by Claudia Lifton-Schwerner
Nyack High School and SUNY Oswego graduate Claudia Lifton-Schwerner won a Facebook contest to blog on behalf of Global Vision International (GVI) about their animal and environmental protection projects around the world. Her first stop was the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico followed by Fiji, Thailand and Kenya. Her latest blog post is from South Africa.
My first day in the field at the South African Wildlife Conservation Project reminded me of a old song heard most recently in the “Lion King:” I actually saw a lion sleeping, at night, in the jungle. During my first week here I saw a giraffe casually grazing on the trees directly outside of our room. I have been warned to avoid the kitchen until a hungry hyena left the premises. I have seen a herd of massive (and tiny) elephants trample through a thick forest, leaving the entire area of vegetation completely flattened in their wake. I have seen a leopard being chased by a group of jackals. I have watched baby hippos following their mother into a nearby pond for a bath and walked within five meters of a mother cheetah cautiously watching her four young cubs run and play in the nearby trees. I’m sure anyone that knows me, or anyone that has read my previous blogs, can already imagine my pure animal bliss, but just to clarify..AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
The aim of this project is to collect data on the behavior, feeding habits, and population size of the wild animals on Karongwe Reserve, particularly the threatened or endangered species living in the reserve such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and elephants. This data is essential to have in order to successfully manage the land usage, population control of prey animals, and to keep the area protected. In order to collect accurate data, there are two five hour game drives twice a day, every day. The “newbies” have spent our first week training – learning social structures, hunting techniques and identifying characteristics of our target species, as well as individual animals present in the park. Being able to identify specific animals out in the field is incredibly rewarding and knowing so much about their species makes it so much more meaningful to see them in the wild.
As if seeing exotic African wildlife out in the field every day wasn’t enough, we had the privilege of getting up close and personal with some of Africa’s most feared, yet stunning and endangered animals this week. We visited a reptile conservation center on Wednesday to learn about snakes and other reptiles of South Africa and were able to hold some of the incredible creatures. I adore snakes, so I was very excited to learn more about them, and the efforts of HERP (Helping Endangered Reptiles Park) to conserve and protect these misunderstood beauties. We were also visited by a very cheeky and hungry group of squirrel monkeys. They made it very difficult to feed the chameleon by snatching its meals from our hands before we could even put it in the lizards’ cage. Animal encounters have reached an all-time high this week, and I’m sure Karongwe will continue to excite!