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“Crouched low behind a well-camouflaged tarpaulin within a military style capture system with the relentless noise of the helicopter just metres away, the tension was building. With the words of the ranger fresh in our ears we waited. ‘Don’t make a sound’… his words were playing over and over in my head. [..] The next thirty seconds passed in an instant… a group of Blesbok came hurtling down past where we sat.”
The above words, by Daniel Alexander (Lower Sixth, Surrey House), describe his experience during a game-capture exercise on a reserve in South Africa. During the Easter holidays, he was one of the 13 Lower Sixth pupils who, accompanied by two members of staff, embarked on an unforgettable trip to the Shamwari game reserve, just over an hour from Port Elizabeth.
Yet their stay was no lazy relaxing holiday. It was intended primarily as a conservation experience, where pupils assisted with the protection of both animals and plants throughout the reserve. Tasks ranged from clearing alien vegetation to monitoring and identifying the ever-endangered white rhino. Besides the work within the reserve, pupils spent some worthwhile and rewarding days contributing to the local community, where they built and decorated playground equipment in a school and also played a game of football with the schoolchildren.
Being located on a reserve meant always being in close proximity to wildlife. There were plentiful sightings of elephant, rhino, lion and buffalo throughout the fortnight while, on the penultimate day, pupils had the extraordinary fortune of catching a glimpse of the reserve’s leopard. The weekend programme at the end of the first week included a tour of the reptile sanctuary and a river safari in canoes. A visit to the on-site Born Free big-cat sanctuary allowed pupils to come face to face with captive lions (including two white lions) and leopards, while the night drive on the reserve yielded rare sightings of a hippo and an aardwolf.
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