Posts Tagged With: Wildlife

South African Adventure #6 – Wildlife Challenge of the Day

Here I am on my soapbox, about to pontificate and verbally gesticulate about all the reasons why I think we need to conserve, rehabilitate, and otherwise appreciate the beauty around us. But I won’t. Not really. I’ll just twist your arm gently.

My original title for this post was “Why Wildlife Makes Me Happy, and Why I Believe We Need to Cherish and Protect It.” I still think that is an apt name for the post, but what I’d prefer you to think of this post as is a challenge, a game.  t is an opportunity for you to step into my shoes for a few minutes and live like I do. You may run screaming at the thought of that, and I would understand. To some extent, at least. But what I’m proposing is something that I believe everyone should do everywhere in the world, no matter who you are. And it takes nothing but a few minutes of your time. So hear me out.

I swear if anyone took a moment to sit and watch a troop of baboons playing in a field, they could not help but to smile. Maybe not smile when the baboons jump on the car and eat the aerial or poop on your roof (which has happened to me on more than one occasion), but you still have to chuckle at their audacity, and their exploits as they toss each other around and genuinely enjoy life, even when they are getting beaten up by their more senior family members. Kind of like a human family, in fact, where the older brothers and sisters tease the younger ones incessantly and then go screaming off to whoever will listen as soon as the little one wises up and starts fighting back. In fact, baboons are uncannily like us. I’ll be honest – I kind of wish one would saunter up to me and start picking through my hair in an attempt to groom me.

I smile every time I see an animal, even the more mundane ones we take for granted, like squirrels and pigeons. Sit and watch them for a few moments before automatically judging them. Take a few minutes to observe without judging. The more you do this with wildlife, the more you will find yourself doing it with human life, and the more patience and compassion you will find you possess. It all starts with our ability to see things clearly, and not through the filters we’ve put in place through experience. The more often you allow yourself to see things without pretense, without judgment, the more often you will find yourself in a better mood. Better mood = happier people overall. I don’t know about you, but for me,  happiness is just about as good as it gets in my book.

So cherish wildlife. Appreciate it, take a moment for it, actually stop and smell those roses. No matter how busy you say you are, you always have time for it. I know. I lived and worked in New York, one of the most high-intensity places in the world, and I worked in media. If you don’t think I know a thing or two about being highly stressed, overworked, underpaid, and strung out, you are sadly mistaken. But I chose to make a change, one baby step at a time. And I always always always took a few seconds wherever I could to step back and bring the whole world into focus, stripping off the tunnel vision blinders I had been trained to use by a society so out of touch with ‘reality’ as to believe that we don’t need the outside world.  We do, and it needs us.  Just in the right balance.

So here’s my challenge for you – I challenge you to take five minutes today to sit quietly and watch a bird, a squirrel, an ant, whatever wildlife you can find. Watch, listen and don’t say a word, mentally or literally. If you do decide to try it, please, please share your experience with me.


All rights reserved. ©2012 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Bush, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cool facts about cheetah and why I haven’t been writing about them

Ok, I know I’m remiss in keeping up on the posts here. I have plenty of excuses, including things like living in a place where I have to get internet vouchers to actually log on, and often there aren’t any available. Or even better, not having electricity. I really thought when I changed jobs that I would no longer have to deal with the lack of electricity problem. However, it seems to follow me like a fruit fly follows a moldy peach. If water had anything to do with internet access, I could use that as an excuse as well, since in the month since I’ve been at the new gig, I haven’t had water for half of it, and when I have, half that time it hasn’t been hot, or even remotely warm. But that doesn’t affect my internet, except to make me smelly when I’m typing.

Other than that, the only thing that has made keeping the blog updated difficult is the fact that a cheetah had its tooth through my finger, crushing my knuckle and severing a nerve.  I had no idea how valuable a pinky finger was until this point. Plus the injury affected the whole hand for a good week, owing to the massive amount of swelling, and the dew claw holes and infections on my forearm. Cheetah bites are dirty, but cheetah dew claws are even worse, a true cesspool of bacteria and evil monsters of infection. Luckily, my arm has survived, and my hand is healing, albeit slowly.

Sadly, the hand that got bitten was my right hand, and I’m right-handed.  Heavily right-handed. That made doing just about anything a challenge. But it’s amazing what your secondary hand is capable of when necessary. I have to give props to left hand for stepping in and not only doing right hand’s work but doing the work of TWO hands since righty was incapacitated for quite a while.

Anyway, enough excuses. On to some cool facts.

I had no idea that cheetah are the oldest of the big cats, and in fact originated in North America. As such, the North American pronghorn antelope, the cheetah‘s main prey, evolved to be the fastest antelope in the world. Then an ice age swept through about 12,000 years ago and wiped the cheetah out in North America and Europe, bottlenecking the species into Africa and Asia. It seems the pronghorn hasn’t realized the cheetah isn’t still chasing it, as it apparently hasn’t slowed its roll.

