Text and Photographs Lee Tindall
Murray started building the boma according to the specifications we had received, in the perfect spot. Shaded, surrounded by trees and with soft sand allowing for poles to be dug in easily. I left the manual labour to Murray and his team – i.e., one other guy, and dealt with the admin, keeping contact with the vet, communicating with the NamibRand team and making sure we were ready in every way. Finally, it was all systems go!
July 14th dawned. I packed snacks, cameras, nappies, milk and sunscreen – all the things necessary for a day out in the sun with a two-year-old, on the back of a bakkie. We met with the team from NamibRand, a passionate group of people, and a friend. This was not the lean and mean team the vet had hoped for! When he saw us and two-year-old Connor he raised his eyebrows, muttered something and said we can’t be slowed down. I think he let us pass because he knew my dad and had met me when I was the same age as my son, in Etosha, essentially doing the same thing, and I told him that Connor was an easy laidback kid. I can report that Connor was indeed the perfect model of a bush kid.
The vet briefed us, giving us a rundown of how this would go, managing our expectations and asked that we all cooperate with him and his team. Everyone piled into various 4×4 vehicles. Connor’s eyes were bright and his excitement levels were high. Not only an adventure, but also the fact that he was on the back of a bakkie.
We had been told that once the giraffes were found, the vet crew would go ahead, dart them and then run in with two long ropes to ‘lasso’ each giraffe so it wouldn’t fall over and injure itself. Essentially the ropes are a way to guide it more gently into a lying position. Giraffes are huge animals – imagine being three metres tall, a little drowsy and suddenly collapsing. The goal is to guide the animal in its woozy state into the truck, with minimal disruption or panic.
The first giraffe was darted, and started running. As soon as it showed signs of slowing down and staggering, people with ropes and the athletic ability of Frankie Fredericks leapt off various vehicles and ran after it. Connor thought he could join in and was slightly bemused when I wouldn’t let him off the car.
While the unsung athletes were doing their thing, we were following in the cars. Bouncing over rocks and around trees, as fast as we safely could. The giraffe was brought down, the truck and trailer got as close as they could. The giraffe was given a dose of medicine that reverses the first batch of drugs, then it was blindfolded and led into the trailer. Success.
As we know, nothing is ever the same and when catching the remaining two we had a few hiccups. One of them was that the baby giraffe, after coming down hard, had no heart rate. Giraffe CPR looks a little chaotic. While one guy is at the head, listening for breath and being cautious to avoid injury to himself or others, another larger and substantially heavier person bounces on the giraffe’s chest doing compressions. We waited and watched with bated breath and hearts racing. When the vet sighed with relief and the guy at the head jumped away we knew that this baby would be alright.
After this excitement we headed home, with three beautiful giraffes peeking out over the top of the truck. Murray and I drove ahead of the convoy to make sure the boma was ready, the road was clear and all the gates were open for smooth access. Remember – minimal stress for the animals!
The truck arrived late in the afternoon. The goal was to get the giraffes comfortable as soon as possible. The boma was inspected and tweaked. But then, on the shortcut about 100 metre from the boma, the truck got stuck. Not a little bit stuck, not even medium stuck, it was properly dig-for-days stuck!
Feeding 15 people in a hurry was not on the agenda, so our dear friend helped me cook 5 kg of mince and endless bags of pasta, while the team dug and dug. Eventually, what felt like years later, the truck was no longer stuck. By then it was dark and cold and the giraffes were released – into our spectacularly well-built and over-researched boma.
After a debrief, some much needed cold beverages and food, the vet looked at Connor, high fived him and remarked about how amazing this kid had been all day. I almost exploded with pride.
The next morning, while Murray and I were having coffee and a chat, he suddenly raced out of the house mid-sentence. Murray isn’t a runner. When he runs things are not right.
The giraffe had broken out of the boma, and were now loping off into the dunes, back to where they had come from, leaving us all in the dust!
Learn more about NamibRand here: www.namibrand.com