Week 10: Having a Whale of a Time

With the conclusion of this week I have officially been away from home by myself for the longest period of time in my life. Back in 2012 I studied abroad in Queretaro, Mexico for 10 weeks. With two more weeks to go I will finish out my internship and do a bit of sight seeing to make sure I hit all of the major points on my Cape Town to-do list before I have to leave.

Work this week consisted of a couple days of computer working, continuing to chug away on the camera trap project, and two meetings. On Tuesday the Gantouw Project meet with Cape Nature. Cape Nature is the responsible organization for biodiversity in the Western Cape. The reason for our meeting was to talk about getting a certificate of adequate enclosure for the reserve and a permit to transport the eland to other sites. Obtaining a certificate of adequate enclosure depends on what type of animal one is trying to have on their reserve. In our case it is the eland and also hippos that have been around for several decades. In order to meet the requirements for eland, the perimeter fence must be 2.8 meters tall. The permit for transport of the eland is needed to move them from Rondevlei to other reserves and sites that could benefit from the browsing and grazing pressures of the eland as a management tool. In order to obtain this permit, the receiving site must also have adequate enclosure for the eland. To move the eland, the project will also need a ‘hunting’ permit. This permits the herding of wild animals for transport purposes. Our second meeting of the weeks was with the Nature Care Fund. This is a group of CTEET personnel that work on all different projects coming together to discuss and then hopefully implement the best conservation practices they can. The mission of this group is to invest and disburse monies from Private individuals, Corporate companies, Friends groups and other bodies towards nature conservation projects. It was fun to sit in on this meeting and get to see to group operate and hear about all the different projects going on.

On the activity front this week, it was pretty jammed packed. Mondays I go to ultimate Frisbee held at the University of Cape Town’s cricket and track field. Tuesday involved going to Forex for quiz night, which we did not win. But the best part was the overnight excursion to Cape Agulhas. This trip started Friday morning by going to the city center to pick up a rental car. For those of you who do not know, in South Africa we drive on the left side of the road and in the right side of the car and almost all the cars are manual. Luckily for me I am ambidextrous, writing with my left and doing most other things with my right. As far as shifting and driving goes it took me all of about 2 seconds to get the hang of it. The only trouble I had all weekend with driving was using the windshield wipers a couple of times when I meant to use the blinker. So from Observatory we drove to Cape Agulhas. This was a little of a three hour drive with only one quick bathroom break. We went straight to the southern most tip of all of Africa as soon as we arrived. Many people who visit Cape Town of South Africa think that the Cape of Good Hope located at the end of the peninsula here in CT is the southern most point. However, they are wrong. It is the southwestern most point, but not the southern most. After a little bit of enjoying the view, this is also the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, we headed into town for lunch. We then checked into our Airbnb, which was an ocean front house in L’Agulhas. We then went and checked out a ship wreck down the coast a little ways, got some chicken for a braai and went and hung out at our Airbnb for the night. Saturday started with a wonderful homemade breakfast cooked by our host followed by a scenic drive through the Western Cape on our way to Hermanus.  This time of year Hermanus is filled with people there to get a glimpse of the migrating Southern right whale. Spent a couple hours in Hermanus watching the whales, eating lunch, and watching the whales. It was really fun to see them swim around, waving their fins, and breaching. We watched an adult whale breach several times followed in suit by a calf. Then it was off to Betty’s Bay which is home to one of the two mainland African penguin colonies in South Africa. It was much quieter here compared to Simon’s Town but the penguins were just a great. The day ended with a windy, cliff-side drive to Gordon’s Bay, and finally back to Obz. I returned the car Sunday morning, got a quick coffee and pastry at St. James Cafe, did some grocery shopping and then it was off to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. We spent a few hours here just enjoying the sun and the nice weather. After the garden, I went to Hello Sailor for some delicious risotto and disco fries (I would consider these fries their version of poutine). This wrapped up my week.

It is now time to start my last week at my internship site at the Gantouw Project.

