This day started at 7:15, aiming first for protecting trees. So we went to the old Mica mine, where volunteers, Katie and our brave Norman dig into the little hill, searching for the biggest rocks possible. As Katie said “the bigger the better “, especially when it comes to elephants. On our way, we were lucky to see the only ostrich of the whole reserve. Too clever and quick for leopards, this giant bird is definitely a lonely soldier, but a happy soldier. Newbies had first aid lecture with Ed, concerning all venomous and poisonous animals in Africa. Some weren’t so confident after it ! Old volunteers went for alien plant monitoring. And, at lunch, we had those amazing burgers, YUMMY !! In the afternoon, we went for this lovely wilderness lecture, consisting on watching an amazing scenery at a really good place on the reserve. We have heard lion calling tonight, was near the house, at 9.
This programme far exceeded all expectations. I learnt an incredible amount about a wide range of conservation areas whilst getting up close and personal with the animals. The team are impressively knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. They warmly welcomed me into the Askari family and I can honestly say I’ve has the best time of my life. I will definitely be coming back to Askari and strongly recommend this place to anyone who loves wildlife, is prepared to get their hands dirty and has a keen interest in conservation.
My time at Askari was incredible. We do so many different activities, one day seems like two days. You can’t imagine what is happening in the bush until you see it for yourself. We participate in each task and choice about the bush. You become part of an awesome team where you make new friends. People who share the passion and who want to make a difference. Do not hesitate, just do it. This is adventure!
Having been at Askari 3 years ago I have been following it’s progress on facebook with Katie’s great picture. 3 years later I am back in South Africa and it would have been rude to not pop into Askari for 2 weeks. It was just as much fun as I remembered , if not even better with the additions of the pool, sable station and the bird loving South African bloke. So cheers guys.
This was my second stay at Askari and the only time I’ve gone back to a holiday destination which tells you all you need to know. Different people, different activities and the same result; an incredible experience full of amazing sightings, laughs and excitement and you come away feeling that you’ve actually made a difference. Would recommend to everyone.
To my dearest Katie and Ed, where to begin? My time at Askari has been much better that I ever could have imagined and that is thanks to you two. The knowledge and experience you’ve given me is incredible, and it’s inspiring to see the Pidwa family work so hard for conservation. I never thought I would have come away with all the amazing wildlife memories I have and that’s thanks to the hard work Pidwa puts into protecting their animals. I will forever remember and be thankful for my time here at Askari, and for having Katie and Ed.
I wish I could stay at Askari. It was truly amazing. There were only highlights, but there are some that jump out. The herds of elephants, spotting 2 male lions, seeing lots of cheetah and noticing how tall a giraffe actually is. It was an experience I will never forget. Thank you Katie & Ed and all the others that made it fantastic.
It has been a life changing experience to me which I will never forget. I never imagined learning so much in such a short period of time and being able to have amazing sightings and meeting people that made me feel so at home during my stay. “Nature is not a place to visit, it’s home” and Askari has definitely felt like a home to me over the past three weeks. Thank you for that!
Maybe saying it was too short, but that I have enjoyed every minute, every activity, every sighting and moment shared with the Askari family.
I was expecting something good, but it was more than just good. The time I have spent here is one of the best times of my life. Waking up here was a pleasure, and feeling that you are doing something for the wilderness which is today struggling unbelievably.
Ed and Katie are always here to teach you new things about every type of life or vegetation you could be able to see. For that, I wanted to thank them so much.
I will always miss my time here, thank you again for everything Katie and Ed.
Within no time we new arrivals were part of the team. Everybody helped each other. I learnt so much about animals and conservation and the idea of Pidwa. I am so happy that I have been able to contribute to this idea.
The balance between work and relaxing was really great. Even though I am not that sporty, I enjoyed the Volleyball! I also loved the sleep out, the games we did together and the space we gave each other to do their own things. I never saw the animals so up close and in such a relaxed way: Amazing! I learned a lot of new birds and bird calls! Loved it!
This was an adventure, an experience I will never ever forget. I loved being here!
