Written by Bernie Smith, Founder and Owner of Garonga Safari Camp.
Having just completed our normal annual close down for a month with our spring cleaning, maintenance, deep cleaning by outside agencies, emptying of drains, cleaning and polishing of floors, it was a bit of a knock to now be given another few months (I’m assuming) to carry on with this.
There is only so much you can clean or do; or so we thought. However, this gives us plenty of opportunity now to really get behind the scenes of what can be improved. I have a huge list already.
Picture the scene: A slightly sunburned, blonde Brit crouched in the back of a pick-up truck (or a bakkie if you come from round here) holding both a DSLR with a weighty lens and a Canon PowerShot with a hefty zoom in one hand, and a rope in the other hand. You know those 20m or so plastic type ropes? Well one of those – green and white if you are wondering – that has been looped through a cut in the hind-leg of an impala carcass.
Now, I can almost hear you wondering how on earth I (or indeed anyone) had found myself in this situation. The answer, of course, is that together with the team, I was trying to tempt a female cheetah we were set to release whilst also hoping to document this exciting moment!
The outcome was not exactly what we had hoped for. Things started out well. We had got the attention of the female cheetah, Patsy to her friends, and I had managed to catch a few shots of her as she started to follow us around the enclosure. Sure, we hit a couple of bumps along the road when the impala carcass got stuck on all the citrus trees in the enclosure (and there are a lot of them). But all round we felt positive about how things were progressing. At one point, Patsy even picked up the impala in her mouth but on discovering she couldn’t simply drag it away she became an increasingly suspicious cheetah. Undeterred, we inched ever closer to the open gate and to Patsy’s freedom.
For the fastest mammal on the planet, Patsy followed us agonizingly slowly, stopping to rest in the shade of her favourite orange trees and continuously assessing our intentions. We passed her inspections, barely, and finally we (and our sad impala comrade) were through the gate! We deposited our hairy friend about 7m from the gate and snuck off into the distance to watch Patsy take the bait. Or, as it happened, to watch Patsy lie in the shade about half a metre from the gate and show no inclination whatsoever to go through it.
I can’t say I blame her. This whole drama had taken about an hour and a half and, at this stage, was punishingly hot. This was on top of the Garonga Pride paying the cheetah boma an early morning visit, during which time they circled the boma and tested her eardrums with some intense roaring. In the end we gave up with our cheetah release. Patsy lived for another week in the boma with the impala carcass to devour for her troubles, whilst we slinked away to attempt the release on another day.
I suspect at this point you are all bursting with questions. Why don’t we just open the gate and let Patsy wander to freedom in her own time? And why was Patsy in the enclosure in the first place?
To answer the first question, when wild animals have been in enclosures for a while they get used to the ‘room service’. So, when released they tend to spend their first week waiting for their next meal to be brought to them. That’s why it’s important to ensure they have had a decent feed, hence the alluring impala carcass. We had an extra factor at play here at Garonga as our pride of lions had taken an unhealthy interest in our cheetah friend. We were concerned that if we opened the gate to let Patsy wonder out in her own time, we would run the risk of the lions finding her before she had mustered up the courage to venture through the gate.
As for why Patsy was in the enclosure in the first place, that is a sad tale and it relates to the fate of cheetahs in the wild. There are currently approximately only 6,700 cheetahs in the wild across the world and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from about 76% of their historic range on the African continent. One of the major causes of this decline is habitat loss.
Cheetahs are best adapted to have enormous territories but as the human population continues to expand, there is decreasing space available to cheetahs and, left to their own devices, they are adapting slowly to this change. At Garonga, in the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, our cheetahs have adapted to a different style of hunting. They still use their amazing speed but now in conjunction with the human-made fences, which they use to chase prey as if the fence is an extra hunting partner.
