Roaming in the mountains of the leopard

Roaming in the mountains of the leopard
Published: 17 June 2015

The Cape Leopard Trust Environmental Education project runs residential wilderness camps in the Cederberg. Hadley Lyners, one of our two educators, reflects on his experiences from the first season:

As you read this the first camp season of 2015 is already over with 10 camps completed for the year so far between February and May. It came and went as quick as a wink. I often remark to our participants how camps go by so quickly, and I agree entirely with the sentiments of the saying, “Funny how time flies when you are having fun”.

There was no shortage of fun this time around as our participants learned about leopards and the environment in the Cederberg. Thanks to the insatiable curiosity of my new colleague, Catherine Kühn, my enthusiasm has been reignited to explore and dare to go where no Lyners has gone before. Participants have shared my enthusiasm to make every moment count, with rock climbing, night time explorations and a general extension of times in the programme to take full advantage of the opportunity. After all, for many of our visitors from the Cape it may be a once-in-a lifetime trip. The way we see it is that you have to make it special for everyone, just as if it was you going on your first trip to a new destination. Even for the returning groups, we do our best to keep their learning experiences fresh and exciting. Ask any one of our friends who have been to visit us in the Cederberg a few times. I am glad to report that we have added new destinations which include a breath-taking climb to a secret waterfall location complete with many rock pools and beautiful, lush vegetation. It is amazing how the Cederberg can hide these wonderful gems. We are constantly researching and reviewing our educational material so as to offer additional information, especially to those participants returning for another experience in the Cederberg.

We have had the privilege of having another great intern, Ashley Ndulukane, with us this season. Ashley, who hails from Khayelitsha, only passed matric last year, but he has proven his weight in gold to us with the invaluable logistical support during and between camps. This dynamic, young man was very popular with the women especially because of his charming and innocent smile and very friendly manner. To me it even seemed as if some were faking walking difficulties so that Ashley could assist them on walks, while the rest of us made our way forward. Having said this, this exceptional young man has been actively involved in environmental education for some time and gained his experience with “Spirit of the Wild”, “Pride of Table Mountain” and has even done a stint of environmental education with the Goldfields Environmental Education Centre at Kirstenbosch Gardens. We have no doubt that his future in nature-related fields will be bright, and a worthwhile story to follow. We hope that he learned a lot and that his time with us has given him some extra exposure to what is possible if you choose to follow your dreams with a positive attitude.

Now, as history has shown before, no camp season can go by without some exciting developments. Last year I reported how the phantom cat, Titus ‘trapped’ me with his ever elusive ways and the hope of a sighting. This year we had some drama unfold right around the camp! We were privileged to have not one leopard, but two leopards roam around the camp. Our host, Cape Nature, suspects that the first leopard was a pregnant female, based on footage from their motion-sensor cameras. Our ‘camp camera’ returned an image which was a close-up of the rump and so it was difficult to identify the leopard. Nevertheless it created quite a stir amongst participants and I gathered that a few went to sleep earlier at night. One night the baboons that roost on the cliffs behind the camp were the most restless I have ever heard them, and some of the participants in camp confirmed what I thought I heard myself from my quarters. There is nothing like the growl of a leopard to make you think, “Wow! What power!”

The second leopard, a very healthy looking male, made his appearance on our camera two weeks after the female was around. Whether he followed her or whether he was just passing by is anyone’s guess. We first found his tracks, and they were the biggest that I had ever seen in the Cederberg. It was with a bit of disbelief that I led the group to the camera to check, and I cannot describe the feeling of elation when the image of the leopard came up. At the time I was feeling a little under the weather, but after seeing the leopard I had an energy rush like never before. As we went further down the path we discovered leopard scat with plenty of porcupine quills in it. The scat was so fresh that it glistened with moisture and our participants were ever alert as we passed through en route to our river walk activities. All I can say is that there is nothing like the presence of leopard to make your skin feel ‘tingly’ with excitement and anticipation.

Our groups were great as always, and I want to thank everyone who came along for adding so much to the adventure while we all learnt about the captivating Cederberg, its treasures and its natural beauty. A special note of thanks to Ms Rika Du Plessis, manager of the Matjiesriver Nature Reserve, who took time out of her very busy schedule to speak to students about conservations issues faced on the reserve and veld condition assessment techniques. We would also like to thank our sponsors, Bridgestone and Supa Quick for helping us to keep the education bus on the road, as well as Cape Union Mart for equipping us and the participants with gear and paraphernalia to make our expeditions comfortable.

I have seen attitudes of participants shift towards being more caring and appreciative of nature. Beautiful and insightful poems were written, artful drawings were created and rich knowledge was shared. I am constantly amazed by the level of intellect and the deepness of character that our visitors possess. Based on my observations I believe that everyone enjoyed their time with us. Thank you for choosing us as an institution to add to your learning experiences. It was apt finishing off the season with a graduation ceremony for environmental education facilitators. We are now looking forward to the second season, and with no doubt that more great memories will be created.

Hadley Lyners
Environmental Educator

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