As Mombo is situated in the beautiful and pristine Moremi Game Reserve it means we are not permitted to do game drives after 18h30 in winter months and 19h00 in summer months. After dark, managers and guides often listen to the nocturnal sounds echoing from our surroundings, heard from around the fire or from the safety of our beds, wondering what could be happening in the northern end of Chiefs Island after dark. The noises help conjure up unseen images of animals as they move about freely and are left to their own antics and habits. The imagination runs wild! The whooping of hyaena or their cackles when they get excited and confronted. The deep resonating base from a large male lion marking his territory and the replies from his harem, the cacophony of black- backed jackal as they warn others not to venture too close to their dens; or if one is extremely lucky, the unmistakeable wood sawing sound of a leopard as they stalk through the dark night, hunting in the shadows.
This prompted me to come up with ideas as to how we could see what was out there without breaking the rules that are in place to protect this immaculate part of the world. Night vision goggles have been tried from the decks but one can only see as far as the technology allows. Heat sensing devices are hard to come by and extremely expensive. So it was with great delight that I opened an early Christmas present from my parents before heading back to the bush in October and saw a camera trap!
Camera traps are simple to use, stick ‘em to a tree with their strap, point them at a game trail and leave them for a few nights. I quickly got about setting up the camera trap. I do admit every night saying a quick prayer that the abundant hyaena do not come across the camera and ‘taste’ it to see what this new object is in their territory. Of course, the first few times I set it up with Glen (our maintenance manager), Mitch (the helicopter pilot) and Graeme (our food and beverage manager) there was no such idea of waiting a few nights. The prospect of seeing what happened out there ‘after hours’ was too much for us to bear and patience went out the window. We raced back in the morning to reclaim the camera and download the pictures. A little part of me also wanted to know that my new ‘toy’ was still in one piece and not just scattered plastic after the hyaena had dispersed of it.
Our first few attempts were met with animals too close, rear ends or bugs hovering close by, but after experimenting more, we learnt to get the camera at the best angle and the optimum height to get a better survey of the land. Except for giraffe! We managed to get a lot of giraffe legs on camera! After using the camera trap for a total of four nights in three separate locations we have captured impala, zebra, giraffe, warthog, baboon, hyaena, hippopotamus and elephant of which one decided to remove the camera from the tree and leave it on the ground after inspecting it closely and deciding it was not edible. It was a bit of an adrenaline rush when we drove up and saw the tree with no camera on it! It was soon found a short ways off on the ground unharmed. Luckily the ever present hyaena did not pick it up and use it as a new chew toy! Unfortunately no leopards, lions or other amazingly secretive nocturnal animals such as the elusive pangolin or little seen aardvark yet, but we keep hoping, we know they are out there, we just have to ‘catch’ them!