Patsy will be our second adult female in the reserve. Having come from a different part of South Africa, she brings the gift not only of her femininity but also a rejuvenation of the cheetah gene pool for the reserve. As our wild spaces continue to dwindle, we see four major challenges facing our cheetahs, namely habitat loss, lack of genetic diversity, human and animal conflict, and competition with other predators. By introducing Patsy into the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve we are hoping to do what we can to help in the conservation of this stunning species.
Now, coming back to Patsy’s release! Working with nature is often bizarrely like working as a comedian because it’s so often about the timing. About a week after the shenanigans described above, we dragged a second impala carcass behind a vehicle and this time Patsy was after it like a shot. This time the whole process took just five minutes!
Patsy is now freely roaming the reserve and we sincerely hope that she thrives here – keep an eye on Garonga’s social media feeds for updates on her progress!
Written by Sophie Barrett (Guide, Tracker, Photographer and Videographer at Garonga.
As with any successful lodge, we have several companies who support us in the various fields of marketing. Without marketing you cannot survive in any business.
Our Marketing Teams are made up of dedicated staff who pound the streets during the days, attend functions in the evenings, organise workshops, marketing trips, PR, reporting, and are just continuously putting a good word out. They work incredible hours striking up brilliant and loyal relationships with the trade. Garonga is forever thankful for their professionalism and dedication. Meet the teams…
United Kingdom and Ireland
Ethos Marketing have been representing Garonga since day one. That in itself speaks wonders. Alison, Amanda, Sue, Claire and Kevin have been totally professional and successful in what they do.
A very experienced team for Africa marketing; they don’t just represent Garonga as they have a large portfolio that they represent.
One of the things we do is arrange sales trips around the UK for Bernie with one of the Sales Team usually accompanying him to ensure continuity of the relationship building and smooth follow ups. This was Bernie on his latest trip with James Jayasundera and Hattie Coleman of Vivid Travel.
Germany and Benelux
Hella has been representing Garonga for many years. Raised in Namibia, she has a very full knowledge of Africa and is an “old Africa hand” (meant in the most respectful way of course!) She also represents a large portfolio of African products, most of which are part of the Classic Safari Africa Group. She is ably supported by Roland, who has the responsibility of dealing with PR such as organising press trips, magazine articles etc.
Africa In Focus is owned and run by Andrew McEwan. Andy set up AIF in 2005 after having operated as a professional safari guide at Singita for many years. This experience has given him a true knowledge of how a lodge works and can give the trade a genuine picture of how things are done.
AIF have been representing Garonga for about eight years now and we have a truly awesome and friendly relationship with Andy and his team. Andy is ably supported by Rogan, his GM, Cherly, in Johannesburg and Leonie in Cape Town. AIF also represent a portfolio of stunning properties in Southern Africa.
Classic Safari Africa
Classic Safari Africa is an association of privately owned camps and properties in East and Southern Africa. Each property is unique in that the owners are very much hands on and the property itself is small and intimate. A tough inspection must be passed to become a member and a very high benchmark is necessary to qualify. All the properties, together with Classic Safari Africa, often attend marketing trade shows, local and international, together on the one stand which makes a formidable presence.
Annually we attend an AGM at one of the properties where we swop ideas and have discussions about the association and properties etc., which is priceless. We would easily recommend any one of these properties for your holiday. Classics is a well-known and highly respected brand in the African Tourism Industry. It is superbly organised and controlled by our Executive Officer, Pauline, who runs the office from Cape Town.
On the 7th of July 2018 we came across a very sad sight on our morning game drive at Garonga Safari Camp. We found the bodies of two young lion cubs who had been killed…and so began our murder mystery.
Identifying our Suspects and Victims
Unfortunately, life for a young lion cub is a tough one as almost every predator will kill them if they have the chance as it is all part of their instinct to remove competition and prevent the cubs becoming a threat when they are older. Whilst the pool of potential suspects was large, our investigative team was leaning towards an adult male lion as the culprit for the crime. The previous evening we had received reports of a pair of mating lions in almost the exact same spot.