I really enjoyed my 2 week stay at Askari. I loved the respect and care the staff has for all animals. It was also fun participating in games and combining chores and fun. I think it is great how Askari not only cares and looks after the animals but also care and looks after the habitat. Askari also teaches the procedures and therefore allows you to feel part of the projet, even if it is checking the fences, monitoring weather, it makes you feel like your participation is also making a difference.
I highly recommend it to any animal lovers, the experience has been awesome.
Askari made me feel like I was contributing to the survival and success of the conservation programme and that surpassed all my expectations. I would repeat it again and again!
This week the whole team to sleep out in the wild with only a camp fire illuminating the surrounding darkness. With the clearest blue sky and not a cloud in sight we knew we were in for a treat come nightfall.
We chose to head towards the Selati River where water has not flown all dry season, leaving only soft sand and rocky boulders.The team set up camp and built a fire for us all to sit around in the evening. We then paired up and played some ‘beach cricket’ and soon discovered the team had some spider-man like reactions when it came to catching in the field! After Ed and I claimed a convincing victory we all set up around the fire whilst we Braai’d (South African BBQ) into the night.
Eventually the fire settled and everyone returned to their sleeping bags leaving an incredible night sky, illuminated entirely by stars, satellites and planets. I lost count as to how many shooting stars flew by whilst I laid in the sand facing into the abyss above, simply spectacular.
To ensure we didn’t have any unwanted visitors in the night, each person was randomly assigned an hours watch to walk the camp and keep the fire alight. Fortunately for the second month running I landed the final shift between 0500 and 0600 during sunrise whilst everyone usually stirs. Little did I know that just like last month we would be visited by another pair of curious Spotted Hyaenas who scampered and cackled around the perimeters of the camp site!
“Lions have been sighted, 60 seconds and we’re off”
We were fortunate enough to recieve a call to a lion sighting not to far from Askari house and we all managed to drop our morning routines at get there in time. We found 2 lionnesses sitting in beautiful sunrise lighting that illuminated their golden coated fur.
A sudden shift in wind direction and a blanket of cloud over the rising sun caused a change in the lions mood, they had a kill in sight. Just 50 metres away from where they both lay were a zeal of zebra moving towards them. Only until what seemed the dying seconds before they were going to pounce did the zebra sense danger and gallop away into the bush. The tension was absolutely incredible!
The message from Askari isn’t just about conservation and respect for the wild bush of Africa, but to have a bloody fun time while doing it. We worked hard, we played hard and i cannot thank them enough for a time I will never forget.
Our group was so pleasant and it was a pleasure to meet every single one. We had a mad time and did a lot of things together like playing cards which made us grow together as a group.
I learnt a lot of interesting things on the game drives. The cheerful atmosphere between the volunteers were to savour from the whole stay at Askari. To be honest I had never thought that I could be interested in birds, but you guys made me like them so birding was a welcome change to all the mammals.
What I enjoyed the most was the unpredictable sightings of lions, elephants etc. I like the spontaneous changes of the schedule when we came along a rare animal. It was nice that we rather enjoyed the sightings than to do the scheduled activity.
All staff members were so pleasent and helpful, especially Katie and Ed. You two mdae my stay so special. It has been a pleasure to meet you and to stay at Askari and to learn so much about the South African nature.
Askari is a unique volunteer project that has real conservation goals. Whilst volunteering I learned so much you would never learn in another safari type experience. At the same time staying in a beautiful place with wonderful people, made great friends, had lots of fun, and contributed to the real conservation of South African ecosystems. The staff are friendly and knowledgable and the accomodation is beautiful and comfortable. Overall, definitely an amazing experience.
This mornings plan for the team was to collect hundreds of rocks from the dried up river bed to repair roads throughout the reserve. Once we had filled up a whole bucky (car with an open back) of rocks we drove to the damaged sites. Roads often form tyre channels during the wet seasons due to the water loosening the surrounding earth. So whilst the ground is dry, we fill the tyre channels with rocks so that vehicles can continue to use the roads safely without ruining their steering columns!
