put the cherry on the cake for me. Amidst it all, someone said 'its not just the photo but it's also the memory we'll have for ever.' That said it all for me, after all it's exactly what we set out to do.
Written by Will Fox
OTS Manager.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Keeping warm at Sizo School

The unusually cold weather we have had during the last couple of weeks prompted us to deliver some extra warm woolen hats and gloves to the children of Sizo primary school.
We have had some very strange weather of late, friends in Joberg were calling me last week to let me know that they had snow!! Thankfully we didn’t have it that bad, but the school kids do start very early in the morning and as ever were very pleased to see us.
It’s a pleasure to visit Sizo School, we often drop in with safari guests. The teachers and pupils get a real lift from meeting folks from around the world, who are interested in their school. Hence the delivery of hats and gloves, all donated from safari guests and their friends.
Of-course it wasn’t just us humans that felt the cold, some of the wildlife species are feeling it as well and looking for some extra sustenance.

Written by Will Fox

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Diarens back

Preparations are almost complete for our next Leopard capture program. My good friend Dairen Simpson (with film crew in tow) is due to arrive shortly. As many of you will know Dairen is one of the worlds leading big cat trappers and travels the world working for conservation projects.

We hope to catch and collar three leopards as part of INGWE – Leopard Research. The team here are all looking forward to seeing Dairen again. His time with us will form one show of a TV series entitled “The Trapper”. They shot the series pilot show with Dairen catching Jaguars in the Amazon forest, which proved to be very popular and rightly so.
We’re hoping to re- collar ‘Lucky ‘ who Dairen first caught in 2010, just 300 meters from our base Black Leopard Camp. Lucky’s collar batteries have died and it’s important that we have continuation in our monitoring program, such that we can gather data to assist in the conservation of free roaming leopards.
The Leopard is the last of the big five roaming free outside of formally protected areas (National Parks and Game Reserves) and as such are vulnerable to a whole host of man made issues.

Of-course our Safari guests and conservation volunteers will have plenty of opportunities to meet Dairen and as ever ‘be involved’ with our work in conservation during their stay with us.
These are exciting times for everyone.

Written by Will Fox 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Talented couple

We had a great time on Safari with Rose and Ian Locock. Both Ian and Rose are very keen and talented photographers and have sent us some more pictures from their safari, which I wanted to share with our safarists.

Written by Will Fox

Friday, 10 August 2012

Safari Review from Ian and Rose

We had a wonderful time with Ian and Rose Locock on safari. Here is their Safari review:

Our previous safari experiences were limited to Zambia and Botswana so a trip to RSA was a new adventure for us.  Our trip with On Track Safaris could not be faulted.  The itinerary gave us a good mix of game viewing, animal rehabilitation and conservation work , always accompanied by an OTS representative.   The wildlife and birding was superb and the guides that led us to them were both knowledgeable and friendly.  Carol and Will went the extra mile to make our experience truly memorable and we hope to return quite soon.  The phrase 'arrive as guests and leave as friends', is spot on.

Rose & Ian   Weymouth UK   (June 2012)

If you would like to see more of Ian photographs then check out www.ianlocock.co.uk

Written by Will Fox
OTS Mnager