Week 9: Practical Camp, Cheetahs, and Penguins

This week at CTEET, second year students studying conservation from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) embarked on a week long practical camp. During the camp the students learned about the Gantouw Project, wildlife capture using a Dan-Inject dart gun, human-wildlife conflict with a baboon case study, small mammal trapping, how to use camera traps, how to use and interpret data, environmental management plans, and many other topics. I was able to sit in on a few of these presentations and it was interesting to learn about topics that I have previously been exposed to at OSU from the perspective of  another country. Conservation management can differ quite significantly in some aspects here in South Africa compared to the United States and it was good to get another perspective on how to approach this field.

Our Friday vactivity this week was a trip to a Cheetah conservation center located just outside of Cape Town in Somerset West. For me this was a bitter sweet activity. Cheetah Outreach in Somerset West is partnered with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which was another internship I was looking at besides coming to Cape Town. And CCF is a renowned cheetah conservation group. So from that alone I was willing to go to this center in Somerset West. My concerns about going were about how the cheetahs were actually being housed and why they were being housed at Somerset West. The positive aspects about the center were that they work hard for cheetah conservation. They partake in outreach programs with ambassador cheetahs, they help with livestock guarding dog programs, and they provide some accommodations for other animals that needed to be relinquished by their owners. I was slightly disappointed with the cheetah accommodations on site. It was simply a fenced off area essentially adjacent to a residential area that I felt lacked size and variety for the cheetahs. Another complaint I have is that they do not house of accept any rescued cheetahs. Side note, I am very much in favor of protecting whole populations of animals over the interest of an individual, but when there is an opportunity to help individual animals that does not adversely harm the population it should absolutely be done.  So, you would ask where Cheetah Outreach gets their cheetahs from and the answer is they all come from captive breeding programs. Okay, that’s fine. I understand how captive breeding programs can benefit wild populations. However, not any of the cheetahs born in the captive breeding program that Cheetah Outreach gets their cheetahs from are released into the wild. And this is why I am upset that they do not accept any rescued cheetahs. I can understand that the main purpose of the Cheetah Outreach is to promote cheetah conservation through the use of ambassador animals, but if one has the ability (which in my opinion they do) to make the life of an individual cheetah better by accepting rescued wild cheetahs, cheetahs who may otherwise end up being killed, they should do so. Anyways…

The weekend wrapped up with a trip to Muizenberg Beach to enjoy the wonderful sun and warm weather followed by a trip the the penguin colony in Simon’s Town. The penguin colony is home the the African penguin which in an endangered animal that lives only on the coasts of South Africa and Namibia and is the only species of penguin found in Africa. They are almost exclusively found on islands off the coast but three colonies were created on the mainland. Two in South Africa’s Western Cape at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town and Betty’s Bay near Stony Point and one in Namibia. At the current rate of decline it is thought that the African penguin could go extinct within the next decade. Population decline can be attributed to egg poaching, oil spills, competition with fishing industry, guano harvesting for fertilizer, among others. Hopefully conservation efforts can thwart the extinction of the African penguin.

This wraps up my ninth week here in South Africa. I have two more weeks of work and a week off to finish up may stay before heading home to Corvallis.

Week 8: Goodbyes

This week marks the end of my second month here in Cape Town. I now have less than a month left, 28 days until I depart Cape Town, 30 until I am back home in Corvallis. So for the next 28 days I am going to stay as active as I can and try to make sure I see and do all the things that I could hope for on this trip.

Work this week consisted of finishing up the photo tagging. I was able to process over 29,000 photos this week. At one point I managed 11,000 in one hour. On Monday however, I helped with a vegetation survey where we went through the reserve looking for metal tags to track how the Brunsvigia plant has done over the past 20 years. We used a metal detector and had to dig upwards of 10 cm in the sand to find all of the tags. There were very few that we could not locate and some that we found that had not been found the last time this survey was conducted. That was my life this week at work and we will see what work has to hold this week.