After one bucky load of rocks and countless numbers of trees removed from the roads we received a message from the radio that Elephants had been spotted crossing a region of open grassland not too far from our locations. We set off and made it to the open plains where we were treated to a fantastic sighting of not one, but two different breeding herds! With over 40 individuals counted and 2 big bulls located at the rear of them we speculated that their may even have been 3 sets of herds that happened to be moving towards the river at the same time. As photographed and attached to this blog entry, there were multiple calves within the herds, some no older than a year old. At a safe distance and minimal levels of noise, the herds passed straight by us down towards one of the few regions along the riverbed where water still remains.
The African Elephant is the largest land mammal on the planet and can weigh up to 6.5 tonnes and stand 4 metres from the ground. The male elephants, known as Bulls are either solitary or found within a bachelor herd of roughly 2 to 12 individuals. Female elephants, known as Cows form nursery herds. These contain a dominant female known as the Matriarch and any related cows or calves. Cows stay with their original natal herd, whereas males tend to move out when they become sexually mature from 14 years onwards.
Due to the drought, there are now limited sites on the reserve with large masses of water. This often results in a higher density of wildlife within the region and more frequent incredible encounters like this morning.
Spotted hyena, cheetah and lion were all encountered this week with each giving an incredibly unique sighting.
Our first lion encounter occurred along a dried river bed where a male and female seemed to be relaxing after what looked like a large meal they’d devoured not that long before we discovered them.
Similar to that of our cheetah encounter who was mid way through devouring its kill. Due to their low level status as predators, after every mouthful the cheetah lifted its head out of the carcass to check if any intruders were planning on stealing its food. Cheetahs use a large amount of energy when hunting and can easily suffer from exhaustion and eventually death unless monitored. Therefore they are prone to giving up their kills when forced upon by larger predators such as lions and hyaena.
Finally on Saturday morning we came across a spotted hyaena cooling its body in the rising African climate by submerging itself in a lake. Relative pound for pound in force, the hyaena have the strongest jaw in the African bush. Although we were well and truly within a comfort zone view point, this still prompted our tracker seat volunteer to lift his legs onto the bonnet of the Land Rover!
Hopefully this coming week is filled with more incredible encounters and lots of work towards ongoing conservation projects.
Having never done anything like this before I didn’t know what to expect. Nothing disappointed me though we did a variety of different activites but always allowed time to watch the animals. My first day here, on our way to move some fencing, we came across 3 lions in the river. We got close to them and sat and watched them for an hour or so. It was amazing! And slightly nerve wrecking! We were involved with trying to relocate Nyalas, which invvolved having them darted and having to pick them up and move them. It was very hands on and exciting but with a serious element to it., ensuring the animals were okay as they got a little stressed. Something I don’t think I’ll get to do again. The sleep out was initially worrying the hell out of me, but as soon as we got there I felt fine. Whilst we were setting up, I could not believe it, but 2 cheetahs just came trotting up to us and sat with us for a while! A memory I will always be very fond of.
Overall a great visit, lots of wildlife was seen and I found it fun and educational.
Our new group of volunteers arrived this Monday and were extremely lucky with their first venture into the bush! We set off on a drive out into the bush for an obligatory sundowner where we all certainly did not expect to have such an eventful little trip!
Our reserve fence patroller called us because he was ‘blocked by the lions’ as he uses a motor bike to get around the perimeter. Fortunately the lions moved on by themselves by the time we arrived and we were treated to a fantastic sighting accompanied by some picture perfect low level light. Once we had a lovely look at the lion and lioness from a comfortable distance we parked up on the grassland opening and enjoyed an ice cold drink watching the sun go down behind the Drakensburg mountains. Just as we finished our drink we drove beyond the grassland and out popped 2 adult elephants stood beside a juvenile that was a little over 1 years old! The reason you can identify the age of a young elephant is that they are no longer able to pass under the stomach of their mothers beyond the age of 1. Pulling away from the opening we came across an incredibly unexpected visitor, one that we had moments ago expressed our love for them, the Honey Badger! Unfortunately at this point the light had completely gone so we were unable to take a picture and was testament to the team for spotting it in such difficult conditions!