Cheetahs are also separated from the other big cats for a variety of reasons, one of which is their inability to roar like lions, tigers, and leopards. Cheetah chirp like little birds, one of many elements making them appear a little less formidable than their feline friends.  However, even though they often sound like little chew toys when they communicate, they’ve evolved a serious jaw for gripping, so if they do bite, they make it count. I learned about that personally when the cheetah that attached itself to my hand refused to let go. I could swear I even heard the jaw lock in place.

Having your hand in another animal’s mouth when said animal’s intent is not to play is a sobering experience, truly. Even though I could, in theory, toss a cheetah on its back (they don’t get much bigger than 65 kg, and that’s a BIG cheetah; our captive cheetah are more like 45kg, or 90 lbs), when I have one hand clamped between its teeth, I have to make quick decisions on which is the best plan of action for getting the hand out in one piece and with minimal damage. If I kicked the cat, it could run away, hand still locked in its jaws. If I poked the cat in the eye, it could still run with my hand firmly gripped between its teeth. I did the best thing I could think of, given the situation. I used my other hand to grip the cat’s throat and jaw, pushing inward to attempt to force him to open its mouth.  But freedom for my hand came from not from my efforts, but from an outside source, and thankfully that source had the ability to keep his wits about him and think fast.

My fiance, looking on horrified at the scene unfolding before him, was luckily with me, but on the outside of the enclosure. He grabbed a spray bottle filled with water and vinegar (which we keep for situations just like this) and was able to spray the culprit in the face, immediately prompting the cat to wince, open its mouth, and run off to the other side of the enclosure, sulking. Like most species of cats, cheetahs aren’t big fans of water, unless it’s to drink.

I wish I had taken a photo of my hand when it came out of the cheetah’s mouth. The base of my now disturbingly purplish blue pinky was about half the size it normally is, with a huge hole in it that went straight through from the inner bottom corner to the outside of the middle knuckle. It was surreal.  And for the first time in my life, serious shock hit and I actually swooned and almost passed out. While my fiance raced around to find a first aid kit (of which there were none to be found – law suit, anyone??), I literally sat on the floor of the cheetah kitchen, running my hand under cool water and washing as much of the saliva and other nasties out of my many new holes. My knees buckled. It was probably the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had. And I don’t wish it on anyone.

Just a word of advice for anyone who is bitten by an animal – instinct tells you to pull back.  Don’t ever do that.  You will shred whatever body part is being bitten, if not actually detach yourself from it.  I let the cat call the shots, forcing myself to not pull my hand back and instead, moving with him in whatever direction he moved.  Because of that, I only had punctures on my hand instead of shredded skin or, worse, no fingers at all.

Here’s a look at two of our kitties at play…note the claws on the front cat. Because cheetah claws are not fully retractable like other cats (though their dew claws do retract fully), their nails take a beating through wear and tear, though I doubt any cheetah ever cares about things like pedicures or dirty nails.

Cheetahs at play and photographer in the way


All rights reserved. ©2013 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Bush, cheetah, Conservation, Education, rehabilitation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

South African Adventure #58 – A Loo With A View

It isn’t every day that your toilet looks out on, and is open to, a game reserve.  No door, walls made of thin sticks clumped together – a lovely white porcelain throne overlooking the tranquil wilds of Africa.  Perfect for when you’re alone on the bowl and pondering life; not so perfect when there are other people around who can hear every little splash.  It’s humbling on multiple fronts, and the concept of ‘getting back to nature’ takes on new meaning. When nothing but some skinny strands of metal separate you, in your (quite literally) vulnerable position, from multiple possible death-inducing scenarios, and there is nothing to shield others from the less savory of your bodily functions, ego gets flushed down the pipes with the rest of the toilet’s contents.

The toilet I speak of (and there IS only a single toilet) sits quite literally at the edge of the fenced-in area in our campsite, about three feet (or around a meter for our metrically-obsessed) from a wire fence that doesn’t look like it could keep out a chicken, let alone lion and elephant.  I’m not even sure if it’s electrified, and am not volunteering to test it out regardless.  If the opportunity arises, I’ll just have to leave it to fate and put my survival skills to the test.  Would be kind of interesting to see how well, or not so well, I fared without a gun or other man-made defense accoutrement against true apex predators, but again, not going to make the effort unless I have no other choice.  Again, not volunteering.

I learned what I was made of on a recent sleep-out in Tembe Elephant Park, where I parked my vanity on the back of the Land Cruiser and embraced the rustic little village of pre-fab houses that made up our camp. Solid walls? Check. Bed? Check. Sheets? Nope. Curtains? Nope. Privacy? Zilch. I was glad I brought plenty of layers of clothing.  They might at the very least deter some of the vast array of insects inside the house from snuggling up in my armpits or in other areas I’d prefer not to think about.