On the activity front. Friday was wine tasting for the vactivity. We went to two wineries. Blaauwklippen and Lanzerac. Lanzerac was the first winery to bottle one of South Africa’s very own Pinotage grape. This is a red wine grape that was was bred in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut. It was first bottled in 1959 by Lanzerac and they describe it as, “smoky-soft top notes combine with black plums and cherries, hints of polish and leather. Juicy, well-integrated tannins support a spicy, meaty core with a refreshing acidity and long smooth finish”. This is the first bottle of wine that I have bought here in South Africa. It will pair nicely with a good elk steak and vegetables. Saturday entailed going to the Saturday food market near the V&A Waterfront, eating at said market (a lamb roll), a quick stop at the mall, meandering through the Waterfront market, watching the harbor and two older gentleman playing a game of giant chess, and ending with smoothies at another food market. Sunday we went to the city center to visit the South African National Gallery, a walk through the center, and some lunch at Nando’s (a South African Portuguese chicken joint that is apparently very popular in the UK). Also on Sunday, my house ran out of water. This could be for a variety of reasons. 1) As the house is now almost full, 9/10 bedrooms occupied, we went over our daily water allowance and will need to enact better water conservation efforts. In which case it will be back on Monday with our new daily allotment. Or 2) the water to the house is off and we have no idea when it will come back on. This happened at another intern house and last time I knew they still didn’t have water (it was going on four days the last time I heard anything). Hopefully this is not the case. Regardless, the housing company, Rent-a-room, brought 24 litres of drinking water and supplied each bathroom with what I would guess is a 10 L jug of water for each person to use in the bathrooms. I did not use this water to shower today, I went to a fellow Milton that lives in another house to use their shower. Hopefully it is just the first of the two explanations and the water will be back on tomorrow. Well that was my adventures for the week.

This week also marked the end of the time here in Cape Town for some of the people that I have grown closest with. Coming here as part of an internship placement company and living in a house supplied for interns and students, you meet a lot of people who are also here in Cape Town for a short duration of time. These are the people that we tend to become close to, the people I go on hikes with, the people I go to the market with, the people I go to a movie with, and the people I spend most of my free time with exploring and experience this wonderful country. On my second weekend here in Cape Town I sent out a message on the VAC group message on WhatsApp asking if anyone wanted to enjoy a sunny day at Muizenberg beach. There were a few responses and so I went with one of my new housemates Alex, (from the Netherlands) to meet a group of other interns at the local grocery shop to go to the beach. Lo and  behold, two of the people I was meeting with were also from Oregon. Claudia and Jess both go to Pacific University and are here doing a physiotherapy internship. This was the start of the “Miltons.” So named as it is the street where my house is, which is where we spend a lot of time together. Then a couple weeks later came Shauna (from Ireland). A little after Shauna, Alex (from England) came, then Manisha (also from England), and we became the Milton Bunch. But not everyone is doing the same duration of internship. Out of this group, I was the first to arrive here in Cape Town, but I will be one of the last to leave. Shauna was only here for three weeks, so she was the first to leave and after only those three short weeks we had already all done so much together that it was sad to have to say goodbye. Shortly after Shauna, Alex (from the Netherlands) left. She was here for about six weeks. This week was a particularly sad week. England Alex ended his stay here in Cape Town and we had to say another goodbye to a Milton. We had grown pretty close over the time he was here, as he also lived at the Milton house. So not only did we see each other when we all hung out together, but everyday doing normal everyday things like cooking dinner and sitting on the couches. And as the group continues to get smaller each goodbye becomes a little harder. It is sad to say goodbye to someone who has made your time in this fabulous country even better. And not only did I have to say goodbye to Alex this week, but another intern that I became close with left the same day as Alex, Sam. Sam is from New Jersey and we always had a good time with him. We mostly saw Sam on Thursday nights when we would all go out and he was always one to keep pushing the night longer. On the first night I went out here in Cape Town, Sam kept me out until, if I remember correctly, around 3 am. Hanging out in one place, going to another to play pool, and back to the first place. Sam genuinely just likes to be around other people and didn’t like to end a night early.  So this week was filled with goodbyes and leaves the Miltons with four.