Needless to say the new arrivals were treated to one hell of a first journey into the bush at Pidwa! Hopefully this luck will continue in the coming weeks when we shall be cracking on with some of the ongoing conservation projects
So this week we had our sleep out session, as some of you may know this involves setting up camp at a nice spot somewhere in the bush before building a fire which we then sleep around. On this occasion we chose the river which is all dried up at the moment as we are coming towards the end of the dry season. The sun was on the verge of setting when one of the volunteers spotted two figures walking close to camp, as they got closer we identified them as the cheetahs ‘Kusala’ and her cub, which is yet to be named. What an amazing sighting it was, as both Cheetahs seemed relaxed around us and came within the gas lantern perimeter of the camp, at one point coming as close as 5 meters away. They stayed with us for about 20 minutes before wandering back off down the river, leaving all of us absolutely awe struck for the rest of the evening!
Today we set out on the first of our 2 day Nyala moving! The first two males went down without a glitch, however the 3rd male wasn’t too happy… He jumped the fence, well more through the fence, into a different camp where he was unfortunately assaulted by another pretty fierce male. Not to worry though, the vet sorted him out, as well as covering the majority of people in blue stuff. Oh and I (Jess) very cleverly and not so spectacularly walked into an electric fence. I was only checking they were definitely working! Which they are…
We moved 14 Nyalas, all happy in a new home! After that we had a well-deserved lunch break then set out to carry on making the pizza oven. We needed supplies so headed off to get some stones and sand. The stones was a relatively simple affair, however the sand… We headed down to the river where we knew the lions had been chilling out there for a few days. After a quick scan, we were in the clear. We headed down the river maybe about 100metres and started digging. Then we had to turn back around to get off. But oh no, that was not to be. We got stuck in the dry sand, after relentless efforts from Ed and pushing from us guys, Ed had to give in and call in the boys to pull us out. Which naturally subjected him to a bit of stick!
We arrive back at the house with our sand, and start unloading it. Then we tried to work out what we were actually going to do with sand and stones and the whole making a pizza oven. Soon a plan formed, but we were all so pooped, we called it a day and headed for water and well needed showers. Just before dinner we could here elephants casually ripping a few trees apart down near the river, and could see some lightning storms happening in the distance, a storm on the way maybe? We will see…
Volunteering at Askari put me right in the middle of the reserve management experience. I learnt so much about what conservation means today and i could clearly see how our activities were contributing to that. Though it was sometimes hard work, everyday out in the bush with friendly, smart people was a joy. As well as feeling very useful for conservation, Askari was an incredible place for animal sightings. I had some spectacular sightings over my time at Askari. I had fun everyday and saw a side of conservation and the wild that not many people get to see. It was awesome.
With Summer just around the corner we have had a few snake encounters in the last week, as they begin to come out of hibernation for the warmer weather. Firstly, we had a call recently to one of the hay stores by a staff member who had discovered a young Rock Python amongst the bales, these stores tend to attract a few rodents so it is likely that the Python was hanging around to catch a meal after its long Winter hibernation.
A new snake species for the reserve was also discovered recently, a Marbled Tree Snake, this species is mildly venomous, but not known to be dangerous to man, which is good seen as though it was discovered by one of the staff whilst in the shower! This species is known to actively seek out geckos for prey, which are frequently seen on the walls around the buildings trying to catch insects that are attracted by the porch lights. A couple of cool sightings so looks like we may have a big snake season ahead of us!
Before coming to Askari I was very nervous but excited and I didn’t really know what to expect. But as soon as I arrived Ketie and Ed were so welcoming and I felt at ease straight away. Over the past month has been the most amazing experience. I’ve had opportunities to see Lions, Elephant, Honey Badgers and many more. I’ve learned so many things from all the different animal species to birds. We also had very full-on activities like darting Sable which was incredible a very special couple of days I’ve enjoyed every single moment here and it’s been a life time opportunity doing this amazing programme. I’ve met some amazing people and a big thank-you to Katie and Ed for making this experience the best
Absolutely a lovely month in the nature for my first travel to Africa! The panel of activities shows us a lot about the job to do for keeping the reserve healthy! We had some amazing moments with animals, nature an of course some good guys who were volunteers at the same moment! You can be sure that I’m not going to see European animals and birds by the same way I used to! Let’s get amazing sightings in French forest!!