While the accommodations were spartan, the campsite itself was full of life, courtesy of seven very happy people celebrating being able to let loose for an evening in a place where letting loose often means the possibility of losing limbs.  Letting loose here doesn’t happen often, and when it does, you cherish it.  You do what any self-respecting South African does.  You buy a whole bunch of meat and throw it on a grid set over a mass of burning coals, crack a beer or a cider, and braai.

Braaing is the SA equivalent to bbq-ing.  Sometimes lion, leopard and hyena come to the party, though, giving it a uniquely African element you simply cannot recreate anywhere else.  A pit is dug, filled with the appropriate type of wood – appropriate because the wrong wood being burned could land you in the hospital here because of the toxins it releases – and a small fire is lit.  Over a few hours, you sit around this ember-inducing circle, drinking, sharing stories, and waiting for the coals to heat up enough for the big event.

Once enough suitable coals are available, any remaining wood is pushed out of the way and a large metal grid goes over the coals, followed by multiple types of meat – steak, boerewoers (literally translates from Afrikaans to ‘farmer sausage’), burgers, whatever your fancy.  Meat comes from cows, ostrich, warthog, and just about every type of local antelope large enough to provide a decent cut.  A braai master is declared who is responsible for ensuring the meat is properly cooked.

Veggies aren’t really necessary.  Meat and alcohol are the only important elements here, but since we had a vegetarian with us, we needed at least one veggie option.  We opted for ever-popular corn (‘on the cob’ to Americans).  South Africans call corn mieles (pronounced ‘meelies’).  Why, I have no idea, and neither does any South African I’ve asked.

At any rate, corn is never a good thing for open bathrooms.  The first night wasn’t an issue, but the next morning, mieles were making waves.  Thankfully, we all ate the corn, so everyone was on the same embarrassing level.  It’s amazing how strongly you bond with people when you don’t have the luxury of shame or ego…

After a relatively early rise and a thorough clean-up of the camp, we packed up every last morsel, bit of rubbish and ounce of pride, and headed back to main camp.  We all observed each other’s need for silence on the trip back, hangover etiquette intact in reaction to the combined result of too many drinks, a bumpy drive on an open vehicle in very cold temperatures, and the need to pay attention because of the possibility of running into wildlife at any point.  Once we disembarked, we all fell into couches, chairs and beds, miserably clinging to pillows and covering our heads in an attempt to make the day-after pain subside.  By noon, we were all human again.

All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

View from the loo, aka the toilet

camp toilet giving new meaning to going au naturale in the bush


Categories: Africa, Animal, Bush, Camp, Conservation, Education, Field Guide, South Africa, Training, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bush Parade…Right Outside My Door

The other night, I was quite literally living inside a parade.  A parade of elephants.  A breeding herd decided to come visit the camp at 10pm.  We had elephants of all sizes traipsing through the brush literally walking down the pathways and between the tents.

All I could do was stand in my doorway and watch them go by, as I didn’t dare try to get any photos.   Elephants weigh a few tons, have no problem throwing their weight around, and have an aversion to camera flashes, particularly at night.  I live in a canvas tent.  Picture of an elephant eating the tree next to my window and then me getting squooshed when I momentarily blind it and piss it off?  Or stay alive and contentedly watch them from my front stoop as they blithely puttered along down the pathway and stay intact?  I chose to stay intact, so I’m sorry, but I have no photos of the experience for you.  However, I do have plenty of photos of close encounters with elephants, which I’ve included, as a stand-in for our late-night visitors.

We knew the elephants were in the area.  One of the perks of living on a reserve is that there are many people constantly in the bush for some reason or another, whether it is field guides guiding guests, the anti-poaching unit patrolling the perimeters, the wildlife monitors tracking animals, or simply the reserve manager out for a late-afternoon jol.  All of them keep everyone else abreast of what is going on, and what animals are where.  All except the rhinos.  The rhinos’ whereabouts are on lock-down these days, and for good reason.  We even have to keep a tight lid on the rhino locations when we see them – we are only supposed to report them to certain people, and not over the radio.  Elephants, however, are fair game on any radio channel, and honestly, it’s a safety concern when it comes to elephants.  When they pass through, they cause all kinds of damage, and aren’t always the most pleasant of creatures when you surprise them in the bush.  Or when they surprise you when you’re walking out of the bathroom.  Which happens more often than you’d think.

