As the call of the bush baby fades and the first rays of the morning light start to dance, Suni has her foot soaked and cleaned and the shift change over begins at the Elephant Nursery Facility at Lilayi Game Reserve in Lusaka. Working as a team of four, the keepers have a brief meeting with night shift to find out how the elephants have been during the night. With all things well, two of the keepers begin to walk off into the bush followed by six orphaned elephants bubbling with the enthusiasm of life.
The two remaining keepers begin an intensive period of activity. Oliver, the deputy head keeper, begins milk prep, creating concoctions of goodness, to supplement the orphans with what they would have been receiving from their mothers. These feeds occur eight times a day.
Meanwhile Elvis, the newest member of the keeper team, is busy mucking out the stables; elephants tend to go to the toilet every one to three hours! There is plenty to clean after ten hours or so spent in their stables as they rested through the night.
As day approaches the radio crackles and the location of the baby herd comes through to Oliver. With milk in hand, he starts his meandering walk, with Elvis cheerfully singing alongside. After about twenty minutes of walking, the quietness of the bush is interrupted by the high pitched trumpeting of excited little elephants. Seeming chaos becomes order as the keepers take control and the milk is guzzled with sounds of pleasure vibrating through the crisp morning air. Cheeky attempts by quicker-drinking older elephants to steal milk is quickly dealt with and they return to browsing.
Read the complete article on the Africa Geographic website!
As I sipped a cool beverage, the warm colours of a setting sun flickered across the water of the mighty Zambezi, I had some time to reflect and think about possibly the most important journey of my life so far!
Over the next seven days, I was going to cycle through the stunning landscapes of Zambia in an attempt to raise awareness and vital funds for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s work with Game Rangers International. Joined by my two cousins, Dom and Seb, we planned to link a variety of elephant rescue sites with their rehabilitation facilities in Kafue National Park and Lilayi Game Reserve.
Our first job was to unpack the bikes (kindly flown out by British Airways) and to rebuild them. Dom had the bikes up and running in super quick time, despite some crank issues. With the support vehicle packed, and boosting an excellent banner designed by Seb, we set off on the first leg of our ride. We quickly gained pace, fresh and excited, adrenaline fueled our legs as we meandered our way down to the river.
This area was an important first port of call – a rescue site for two elephants. As we made our way down to the falls, three elephants, that were crossing from Zimbabwe, joined us. Raising their trunks as they moved, they sniffed the air, and it seemed as if they were giving us a wave of good luck! Standing adjacent to the falls I was captivated by a mixture of emotions. Despite having been here numerous times before, they still blow me away as the spray envelopes my skin and the noise fills me with the energy of a thunderstorm. Yet, at the same I also felt very humble and insignificant, compared to the greatness of mother nature. My mind swirled like the river that stuttered and organised itself at the bottom, before continuing towards the ocean. I looked forward to meeting up with her again at the end of the ride.
Read the complete article on the Africa Geographic website!
A week after landing back at Heathrow, I am finally sitting down to compile my thoughts and reflect on an adventure in Africa. My last diary entry stated, ‘What an amazing summer (technically winter in Southern Africa), so many unique experiences, yet full of the familiarity that you know will always warm your soul. I cannot wait to get planning the next set of expeditions’.
The adventure began way back in the middle of July as I took off from London, heading for the beauty of Cape Town with twenty students by my side. I had the support of the amazing Mrs Opperman; whenever I go away, I know for a fact that if Mrs Opperman is by my side it is going to be a great trip. Her campfire cooking and stories are worth triple the airfare alone.
As we touched down twelve hours later, the clouds began to part and the wonderful Cape Town started to appear. Like slowly opening the world’s biggest Christmas present, Cape Town gave the students their first glimpse of the surprises that lay ahead. Cape Town has majesty about it, a mix of old and new, a happiness and excitement that bubbles around you. However, it also has an important story to tell. As you stand next to the statue of Nelson Mandela and look up at Table Mountain on the one side, and then out to sea on the other… this could be the greatest 360 degree view you will find in any city in the world. One thing for sure though, it’s not the worst place to gather round students and give them an insight into Mandela’s story and also what lies ahead for them in their adventure in the most captivating of continents.
