Yee Haw! Round ‘em up Cowboy! South Africa

Friday, May 22, 2009

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We pride ourselves in the successful capturing, relocating and auctioning of all types of herbivore and wild animals within Southern Africa and as far as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Today ranks right up there with wild and crazy experiences! Last night (Thursday), the Louis Fourie Game Capture Company showed up complete with tractor trailers for transport, a group of 20 men who set up camp right next to Shelton’s house and a small helicopter for herding the game.  Shelton had told us what they would be doing, but we had no idea what to expect.  And we could never have imagined what we would experience over the next several days. But one thing was sure — we had a front row seat to all the action!!!

At 10:30am on Friday, we hiked out to the area that they call the “Serengeti” – the valley where most of the wild game graze.

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As we approached the area, we could see the large green plastic fences that create a “path” for the game to enter into and follow through to the trucks.

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They string line after line from trees around the area – then hang these green tarps – creating walls and tunnels.

 

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We walked through the woods and came out the other side to a clearing where all of the container trucks were located.

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Shelton spoke to the man in charge of the ground operation.  We wanted to know what was going to happen and where we could watch the action.  He explained what would be happening and then gave us the good news – we would be watching from right on top of the containers — yea baby!

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They round up the animals through the use of a helicopter. The helicopter will fly around – herding the animals with the help of a horn.

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This is where we’ll be standing — right on top of the containers!

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It all started around 1:15pm.  The owner of the company, Louis, is the helicopter pilot.  We watched as he took off and started flying out to where the game herds were grazing.

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The helicopter uses a horn for two reasons. The first is to scare the animals away from him and herd them towards the alleys and secondly to let the guys on the ground know that the game is on their way in and to pay attention.  It works really well. When you hear this horn – everyone jumps to attention and within 20 seconds you can see the herd coming through the alleys and heading toward you and the trucks.

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The first herd (about 15 of them) ran straight into the trucks with no problem.  Being the first aboard there was plenty of room for them to move in whatever direction they choose to go.  The guys on the ground  kept them moving forward and as they moved from one truck to the next, the guys would close a gate that locked them into the forward area.

One guy is laying on top of the one looking at me.

Oh yea…it’s a tight fit

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It was loud. The container shook as the herd ran into it. Then it continued to shake as they jostled with each other for space. We felt everything standing on top of the container!

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The next group to come through was much larger and that’s when it got very intense.  They couldn’t all fit through the relatively small opening and ramp leading up to the containers…but they tried.  They trampled each other and when one went down – it stayed down as the others ran over top of it.

Most of them got back up but there were a couple exceptions. In one instance, they lost a pregnant female whose neck was snapped in one of the crushes to get up the ramp.

Another time, as a group of blesbaks were running down the tarp tunnel, one of them escaped through a section of the tarp. The men chased it down and re-captured it, then tried to get it back into the tunnel.  During the struggle, the animal’s back leg broke in half.  The men had to take it off to the side and slit it’s throat.

I wish I could say that it was a swift and painless death.  That would make all of us feel better…but the animal was still moving five minutes later. Just one of those things you can never un-see.

 

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The panic – the close quarters – the heat – it all adds up to a very tense situation.

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And if it was bad getting in the container – it just got worst inside.   Lots of large animals – lots of sharp horns – lots of men – NOT lots of space! From above, we could feel the heat from all the animals rising up through the cracks and sense their fear and panic. As the animals moved forward through the container, the men followed them and closed off the section of container behind them so they couldn’t back out.

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The next activity was very well coordinated and very fast and we found out what all the rubber hoses lying around were used for…

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The hoses are slipped over the tips of the horns so they don’t gouge each other to death in the tight space. Smart.

To make them flexible enough to fit over the horn, the rubber pipe must be warmed over the fire after which everything has to happen quickly – before the rubber cools.

As soon as the animals are inside the men break into teams. One group warms the hoses, the second group jumps up to the roof of the container and the third groups goes inside with the animals. Everything is well orchestrated.

Step one: Warm the hose over the fire Step two: Toss two pieces to the guy on top Step three: Hand same two pieces down to the guy inside

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Step four: Shove hoses over both horns of blesbak closest to you

Step five: Avoid getting stabbed by those without hoses on horns

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The men inside are soon busy pounding the rubber pipes onto the horns as fast as they can.  With all of this going on you can imagine that the blesbak are nervous, some frantic, others crazy and the containers are rocking!

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And…voila!

I think I’d like to try this.

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The next big group came through – I threw off my backpack – put the camera around my neck  and followed Shelton through the first door. We went through two sections before coming to the one that held the last group of blesbak – about 12 animals. There were two other guys inside the container with us to make sure I didn’t get trampled 🙂  It took a moment to realize how hot it was inside. I put my hand on one of the animals and there was a tremendous amount of heat coming off of him.

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At first, they were still and the guys began the process of putting the pipes on their horns.  But they soon became agitated.  One of them was lying on the floor and that didn’t sit well with the others.  They stepped on the poor guy then began jumping around. This was when things started to really heat up. Shelton….bless his soul…had me backed into a corner and was blocking the animals from me as best as he could. There were big bodies slamming into him and horns coming around the edges…it was wild!  I actually felt pretty safe though and just stuck my camera out around him and tried to capture it all!

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You should add this to your bucket list – it was very cool!

All done.

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We were just amazed at the whole thing! From the moment we saw them round the corner and start heading down the stretch to the trucks…the excitement never stopped!  To be standing on the roof as they crashed and scrambled into the truck beneath us was something that is hard to explain.  The trucks shook with the pounding of so many hoofs and on top of that they were jumping on top of or over each other – some even trying to scramble up the walls.  Talk about your shake, rattle and roll!  WOW!

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Two days later…they rounded up the wildebeests! They needed cattle prods and relaxant shots for them because they kept fighting with each other.

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Cattle prod…

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These shots below are taken from the ground looking into the trucks.  They charged me the first time I looked into the container.  I screamed and fell backwards — landing really hard on my butt and almost broke my camera!  Damn wildebeest!

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Game Capture is ranking right up there in my top 3 African experiences!

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