Rarely do we get a chance to see them at night, though, so it was breathtaking to be standing in my doorway as several-ton beings ambled by, munching on my yard, clearing a view for us as they tore away branches (and even small trees).  While they, like any animal, are unpredictable, it wasn’t their behavior I was concerned with, though. It was my little white Golf sitting in their pathway that had me worried.  Though it would make no sense for them to intentionally squoosh the car, they were eating the trees all around the car, and elephants have a penchant for knocking trees over to get at the moist roots.  The car was right in the path of a few tall acacia trees.  Not only would the car suffer serious damage from the weight of a tree falling on top of it, but it would also sustain damage from the three-inch thorns populating the branches of said tree like a medieval torture device.

For two hours, my fiancé and i periodically got up and watched the elephants from my door, both of us wrapped in sleeping bags to ward off the night chill, and stock still so as to not disturb the company.  We saw an entire family, from little peanuts tripping through the brush to big brothers and sisters knocking their younger siblings about, to older matriarchs keeping the teenagers in line with occasional swats of their trunks.

When we weren’t at the door, we were in bed listening to them chewing the scenery all around our tent.  All night, we heard their low rumblings, occasional trumpeting, and more than a few fart bubbles.  The sounds reverberated through my body and eventually lulled me to sleep.

When we woke in the morning, the only reminders of our evening visitors where branches littering the pathways, a few less trees and shrubs, a better view of the river, and some rather large, smelly squares of dung.  Some of the students, whose tents were literally a foot from where the elephants walked, had not even woken up last night.  That’s one of the most amazing things about these creatures – while they may weight several tons and grow to a good 15 feet high, they can also move soundlessly, the fat pads on their feet enabling them to maneuver like ninjas through even the thickest leaf litter.  As always, nature manages to amaze me once again.

Song of the day: “Nellie the Elephant” by Toy Dolls

By the way, an elephant with its trunk up, like the one in this photo below, is supposed to be good luck.  While that’s nice to consider, really, they’re just sniffing you out…


All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

A local ellie taking a sniff around

Ellies crossing the road

Elephants on parade

Ellie siblings
Baby and sister ndlovus giving love

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

South African Adventure Thought for the Day – Beauty in the Skies, Survival in the Sounds

look at me, look at me!

look at me, look at me!


Can anything evade an eagle eye?

Can anything evade an eagle eye?

What do I spy with my little eye...

What do I spy with my little eye…

I’ve been learning South African birds.  Bird calls, bird flight patterns, bird mating rituals, etc. etc. etc.  What do you want to know about a bird, South African or otherwise?  Ask away and I will supply whatever answers I can.  I’m on this mission, and it is a mission, to learn about birds for several reasons.  One, after spending so much time around them, I’ve slowly built up an appreciation for them and honestly get a rush out of being able to identify them by their calls.  Two, like everything else I seem to learn out here, knowing your birds can be potentially life saving.

I’ll admit, begrudgingly, that another big motivator for me to learn these birds was the embarrassment I felt when asked by my fiance what some of the indigenous birds in New York and New Jersey were, and finding I could only name about five.  Obviously after learning the South African feathered flocks, I will have no greater knowledge of the avian armies of my childhood home, but one step at a time here.  The sheer fact that I’m bothering to learn them at all is huge for me.  Eventually I will learn at least a few dozen from my home region.  Eventually.  Right now I’m just happy to be able to distinguish the doves from the shrikes from the kingfishers.

It pays to know what the animals know when you live in the bush.  They use signals we’ve grown to ignore, signals we’ve insulated ourselves from in our little castles.  Certain bird behaviors and calls indicate danger, and when you have to live by your wits out here, it pays to know which birds do this, what they do, and how they sound.  The oxpecker is one such bird that it behooves you to know.  It might be the only alarm you’ve ever appreciated.

The oxpecker lives on ticks that parasitize just about every big animal out here.  You know them from wildlife documentaries – they’re the small, grey birds with brightly-colored eyes and beaks, rappelling down the necks of giraffes, tucking behind the ears and in the nostrils of buffalo, and nipping at the hindquarters of rhino and hippo.  They seem to steer clear of elephant, for some reason (maybe the trunk is simply too dexterous of an appendage for them to evade) and you don’t see them on the lions either.  But then again, I’m not sure if I’d be all over a lion either.

Oxpeckers practice mutualism, which means both parties involved benefit from the arrangement.  The oxpecker gets his meal of lovely bloodsucking parasites; the rhino/giraffe/buffalo/etc. gets a personal pest removal system free of charge.  However, that mutualism turns to parasitism when the oxpeckers still want a meal, and, for the next fix, turn to vampirism.  Oxpeckers have a tendency to home in on an animal’s preexisting wound and go for any bits of coagulated blood.  Munching away, the birds then reopen the wound, keeping it from healing.  This clearly oversteps the ‘mutually beneficial’ situation.  But that’s neither here nor there, really.  All I care about oxpeckers at this time is that they are alarm birds.

