Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Buffaloes & bitches

Leilani Basson imagines things. She dreams things in pictures or as movies. She has vivid visions of the adventures, projects, and concepts she wants to create and turn into reality. With the epiphany she’d had a few years ago of a ladies-only adventure where the Bush Babes would be working with buffaloes, she could even hear the theme song of the post-adventure videos on social media… tu-tu-tu-du-tu-du-tu…Buffalo Soldier…

Finding a buffalo that needed to be darted for medical or other reasons had eluded me for quite some time. But as always, God sent the right people… and buffalo… at the right time. Turning the Bush Babes into proper soldiers was also a bit of a challenge but giving them a real boots-on-the-ground anti-poaching ranger experience seemed good enough.

My idea was to set up a real-life poaching simulation and have the ladies deployed to the poaching scene by helicopter, with at least one K9 of the anti-poaching unit joining them on the flight. I knew that Anke Kruger, anti-poaching manager of the Hoedspruit K9 Conservation units, was my go-to gal. We had worked together on a previous
adventure, and she was just perfect for this mission.

Once Anke was on board, the ideal game vet was sent my way in the form of Dr Ilana van Wyk, from Aardvark Wildlife and Veterinary Services. I searched long and hard for a female helicopter pilot before I found Jana Meyer, director and pilot of Hope for Wildlife Helicopter Services, on Facebook. I immediately knew that she would be perfect for what I
had in mind… after all, how often do you come across a woman who flies herself to her wedding in her own
helicopter, wearing her wedding dress and with the wedding cake on the back seat?

Between the four of us we worked out the finer details of the first-ever Bush Babes Buffalo Soldier Adventure. All that was left to do was to find the perfect buffalo. Thankfully it turned out not to be a sickly animal that needed to be darted for treatment. No, our buffalo was part of a herd that had recently been moved to Andy Sussens’ farm, African Dream Tours. Its ear tag had not been removed along with those of the rest of the herd. Andy was extremely helpful, patient, and keen to play a part in making a dream come true for this all-female crew and the privileged few who would accompany us on the trip.

We arrived in Hoedspruit on a scorching Friday afternoon in October. Raindance Ridge, headquarters of K9 Conservation, was our first destination and overnight spot. Since most of the ladies accompanying us on this trip had not taken part in our previous K9 snare removal experience, we had a condensed version of working with the K9’s in the early evening. The women were introduced to the basics of dog training, tracking and bite work and learned all about the incomprehensible and very real massacre that is animal poaching.

It was also important for the women to get to grips with dog handling, as two of the dogs would be accompanying us on our deployment flight to the ‘poaching site’ the next morning. Around the campfire that night, Anke broke the news
that it would be the maiden flight for two of K9 Conservation’s female dogs, which is quite a big deal in the training of anti-poaching and tracking dogs. What a privilege and thrill! And how uncanny that it would be two bitches joining us? I’m sure the dogs would have found it reassuring to know that they weren’t the only ones who had never flown in a
helicopter before.

That night we slept under the stars like a real anti-poaching unit. We had to be on high alert for any danger and prepare for deployment as soon as the call came in to let us know that the helicopter was on its way. Unexpected precipitation forced us to move closer to the main house during the night though and we all tried to squeeze in under the patio roof. Most of the K9 team snuggled between the Babes, who were spread out on the floor in their sleeping bags. It was amazing to experience how friendly, lovable, and docile these working dogs can be if they don’t have their harnesses on. We were kept on high alert by an orchestra of frogs in the nearby pond croaking so loudly that it was almost impossible to sleep.

We were up and ready before sunrise and at 05:00 I was on the first flight with Anke, Zelda (a Bush Babe since 2010), and one of our K9 companions. The clouds of dust created by the helicopter reminded me of a scene from an action movie and I’m not sure if it was the type of helicopter or Jana’s flying skills, but it was the smoothest helicopter flight I have ever experienced. We flew to African Dream Tours where Andy, Ilana and her husband, JP, were waiting.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning. It was truly out of this world… and it was real. Our Buffalo Soldier Experience was finally happening! As soon as the helicopter touched down. I got out and ran to the clearing to photograph the lift-off and the arrival of each group of Babes. It was a real thrill to see their faces beaming as they touched down. Fortunately, the dogs weren’t bothered by the noise and handled their first flight like pros.

Once all the Babes had arrived, we walked a small distance to the beautiful lodge on Andy’s farm, where we were briefed on how things were going to work, what to expect and what not to do. With the formalities done and dusted, everyone was eager to get going. As things go when working with wildlife, the buffalo herd was not where it was expected to feed that morning and the buffalo cow with the tag in the ear was nowhere to be found. Buffalo Soldier turned into a good few hours of Buffalo Searching as we climbed onto a large trailer pulled by a tractor and followed Ilana and JP in their double cab… up and down every single road on the farm. It was still early in the morning, but it was already unbearably hot and I’m sure some of the women started doubting whether there were any buffaloes on the farm. I was thinking exactly that when Ilana radioed in to say that she had found the herd.

By the time we arrived at the location Ilana had already darted the buffalo cow. We couldn’t risk losing her again
and there was no time to waste. All the Babes were assigned specific tasks. While some had to keep cooling the buffalo down with water, others had to keep the head still, clip off the tag, and so on. What we didn’t know was that the cow was expecting, so while she was down, Ilana did a proper examination to determine whether all was well with the calf. I had the most amazing opportunity to conduct the internal physical examination. With my arm almost shoulder deep
inside the buffalo cow, Ilana explained how I should turn my hand and I actually felt the calf’s head! A truly overwhelming experience. Once the check-up was completed and everyone was a safe distance away, Ilana administered the antidote. Within minutes the buffalo cow disappeared through the dense African bush to rejoin her herd. We had done it!

Back at the lodge, JP was ready to give the Babes a shooting lesson as a lively flock of curious ostriches watched from a
distance. While some of the women had experience with firearms, this was another first for many others. As always, it
was fun and very empowering. After all the hype and adrenaline, it was time to relax and just absorb the beauty that Hoedpruit offers. We grabbed lunch at a little roadside restaurant and set off to Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre for a boat cruise through the canyon to see the tufa waterfall hidden at the end of the Blyde Dam. A tufa waterfall is a waterfall where the calcium-rich water builds the rock face over which it flows as the calcium and mud harden into beautiful forms.

This one, known as the Kadishi Tufa Waterfall, can only be seen by boat and attracts tourists from all over the world. It is one of only a few rare living tufa waterfalls in the world and resembles a face which is crying. Thus, it is often called the ‘weeping face of nature’. The 90-minute cruise through the only green canyon in the world is an experience like no other. Everyone was silent as they admired the beauty of the country we are fortunate enough to call home. Our last adventure of the weekend was a quad-bike excursion on Andy’s farm. As with everything offered as part of his African Dream Tours, it was top-notch. I can honestly say that it was the best I have come across in 12 years of doing Bush Babes Adventures and an absolute must if you visit the Hoedspruit area.

All good things must come to an end though and all too soon it was time to say our goodbyes. The Bush Babes were eager to get home to share their experiences with their loved ones. I revelled in the absolute blessing from Above that I had been granted the opportunity to give these women the experience of a lifetime and was deeply grateful that another vision turned into reality. There was only one thing left to do. I turned on the radio in my Landy and pressed play. Tu-tu-tu-du-tu-du-tu…Buffalo Soldier…

*Contact Leilani on +27 82 779 0602 to book your Bush Babe Adventure.

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