After a week of seeing Vader but being unable to capture him on photo we were successful yesterday! He looks in good condition and judging by the speed he shot off at, he is as happy as Larry with his new home.
All in all a good day, we located Lucas the little Black Mamba and even Chelsea the big Black Mamba had decided to disengage herself from her nice warm bed and venture outside for a spot of sunbathing.
After a week of eluding us she was so keen to show us she was still alive that we almost stepped on her! Only when we’d seen her did she decide that that was enough and she shot off into the bush again. Presumably tag-teaming with Lucas to keep us on our toes and searching further and further into the bush for the both of them.
Well, the day has finally come where we say goodbye to Gizmo.
Home Sweet Home
In case you missed it, Gizmo was one of the original snakes in our telemetry research project. Unfortunately Gizmo was just a little too small and did not react well to the telemetry unit after the Surgery. There was only one thing to do, let Gizmo go without the transmitter. So back into surgery a few days later, the transmitter was removed and Gizmo returned with us to convalesce.
Gizmo has been getting stronger by the day and has even managed to put on enough weight to shed! So we thought it high time we let him go once more in the bush.
Gizmo tentatively looks round
At first he seemed reluctant to leave his Hluhluwe hotel (namely the garage atUmkhumbi Lodge but then instinct got the better of him and he was off.
After a brief stop in the water – which judging by the speed he left it was cold!! – he ducked into the long grasses to hide from the sun.
Gizmo the forest Cobra gives us one last smile before slithering away
Well, we found Lucas, but I sort of wish we hadn’t.
Bad news today everyone, it would appear that despite being a fairly large black mamba, Lucas has become food. We found his remains bearing a broken neck, so we at least know that death would have come fairly quickly to poor Lucas.
It would appear from the marks on the ground that he was pulled from his termite mound. We do not however know to which predator he fell prey. The puncture wound which also resulted in a broken neck could have been caused by either a white-tailed mongoose or snake eagle, both are also the only predators likely to have preyed upon such a large mamba.
Lucas is the snake which we all had the most confidence in for survival due to his countless scars and quick nature, not to mention his ability to successfully evade us despite the tracking equipment. As you can imagine we were all saddened by this news. RIP Lucas.
They met Donald Schultz, the star of Wild Recon and Venom Hunter, and helped him on a snake release.
Luckily the girls didn't swoon into the snake box
They jazzed up all the snake enclosures for us – good for the snakes, not so good for the one feeding them! Now, Mr King Cobra… where are you hiding?
They went and played with elephants, including a little baby one! You never forget the feel of behind an elephants ear…
…or his tongue for that matter!
They got lots of hands on (well, hexarmour-gloves / snake-hook) experience with the snakes here at Umkhumbi Lodge and next door at Zulu Croc.
Even little Ollie helped to show the Zulu Croc visitors some of the stars of the show.
Making more friends!
Feeding time at Zulu Croc was also a chance to help out.
They went on a game drive at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (35 minute drive from Umkhumbi Lodge), saw 3 of the big 5 (Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) and even managed to see 3 Cheetah run in front of the car!!
But then, even better, they got the chance to hear one purr, not to mention snuggle up with it at the Emdoneni cat rehabilitation centre which is only a 25 minute drive away from Umkhumbi Lodge.
Mum, can we keep him?
Then there was the estuary cruise at St Lucia, Becky loves hippos and had never seen one in real life before – her smile was even bigger than Ollie or Lyndsay, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the hippos long enough for a picture!
You can't see it, but the smile on her face is huge!
There was no such thing as too close to the Hippos as far as Becky was concerned.
Thar' be hippos off the starboard bough!
Trees were delivered to a school building site to be planted with the students.
Lyndsay tree hugging in the back of the cruiser
They were joined by Gareth from Zulu Croc and our newest crew member Eliz when they went Rhino tracking at Falaza game reserve.
They even rescued Amorello – the restaurant next door to Umkhumbi Lodge – from a giant python.
Phew! That was hard work!
But, help was on hand!
In fact, lots of help was on hand!
They made new friends.
Issie and Carl at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi
and I quote "We got a really good picture of Gareth!"
Then Becky tried to kill him, poor guy!
But what holiday would be a holiday without a little romance…
It would appear that Chelsea has indeed found herself a little underground home.
Two days in a row now we have spotted her sunbathing and then – when she realises we want a photograph – gets camera shy and hightails it into a nearby termite mound.
Now, I realise the pictures aren’t very good, but she is much quicker than my lens (or me!). She is disappearing into a termite mound behind the branches dead centre of the shots. Practice makes perfect, so better shots coming soon.
