There were far too many highlights during my three week stay at Paradise. One of the major events that left me with sleepless nights occurred two weeks into my stay. Spencer returned from one of the lodges clutching a box which he told me was my project for my final week, in his words I was to “keep it alive”. Inside the box was a cloth which I carefully unwrapped to find a tiny baby squirrel. Its eyes were barely open and it easily fitted into my hand when I made a loose fist. After a degree of “faffing” by the men, the sensible woman in camp (did I mention I was the only woman there at the time??) dismantled a biro and used the tube with thumb over the end to create suction to make a feeding device.
Unfortunately at the time the only thing we had suitable to feed him was a protein shake and ended up being the inspiration behind the squirrels name, Arnie, after ultimate muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully Arnie took to the strawberry flavoured protein shake and the new feeding device, although he expressed no opinion to this new name. For the next week I constantly had a squirrel attached to me, usually down my cleavage (well it was warm down there and meant my hands were free). In just a week Arnie flourished, he became hairy, especially his tail. He even started to eat mashed up bananas and he loved to be touched and would lift up his arm so you would scratch him in the right place. I was worried about what was going to happen to Arnie when I left, but the men about the camp assured me they would look after him and after watching them with him, I felt secure.
We had many close encounters with the wildlife during my stay; being approached by two male white rhino; watching a herd of 30-40 elephants come to the dam for a drink and play; seeing two male elephants fighting; occasionally being mock charged by various elephant who disagreed with having their photo taken; watch Spencer flee from the tracker seat at the front of the Landrover to the back after coming across a rather upset and trumpeting lone elephant at night (we did get close); have three male lions walk right next to us in what suddenly felt like an overly open and exposed game viewing Landrover.
We witnessed a male lion following a female lion one evening looking like they intended to go mate. We sat in camp with solifuges (sun spiders) and scorpions running around our feet and watched a large black mamba snake rear up out of the road as we drove past. We were stopped by a family of jackals and being amazed by the boldness of the juveniles who walked up to us to get a better look; seeing elegant giraffe stare at us through lone eyelashes and getting close to herds of buffalo, impala and zebra.
We had chances to glimpse hippos in the dams and river and caught a rare day sightings of a pair of civets and the list could go on and one.
There are many things that I will miss about Balule and Paradise Camp, that will forever stick in my mind such as hearing the leopards and lions calling whilst we sat around the camp fire, the spectacular storms, the millions of stars on a clear night, the wildlife and of course my baby squirrel. But what will really last a lifetime is the education provided by Spencer and his team and the dedication they offer to keeping wild areas wild, protecting the creatures that live there. Sadly man can destroy an area in a matter of days but to conserve it takes lifetimes. Thankfully there are people like Craig Spencer and his team doing such work. Thank you guys for an unforgettable three weeks.