Well today has been one hell of a day. Our initial plan was to dart the remaining Sable and Nyala to be moved to buffalo camp and the new breeding camps. We moved 33 of the Sable last week so we only had the large males and a few sub-adults still to be moved. After successfully re-locating all 9 of the Sable, which all went very smoothly (we are pro’s at this now), we had a bit of a surprise in store.
On return from buffalo camp we got word from Ed that they had spotted 2 Cheetah near the airstrip, so we all went to see if we could get a glimpse of them. One of which turned out to be Kusala, a female which has had an out of action radio collar attached to her for some years now. What a coincidence that we happened to have Peter the Vet on hand for the Sable and Nyala translocation, as normally it would prove difficult to even find Kusala, let alone hold sight of her long enough to call him in to anesthetize her for her collar removal. So after tracking her movements for a couple of hours, Pete managed to successfully dart her and we were able to remove the broken radio collar, amazing! Kusala had been wearing that collar for 5 years, almost her entire adult life, so it was a relief to get it removed before it became uncomfortably tight on her, and additionally to eliminate the risk of it getting caught up in a chase. It was fantastic for the team to get some close up views of the Cheetah, and seen as we had to stay with her for 45 minutes for the drugs to wear off everyone was able to get some close up photos with her. This was a very special addition to the days work and one that nobody could have predicted would happen, just goes to show you never know what can happen when working with wildlife!
After lunch we began the Nyala darting, all went very smoothly and we successfully moved 11 Nyala into the old Sable breeding camps. Only one youngster gave us trouble. The month old Nyala gave us the run around in camp 1 for quite a while, but we persevered and it was able to be returned to its mother in the new breeding camp. A very hectic but exciting day!
This week was moving out time for Askari’s Sable Antelope. All the Sable from the camps in and around the Askari base had to be moved to Buffalo Camp, as their management is to be rearranged and expansion of the Sable breeding program is to follow. This meant moving 42 Sable from 3 different camps into their new home at Buffalo camp, using 1 veterinarian, 1 trailer, and a lot of willpower! Sable Antelope are very large, so a lot of strength and perseverance was required in order to safely transport the animals into the trailer and across the reserve to their new enclosure.
Respected Veterinarian Peter was once again on the scene to handle the anesthetics for the animals, his experience shone throughout the day, ensuring the precision of the whole operation. Under his supervision the team where able to get some very up-close experience handling the animals.
Not only did the animals have to be transported, but information crucial to the breeding program had to be taken whilst the animals were in transit, a very tricky task, given that it was undertaken in the back of a moving truck whilst trying to ensure the safety of the animals (and ourselves!). Several variations on horn length and diameter had to be recorded, in addition the checking the animals teeth and taking photographs for their ID cards.
The proceedings so far have seen 33 of the Sable successfully translocated. All in all, a great success. All of the breeding females and their respected calves have been moved without harm, and a very dirty and sweaty team were able to enjoy a very well deserved beer at the end of the two days!
Last Thursday was our scheduled day with our resident Veterinarian Peter. Our aim of the day was to dart 2 of the young Buffalo for routine procedures and to relocate two breeding male Nyala from Langa Langa into the breeding camps (if we could catch them!). Peter explained to the team about the required dosage of sedative for the buffalo, along with the other processes which were accomplished whilst the animal was sedated. These included microchipping, attaching ear tags, vaccinating and dosing them with antibiotics, as well as checking for tick-load. The two young Buffalo went under without a hitch, all the procedures being completed within about 5-10 minutes so as not to keep the Buffalo sedated for too long. An antidote was then administered to reverse the sedative and both of the Buffalo came round and swiftly re-joined the herd.