Yesterdays sighting revealed a nice bump which was not there today, we can therefore safely assume that she is settling in well and making herself right at home by decimating the mouse population. Which I am sure the nearby Pineapple farmers will be most appreciative of!
It has been decided among the crew that Gizmo should be rereleased. However we have decided this time to release him without the transmitter. He is just a little too small and whilst he is doing fine in captivity with the transmitter in place we have our doubts about how well he will be able to cope after release. So, we have made the decision to pop him once more into the care of Susanne (our project veterinarian) and then monitor his convalescence before releasing him once more into the wild. Free to remain unbothered by humans pestering him when he is soaking up the midday sun.
Well folks, it’s been a few days since we gave Lucas some breathing space to settle into his surroundings – and we’re pleased to say that he is still in the area. He is the one snake that we thought might move out of the area but there he was sunning himself, presumably happy for a small break in the cold weather that we have been having here in Hluhluwe.
Chelsea the Black Mamba is in her winter home (meaning that she is currently underground somewhere sheltering from the chill – presumably dressed in pyjamas and drinking hot chocolate with movies).
Vader the Forest Cobra has decided to explore beyond his termite mound, but is still staying in the vicinity – I can’t blame him from returning to the same spot, the sunset from his spot is beautiful!
We have confirmed visual sightings of all four snakes! The transmitters are all working well (thank you Victor Hugo – they are awesome), and most of the snakes tried to avoid us – always a good sign!
Chelsea is still being a lady of leisure – except now she is approximately 7 metres up a tree.
Chelsea luxuriates in her penthouse apartment
The bad news is that Gizmo being the smallest needs a little more convalescing time and is now sitting in the garage in the warm – we will keep you all posted on a re-release date.
As for the other two:
Vader is evading us by hiding in a termite mound. Infact all we saw of him was his tail as we rounded the corner and he shot down a hole, obviously we need to be a lot quicker.
Lucas is surprisingly fast at escaping, just as we find him he loops around a tree and heads in another direction – so we’re going to give him some space for a couple of days.
Lucas is in there, but there is no way through...
Big hello to Beccy and Lyndsay our two volunteers at the moment who are going to help us track the snakes. Despite being up for over 24 hours and barely getting off the plane they were traipsing through the undergrowth with us and experiencing their first taste of Sickle bushes.
...time to make a way.. Ouch!
Sorry girls, but there are plenty more bushes to tromp through soon!
The sun is shining, the wind is still and our snakes have been charging themselves in the sunlight as though they had solar panels.
In addition to our release crew today we had three guests who wanted to come along and experience the buzz. That’s the joy about Umkhumbi Lodge, you never know quite what is going to happen and who you are going to meet!
As we very gingerly looked in the tubs in the morning we were delighted to discover all the snakes looking and acting like they should be. The Mambas acted like Mambas and the Forest Cobras acted like Forest Cobras.
Fastest release goes to Lucas, who was out of the tub and into a tree in the blink of an eye. It was even quicker than me eating chocolate!
So quick in fact that we had to track him to make sure he didn’t sneak back up on us!
Chelsea our big girly, acted like a lady of leisure as she sunbathed, she was in no rush to go anywhere – probably because at her size she knew that we were far more intimidated by her than she was of us!
Ok, here we are, we have snakes and we have transmitters. Now with months and weeks and days of planning all behind us it is surgery day. The penultimate day, the day when we find out which of our snakes are strong enough for the implantation of the transmitters.
So, the breakdown;
Forest Cobra number 1 – Vader
Weighed in at 1.6591 kg
Forest Cobra number 2 – Gizmo
Weighed in at 1.417 kg
Black Mamba number 1 – Chelsea
Weighed in at 2.355 kg
Black Mamba number 2 – Lucas
Weighed in at 1.690kg
All the snakes were sedated with Donald schultz tried and tested mixture. All injections were done between the scales to prevent adding scar tissue to the snakes and damaging their scales more than we needed to.
Transmitters were made by Victor Hugo and are of a similar size to those attached to bees! But ours are quite a bit bigger based upon the duration we need them to work – nearly all the size of the units is the battery.
The trickiest part of inserting the units was manipulating the aerial into the right place.
The surgery went well and with deft stitches Suzanne managed to line the scales up almost exactly to where they had been.
If it wasn’t for the blue of the stitches you wouldn’t have realised there was an incision at all!
A little sleepy afterwards the snakes will spend the evening in luxury accommodation (heated garage) and after a quick health check all that was left to do was treat them for mites/lice/ticks.