All game captures have their element of excitement. The adrenaline rush of the helicopter starting up and taking off; the cars lined up, idling, with everyone waiting for the radio call that the dart has gone in; the mad crazy dash to the capture site and the catch your breath moment when the giraffe staggers out the bushes in a last attempt to escape the bird-machine herding it, like stilt walkers out of control, until their long legs finally give in and they go down.
We feel very responsible for all our guests and for our wildlife. Usually we only capture in low season when the farm is quiet and we can focus on the matter at hand. Unfortunately this was the only opportunity for the game capture unit to come in as they are busy for the next 4 months and we try to capture well before winter when our animals are fit and healthy. With a helicopter in the picture, we knew game drives were not going to be realistic and we also knew that everyone would want the rare opportunity to witness a giraffe capture. It was no easy task making sure 35 people, including very young children, were kept at a safe distance and would be out the way, especially as everyone wanted to take pictures but we organised a limited number of vehicles to go out, piled everyone in and hoped that we wouldn’t be in the line of an out of control animal.
On the first capture our cars were lined up wrong and the giraffe went clean through us, nudging the Hilux. Pete jumped out to ward it off and all I could think was, he really loves that car! Needless to say, we stayed well back for the next lot. Julian, the pilot, performed manoeuvres not many people will witness in their lifetime. At times he was below the tree line and at others he seemed to turn on a tickey – really incredible to see. Nele, the vet, so professional, calm and cool headed, kept her focus with Julian’s crazy flying, placed her darts with precision and ran like mad to get to each fallen animal to get it back on its feet as quickly as possible. I have enormous respect for her level headedness and courage. A giraffe has very high blood pressure and has to have the drugs reversed immediately and have its head and upper body lifted up. The ground crew, led by Francois and JJ, all 15 brave men – I cannot imagine what guts you need to have to hang on to a giraffe with ropes and feet flying in all directions! – rushed in, put a bag over the animal’s eyes to calm it down, plugged it’s ears with cotton wool and tied ropes to its legs to control it once it stood up again. On the count of 3 they pushed and pulled and led each giraffe in to the waiting trailer and then the helicopter would start up again, Nele would jump in and it was on to the next one…
We had the trailer get stuck in mud, 2 giraffe go down in very thick bush, one giraffe slip it’s hood from over it’s head and make a mad dash for freedom with everyone dragging behind until they managed to get it back down again but all in all the capture was a success.
Relief and reflection
Two days later, hundreds of photographs and video footage and 6 giraffe safely captured, I was not unhappy to take a deep breath and feel relieved. It is hard for us to see any of our animals captured and taken off this mountain, which offers such a tranquil, peaceful life for them. I can’t help but reflect on their emotions and confusion, to be plucked from everything they know, food, water, family groups and taken to the unknown. It is our nature to place human emotion on everything but when I sat on the trailer, a few centimetres away from this most beautiful animal and watched it trembling, I couldn’t help but feel an enormous sense of guilt as to how we manipulate our world and all the things in it. We have fenced in land to protect our planet’s wildlife and in doing so we are forced to manage that land and take care of the wildlife that lives within. One can only offer grazing to a certain number of any given species and so game capture has become a part of our world and every 4 years, we see it through so that the wildlife that remains here can continue to thrive. However, it doesn’t get easier.
Home sweet home
Our 6 giraffe, 3 males and 3 females have gone to a new reserve outside Hammanskraal. They are on a 2500ha property with plenty of trees and a life ahead of them where they will be appreciated and looked after. May they live long contented lives.