I spend Monday afternoon with AJ and get a taste of what a day in his life is like. AJ’s day starts at 5.30 in the morning when he reports to the lodge to pick up his vehicle and discuss with the park manager if there are any tasks he can help with as he goes about his cheetah research.
He works long hours but has a two hour break when he has lunch with his wife and a bit of a siesta. He doesn’t see his job as work, as he has found his passion in life and enjoys every moment he spends outdoors.
His first stop this arvo is to check the voltage on some of the fences around the reserve. Now the wild dogs are released, he needs to make sure they don’t escape on to the neighbouring farmers property and cause trouble. Wild dogs are endangered and we need to make sure the four just released, make it in the wild. As we drive through checking fences, AJ spots Cyclops. She has been quite elusive recently, and he is pleased to come across her here but she is shy and runs off before I get a good photo.
A little further on, we spot the wild dogs being followed by Dave (from AfriCat). For 2 weeks, these dogs will be followed and observed by foot so their behaviour & hunting skills can be monitored closely. Dave will do this for the first week, and AJ will take over during the second week. We wave, but don’t stop as the dogs are to be left alone till they adapt to life in the wild.
I remark that his job is quite a lonesome one, but AJ tells me he enjoys time on his own and really doesn’t miss the company of people that much. While observing the behaviour of cheetahs he doesn’t even listen to music as he wants to be awake to the sounds of the bush. We pass the tallest termite mound in the reserve and I persuade AJ to pose for me, so I have some perspective on my picture.
We next visit Charlie and Trish. We find them lying under the trees, quite content. Trish purrs as we approach and AJ is satisfied they are doing fine. He tells me a cheetah can go for about 5 days without food but we found these cats with a kill a few days ago, so we know they are not hungry.
Our next stop is at the riverbed, where I find a red hartebeest who has breathed his last. Actually, this animal was put down a couple of days ago, as they had found him stuck in the mud, in pain and suffering from an infection. The kindest thing to do in such instances is to end his life. He has been brought to this location, to determine if any wild leopards or hyenas will come to feed. AJ has installed a motion sensitive camera in the tree to capture what happens. Normally, he would download the pictures, but today he doesn’t have his card reader with him. It doesn’t matter as there are no bite marks on the animal. If nothing feeds off the dead carcass in the next 4 days, it will be left in an open area for the vultures to clean up.
As we drive off, we scan the area for snares. This is an area where historically, many traps for animals were laid and AJ would dismantle these snares as he goes about his work. We don’t spot any today.
Our last task for the day is to monitor the siblings. We find Bones and Spud by the fence line and track Hammer and Koko on foot. After observing all four of these gorgeous cats, we sit on the back of his truck to observe them from afar. AJ makes notes about our afternoon’s activities and tells me the cats love coming out to the open ‘cos they have really great eyesight and can easily spot their prey. Little Dik Diks and Duikers also come out to the open grass lands looking for fresh grass and can then fall prey to an agile cat.
It has been a wonderful afternoon and I have got a taste of life in AJ’s office. What a wonderful way to spend your days. He tells me he works 7 days a week but is given 5 off days a month to compensate for working weekends. He works long hours and his day doesn’t end till about 7pm on a good day but he doesn’t mind. He loves his job!
“When your heart speaks, take good notes”. ~Judith Campbell