It is always heart breaking to see any of the animals lose their lives, but the Garonga team was especially concerned that the dead cubs might be the two adorable trouble makers from ‘the Garonga pride’. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them, ‘the Garonga pride’ it is made up of three feisty females; granny, mum and a perpetually curious daughter, two resident pride males and two heartwrenchingly mischievous cubs.
Tracking ‘The Garonga Safari Camp Pride’
For about 3 days our lions went into full stealth mode, and despite finding fresh tracks, they had retreated deep into the thickets and we saw neither hide nor hair of them. Now, as guides, strictly speaking you are not supposed to have favourite animals. However, the Garonga pride has managed to sneak its way into the hearts of our whole team and we were increasingly desperate to discover the fate of our cubs.
One morning it was quiet in the lodge so we collected together our expert trackers and set out to unravel the mystery once and for all. It seemed that the lions were missing us too as at about 5.30 that morning they had been calling. This gave us a heading and before too long we found our 3 females looking healthy and relaxed, but the cubs were nowhere to be seen. However, the cubs are still at an age where their mother will usually hide them in thick bush to keep them safe during the day.
Not to be defeated we left the ladies and picked up their tracks, tracking in reverse to look for evidence that our cubs were still with us. To cover the maximum ground possible we split the team with Josia, Samantha, Derrick, Stewart and Sophie on foot and Kaizer, Phineas and Bongi on the vehicle.
After tracking the one female through drainage lines and across some of our more open plains we had the best discovery – miniature lion tracks sitting on top of the dew from the night before and heading towards a thicket that would be the perfect place to stash a pair of cubs for the day. We radioed in the rest of the team and had a celebratory coffee stop, delighted to have discovered that our little troublemakers were alive and well. Later we slowly started heading towards where the cubs had spent the day and were rewarded with two little furballs full of energy chasing after mum and pouncing on each other. The relief was shared by the whole safari camp team and was enormous.
The Sad Truth
It seems that the two cubs who lost their lives were, in fact, from a rival pride that had wandered into the territory belonging to the Garonga males. It is always sad to see such a sight but a male lion’s instinct to kill cubs that are not his own is one of the harsh realities of the circle of life, it helps to ensure that the strongest genes are being passed to the next generation of lions, which in turn will hopefully help to ensure that we can continue to marvel at these incredible creatures for years to come. The life of a safari camp guide is never a dull one and this episode of Bush CSI [Crime Scene Investigation] is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Photos taken, and article written, by Sophie Barrett (guide, tracker and photographer at Garonga Safari Camp)
Our small team with the big job of making sure everything runs as it should.
This month we are going further behind the scenes to meet the team of men who aren’t scared to get their hands dirty. They run a tight ship, making sure that everything at the lodge and on the farm is up and running as it should be. Their skills range from painting to plumbing and even mechanics for our vehicles. It’s for sure that things would grind to a halt without them.
Leading the team as Farm and Maintenance Manager, Steffen has been at Garonga for 18 months and is married to Charlotte (Safari Camp Manageress). Steffen is extremely committed to performing great tasks and always puts 110% into what he does.
Having moved across from Makalali some 15 years ago, Albert is our Assistant Farm and Maintenance Manager. He is perceptive in finding any problems and resolving them. He is very committed and proud of his work. A great asset and someone who always has a smile on his dial!
Fixon has been on the Farm for over 30 years, since the previous owner of Garonga. This makes him extremely knowledgeable of where things are and capable of putting his hand to everything. He is also not afraid at all to get stuck into those drains! He is always happy to help out.
Given oversees the Farmhouse area, which is considerable, and Bernie’s house in the afternoons. He is very proud of his work and ably assists in maintenance when required. A very keen footballer and a great team asset.
Having joined the team permanently 3 years ago, Patrik was originally only called in for casual work as and when we needed more hands. He is a very capable person on maintenance issues and also with vehicles. Patrik is very committed to his job.
With this incredible team, Garonga is able to run like a well-oiled machine and we are forever grateful!
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