When you see a bunch of oxpeckers fly up suddenly out of the brush, you know there is something potentially dangerous lying in wait.  Same goes for certain terrestrial birds such as guinea fowl, spurfowl and francolins (also known as heart-attack birds).  These birds have a fascinating ability to pop out of nowhere and literally stop your heart.  You have to keep in mind, though, before you try to catch them and wring their scrawny little necks, that you are a threat to them too.  And I have to say, given how much damage we as people do, we are by far the most fearsome and dangerous animals anywhere.

Song for the day: ‘Hard to Handle’ – The Black Crowes


All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

Baby giraffe with oxpeckers

The Mobile Buffalo Cleaning Service


Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

South African Adventure #192 – The Rules of Engagement, and Impala Road Kill

There are two main reasons for the strict rules you see upon entry every time you visit a reserve here (and everywhere else in the world) – safety for you, and safety for the animals. These rules are the lifeline that keeps the vast majority of people who enter this natural world, as well as the animals they’ve come to see, alive. The irony of conservation these days is that we have to pimp out the wildlife in order to preserve it. This means the necessary evil of allowing the people who have never in their life encountered an elephant outside of a television documentary or a local zoo to drive among these creatures in several-ton weapons of mass destruction. There are bound to be bad interactions and casualties.

Newbie people in the bush are akin to true newborns, fresh to a world they don’t understand, and just as vulnerable and useless as a newborn human baby. Sometimes they cry just as much as well.  Without guidance, you’d be amazed at the stupid things they’ll do. I know; I was one of them. Luckily for me and the local wildlife, I managed to avoid damaging my surroundings. Other people aren’t so lucky.

The other day, a man killed seven impala while speeding through Kruger National Park. Seven. In a row. Now, it’s kind of difficult to hit one impala. They’re antelope – they move quickly. This is usually the case when your best defense is to outrun predators.

There are speed limits in the parks here of no more than 50km/hr, which translates to about 27mph. Plus, you’re usually looking for animals specifically so you DON’T hit them, so your speeds aren’t much above a rather feisty idle anyway. To hit something, anything, larger than a frog, not only takes top speeds, it takes barrels of stupidity, irresponsibility, and disrespect for the world around you. This guy took out seven animals IN A ROW! Seven animals that normally outmaneuver cheetah, the fastest land animal alive, no less.

The man did get fined, thankfully, though a paltry amount for the crime. The company he worked for got an even heftier fine, which I’m sure they didn’t appreciate, and probably didn’t help his line of defense when it came to keeping his job. Kruger National Park has banned him from entering the park for five years. He swears he wasn’t speeding, but you cannot possibly hit that many of that type of animal unless you have the pedal to the metal.

Now, speeding aside, the reason you aren’t allowed out of your car when driving through the reserves? What you DON’T see is even more dangerous than what you do. That lovely little bush back there may actually be hiding a rather large black rhino, and if you decide it’s the perfect place to take a wee (yup, that is what everyone, even the big, burly guys, call ‘peeing’ here), you may end up with a horn through your chest, though I’m sure your bladder will definitely empty. Or, again, the pride of lions that is right in front of your face, but you can’t see it because the lions all blend in so well with their surroundings? They will be on you faster than a chicken on speed.  Any sound that you could conceive of possibly emanating from your lips will not do so in time before that little light of yours goes out. Okay, you might get out a grunt when the wind gets knocked out of your lungs. But grunts don’t travel very far as far as sound goes. And like the proverbial tree falling in a forest, no one’s gonna hear you anyway.

As dopey as some of these creatures look when they play, they are smooth operators when it comes to their prey. You are no match for a hungry carnivore or an angry herbivore. Trust me. I have seen them in action. I have seen how a pack of wild dogs will be on top of, kill, and literally devour an entire impala, skin and all, in a matter of minutes. I have seen four lions take down a 400lb animal in less than half an hour, leaving only a skull and a few rib bones behind, just in case they get a hankering for a late-night snack. I have seen hyenas rip through a femur like it’s nothing more than a potato chip. I have heard of little duikers (teeny, adorable antelope that probably come up to my knee) rip open a person’s femoral artery, and have personally seen a bull nyala (another antelope) knock a grown man five feet in the air with minimal effort. What are you going to do, smack them?

Even if you manage to momentarily confuse an animal here, you likely can’t outrun it. We are slow at the best of times in comparison to pretty much any four-footed creature. And speaking of running, this is something you NEVER do in the bush. As soon as you run, they chase. Instinct. Running means you give the predator a reason to chase you. That’s really not a position you want to put yourself in when the animal you’re trying to avoid runs twice as fast, and weighs twice as much, as you. And can clear a fence 15 feet high and climb trees. And has a mouth like a chainsaw. Or try an elephant, whose every step is equal to about ten of yours, who can topple a full-sized tree with a mere twitch of its shoulders, and who can move up and down steep hills as adeptly as a mountain goat, while you clumsily struggle to gain footing and balance.

