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Posted on February 15, 2019
Every year Ant’s Lodges host a special week where guests have the opportunity to participate in wildlife conservation during the annual game census safari.
A census is a vital tool for managing the private reserve and it’s used to get a more accurate idea of how many browsers, selective grazers and bulk grazers are located across the vast area. It is critical to keep these all in balance so as not to over utilise the environment, which can eventually lead to permanent damage of the vegetation.
In May 2015 Rebecca from In The Saddle was lucky enough to visit Ant’s Lodges in South Africa during their annual Game Census. Here is Becky’s report from her trip.
After landing into Johannesburg airport I made my way to the arrivals hall and was met by my transfer driver Travis. Along with another lady we made our way to the lodge, a journey of around three hours. On arrival we were greeted by Jess, the lodge manager, who showed us around Ant’s Hill and briefed us on the rest of the day before sitting us down for a late lunch.
There are two lodges, Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill. Nest is the original homestead and all the rooms are in and around the main house. There is a swimming pool out in the garden which is central to the lodge. Hill is newer and was built on the edge of a gorge so the rooms are more spread out. The swimming pool is also near to the main lodge but all the rooms are tucked away and a little walk from the central area.
Later, around 15:30 we met up at the main lodge to find our horses all ready and tacked up for us. I was introduced to a beautiful liver chestnut mare named Nairobi and after a quick familiarisation we set off with Rosie as our guide. We rode for about two hours which was a mix of mostly walk and canter before meeting a couple of 4×4 vehicles out in the bush. At first I was confused as to why the vehicles were needed but then I realised that our horses were just going to be let free into the bush! This is one of the great things at Ant’s – all the horses live out as a herd with the game. Once all the horses had cantered off we jumped into the jeeps and drove to Ant and Tessa Baber’s house for the Game Census presentation. Ant explained all about the census and told us what was to come. That evening we all ate together in the outdoor boma before heading back to Ant’s Hill.
The next morning I was woken by a knocking and it took me a good few seconds to realise where I was. I opened the door to find a tray filled with hot water, coffee and a rusk biscuit. Today’s ride was all about game counting – this is when you go out in teams of three and fan out over a specific area counting all the game you see. This was really interesting and we were careful to be quiet and only walk so as not to scare any game away. The animals are counted like this so that the reserve has a record of what they have in what areas.
We met back with the rest of the riders for lunch at Ant’s Hill. It was a leisurely affair and for a few hours in the afternoon there was chance to relax by the pool or read a book. About 15:00 the riders met back at the main lodge for afternoon tea including a beautifully home baked cake. Once again the horses were outside waiting for us and this afternoon I was riding Charissa, a chestnut ex-racehorse. We rode for an hour and a half up to the ‘shack’ on the hill where we met the riders from Nest and had sundowners looking down onto the reserve – the view was breath-taking.
Whilst we’d been watching the sun go down, the horses had been waiting with hay-nets and once the light started to drop, we mounted back up to ride home in the light of the moon. Riding back this way with only the moonlight to guide us was utterly magical and something I won’t ever forget.
The next day followed a very similar pattern and in the morning we were out in our teams again counting game for a more accurate average. So that we weren’t riding in the same area as yesterday, we swapped guides. After lunch we were given the option to ride again or to go out on a walk or game drive. I chose to go with the game vehicle as we were planning to see the rhino which I was very excited about. The drive was fantastic and I saw buffalo for the first time! As promised we ended up at Ant and Tessa’s house in time to watch the rhinos being fed – it was amazing to be so close and there was even a small calf hugging close to its mothers side. We watched the rhinos until the light began to drop and then returned to Hill in time for our dinner.
The food at Ant’s is amazing. After breakfast you head out for a morning ride, then there is a lovely buffet lunch, afternoon tea and cake and to finish off the day a three course evening meal! None of us ever got hungry.
On our third morning we were given the mission of finding a specific sable antelope that was going to move to a neighbouring reserve. We headed off in a large group to the last place the bull had been seen and then lined up about ten meters apart along a straight road. There were two guests then a guide and so on so that if anyone spotted the sable, we could radio it in. Following our leader, Chase, we all moved forward in unison straight into the bush and careful to stay spread out. It was very exciting when we found the sable in a small opening and all the horses had to fan out and surround him whilst we waited for the vet. We were all careful to stay well back so as not to stress the animal. Once the vet arrived, the sable was darted and slowly followed until the sedative took hold. Once he was down, the guides jumped off their horses and quickly blindfolded the sable so that he didn’t panic. The vet helped them put him into the trailer so that we could safely move him.
It had taken a while for all of this to happen and by now the time was 13:00 so Chase took us back to the Hill for lunch and the people staying at Nest went there. There was no riding this afternoon as we’d been out all morning so instead we all went out on a lovely drive with Craig who was so impressive in his knowledge of the bush.
