Tswalu - Day Eighteen

Meerkats on guard duty, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa.  March 2013. Original size 3976 x 3326 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)This morning is meerkat day. Left by 6:00 and followed some cheetah tracks to a waterhole near the meerkat colony. Hope was to track them after we saw meerkats, but a troop of baboons had been by in the early morning and messed up cheetah tracks so won’t be able to follow them later. Got to the meerkat colony at 6:45, just before sunrise, and spread ourselves out about 3 metres from their burrows. As the sun rose, the temperature went up markedly, and the sound of muffled underground chatter before the first of the little heads popped out of the burrow to get warm and begin the day. This colony is habituated to people because of a woman researcher who spent over a year, spending virtually all day staying near their burrow and slowly, over time, moving closer and closer to them. Gradually the little guys became used to her presence and essentially began to ignore her. They are not tame, and for example can’t be picked up or touched, nor can your shadow fall on them without frightening them, but they are indifferent to a person’s presence and carry on with their little lives.

Meerkats, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. February 2013. Original size 3905 x 3417 (px. (Gerald FitzGerald)We spent about an hour with them, photographing and watching, and they are every bit as endearing as they seem on Animal Channel. They do sit on their little burrows and survey the world, while they groom and tussle. When they had fully warmed up and were ready to face the day they began to drift off through the tall grass to spend the day foraging, before returning to the burrows at day’s end. While we sat on a tarp and watched them, they would rocket around us, climbing on the tarp and sniffing shoes and cameras and then rocket back to their burrows and stand on sentinel duty. We both took a massive number of shots and V has some great video of them digging out their burrow and cleaning up their campsite. A thoroughly enjoyable morning and we left them at about 8:30 to return to camp for an early breakfast.

Springbok, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 3714 x 3440 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)On the way asked Marco about the Bono Vuiton luggage ad. He said that he had worked with the team on the shoot; Annie Leibovitz did the photography, and there was a team of 50 people who were there for 5 days, including Bono’s PR team, Vuitons PR team and all of Annie’s assistants. He says it was chaos as Annie wouldn’t let the Vuiton people on set and said that if she saw them she would quit the shoot and go home; they had given her the top of the line bags for Bono and his wife to pose with and had requested that they be returned in original condition but she said that nobody travelled with new bags and so scuffed them up for the shots.

She was using a Leica camera, I’m guessing the new S2, but the camera was covered in bits of gaffer tape. She had approached Leica to ask them to provide her with cameras and they told her they would give her a 5% discount. I think she was expecting to be given cameras as she is Annie Leibovitz and would be great for the brand. She was so upset that she covered all the on-camera Leica insignia with tape. Don’t know whether she actually paid for them or not. High drama all round; would love to have been on that set! Zebra galloping, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 3456 x 3456 px. (G. FitzGerald) Left at 17:00 for an evening game drive and picnic dinner under the stars. Drove a long way across terrain that we had not previously crossed, beginning with the familiar, rolling bush veldt then across a series of major sand dunes that run N-S for many kilometres. These dunes have been stabilized by vegetation so you drive up the side of each and after reaching the top, between the dunes there is a wide dune street as it is called, filled with lush grass and shrubs. I think that there were 5 or 6 of these dunes and valleys between them and crossing the final one we came into a very different region, gray chalky soil with chunks of calcium carbonate scattered around, very flat and with sparse vegetation. After 1/2 hours drive reached a watering hole where we were going to set up our dinner and watch for animals coming in to drink at sunset.

Moonrise over the Kalahari Desert, Tswalu, South Africa. March 2013 Original size 3744x5616px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Very pleasant dinner with Marco, Andrew and Sammy; we kept very quiet and waited for animals as we watched a glorious veldt sunset and equally dramatic moon rise, but because it was almost a full moon the night was very bright and no animals arrived. Marco thought that they would come by later at night, after the moon set.

Drove home through the dark looking for aardvark; none found but it was a night of small miracles. Marco spotted a tiny chameleon in a bush by the roadside; amazing in the dark with only a spotlight to see by. He was about the size of my thumbnail and just sat on Marco’s finger and watched us with little swivel eyes. Great fun. On our continuing our drive we spotted a little field mouse crossing the road with her single pup. They were both startled by the light of the car and ran in different directions, and then the mother, clearly very frightened by the light which we were afraid to turn off as they would have been immediate hors d’ouvres, began to track his scent and found him in some roadside grass. She picked him up in her mouth and ran off for cover in the tall grass with him limp and bedraggled in her mouth and you could almost hear her saying, “Don’t ever do anything like that again, you almost scared me to death.”. Marco says he has never seen a mouse pick up a baby like that before and she certainly was a very courageous little creature to overcome her fears and try to save her babe.

Tswalu - Day Nineteen

Tswalu - Day Seventeen