This, my friend, is the reality – we have nothing on these animals. Even our supposed brain capacity is useless out here. They will take us out before we even have time to process the first thought of what to do. So, I urge you – respect them, respect the rules, and stay alive. Survival is not a right out here – it’s a privilege. Stay in the damn car. And if you’re around baboons, lock the doors and keep the windows closed. I’ve seen a baboon open a car door and get inside, despite protests of the screaming family of humans inside. A packet of chips is too tempting a proposition for a clever primate. We of all creatures should understand that. And I’ve been on the receiving end of a baboon going after a bag of chips in my hand. It’s terrifying.

Many people, particularly tourists, and, evidently, delivery drivers, seem to have no idea what is out there. They have no idea how powerful a baboon is or how vicious. They look at hyenas and think, “Looks a little like a teddy bear. How could that possibly be dangerous?” And yet hyena can chew through solid bone, and often do.

Say a newbie thought it was okay to feed the hyenas and baboons, showing complete disregard for the signs all over the place that read “Do Not Feed the Animals.” Clearly, this person never thinks that by ignoring the warning and doing this they could not only lose an arm, but also that the animals could become acclimated to humans and their food, and thus become a menace to the camps and to anyone on foot. Why a menace from one measly breadcrumb? The animals become used to people, quickly learn to associate them with food, and start attacking to get to food. Then someone gets hurt. And then the animal needs to be shot. Not exactly fair to the animals, is it?

Just as a note, I personally ‘break the rules’ often. I have to get out of the vehicle to move animals off the road and out of danger, or to relocate an injured creature. I have to get out of the car to change tyres, check camera traps, and clear debris. That’s part of my job. Your job is to enjoy nature and to help us all ensure it’s there for generations to come. Please do your part. I promise you I will do mine.

That’s the buzz from the bush for today.

Song choice: Running Down a Dream, by Tom Petty

Check out the link below for more info on the impala story:


All rights reserved. ©2012 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Soundtrack to the South African Bush LIfe

From now on, I’m going to try and have a corresponding song that I think goes with every new post.   Please feel free to add your own comments and thoughts on musical material you think would match the story.  I’d love to hear what other people associate with these stories!

Today, it is sunny, chilly, and after receiving news of the passing of Adam Yauch (one of the extraordinary Beastie Boys), I’m feeling nostalgia wash over my piping hot coffee.  As I watch the nyalas chew the lawn, I’m sending a shout-out to one of my favorite musical groups of all time.  Today I’m feeling inspired by a little ‘Paul Revere.’  There is always an appropriate moment for the Beastie Boys, even in the middle of the African bush (and especially on days when your car gets head-butted by a rhino – see close-up below).

Each day, take a moment and remember how amazing life is, how lucky we are to have the people who love us, who inspire us, who make us smile, who make us think, who challenge us, who support us, and who ask nothing more than that we return the favor.



All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

South African Adventure #77 – Waldo

Waldo, our foam nest tree frog, in his natural environment

Apologies for the delay on posts this week.  No power, no internet, no blog.  Anyway, I’ve saved one of my favorite topics for this particular post: WALDO!

Waldo greets me at least once a week, sometimes by throwing himself dramatically at me from the depths of the darkness of my tent when I open the door, sometimes dropping on my head while I’m brushing my teeth.  Sometimes when I’m sitting on the bed, working on my laptop, he quietly sidles up next to me and plops on the keyboard.  Always he is silent, and always he manages to blend into whatever he is sitting on.  I love Waldo.  He’s our resident foam nest tree frog.  He might be my favorite local, quite possibly because he poses no threats, doesn’t make any noise, and he keeps me company instead of hiding in the bushes or running away.  And he’s adorable, as frogs go.

Most of the other wildlife here turns and makes tracks before you even know it’s there.  The ones that don’t disappear are the ones likely to attack and quite possibly eat you.  I’m not sure if I’d prefer to see the wildlife, or take my chances with the Houdinis of the wilderness.  Waldo doesn’t fit into either category, though.  He disappears for days at a time, but then reappears and hangs around, watching us and keeping the mosquito population in check.  Again, I love him.

Most of the amphibians I’ve met out here are loud.  I didn’t realize how loud a frog could be until after the first rains, when it seemed every amphibian within a 10km radius suddenly convened outside my tent and decided it was time to defend territory/find a mate/auditioning for Frog Idol.  It felt like I was at the frog equivalent of a heavy metal concert, a surround sound barrage of deafening squawks and brrrps and tinks.  Waldo’s species does normally fit into that bright little chorus, but for whatever reason, Waldo does not partake in those reindeer games.  I’m guessing it’s because he is safe within the confines of our home, and doesn’t feel the need to announce his presence to the animal kingdom.  That’s good for us and for him.  Or her.  To be honest, I don’t know what gender he/she is, and because amphibians have the fascinating ability to change sex if necessary, he/she is a sort of hermaphrodite anyway, so I guess what I call him/her doesn’t matter.  I’ve settled on thinking he’s a he, unless I suddenly find little foam nest tadpoles flitting about in my sink.

