It is with great sadness we bid Mark and Karen Shaw good bye, as they begin the next chapter in their family lives. They have added much value to the management of Ingwelala over the past four years. Join me in wishing them every success in the future.
John Llewellyn asked Mark to share with us his working journey with us, which includes some family moments, living at Ingwelala:
“Saturday the 7th of September 2013, Karen and I officially started working at Ingwelala. A few days earlier we had moved into our allocated staff house, Corkwood residence, to unpack our worldly possessions and contemplate the next chapter in our lives.
Little did we know at that time that this chapter was going to be so life changing for us, so soon after arriving, as we shortly discovered that Karen was already few weeks pregnant and that we would be expecting a new family member in March 2014.
The Ingwelala staff were very welcoming and helpful, helping us to settle in and find our feet rather quickly. As the heat of summer approached towards year end I remember considering the discomfort a pregnant Karen endured when day temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius! It was also a time when we were having a management staff changeover/shift of work responsibilities where Karen accepted a different work role, taking on more responsibilities and supervisory duties.
Another important factor at that time was the Umbabat facing immediate changes with the full time Warden having resigned. This created new challenges regarding general security in the Umbabat.
Fortunately, through Ingwelala, the service of Ntomeni Rangers Services was secured to assist with patrols on the Nkorho properties. This in turn changed my work role as I agreed to assist Nkorho by being the Warden representative of the Nkorho Warden Committee. This was an additional responsibility to my Ingwelala job as Conservation Manager and 2iC.
Wow, it was great to be trusted with additional responsibilities only a few months after my starting date. In time I would come to understand just how dynamic and time consuming this role really is. The Umbabat came to adopt a federal system by agreement and it was agreed that Nkorho would serve the first term as Chair.
By mid-2014 I was extremely busy coordinating security patrols, attending meetings as acting warden of the Umbabat, being a new dad, as well as attending to my daily conservation work on Ingwelala. Karen was very supportive during that period whenever I was away on late night patrols, attending day meetings and assisting Ingwelala Members with after-hours call outs such as flat tyres at 3AM.
By then things were heating up on the security front, as the Umbabat had lost its first rhino on a property that was not allowing any security patrols on it. This was a very disappointing loss for me because we knew we were vulnerable where no patrols were taking place. I knew then that I had to put a lot of focus on the security of our rhinos and be innovative with the few rangers we had at the time. We needed more field support and Nkorho needed more cash, and that is when the fundraising projects started at the different share blocks. Reserve Managers were issued with bullet proof vests, Cyber Trackers were purchased, and an additional tracking/sniffer dog was secured. These were all much needed equipment and tools to do the job. They were well received but we needed a lot more funding to match the enemy, so to speak. The fundraising was going well but we needed a more coordinated approach, all the members of Ingwelala were very supportive, I was very proud to be working for Ingwelala and its Membership.
Time went on, the work load and responsibilities increased as the Umbabat and its Members were now being recognized as an important role player within the Greater Kruger National Park and its surroundings, another worthwhile achievement during my employment with Ingwelala.
During 2015 the GRU (Game Reserves United) which we were a part of, was growing steadily and fitting in with the KNP’s security plan, which was the IPZ (Intensive Protection Zone) in the south of the Park and JPZ (Joint Protection Zone) in the central part of the Park with its adjoining partners being the private nature reserves.
We felt that this was our time to not only be a buffer for the Park but to rather be a partner with them and this was the birth of the GKEPF (Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Foundation).
By the end of 2015 the start of the dry cycle was in full swing even if initially it was not easy to recognize.
Due to the dry veld conditions, the year 2016 started off with the conservation team repairing fence damage the entire month and well into February. In March we finally received 89 mm of rain. This was the most rain we had had for the summer and a lot of it was unfortunately run off which ended up removing our top soil and depositing it into the Nhlaralumi River.
The next few months we spent repairing our roads and building gabions in identified places to slow down water runoff. This exercise was much needed as we considered that the rains of December 2016 would surely run off as there was such sparse ground cover in the drought.
The GKEPF by then was our main security/monthly planning forum, sharing intelligence and information with each other, developing SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for cross border operations, rapid response units and exploring the different latest technologies available. Things were looking very positive and the results were starting to show in the monthly reports and statistics. Stormy (the tracking/sniffer dog) and I also had two successes that year where we disrupted illegal rhino hunts.
It so happened I was called by the KNP Section Ranger, our neighbour to the north, I was asked if I could come with Stormy to help him follow up on fresh human tracks/spoor. A helicopter uplifted Stormy and me and deployed us on the fresh tracks. Stormy immediately took the scent and off she went, the helicopter above us flying grids in the direction that Stormy was leading. This track went on for one hour before Stormy started pulling hard on the lead rope, indicating to me that we were now getting closer to our target. We continued and by then the temperature was getting close to 40 degrees Celsius. Water supplies were running low and I was getting worried that Stormy may dehydrate. I stopped her and said to the Rangers to continue without the dog. Shortly after that we bumped into the poachers. They ran away leaving behind them their rifle and bags.
The families living on Ingwelala were all doing well, Eric, our son was already two years old, talking really well and identifying the different animals and pointing them out. The swimming pool became home to a hippo and the lions were feeding on buffalo almost daily.
The drought was starting to severely affect the buffalo and hippo, there was very little food left for them in the Umbabat that they start moving into the KNP, ranging further and further away. The larger herds split up into smaller family groups, while the “dagga boys” did note move to far away from the water and Ingwelala camp. The lions picked up on this and stayed around the camp area killing dagga boys in and around the camp. There were times that I had to stop contractors going onto building sites as the lions were there feeding on a buffalo. The Housekeeping ladies were issued with radios for safety reasons so that they could contact us to be collected from their bungalow cleans. Poor Eric was not permitted to go outside the house as the predators were always around. His great affection for running everywhere would certainly have attracted any predator’s attention!
Then Malaria struck, by April 2017 over 500 cases of Malaria in the general Hoedspruit and Bushbuckridge area, Limpopo had an outbreak of malaria.
In June 2017 Karen fell pregnant with our second child, later confirmed a girl. This is so very exciting for us as Eric will soon have someone to play with and look after. And the timing with the summer heat as Karen reaches full term repeats itself!
The herbivores numbers have decreased during the drought. During the recent aerial census the results showed as much as 71% of the herbivore population is reduced. The lions are now competing for other food sources and the social pressures within the pride is challenging. There is fighting, and general body condition is poor. Two male lions were euthenased as they were posing a threat to the staff, found in staff villages. The autopsies found the stomachs were completely empty.
In closing we have watched Eric grow up at Ingwelala, and we can’t stop talking about how lucky he is and what a privilege it has been from him, the friends he has made with Members and staff, the hours playing in the swimming pool and the time spent learning about all the animals has been priceless. We would have loved this so much for his sister as well.
But unfortunately, with very heavy hearts we have had to plan for the rest of Eric’s schooling and his baby sister’s safety and make a move closer to the school and out of a Malaria area. This was not an easy decision to make as we will be leaving behind us good friends and a fabulous reserve”.
by John Llewellyn