After the successful Buffalo darting, we set out to relocate the two male Nyalas from Langa Langa for breeding, following the death of a breeding male in one of the camps. It took us some time to locate them, but eventually they were successfully anesthetized and moved into the Nyala breeding camps. As Nyala have a high metabolic rate, this means that the amount of sedative given to them has to be much higher than other animals of their size, the dose is greater than that administered to an Elephant! Both of the males have since been seen on their feet and looking none the worse for wear. A successful hands on day for the team!
This morning at 6.30am we set of for an Herbivore drive. Soon after setting off we came across a herd of African elephants. The herd were enjoying their morning breakfasts and making a lot of noise while trying to get it but what a lovely start to the drive it was. After setting off again, only a couple of metres from the herd a massive Male African Elephant started moving near where we were situated. He was quite unsure, but soon went on his way. During the drive we mostly saw dazzles of Zebras and very pleasant they were too.
We also had brilliant sightings of Bird of prey. Several of the African Fish Eagle and our first sighting of the African harrier hawk, such a beautiful sighting.
Without a doubt one thing I was hoping to see during my Askari experience was Vultures. Luckily enough the hope did happen. On the way back we saw over 20 White Backed Vultures circling in the air. Ed took us to the Carcass of a Wildebeest not too far from the Askari house. It was a spectacular sight with nearly over 100 vultures. These Vultures were the Hooded, Cape and the beautiful Lapped Face which I was dying to see. This was by one of my top 3 best Askari Moments so far.
Earlier this week we were given the news that the team would be having a mid-week excursion to Kruger national park. For those of you who don’t know, Kruger is the largest national park in South Africa covering 19500 square kilometers. It was also the first of its kind, having been established in 1926. After just shy of a 2 hour drive we arrived at the Orpen gate to the park, getting there very early at roughly 6:45 to make the most of it!
Almost instantly we were greeted with about a dozen elephants, Kruger is renowned for its large elephant population, but this would lead on to a very diverse array of bird and mammal sightings (with the odd reptile and even fish thrown in for good measure). Our first notable sighting was a family of Southern Ground Hornbill, a critically endangered species which habits Kruger as one of its last remaining strongholds. Throughout the day we were treated to 4 fantastic lion sightings, one of which was a particularly elderly Lioness patrolling a very low-level water source containing a concentrated population of African Catfish being surrounded by a vast array of species: Nile Crocodiles, Hippopotamus, Waterbuck, Impala, Hammerkop, Zebra, and more Elephants! Naturally most of these made themselves scarce when the lioness arrived…
Additionally, a significant sighting of an African Buffalo herd of over 100 individuals!
The bird populations in Kruger is also somewhat different to Pidwa, although most species share the habitat range we were treated to a few which are infrequently seen on the Askari base reserve, including Double-banded Sandgrouse, Water Thick-knee and a Brown-headed Parrot!
After a lengthy 10 hour stint in Kruger park we departed back to Pidwa, the trip having been a first for most of the team it was a worthwhile treat, a must-see experience if you are visiting this part of South Africa. That being said, there no sighting quite like the welcoming wagging tails of the Askari dogs after a full day away from the picturesque paradise that is Pidwa!
So with our new batch of eager volunteers, the bush has not disappointed us with amazing sightings this week! Less than 24 hours after arrival and not even 10 minutes into our first game drive with our new volunteers, we spotted a Honey Badger foraging for what we suspect was hibernating frogs, Amazing! The Badger hung around for around ten minutes before skulking off back into the bush, only to reappear when we came past the same spot later that evening. We have also been very lucky with the Elephants! A sighting almost every day with large herds of up to 18 having been spotted down by Lilypan near the Askari house. Finally to end the week off on a high, an amazing sighting of a pair of spotted Hyenas down in the far south of the reserve on our early morning drive, who were very relaxed around us and lay in front of the vehicle warming up in the early morning sun. Thinking our luck could not continue we headed back for home, only to discover a Lion and Lioness in the road by the Selati river! They would not stop showing off their impressive teeth by continuously yawning in front of us as they prepared themselves to venture out for the evening. What a week of sightings, lets hope that our luck continues!