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After a well-deserved week-off, we came back together for an exciting 1st week of the 3rd semester. Except for the studying, this week was filled with activities like game drives, Advanced Rifle Handling and lectures about Biomes of SA & grass.

Throughout the week between activities we practised ARH skills. This is one of the qualifications which one needs to become a Trails Guide. Each evening at dinner students discussed how their stiff their arms were and how sore their shoulder muscles were. The palms of their hands still red from bringing the heavy .375 rifle out of the crouch position into the arm, chamber a round, aim and “fire”. It doesn’t sound hectic, but if you are not used to rifles and this advanced exercise you will feel it after a few consecutive rounds.  Students also had to load the rifle with three rounds, chamber one round, aim and unload and make the rifle safe WHILST being blind folded. This was a tricky part for some, some students talked to themselves while other had to ask where their hands were on the rifle in order for them to insert the rounds into the rifle’s magazine – scary stuff. But after a few sessions all students passed the practice exercise for the day.

We had another very exciting game drive on Thursday morning. We started off with a few tree and flower identifications. One of flowers that stood out was that of the Baboon’s-tail (black stick lily), Xerophytaretinervis which are starting to flower. Who knew something so ugly could turn into something so pretty! This small plant is aptly named for its dark fibrous stems that stand erect in the ground and resemble the tail of a monkey or baboon. The resultant stem is non-flammable and is most popularly used by Bushmen to carry coals. By removing a small section at the top of a stem and hollowing out the space, a small coal can be inserted and carried a long distance before being used to start another fire.

Medicinally, Baboon’s tail is implicated in asthma cures and magically as a charm against being struck by lightning.

We continued after the tree and flower ID and switched over to birding. We saw a variety of different bird species, Purple-crested Turaco, Southern-black Flycatcher, Half-collard Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, to mention a few.

As we drove down the road looking out for any new bird species for the day’s list, someone called out “elephant”.  A massive elephant bull was standing feeding on the grass, which provided us with great photo opportunities. He was very relaxed with the “paparazzi” around and continued with his business.

After a while, this magnificent giant turned towards us and came closer. We could tell that he was relaxed by his body language and behaviour from the moment since we first got into his presence. It was only out of curiosity or maybe he wanted a little publicity from the photographers, but he walked straight up to the vehicle, stood there, posed, shook his head (to remind us who’s boss), turned around and walked away. This was truly a great up-close sighting which we will cherish for a long time.

As this week is done and dusted, we look forward to next week, which is BIRDING WEEK. A week which some, if not most students have been waiting for.