SUNDAY, 28th November 2021

AMES Dabchick Nature Reserve

Dörte Zimmermann

November 28, 2021

Photos by AMES Foundation

Photos by AMES Foundation

What a privilege it is to be a guest in the Dabchick Nature Reserve, to experience - as a Guardian, partner, and friend - first hand what AMES has achieved and implemented here in the last two years. We left Johannesburg in a minivan the day before, driving 4 hours through lush green hillsides and rocky sandy tracks, to be welcomed in a small camp within the reserve by chief ranger Les Brett and his team. A first game drive, the open thatched lodge with a large welcoming table, a spacious fireplace with comfortable armchairs, a campfire area and six permanently installed and comfortably furnished tents insinuate that the next few days will be intense and inspiring. 

Waking up early on the first day in the bush; at four o'clock it is already getting light. Birds chirping, rustling leaves, screeching and the view through the fly screen of my tent shows that a baboon family is playing on the veranda. A giraffe came to the waterhole near the lodge early this morning. She drinks and then slowly and elegantly disappears on her long legs back into the bush. I am a spectator and yet right in the middle of it: joy trickles through my body. 

After a light breakfast, we start the day with lessons: Les shares his credo "Nature is perfect" and introduces us to the perfect interplay of different species of animals and plants, the niches that fauna and flora seek for themselves to enable a life next to and with each other. 

We are eager to go outside - we want to experience nature immediately. And there they are: kudus, impalas, buffaloes, wildebeests (gnus), warthogs, zebras and giraffes - and rhinos on a large savannah area they call Serengeti. It is astounding how naturally, especially the rhinos, these large primeval animals, spread out over the wide area, take a brief look at us, probably consider us to be too insignificant to pay any further attention to, and then continue to graze in peace with their wide mouths. 

In a field of animal bones we visit an AMES project: the Vulture Restaurant, a wooden shelter to observe vultures eating dead animals. We learn how important these scavengers are for the ecosystem and sadly, how worrisome the decline of these birds due to habitat destruction is. 

After a light lunch, the sun finally comes and after a bit of sunbathing we go for the first swim in the natural swimming pool. After the pleasure comes the work: Lea reports about the projects of AMES and about the values that underlie everything AMES does and plans. A lively and substantive discussion follows - as to be expected, since all participants are dedicated to AMES and its goals. This, too, is what makes this trip so special.

In the afternoon we go on another game drive. We are looking at a large herd of buffaloes and Les explains that buffaloes are the most dangerous animals of the Big Five when our off-road vehicle starts tilting left: we have a flat tire. Tommy is called to fix it, the head of the anti-poaching unit. We thought we were safe in the middle of the buffalo herd in our off-road vehicle, but now we have to get out. Fortunately for us, the buffaloes take it with serenity and let us go on a walking safari. Les shows us the small animals, which can be just as exciting as the big ones: His favorite animal, the dung beetle, which forms perfect balls with the dung of the rhinos, sinks its eggs in them and buries the balls in the sandy soil - the ideal natural fertilizer spreader because nature is perfect. The tire repair didn’t go so perfectly. After the off-road vehicle threatened to tip over and get wedged in the sand, Kai went into action. As a professional firefighter, he knew exactly what to do. AMES just combines many different skills. Nevertheless, the repair had to be postponed to the next day because of the setting sun, so we walked back to the camp (the buffalos had already left us). No day ends without a sundowner, and we spontaneously moved it to the shore of the small lake nearby. Here live four crocodiles that AMEs re-inhabited only this year.  Their eyes show above the water, so we let this glorious first day come to an end, exhilarated and yet fulfilled, at a proper distance, with a cold gin and tonic.