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An Exciting Week on Campus: From Baby Snakes to Rare Servals

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

This blog was written by Oscar Wehen, Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each week, students take turns as camp manager to experience what it’s like to run a lodge or a team. Writing a blog is part of that process.

5 min read

This week on campus has been one of the most exciting weeks so far. Although we had more stress than ever due to the test we had on Saturday, it was still a lot of fun. 

Monday: Game Drives and Birding Sessions

A photo by the author of Bushwise students standing together during a field guide training activity. 

On Monday, Group B was on game drive in Manyeleti Game Reserve because we were limited to only the main road in our game reserve. The other two groups went on a little birding and botany session with the vehicles on our concession, and I was in one of them.

The groups not going to Manyeleti were very jealous – even if Group B didn’t find any amazing sightings. There has been a lot of rain in the last three weeks – which has meant a lot of us were struggling with drying our laundry. But luckily during our birding and botany session, Matt and I were able to move a tree off of the road which got us our laundry being tumble dried as a reward.

From Monday morning on to the rest of the week, every afternoon was set aside for revision, especially for those who needed a high percentage for the second Bushwise exam on Saturday. The trainers made this revision session mandatory for me – which I was a bit annoyed about at first, but after the first revision session I was very relieved and found it easy to listen and learn.

Mamba… I mean… baby brown house snake

A snake reaches up for a tree branch.

The next day was very similar to Monday but it began with some excitement. One of my neighbours was screaming out of his tent “there’s a baby black mamba in our tent!” With me laying in bed at 4:30am having the responsibility as camp manager to call our trainers for any serious emergencies, I was running to their tent to tell them not to get close and calm down. 

The best and most funny moment of this situation was when all of us realised 20 seconds later that the little black mamba was actually a baby brown house snake which is probably one of the most harmless snakes in South Africa.

A Rare Serval Sighting in Manyeleti Game Reserve

Wednesday was one of the best days for me as our group was going to Manyeleti Game Reserveand Ashton – one of the other neighbours and one of my best friends in the camp – was our guide on that drive. Although the weather wasn’t promising that morning, I was still very optimistic that we would see something very interesting. 

Ashton started the game drive by finding us all some lion tracks which was even more promising but eventually we had to drive away from the way they were going. I was a bit confused why we would change the direction from where the lions were going to, to where the lions came from but Ashton told us that he spoke to the other guides in that area and they all said that the lions are invisible in that one block so it made sense.

Other than the lion tracks, we didn’t see much activity in the bush. After one and a half hours we had our coffee break. Everyone was ready for some coffee, and we all enjoyed the morning sounds of the bush. After the coffee break, we were all talking about our bird lists and how many birds we have seen from the start of the course and no one was really looking out to spot animals.

Then something caught my eyesight next to the road and I was immediately shouting “Stop! Stop!” Fred, our trainer on that game drive, was driving and he was going pretty fast so he stopped approximately 30 metres later. Remembering that moment I was thinking about what could be what caught my eyesight and I realised that I saw a serval standing there and so I said to Fred to go back fast because I saw a serval.

The rarest sighting of my life

A serval cat walks through thick green grass, spotted by students while on a game drive in the Manyeleti. Photo by the author.

No one in that car believed me, but when we went back, there it stood in the same place that I spotted it facing us and in complete “freeze mode”. Everyone was shaking and we were out of words. We enjoyed that sighting for at least five minutes with the serval walking next to our car, not skittish at all. 

That is probably the rarest sighting I have ever seen, especially because it was there for such a long time. When I was six years old, it was my first time in South Africa and all I ever wanted to see was big and small cats of Africa’s wilderness so this was a dream come true.

Coming back from that game drive our whole car was filled with adrenaline and when we told the other students what we had experienced, we realised how jealous they were but we couldn’t stop talking about that moment. Eventually, we had to get back to study and calm ourselves down to stay focused while studying. It took me three days to calm down after that sighting. It took the longest time for me probably because I was the one who spotted it and I felt like I was seeing a ghost.

Then the rest of the week the only thing we did was study, eat and sleep. Looking back on this week I’d like to repeat that amount of excitement, learning effort and luck every other week of my life. 

Maybe it’s possible for every week to be this exciting! Truthfully, anything could be possible on a Bushwise course.

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