If the excitement of seeing lions from the house wasn’t enough on voting day, we also had the most phenomenal afternoon! There was no trail booked that Wednesday and Steven had to go fetch the cook from the Trails camp. I happily came along for the ride. I love the Wolhuter Trails camp and the area it is in, so when Steven asked me to join him, I was in his Cruiser in a split second. Linkie, the lady that helps me look after the house, would look after the boys. They were both down for their midday nap.
What was supposed to be a quick in-and-out drive to the Trails camp, turned out to be a whole afternoon activity. When we got to Steven’s camp, there was a nice herd of buffalo at the waterhole that is in front of the camp. While Mihloti, the cook that was there preparing for the next group of guests to arrive, was gathering her things, Steven and I sat by the waterhole and enjoyed watching the buffalo for a bit.
It was a nice size herd and they were all relaxing by the water’s edge. Most of the herd was lying down, chewing the cud. There were females with young calves – the calves still that orangey-brown color they have when they are just born. The calves were suckling from their mothers, bumping the udders with their noses to get the milk flow going. I am still amazed at the force they do that with. It looked quite painful, but the buffalo moms were standing there calmly, allowing their babies to drink their fill.
Just as we were about to leave to go back to Berg en Dal, I spotted a young cow a little bit away from the herd. She had her head low to the ground and I quickly saw the reason why: she had a snare around her neck! A long, metal wire that was still loose around her neck and bunched up in a ball at her feet. I called Steven back to come and have a look, while I took a few photos.
Steven checked out the buffalo with his binoculars and I had a look at the photos. The zoomed in detail confirmed it: this poor buffalo cow had picked up a snare around her neck. There was no way she would be able to get it off without any help. “Please radio the section ranger, my love,” I whispered to Steven. “Let’s see if we can get this buffalo some help.”
The Stolsneck Section Ranger was quick to reply to Steven’s call on the radio and asked us to try and keep an eye on the snared buffalo while he tried to get hold of Veterinary Services and the chopper pilots in Skukuza. When he got back to us, he told us the chopper was engaged in an anti-poaching activity and that we would have to sit and wait a bit. Could we please keep visual of the buffalo?
We were more than happy to do so and assist in an attempt to save a buffalo with a snare. Luckily, the herd was calm. Most of them were lying down by now. The little calves that were drinking earlier on were now lying flat on the ground, obviously, fast asleep. Their mothers taking advantage of the downtime and also relaxing with the rest of the herd. (As a mother of young kids I could totally relate.)
Steven and I sat down on the green benches that are placed at the waist-high fence around the trails camp. We would probably be there for a while so we chilled alongside the buffalo herd. It was special watching them: there would be a shuffle of the resting buffalo every once in a while. One of the buffalo on the outside of the herd, would stand up and nudge a few of the buffalo sleeping on the inside of the herd, trying to get them to move. They obviously know it is safer in the middle of the herd so that is where everybody wanted to sleep.
Our snared buffalo was right on the outside of the herd. Her nose was almost touching the ground. After an hour or two, the sound of the helicopter approaching made us both jump to our feet. It’s yellow and green a familiar and reassuring shape in the sky. (Please read the blog I posted about flying in the SANParks helicopter here.)
As soon as the helicopter got to the waterhole, they wasted no time and set out to attempt to save the snared buffalo. The pilot’s flying skills were truly amazing. I am so impressed (and extremely envious of the people inside. Next life I am becoming a chopper pilot for sure!)! I have video footage of the attempted rescue. Have a look at the movie clip I posted on our YouTube Channel. It is exciting stuff!
The moment the buffalo heard the helicopter above them, they ran, splitting up into a few different groups. They came pelting past us. And we watched in fascination as the helicopter tried to identify the one buffalo in the herd with the snare. The pilot and the vet were up and down between the groups of buffalo that were running in all directions. Hovering above the buffalo, trying to get a good look at each and every animal to determine which of the buffalo had the snare around its neck.
I am sure it is not easy to spot a thin wire on a buffalo while they are running and you are in a helicopter above it. The vet and his team definitely had some difficulty spotting the injured buffalo. Eventually, they landed and I showed them the pictures I took to help them identify the snared individual in the herd.
After lots of extensive searching the Stolsneck Section Ranger, who was also on the chopper, radioed Steven. They could not see the animal with the snare and unfortunately had to call off the attempt to rescue the buffalo. They would have to make another plan to help the poor buffalo with the snare.
It was heartbreaking to hear to sound of the helicopter disappear into the distance. I really wanted to help that buffalo out that day and so did everyone involved. Steven and the field rangers in the area promised to keep an eye out for the buffalo and try and get it the help it needs.
And although we could not get the snare off the buffalo that day, I still take my hat off to SANPark for taking the time to come out and try to find the injured buffalo; even bigger hats off to the veterinarian and helicopter pilot involved. Your flying skills are amazing. Thank you for going out there, each and every day, to try and protect or rescue our precious wildlife. You are true heroes!!