Christelle Randall observes the progress of a young leopard released into the wild after months in quarantine with teeth trouble, faces up to a small crocodile while white water rafting - and feels the sharp tongue of a sarky guide...
The couple of weeks that have passed since my last posting have given me plenty to write about as so much happens on almost every day.
Our past week has been been devoted to Shiluwene focus. I have already written about a young male leopard that has been housed in a quarantine because of teeth problems.
The reserve manager at Karongwe was able to persuade some of the wealthier farmers to invest money in his rehabilitation programme which has included extensive dental surgery and hefty quarantine costs.
Had he not done this, Shiluwene would have died. So after a number of months, he was ready to be released back into the wild last week and it was considered such a good story that Animal Planet were down to film until the last minute.
They had to cancel due to insurance problems. But as expedition members, we have been very fortunate in being able to shadow his rehabilitation by night and monitor how successful he is in the wild: whether he is hunting, what he is hunting and how he is handling other leopards and predators.
The night shifts are arranged in two parts and carried out by two groups. The first shift is 6pm till midnight and the graveyard shift is midnight till 6am.
We need to telem the animal and then record data. I was lucky enough to be in the first group and we opened the gate to the quarantine for Shiluwene to be released.
On the way in we had seen a rare green wood pidgeon which was in the road struggling to fly, clearly injured. We were being extra careful to navigate the car out of his way so that he wouldn't get run over but it took Shiluwene less than 10 minutes to find and kill him. Sad for the bird, but a good start for Shiluwene and his new teeth.
The next couple of nights monitoring were less eventful and usually involved watching Shiluwene sloping around and enjoying his freedom, although we heard one or two attempted hunts (warthog squealing, but no kill, and some stalking of impalas, but again no kills).
It is quite exhilirating being on the graveyard shift because it is pitch black and you can hear and see more of the nocturnal animals.
One of the staffers who takes us out is turning into a sort of Simon Cowell of the bush, so fond is he of dry sarcasm and sharp putdown.
On one of our drives, we thought we had spotted the leopard behind the vehicle and excitedly shouted out "visual 4pm behind the tree and grazing herd of wildebeest and impala". Bush Cowell turned round and asked: "So you are telling me that the leopard is standing in the midst of a grazing herd and not one of them has flinched or raised an alarm call? Is that what you are telling me?"
I feebly offered in return that perhaps they were being brave...at which point I was told I was being as "useful as a rock"....which on this occasion was probably true, though the shifts are pretty exhausting so I can blame lack of sleep.
The other night however on the graveyard shift our group were lucky enough to see something very cool. Finally we found a very full Shiluwene who was happily sleeping on a rock. We couldn't see the remnants of his kill but after about an hour he got up very suddenly and leapt off into the bush.
We turned the vehicle round and had him on our right hand side looking a little nervous. Then on the left hand side (bearing in mind it was 2am and pitch black and eerily silent) we heard what sounded like a very loud bone cracking. We got the spotlight out and sure enough there, about five metres away, was a very big spotted hyena gnawing away happily on Shiluwene's impala kill.
Unfortunately hyenas will intimidate leopards and steal their kills so it was a shame Shiluwene had not been able to enjoy more of his dinner. But it was a very good thing that he had been able to kill an impala at all, which bodes well for his future life on the reserve.
The other good news is that Shiluwene has moved down south of the reserve and out of the way of potentially dangerous leopards.
The nice thing about Karongwe is that on our days off (Thursdays) we can choose between all sorts of activities. At Venetia the choice was limited to the local town Messina but here we've been organising fun things like white water rafting (and a visit to the local spa for the ladies, which after eight weeks was pure heaven). The beauticians are no doubt used to the rich wives of Afrikaans farmers so a group of feral looking girls from the bush babbling about Shiluwene focus must have been an interesting distraction.
The white water rafting was brilliant. We hired a car and drove to the Sabie River which was absolutely beautiful; it was refreshing to be around different vegetation. Very lush green rain forests and the sweet fragrance of orange blossom filled the air. We did the rafting in twos and I paired up with my friend Sophie.
We had a bad start and much to the amusement of everyone else ended up in every reed bush, on every rock going or doing 360 degree turns. We were then warned that the river was also home to crocs and hippos.
Sure enough as we paddled along we came to a rock with a small croc on it. The guide told us to stay away but despite my ineffectual paddling the boat veered straight towards the rock and we ended up literally on top of the croc with me at the front peering down at it. Luckily it was pretty small but Sophie and I could not stop laughing.
The guide then offered to tow us for the rest of the way which threatened to highlight our incompetence. Both Sophie and I agreed that being towed to shore on a white water rafting trip would be a little embarrassing so we sorted it out and eventually came second. But our croc story has gone down as a camp classic..it might not have been so funny had the croc been bigger or indeed had we stumbled on to a hippo.
We only have two weeks left on the nature reserve with one more week of Shiluwene focus and then I have two more weeks travelling before I return home. I am booked to fly to Cape Town the day after the expedition ends and, in keeping with my unintentional campaign to frighten my parents, have booked a cage dive with great white sharks off Seal Island.