Our drive finished up on a ridge for sundowners and I was able to take some magical pictures of the African sunset. There is something so peaceful about taking the time to just sit and watch the sun sink into the horizon.
Day four was somehow already upon us and it was very similar to the day before. Today we were catching a young sable from another area of the reserve and he was to be released out into the large herd to expand the gene pool. It was incredible to get so close and personal with these beautiful creatures and actually to work so closely with the vet who was assisting. Lunch today was with everyone from Hill and Nest. We sat outside by the end of dam and had a BBQ with a view.
This afternoon most of us chose to go out on an afternoon ride and this time I was on Kalahari. We had a gentle ride for just over an hour before returning to Ant’s Hill in time for a shower before the wine tasting! This evening was a good social as everyone from the Nest came over for the wine & cheese night and we all discussed the excitement from the previous couple of day.
The next morning I was back on my beautiful Nairobi and we headed up to a water hole at the far end of the reserve. There we met up with those from Nest and waited for Chase to give direction. After a while a call came through on the radio to say that the chosen buffalo had been spotted a way a way by the vet – who this time was in a helicopter. We rode quickly to where the vet had been to see the buffalo already in the trailer and off to his next home. After a short break we followed the helicopter to find another small herd and fanned out into the bush. We stayed in a line and were instructed to watch for the darted buffalo as it was important not to lose him in the thickets.
After about 50 minutes of waiting a buffalo crashed through the bush and onto the track in front of us – she was absolutely huge! Nairobi stood like a rock and as Chase cantered past us, we took off in hot pursuit. As we rounded the corner I saw the buffalo go down and so we got straight off the horses and tied them to the nearest tree. It was important to hold the buffalos horns up so that her head wasn’t on the floor and so that the vet could do all of the checks safely – it was an upper arm workout for a few minutes. Once he was happy with the buffalo’s health, she was loaded onto the trailer.
The riders remounted and we had a lovely long canter along the sandy tracks back towards the stables. We met up with some jeeps at the end of a long track and so we untacked our horses and let them loose into the bush. The tack came with us in the vehicles and we drove on over to Nest for a garden lunch. In the afternoon I was given a tour around the rooms at Ant’s Nest before returning back to Hill for a relaxing afternoon.
The next morning, as we were eating breakfast, we were told that today was giraffe day! After mounting up we headed to meet the riders from Nest under the shade of a large tree. Once there, the vet, along with a few guides gave a demonstration of what would happen with the giraffe once it was darted. There were lots of ropes and a large harness which needed to be put onto the giraffe so that we could guide him onto the trailer without any stress. It is really important to get the giraffe back up on its feet as quickly as possible because if it’s down too long it won’t get up at all. We were darting the giraffe as there were too many on the reserve and so a couple were moving to a neighbouring property.
Once again we fanned out and lined the old fence boundary. On the main track you can see for miles in each direction and there must have been over 30 horses lined up in a large L shape. It really was amazing looking down the hill and seeing all of the horses in a sort of formation. After a good while waiting the call came in that a fully matured bull had been darted by the vet and was heading our way. Our first clue he was near was when the baboons started making noise and shortly after the bull came thundering through the tree line.
After a couple of minutes he went down and straight away we split into our teams and went about our jobs. I was on one of the ropes used to guide the giraffe. Once the vet had administered a second injection, the giraffe was back up onto his feet and in the trailer in no time.
After lunch, only a couple of people wanted to ride again in the afternoon and so with Yann as our guide we had a fab couple of hours cantering about in the bush. The highlight was when we reached the old airstrip and could let our horses do their thing!
It was day eight before I knew it and the last full day at Ant’s Hill. Today was more of a typical day at Ant’s – rather than a game census day. Our ride this morning was a few hours and we explored a different area of the reserve. It was a really informative ride that focused on the flora and fauna around us. On arrival back at the lodge we went in for brunch and the horses went back to the stables for an appointment with the blacksmith.
Tonight it was the annual game census party and so we had a few hours downtime before everyone from Nest arrived. Getting ready was a lot of fun as the theme this year was ‘Tarzan & Jane’ so everyone got very into it – there were plenty of loincloths and headbands about! This evening we had a BBQ by the pool and once everyone had finished we went inside to watch Ant’s presentation and award ceremony.
Chase had been filming all week with his drone and so the movie was great fun to watch and everyone was trying to spot themselves on camera. Afterwards the music was turned up and there was a lot of dancing done by all.
It was Monday all too soon and my last day. This morning those of us on a later transfer went for a final morning ride and rode for about an hour. Once we were back I packed up the rest of things and said my goodbyes before meeting the transfer driver. It was time for the next leg in my South African adventure.