Read the complete article on the Africa Geographic website!
"It is amazing how much one little elephant can cope with in such a short amount of time” Rachael Murton (Elephant Orphanage Project)"
Rescued a year ago this April, at only 8 months old, Suni represents everything that is amazing about an elephant and at the same time why we must do something right now to stop the cruel and senseless act of poaching.
At just 8 months old, Suni was found dragging herself along, after somehow surviving an axe attack. No family to protect her and with wounds to her chin and a deep laceration to her back (affecting her spine and leaving her right hind leg paralyzed), it was a miracle she was alive!
However when the Game Rangers International (GRI) rescue team arrived, what they had in front of them was an elephant that was full of fighting spirit, keen to feed and the courage to trust those who wanted to help. From the Livingstone area of Zambia, she was transported to the very new Lilayi rehabilitation facility in Lusaka and the long and anxious road to recovery was about to begin.
Twenty-four hour a day TLC began… physiotherapy on her leg, wound treatment and much needed emotional support. Rachael and her team of keepers worked around the clock and when I arrived 3 months on after her rescue, an elephant greeted me that had a spring in her step and a swagger in her trunk. Yet her wounds were struggling to heel. The persistent infection in her spine would not go away and her leg was in a bad shape. Although battles had been won, Suni still had many hurdles to jump and her increasing size was putting more and more pressure on her leg!
Read the complete article on the Africa Geographic website!
Over the past few months I have been working on a project to capture some images of otters on a stretch of the River Dart in Devon. Otters have made a bright comeback from decades of persecution and poor waterway management. It is believed that the River Dart holds Otter territories along its entire length, although this does not mean they are easy to see! With the help of some local landowners and the staff at the otter sanctuary, I am hoping to capture the lives of Britain's most charismatic marine mammal.
In reality, the project involves searching the riverbank for any signs of otter activity and trying to assess the makeup of the local otter population. Once I have found an area with a good level of activity it is a case of putting in the hours, lots of them, in order to try and catch a glimpse of an otter as it meanders along the river in search of food.
Whilst waiting for the otters to reveal themselves I have been astounded by the amount of activity along the river. Kingfishers buzz up and down the river, often I only see a blur of azure as they dash past in search of food but occasionally one will perch near me allowing me to capture its immaculate plumage. Other birds that ply their trade on the river are Dippers, which bounce up and down as they pick out caddis fly larvae from the shallows. Every so often one alights on a prominent rock to claim its territory by singing in its distinctive electric and almost futuristic tone.
Still I wait for an otter, wish me luck, I will be needing it!
When the river is in speight the otters are less inclined to use the area that I have access to so I turn my attention to an equally stunning animal. Short Eared Owls have been over wintering on the marshes and reed beds that engulf the floodplains of the River Exe near Exeter. Their most striking feature is their piecing yellow eyes which are vividly clear, even on the most overcast of days.
Late in the afternoon these diurnal owls appear from the fringes of the marsh to hunt over the open ground. Quartering over the tussocky grass they search relentlessly for small rodents, in particular the short tailed field vole. When they hear a rustle, they hover briefly before plunging into the grass to snare their quarry. These birds are simply stunning and I have a few ideas of ways to portray them over the forthcoming weeks, then it will back to the otters with renewed enthusiasm and hopefully some finer weather.
It is with great personal sadness that I write about the forthcoming badger cull. I am mystified at how our intelligent society can mindlessly cull an animal for no other reason than to apparently satisfy unfounded concerns from a minority of the rural community. Scientific studies have repeatedly proven that the culling of badgers has no significant positive effect on reducing the affect of TB in cattle. In addition to this evidence, there are suggestions that the dispersal of badgers from culling areas may in fact increase the risk to cattle. I hope that common sense will eventually prevail although I fear for the future of animals that interfere with an economy, both in Britain and beyond.
