10 days in South Africa’s winter – (3) St Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The wait is over. After five years of doing fieldwork in Africa, I finally spotted my first rhinos. Protected in a fenced reserve, they share the ever dwindling wilderness in South Africa with other beautiful creatures, including this magnificient Kudo, Bush pigs, Leopards and of course the ever so famous Buffalo.

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There is always someone with a tale about buffalo encounters during fieldwork in Africa, so lets add ours to that archive. Entering through the gate in the early morning hours (we always started at 7:14 am these days) proved to be tedious despite permits being in place. But we finally managed to convince the rangers to let us pass by keeping patient and smiling (well, sort of).

The morning plots, all three of them, involved climbing and crawling through spiky thickets, but by then we were used to that hassle. The afternoon plots were far more exciting, though, and started with a buffalo versus field team stand-off. They blocked the hike to the plot, we did not surrender. Eventually they left us to it, not without giving us the evil eye though.

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The guys kept on singing throughout that afternoon to keep the odd lonely buffalo away, and we were lucky indeed.

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The coastal forests in the reserve are stunning, but the dunes very very very steep (hence the rather exhausted looking Marc recovering from a massive climb through thickets up the dune). We measured 13 plots over 2 days, a proud record. Unfortunately, there was water shortages in the camping ground at St Lucia, so we had to apply rather unusual approaching to washing our hair. Lets spare us the details.

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If you ever want to see a hippo at 5 meter distance ON LAND whilst drinking a beer and eating dinner in style, try the local boat club at St Lucia (thanks Marc for that beautiful evidence). You won’t be disappointed. And to prove that we are absolutely dedicated to the project, we spent the morning of the next day walking along the beach for 3 kilometers towards another plot, located of course on top of another massive dune. The beach hike was fun!


One more plot was left. And we finished the fieldwork that day, exhausted but really happy.

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