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

Not tonight Josephine

Another Bush Babes first. An adventure where women get to live their childhood dreams of working with animals and experiencing what it would be like to become a wildlife veterinarian. This is the vision that Leilani Basson, founder and owner of Bush Babes Conservation and Adventures had when she created this first-of-its-kind adventure for civilians. And of course, it just had to include a helicopter to make things real. The first-ever Game Vet Adventure was held in 2017. Fast forward to 2022 and it has become one of Bush Babes’ signature and most popular adventures.

It took me a good year, perhaps even more, to find the right people to make my dream of a Game Vet Adventure for women a reality. To pull this off, you don’t only need a wildlife veterinarian with the best experience, contacts, helicopter and helicopter pilot. You would also need someone who shares the vision and passion to bring the average Tina, Donna and Hendrina to the heart of conservation, giving them a taste of what it really feels like to make a boots-onthe- ground difference.

The essence for me was to enable ordinary women to see wildlife from up close and possibly work with them. This would serve as the catalyst to awaken something within their souls, something that they had never felt before… To bring conservation home, make it real and turn it into a personal experience so that they can instil that same something in the children they raise or whomever they share their lives with. I needed someone who could work with people – especially women – and someone who would be willing to add a Bush Babes flair to this experience. I needed someone who would trust my vision and plan and allow me – and other Babes – into their sacred world.

I always find it remarkable how people I have met on various past trips, experiences and adventures over many years often pave the way to turn my ideas and concepts into reality. Networking can never be underestimated. There is always someone who knows someone who knows someone. This is exactly how I met Dr James Roxburgh of Brazen Wildlife Services in the North West. Together we have presented a series of unforgettable Bush Babes Game Vet Adventures, which has even led to them presenting a few similar events based on the original Bush Babes blueprint.

Our most recent Game Vet Adventure was exceptional. Although no two Game Vet Adventures are ever the same – nor can anything be guaranteed since we are working with live animals and many, many variables – it is always an unforgettable, lifechanging experience that is hard to beat. This time though, the bevy of Babes who joined us got to play a part in capturing and relocating a giraffe.

But back to the backbone of this adventure, and what we actually can guarantee (unless the weather really, really stands in our way): the helicopter part. This is the closest a non-vet can ever get to the feeling of darting an animal from a helicopter in flight. We call it tick-balling. Babes take to the skies with a paint ball gun (that really does look the part), headphones and mic, all buckled up and with the deafening sound of the chopper blades.

A thrill a minute

This is a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience that is hard to beat. The gun is loaded with a little ball that resembles what is used in a paintball game, but in this case, it is filled with a specialised tick repellent. The challenge is to ‘shoot’ as much game as possible while flying over them as low as the pilot deems safe. If you hit the target, the ball will burst on the animal’s back and the liquid that seeps through its hair into its skin will protect it against ticks for the coming season. You don’t get more exhilarating than this. Sitting in the open door of the helicopter, feeling like a sniper or soldier off to war is already a surreal experience and one that is easy to get addicted to. However, nothing can quite prepare you for the absolute thrill of flying so low over a herd of running wildebeest that you can actually see their manes blowing in the helicopterinduced wind.

On this adventure, our group of Babes was a great mix of women from all walks of life. From the two ‘youngsters’ the early-thirties Sunique and Ninqua, to Stephanie, Suzette, Mariet and Anel, the coolest grandmothers ever… as well as two mother-and-daughter duos and the forties squad.

Our accommodation for the weekend was Kokoriba Lodge, just outside Brits – a private farm with an impressive variety of game. Kokoriba is a great getaway – low key, unpretentious and never crowded. There is an indoor and outdoor pool, a restaurant with an extensive menu, a well-stocked bar and a grocery store. The camping facilities are impressive and includes four fully kitted out luxury tents for a those who prefer the glamping-type stay. There is also an array of chalets, log cabins and little houses – all very well appointed with everything that you can possibly need for a weekend or even a longer vacation. The cherry on top is that you can rent a proper game viewing vehicle to explore the farm at leisure. Golf carts are also available if you really want to get up close and personal with the wildlife.

Depending on their schedules, responsibilities and careers, the women started arriving in dribs and drabs on the Friday afternoon. It was a gloriously warm day late in autumn, and the two youngest participants were enjoying a dip and soaking up the sun in their bikinis by the time we arrived. Us older tannies moved some of the outside furniture around to create the perfect late afternoon kuier spot under the trees where our long serving members made the newbies feel at home.

Chalets were allocated and we regrouped for dinner and the formalities of the weekend later that evening. Everyone received their Bush Babes branded gear and goody bags containing a few spoils. Dr James Roxburgh met up with us a bit later and explained in detail what the women could expect from the experience as well as what would be expected of them. The Game Vet Adventure is a high-risk adventure, and it is critical to abide by the rules and follow Dr James’ instructions to a tee. By the time we retired, the balmy weather of the afternoon was dissipating, and we woke to a freezing morning.

We drove in convoy to the game farm where the experience was set to take place. A farm studded with giraffe. The women were already beside themselves at the prospect of flying over herds of wild roaming giraffe, but the opportunity for them to work with Dr James and his vet team in the capturing, darting, handling and relocation of a giraffe was kept as a surprise.

Dreams come true

In teams of two the Babes were escorted to the helicopter, the turning blades and clouds of dust adding to the effect. The excitement and anticipation were palpable. Some of the participants were really scared, some just overjoyed at the prospects of what was to come.