2012 has started, people celebrate and make new year resolutions, hoping that the year ahead will bring success, good health, and love. Each of these elements can be linked together by an important theme…EDUCATION, because without education we cannot fulfill any of humanities and the planets basic needs. The greater our level of education the more choices we have and the more informed we can be on which ones are "right".
2011 saw education play a vital role in my life, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to educate and be educated, with the year ending by being appointed educational advisor for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF). As such I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about an amazing project in Zimbabwe, which myself and Seb were lucky enough to visit back in August 2011 (however information and views expressed on this website are those of mine and other members of silent wildlife and do not represent that of the DSWF) .
On the boarder of Hwange National Park sits the Painted Dog Conservation Project (PDC), which aims to help protect Africa's most endangered predator and create a sustainable future for the dog and its habitat.
The Painted dog plays a vital role within the ecosystem, as a predator they have a role that strengthens life. They shape evolution, developing the animals the prey on, creating new behaviors and ways of life, while at the same time challenging their own ability to adapt. Unfortunately like many of the planets predators, it is under threat from human animal interaction and as such this puts all life in danger.
One of the greatest dangers facing the dog and a whole variety of wildlife is that of snares, set for bush meat. This indiscriminate hunting practice not only takes targeted species (mainly small antelope) but traps and kills animals unwanted by the poacher! To combat this the project runs anti-poaching patrols, which sees teams of 6 sweep areas of forested bush in and around the park. With eyes akin to that of an eagle, they skillfully move through the bush removing snares (approximately 20 a day) and arresting any poachers caught within the supposed protected area of a National Park.
However it must be pointed out that this type of poaching is far from the organized, multi-million dollar illegal trade seen with the Tiger, Rhino and Elephant. It is based around a need to survive, with income levels exceptionally low the need to feed a family is driving people to set crude snares to secure a meat source. As such to target the problem the PDC with help from the DSWF has set up the Iganyana Bush Camp, a community based conservation and education complex that brings children into nature and develops outreach work to the communities offering opportunities for a sustainable future
While on the residential program pupils learn about nature and its importance (http://www.davidshepherd.org/project/community-and-education-painted-dog-conservation/), they create infinity and an understanding that they take away with them and enthuse and educate those back home. News skills are taught and the first doors of opportunity begin to open.
Education is the future for the Dog as it is with many of our environmental problems. People need to understand the importance of wildlife and the services it provides for free and the opportunities it offers to generate money in this cash driven world, education is the key stone to our planets survival.
At 5.30am the sun rises over lake Itezi-Tezhi, light dances off the water and the warmth starts to be breathed back into the air. 15 km south west of the lake, this daily occurrence is the signal for many to arise from hut or tent and begin their day and for those working through the night to think about sleep. Life in Kafue National Park is encapsulated by the abundance of the three B’s, which I shall try and explain as you read an account of a day in the life of the Elephant Orphanage.
The first B is Beauty; Camp Phoenix is situated in southern Kafue and currently home to six young elephants, each with their own unique personality and set of needs. The Camp is split into two sites, human and elephant and is surround by grass plains and forested bush, with water lightly peppering the area, this changes rapidly in the wet season creating a whole new dynamic to the life of the workers at the camp. By 6am the elephants are making their way out on their first walk of the day, the two youngest have completed their first of 8 feedings across a 24 hour period. A two litre milk & protein based formula specific for the elephant. This provides an excellent opportunity for the keepers to remove the blankets, temperatures at night drop regularly to a chilling one or two degrees centigrade. The walk will last for about six hours under the guidance of two keepers and a guard, with the elephants very much in charge. The elephants browse and explore the bush, feeding as they go, experiencing a wild life, with the keepers trying to offer the advice their mothers would have given. The elephants are split by approximately 5 years, with eldest Chodoba and Chamilandu (the only female) leading the way. It is a beautiful sight seeing elephants, especially young elephants enjoying the wild, despite their traumatic start in life. There charismatic natures leading them on new adventures, for the keepers this is a time of happiness, but the need to be on guard for dangers both natural and unfortunately human keep them alert.