I named him Waldo because, like his namesake, I always find him blending in to different places in the tent.  Until recently, every time I came across him, he had staked claim to a new little patch in some random location amongst my clothes, books and whatever other random possessions were sitting around in our ‘house.’  He stayed in each location for a day or two at a time before moving on to new territory.  Once he was sitting on the vinyl chair outside, slightly hidden under my fiance’s t-shirt.  Another time, he was snuggling in the wires of our solar panel.  Yet another time, he was in a shoe, which makes me wonder if frogs have a sense of smell, because if they do, his clearly doesn’t work.  A few times he perched on my computer.  Then he found a very comfortable spot at the top of the solar panel converter.  Seemed like an ideal place for him – high vantage point from which to catch insects, good place to hide from potential predators.  Visible yet invisible.  He stayed put for a whole six days, which eventually started to concern me, and I thought he might’ve been dead.  Then one day when I was walking by, he jumped on my head.

He has become my favorite part of being out here.  Quiet, unobtrusive, and yet always a companion, Waldo is like that friend who listens and who sticks by you, no matter what.  He seems to prefer to fade into the background, figuratively and literally, and yet he finds funny ways to remind you he’s there, and he has your back.  When you work in an industry where you have almost no modern conveniences (and usually they don’t work anyway), no privacy, no set hours for your job, and no real time to yourself, having a little buddy like him is priceless.  Mastercard, where are you when advertising opportunities like this come about?  You might need to hire Waldo for your next commercial.  I’ll even let you shoot the footage in the tent for free.

Waldo, it’s time for your close-up.

A quick note about frogs.  They breathe through their skin, so you should never touch them if you have anything on your hands (like lotion, bug repellant, and even soap residue and perfume).  In fact, you really shouldn’t handle them at all if you can help it.  If you must, do so with clean, wet, open hands, and only for a very brief period of time.  I only held Waldo a handful of times, and that was only to remove him safely from my head or shoulder or thigh after one of his theatrical leaping forays.  Otherwise, I practiced a hand’s-free policy so I didn’t endanger him, very tough for someone like me, who loves to touch everything.  To be honest, frogs aren’t all that keen on being held anyway.  Makes them feel like they are about to be eaten, I guess.  And some of them excrete toxins through their skin, making them a hazard to you as well.  Best to simply observe from a distance, no matter how tempting it is to pick them up.


All rights reserved. ©2012 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, Frog, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eco Porn: Thrill of the Chase (Starring a Baby Giraffe and Other Cuties on the Prowl) | OnEarth Magazine

Ok, so I can’t take credit for anything on this particular post but tracking down the link.

Found another blogger with a love for wildlife and a sense of humor.  Clever to put such a cheeky spin on ‘eco.’  And everybody loves a baby animal.

Eco Porn: Thrill of the Chase (Starring a Baby Giraffe and Other Cuties on the Prowl) | OnEarth Magazine.


If you’re interested in reading other fascinating bits about conservation, check out the main website:

Categories: Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South African Adventure #43 – Clogged Drains and Noncommittal Communications

Bush vehicles

Roads I frequent in South Africalocal rules of the road

Convenience is about as far from my world’s vocabulary as fresh sushi and pedicures. Phone service goes down on a weekly basis, which doesn’t matter much to me since I usually don’t have reception anyway. This is the first place I’ve ever been where you can literally stand still and go from full signal to none without doing so much as emitting a breath. Even in the cities, signal just plain sucks.  Not surprisingly, internet access is even worse.  Hence why I don’t update this blog as much as I’d like.

Depending on who you ask, there are either eleven or twelve official languages in South Africa. Luckily for me, English is one of them.  However, the majority of the local people around me speak Zulu or Shangaan, languages I cannot hope to comprehend in the near future, if at all.  They click when they speak, something my tongue simply refuses to do.  It isn’t nearly as difficult as Xhosa, another South African language, but that isn’t saying a whole lot.  Attempting to wrap my tongue around their pronunciations is akin to me doing the vocal equivalent of Rachmaninov.  I speak English and Spanish (poorly), with a smattering of French (even more poorly).  My languages pretty much all stem from the same source.  Zulu does not, nor does Afrikaans, another major language here.

Afrikaans is very similar to Dutch and German (neither language of which I comprehend, so it doesn’t matter anyway), and to me, it sounds and looks like a language I made up as a child. No offense, Afrikaaners, but it does. For example, ‘please’ in Afrikaans is ‘asseblief,’ pronounced hassa bleef. Readers, you draw your own conclusions.

