Saturday, 1 February 2014

Harnas: Morning & Afternoon Tours

If you are a guest at Harnas, you have the option to take 2 tours around the property. In my mind the more exciting and interesting of the 2 tours is the morning tour. This involves seeing and feeding all of the outside big cats (lions, cheetahs and leopards)and the little cats (caracals) along with the baboons, ostriches and wild dogs. It is normally about 3 hours long and goes rain or shine, animals still need to be fed. There was more then one occaission that we did the tour in the pouring rain. It is a driving tour complete with trailer with all the meat. 

We, the volunteers, go along to actually do the feeding while the guests watch and take pictures and listen to the guide talk about each animals. I ended up helping on 5 tours. It is always fun getting to see all of the big cats getting fed since they are in an area where you need a co-ordinator to get into. But does get a bit boring hearing the same info again and again though each tour guide (Enrico, Tertius and Derek) does it slightly differently. 

For the most part, the tour is pretty much just feeding and listening to info about the animals. The way we feed all of the animals is pretty basic - calling the animals over to the fence and then throwing the meat over to them. Most of the animals know the drill. There are a few lions that have to be fed with a lot of space between them or they fight or steal all the meat. We do use this time to give them a quick once over to make sure they are healthy. 

If the animals don’t come over to the fence then we come back to them or make sure to come back and check them later in the day. Though also depends on the animals.Terry, a lioness, who sometimes doesn’t come over if she is feeling old and stiff. Her friend, Dewy, will come and get her piece and take it to her and then come back and get her own piece. 

Feeding the cheetahs, all 22 of them in one paddock, was interesting. The sounds a cheetah can make always sound so tiny and meek coming from such a big cat, though a very delicately built cat. They are probably my favourite big cat- so elegant. Lots of chirps and meows and only big cat that can purr. And that purr - Amazing!

The leopards was one we did have a couple demos with. Remember that the leopard is one of the Big 5 and rightfully so. Probably not one I would want to run into while walking in the bush. Insanely quick on ground or climbing and very agile. With one leopard, she would sit on a big branch in the tree to catch her meat. Normally hanging on with hind foot claws and stretch to catch with front claws. MT (Marie Therese) has some fantastic shots of this. Casu, another leopard, he would show how fast he can climb a tree to catch a piece of meat. Very quick!

Wild dogs I find to be beautiful and very interesting creatures. There are less then 4000 left and about 1500 are in captivity. Harnas has 40 of them. Always seem like happy dogs but very accurate in their hunting skills with a kill rate of 96%! Helps when you hunt as a pack which is divided into a “chasing” and “killing” groups. And they can trot along at 40km an hour for hours. With the wild dogs , they had a platform above the dogs in the enclosure to feed and watch them. 

A bit of a side note, Harnas was going to release one of the smaller packs of dogs to start tracking in January. Will be interesting to see what they learn. Also one quick job I helped with one day was removing a full zebra carcass from their enclosure. Smelled a bit and a few still oozy maggoty places but mainly dry bones. Didn’t get a lot of help from MT loading it! Lol    

** slightly disgusting topic - what the big cats eat in detail**

I will say that if you don’t like meat or handling meat this would not be the place for you. I would have thought it was fairly expected that you would see and handle large parts of donkey carcasses, we are feeding () big cats after all. I only say this because there were a few people (volunteers) who were surprised at what we fed the the cats. I didn’t find it gross , what the wild dogs are worst- whole intestines. :S That was a smell you didn’t get off your hands easily! 

Cat diets ( massive guess on weights of meat)
Caracals: donkey hearts or small piece of meat with a bone in it
Cheetahs: 1-2kg  piece normally with a bone
Lions: a rack of ribs or half a donkey head. (7 to 12kg guess)
Leopards: 3-4 kg of meat

We do feed the meat with the bones in so that they get their calcium. And they have a fasting day once a week. And launching some of that meat over a tall fence is sometimes fairly difficult. 

  ** No more gross talk ** :D 

The afternoon tour is a tour of all the animals on the farm. The tour starts with feeding the 3 tame cheetahs. They have a raised platform that they go and sit on to receive their food. They delicately take the piece of meat from a bowl that we hold for them. 

The mongooses are called and fed next. I call them mongeese- sounds better to me :D And have actually managed to get other people to start calling them that as well. hehe These are wild ones who roam around the farm. There is a special “trill” to call them which I can’t do. 

We, the volunteers don’t have much to do on the afternoon tour. Primarily, just helping feed the cheetahs, mongeese and Gumbi. Gumbi is the resident brown hyena who is ancient but also obese. Feels very odd. Hair which is kind of pig and dog combined. But does have a cool sounding “laugh”. 

Other then the animals, you do get to see the church and the plane crash site that Mariata’s husband and son were in but survived. Not sure how since it looks like a nasty one. Unfortunately, they both died a couple years later in seperate incidences ( heart attack while biking and a mosquito illness). 

Interesting tour to do once but after that pretty boring. Especially when the tour is in German or Africanz. But some of the co-ordinators are super nice and let us go after we finish feeding. 

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