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Blog first week pioneers program BTEH

The first week of the Pioneers Program is already over, time for an update!

To start from the beginning, the group gathered Tuesday the 9th of November in an AirBnb house in Port Elizabeth. Some of us had already been travelling through the country. Travel stories were shared and we got to know each other. That night we went to bed early, because the next morning we would leave early to head towards Kariega Game Reserve.

With high expectations we drove off to Kariega the next morning. At the arrival at Kariega Conservation Center we could directly see all the hard work of the last 8 months renovations, especially the main house is beautiful! And the swimming pool is a big bonus. That afternoon we got a welcome game drive. We were very lucky to get to see many animals such as zebra’s, giraffes, white rhinos, lions and many birds. Ironically, we just saw two adult bull elephants that afternoon, we couldn’t find the herd yet. But knowing we would get on more game drives, we still had something to wish for ;).

On Thursday, the other volunteers of the Kariega Game Reserve arrived, together with the Matriarchs from the anti-poaching team, to help us with the education program. The Matriarchs are two women that are following an internship of one year with the anti-poaching team of Kariega. This week, we went to three schools to aid the Matriarchs and community coaching in telling the kids more about elephants. The idea is that in the long term the matriarch will run this program more often in different schools.

Identify elephants
Practice play

The education program starts with a play, which highlights the role of elephant matriarchs (the oldest and wisest elephant cow, which leads the herd). The Kariega volunteers made amazing elephant masks with which we can portray the elephant herd. A human mother and daughter then encounter the elephant herd, and show their amazement for elephants and that they would like to coexist with them. Then a poacher approaches that tries to shoot the elephant matriarch of the elephants, but luckily the anti-poaching team can prevent her from being killed, just in time. It is explained how bad it would be if the herd would lose her. At the end of the play the matriarchs are singing a song in their native language, which is absolutely beautiful!

After the play the kids rotate between three different activities. With each activity the kids learn in a playful way some facts about elephants, the values of elephants for the environment and about humans and the role of poaching. Each station has multiple games to teach the kids about this in a fun and interactive way. The kids do a pre- and post assessment at the beginning and at the end of the day, so that we could get an insight about their knowledge of and attitudes towards elephants before and after the program and whether it changes.

On Friday morning we got an extensive presentation by Antoinette about the Bring The Elephant Home foundation, about the research that the organisation has been involved with and future plans. After this presentation we had a relaxed afternoon with a joint beach walk and sunset on the beach of Kenton-on-Sea.

Saturday and Sunday were busy elephant data collection days. We are collecting data to be able to identify the 63 elephants of the game reserve individually. We are doing this by noting prominent tears or holes in the ears of the elephants or other obvious characteristics, such as the tusks, tail or scars e.d. Besides the elephant identification, we are also monitoring the behavior of the elephants.

On these research days, we are driving in an open jeep through the park looking for the elephants. As soon as we encounter an elephant, or better a herd of elephants, each of the volunteers has its own job to gather all this data. Especially when there are multiple elephants at the same time this can be really challenging, but this is at the same time also very fun for us! We already had some really good sightings, like a baby elephant playing in the mud or two young bulls who are testing their strength by playful sparring.

In the Kariega reserve there are many more animals as mentioned before. This weekend we noticed that luck is really on our side. When we were looking for the elephants, we encountered many animals and were treated with some special sightings. We saw both black rhinos living in the reserve, normally they are in the dense bush and hard to see, but we saw them on an open field and on the road, which allowed us to get a really good look at them. On Sunday, we were extremely thrilled when we encountered the group of lions who just killed a warthog. They were fighting for the last pieces of the prey, which was a very big spectacle to see!

Mondays are our free days, where we can reflect on the past busy week. This monday it was very warm and most of our group went to the beach to have a dive in the sea.

This week we had the school program and more research days on the agenda, so another busy week. To be continued!

Mara van Maarschalkerweerd

November 15, 2021

Kariega Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

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