At any rate, unless people speak English, I am screwed in the communications department here unless I gesticulate wildly and/or learn mime.

Things break on a daily, if not hourly, basis where I live.  Take the bathroom situation in one of the camps at which I worked.  The bathroom sink drained into the shower, which was supposed to then drain into the septic tank, ‘supposed’ being the operative word here.  That’s how it’s ‘supposed’ to work, anyway.  It didn’t.  Instead, the shower didn’t drain at all because the piping hadn’t been cleared since the Nixon Administration, and instead it filled up backwards with water from the septic tank, which also hadn’t been cleaned or cleared since around the same time.  You showered in sludge and toothpaste scum and who the hell knows what else.  For the first few visits to this camp, I opted to shower with the hose outside while wearing flip flops and a bathing suit.  But I love me a shower, so I knew I was eventually going to have to take matters into my own hands.

I’m fine with a lot of things most people would cringe at – sleeping in rooms (or tents) where geckos often fall on my head and snakes often sleep in the dark corners; going for days sweating in temperatures topping 40 celsius without being able to shower (of course, people here also don’t care if you smell a bit because so do they); constantly slathering myself in a barrage of bug repellants (of which the chemical component has probably shortened my lifespan by ten years); cooking and eating in kitchens that look like a cockroach convention when you turn on the light at night; the list goes on and on.  But this shower managed to test my patience and my ability to roll with it in a way nothing else has.  Because I work in conservation, I am not allowed to pour Drano or its South African equivalent down any drains, nor am I allowed to drop a nuclear bug-killing bomb on the kitchen or bathroom in an attempt to rid it of my nighttime multi-legged army.  I’m stuck with hand-to-hand combat, which has already landed me in the doctor’s office once for an allergic reaction to the potion I had to concoct.  It isn’t pretty.

Not one to be deterred by small trifles like ambulance visits, I finally decided one day to take the garden hose and snake it down the shower drain in an attempt to dislodge the mass tangle of hair and other crap that had taken residency in the drainpipe. What came out looked like something from Swamp Thing, and smelled worse.  I scrubbed my hands for almost an hour with bleach afterward. To this day, I am convinced some parasite managed to lodge itself in my skin during the battle, and my intestines are probably a host to the Aztec empire of nasties. I have to deworm here on a bi-yearly basis. I’m not kidding.

I knew moving here wouldn’t be easy. I knew there would be adjustments and differences, some subtle and some apparent.  Most of this has been fine.  But being cut off from everything is hard in so many ways.  I cannot speak to my friends and family whenever I want.  In fact, I can barely speak to them at all.  I’m lucky if I get in a phone call a week to someone outside this country.  I cannot reach them online because most of the time I have zero access to the internet.  I can’t even mail them a letter because I’m nowhere near a post office.  There is one in town, but that presents a whole slew of other problems, like adding driving and the local population of people and farm animals into the mix.

I’m still learning how to drive my manual diesel with the steering wheel on the other side of the car, so I don’t always feel comfortable going out on my own to town, and I often need to drive another 20k or so on dirt roads littered with roaming agriculture and potholes the size of a small country before reaching tarred roads. Those tarred roads have equally massive potholes and roaming livestock.  And then there’s town.

If I were to make an assumption about people’s regard for life here, and had to base that assumption on how said people interact with traffic, I could easily assume the locals all have a death wish and aren’t interested in living til tomorrow.  Everyone ducks and dodges within a hair’s breath of you and your very heavy vehicle. They don’t bother moving out of the road for oncoming traffic. They don’t move out of the way for anything. You can literally hit them with your car and PUSH them and they still don’t move out of the way. It stretches all the boundaries of patience, not to mention hand-eye coordination. I’m getting there, though.

I haven’t hit any trees or animals yet, though I did take out a few millipedes, which is understandable since they are only about 6 inches long. Luckily, nature seems to understand these types of things, making allowances for idiots behind the wheel by ensuring that creatures like millipedes reproduce in vast numbers, so a few run over here and there don’t make much of a dent in their population. As usual, nature is always one step ahead.

Driving poorly becomes an issue when the larger animals, particularly the endangered ones like wild dogs, are getting run over due to reckless driving – going too fast, texting while driving, or performing some other distracting task that shouldn’t be done while behind the wheel of a car at any point EVER. Unfortunately, I imagine nature assumed we all had brains and would use them whilst handling a vehicle. Sadly, in this case, nature is one step behind technology and underestimates mankind’s overall level of unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions. Like everywhere else in the world these days, South Africans are more interested in playing with their gadgets while driving irresponsibly than avoiding killing the local wildlife, which is interesting, since it’s that same wildlife which fuels a significant portion of the economy here. Yet another reason I cannot quite wrap my head around something like poaching.  But that’s another post for another day.


All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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