As per every Bush Babes trip, I was the photographer too. Outsourcing this responsibility is simply not an option. I know what I need, and I know what it will be used for in future. If I miss or mess up a shot, I only have myself to blame. After all these years it remains a huge thrill for me to ensure I capture all those magical moments and memories so that each and every woman has the best evidence of what she had accomplished. While waiting for one team to return, the Babes on the ground engaged in target shooting while others relaxed in the field, soaking up the sun and watching the spectacle of the helicopter flying to and fro… making Bush Babes dreams come true.

The sheer delight and privilege of capturing the moment when the women return from their flight, filled with glee and disbelief of what had just happened was a kick in itself. Their happiness and accomplishment were almost tangible. It is moments like this that make this little ministry that is Bush Babes so worthwhile and rewarding.

By the time all the women had had their flip and ‘shot’ as much game as they possibly could in the allotted time, the new owner of the giraffe had arrived in his game viewer. He was keen to get going. Today he was getting a cow for the lonely bull on his farm. Dr James introduced him and then broke the news that the Babes would be part of the ground team who had to ensure that the young giraffe was back on her feet as soon as possible after darting to minimise any risks.

Like a bunch of farm kids, they divided into two teams and jumped onto the game viewer and bakkie with cattle rails. I was flying in the chopper with James to ensure the best footage from up high and capture every moment. The pilot would be in constant radio contact with the ground team, directing them to where the herd of giraffe were and ensuring that they keep moving in the right direction once the dart was in. There would be no time to waste. The entire team needed to get to the spot where she falls as fast as is humanly possible.

It took us quite a while to find the herd with the young female we had to secure. It is unthinkable that such large animals can be so hard to find… even with a bird’s eye view. At last we were flying directly above them, soaring from side to side as Dr James attempted to get the best angle to ensure one perfectly placed shot. Despite feeling a bit motion sick after a while, I drank in every moment. I have had many helicopter experiences over many years, but chasing a giraffe was something truly special. Just when I thought we would have to circle them again, Dr James darted her. The entire herd kept running, but only for a while. Interestingly, the other giraffe knew instinctively that there was something wrong with her, despite her not showing any signs of confusion or sedation… yet. She started running a bit slower and as if pre-programmed, the entire herd deserted her and ran away, leaving her in a small clearing amongst the acacias. She seemed a bit dazed, but she kept moving for what felt like an eternity until she couldn’t fight the opioid anymore. The ground crew had to move fast. Time was of the essence.

The truck with the trailer in which she would be transported reached us within a minute or two, followed by a vehicle with veterinary students who work with Dr James. The game viewer and bakkie carrying the Babes following suit. Dr James gave clear, precise instructions. The women had to take turns helping from various sides. The students closed the giraffe’s eyes with a soft muslin cloth and her ears were plugged to minimise any stimulus. She was then fitted with a special harness that was put around her head, as well as a type of sling around her lower neck and torso to which guide ropes were attached to aid in guiding her forward once she was upright again. Dr James injected the antidote in the jugular vein, close to her ear. The Babes had to work in teams with the veterinary students and wildlife handlers. While a few had to wait for further instructions, the others had to grab a rope and help the giraffe get up without hurting herself. It is essential for the giraffe to get back on her feet as soon as possible to keep her calm. Despite not being able to hear or see anything, the animal was surprisingly docile, and did exactly what Dr James intended and anticipated she would. Within minutes the young cow was led onto the trailer… ready to be transported to her new home and her new life.

was a surreal experience. We took some time to really take in the moment and appreciate what we had just been part of as well as the fact that this young giraffe was the key to a new herd on a nearby farm that would ensure a good gene pool and the future existence of these mesmerising creatures. It was quite an emotional experience, especially for Jo, one of our longest “serving” Babes. She had lost a child and always dreamt of having a daughter.

The new owner – a real softy – seemed to sincerely appreciate and even enjoy the presence and energy this group of mostly city slicker women brought to this wildlife operation. I can only imagine how different it must have been compared to the normal, more testosterone-driven hum drum of capturing and moving game. He asked Jo what her name was. He fiddled in the pocket of his khaki shorts and handed her his handkerchief. He gently touched her shoulder and gave her a sympathetic, yet uncertain and almost awkward pat on the back. “Well, then we will call her Josephine.” All teared up, we gathered for a group photo with Dr James and our Josephine. I watched Jo as the trailer slowly disappeared in the distance. This is fulfilment. I can irrefutably state that our Bush Babes Game Vet Adventure is lifechanging. An experience like no other.

Join the Babdes!

Join Bush Babes Conservation Adventures on their next Game Vet Adventure from 19 to 21 August 2022 near Brits, in the North West Province. The cost is R5 000 per person sharing and includes shared accommodation at a private lodge, breakfast, bushveld boma dinners, a helicopter flight and tick-balling experience. Go ahead and spoil yourself or the woman in your life this Women’s Month.

Breaking news:

A special Game Vet Adventure for children is taking place from 4 to 6 November 2022 in the same vicinity under Cheetah Cubs Conservation Adventures, which is run by Leilani and her nineyear old daughter, Sabria. The weekend is for the entire family, but with the focus on children in order to get them involved with and passionate about conservation, nature and wildlife.

Depending on age, the children accompanied by at least one parent, will be able to experience the tick-balling experience from the helicopter. Only a few families can be accommodated. The price per family will depend on the number of siblings and their age, how many family members want to fly in the helicopter etc.

CONTACT: +27 82 779 0602 (Leilani Basson)

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