By 12pm the second B is very much in play, Brains; the elephants return to camp around this time, this allows a little rest bite for the keepers on the walk, a chance to have a drink and eat some food, finding shade from the Sun, it’s far from the chilling one degree experienced eight hours earlier. Kafue and Rufunsa receive another bottle, before joining the others for a cooling bath in the muddy pool. During this time the boma is prepared for the weekly health check, not an easy task getting 500 kg plus onto the scales and then taking height, girth, length and tusk measurements. But with cleaver use of a small amount of food Rachael and her team complete the task in about thirty minutes. Then, without prompting, the elephants set off on their afternoon walk, with two keepers in towe. The elephants are not attached to a set keeper, instead a team rotates, using green coats as the consistent stimuli for recognition. As the afternoon moves on the camp sees the return of Kate and Britus, who have been visiting schools within the “local” community. Their vital job supports the work of the EOP by explaining and developing the knowledge of the children who call Kafue their home. With knowledge comes the power to understand and create a sustainable future for all.
The final B, Brawn can be seen in full swing around 4pm if you take yourself to the kitchen area. To supplement Rufunsa and Kafue’s milk and wild diet, they receive eight portions of sweet potato and pumpkin. Each portion must be chopped, softly boiled before the strenuous task of purifying by hand begins, if you want large forearms this is the job for you. Once finely strained the fresh sterilised jars join the milk formula ready for the elephants return as the sun starts to set on another magical day in Kafue NP. The day shift head for their tents and the night shift spring into action preparing the elephant boma is secured to ensure a safe and peaceful night for these exquisite animals.
"As the call of the bush baby fades and the first rays of the morning light start to dance, Suni has her foot soaked and cleaned and the shift change over..."
"As I sipped a cool beverage, the warm colours of a setting sun flickered across the water of the mighty Zambezi, I had some time to reflect and think about..."
"A week after landing back at Heathrow, I am finally sitting down to compile my thoughts and reflect on an adventure in Africa. My last diary entry stated..."
“It is amazing how much one little elephant can cope with in such a short amount of time” Rachael Murton (Elephant Orphanage Project)
Tristan has become the new director for the Bimini Biological Field Station. This follows the completion of his post doctoral research position with Dr. Culum Brown at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia (2011). This project assessed the learning and memory capacity of Port Jackson sharks.
Andrew is proud to have been named the new educational advisor for the DSWF. In this role he will be looking to develop new and exciting educational opportunities in and out of the country.
Seb is pleased of being recognised in the January edition of the BBC Wildlife Magazine, which featured one of his images highlighting the wonder of flight.
Andrew supported by Seb is putting together a team to take on a fund raising challenge to cycle across Zambia in August 2013, please follow our training and adventure on Twitter @CycleZambia
In July next year Andrew will be leading a group for 16 days, starting in Cape Town and travelling North through the Namib Desert and ending up in Etosha National Park
Over the past few months I have been working on a project to capture some images of otters on a stretch of the River Dart in Devon. Otters have made a bright comeback...
2012 has started, people celebrate and make new year resolutions, hoping that the year ahead will bring success, good health, and love. Each of these elements can be linked together by an important theme...
Andrew has completed his 80,000m challenge for David Shepherds 80th year, for more information please follow this link and DSWF News and see our friends section to see where the money goes.
At 5.30am the sun rises over lake Itezi-Tezhi, light dances off the water and the warmth starts to be breathed back into the air...