With forested kloofs, fields of intricate succulents and expansive views, Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is a treat for hikers. By Kate Collins
“Silence – this is why people come to Gamka,” says Tom Barry, the conservation manager of Gamkaberg Nature Reserve.
We are standing along a pathway with mountains on all sides of us. He’s right, you can’t beat the silence. It’s so still that a single sound reverberates through the air like a shock wave. We’ve been walking along the Tierkloof Hiking Trail, voted in BBC book Unforgettable Walks to Take Before you Die as one of the best hiking trails to do, along with the likes of the Inca Trail and the Alpine Tour du Mont Blanc.
Along the route Barry points to a leopard camera. “I have never seen an aardvark in my life, but I’ve seen them on camera,” he says. The cameras are positioned on either side of the pathway and are motion sensitive. If a leopard crosses the path, the camera takes a shot. Baboons and monkeys are often seen posing with their faces pressed up against the cameras and are so ingenious that they sometimes take the cameras apart. Having a camera on both sides makes it easier for the leopard conservation team to identify spots and keep track of these stealthy animals.
Barry has lived in the reserve for 17 years and his knowledge of plants, animals and the reserve amazes me. The trip is so much more interesting because of his knowledge.
The next morning, Barry takes our group on another walk. It’s raining and the smell of wet rain soaks up the dry earth. Barry stops to explain the history of marine fossils and soon after we begin searching the earth like little children on an Easter hunt.
The evening is spent back at the camp in simple but beautifully constructed tented rooms. For our evening meal we sit around the fireplace. Some of the group laze about in the hammocks and others of us sit on chairs. Tonight Lee Potter, from the Cape Leopard Trust has come to talk to us. Potter is very involved in the project having worked for the trust for five years.
“This is ideal leopard country,” she says, noting the arid and hilly terrain. Potter shows a slideshow of photographs – exquisite pictures of leopards looking directly at the camera – their eyes frozen in the bright lights. Potter has a little trick she has worked on. She places a stick scented with perfume ( it’s usually women’s perfume – the very sweet scented types) in the pathway between the two cameras. “It works magic!” she exclaims. The leopards stop at the stick and sniff, which allows for a good camera snap.
On a more serious note, the leopards in these hills need protection. Barry interrupts Potter and says, “It’s not working. They need to start changing their tactics.” Barry is referring to the farmers whose methods are cruel and outdated – gin trapping. And what’s worse, is the traps not only kill beautiful leopards but also other animals that happen to come across them. Potter explains that there are many ways to work around the farmer-leopard problem but farmers are not always willing to listen.
For one, Anatolian sheep dogs prove very successful watchdogs. “A leopard won’t attack a herd of sheep with a big dog around,” says Potter. “And the dog thinks of itself as a sheep or a goat.” The team have also experimented with donkeys in sheep herds and this is something else that works well to deter leopards. Apparently the leopards do not attack if a donkey is around. Scent blocks and tin collars are other options when it comes to frightening off predators.
After the talks end, I slip on my costume and head to the swimming pond. The night is hot and the stars bright. The water is warm and I feel quite content floating in the pool with the silence around me and the stars above.