For a short while there was a second camera at Bush Lodge. This camera was placed at the dam just to the west of the lodge, I think with the intention of having a more natural-looking setting to which we pumped water.

Pumping water to the muddy patch proved, however, to be wasteful: the precious resource would just seep away into the ground. Nevertheless, we did manage to get images from this camera. One night, Jurie and I were up at the Red House while the guests were out on game drive, when we received a phone call from Los Angeles, USA. This was not too unusual, as every now and then a potential client or a tour operator would call us direct in connection with bookings. However, the owner of the voice on the end of the line was very excited: he could see a lion on the camera: he just had to phone us to let us know! Good grief, the day-to-day realities of AfriCam were coming home to us! While we had been carrying on with our lives we had caused someone to be excited enough to call strangers half way across the world to tell them about a lion in their backyard. We thanked him and dashed to the radio to call the sighting into our vehicles in the bush. One has to smile at the idea of being alerted from America to a lion sighting in Africa.
By now ‘Mobile Cam’ or, rather, ‘hard-to-move-cumbersome-pain-in-the-ass cam’ was ready to produce images for AfriCam. Not only was there a weighty little trailer filled with batteries, solar panels, the camera rig, and monitoring equipment, there was also a very heavy and very long antenna that had to be erected every time we reached a potential sighting. It would have been much easier had we been able to set up the system at base camp and drive straight into sightings. But over-hanging tree branches and bad bumpy roads made this an impossible dream. Other antennas, called repeaters, were set up in two locations on the reserve to make it possible to send images back to camp and not be limited to the bush nearby. The erecting of the first repeater on Dirk Becker’s property was hindered by a pride of lions which established themselves on the termite mound we also had chosen. The elevated position was a good lookout point for their hunts; it was also a perfect spot to erect an antenna. They refused to budge from their resting place. The waiting game started; as soon as they moved off, we got to work.
With the lodge staff occupied with their duties it was usually Jurie and I who were available to move the rig to sightings, which, more often than not, were lions on kills. That ‘content’ was always thrilling for the internet community, and lions could feed for several days if their quarry was large enough, but setting up the mobile cam in such a situation was difficult, and certainly very dangerous. There was a set of criteria imperative for the successful transmission and reception of images from a potential cam location, one being clear line of sight between the rig, the repeaters and the base station. To meet this criterion we were armed with a set of detailed contour maps of the region. Next, we needed a vehicle with a tow hitch. Jurie’s white Land Cruiser station wagon was usually available, and the rig was hooked up. Then we would have to plan how to drive into the spot without disturbing the animals, and without ‘parking ourselves in’ and so impeding a sneaky get-away. Then the really scary bit started. One had to get from the tow vehicle to the trailer, open the lids with the solar panels on the inside flaps, put the camera on a tripod and, worst task of all, pull up the immensely heavy antenna. Then the antenna had to be swivelled until it pointed in the right direction for receiving an image for the tiny black and white monitor we took with us to sightings. Once we were successful, which was rarely on first, second or third try, we then had to un-hitch the trailer and retreat from the location, all this without disturbing the animals. God forbid they should move away from in front of the camera! All well and good, except lions nearly always take exception to having people walking around near their dinner and, more often than not, don’t like sharing it with a big metal box on wheels with metal poles sticking out from it. Nevertheless, no amount of bitching and moaning on our part about the effort required for such an epic endeavour could diminish the thrill of watching the images updating live on the internet. And this was exciting for us, who lived right there in the bush. Imagine how someone, a continent away, felt having a lion kill beaming out at them from their computer monitors.
After several of these occasions, and even more disappointments, Jurie became quite skilled at getting the job done quickly and efficiently. On one occasion the rig was at Gowrie when we heard about a pack of African wild dogs resting up in the shade along the fire break between the farms Gowrie and Buffelshoek. Jurie and I looked at each other and just knew if we could get the rig into position without disturbing the pack, and get images of them onto the internet, it would be a personal triumph as well as a first-ever live footage of these endangered creatures. For the whole time we were setting up, less than twenty meters from the resting pack, the adrenalin was pumping. This time we were not fearing for our lives: the tension came from our trying to get the job done successfully while the pack stretched out relaxing, not a common sight for these usually athletic highly mobile species. We managed and, although not a long sighting, it was a great morale boost. Unfortunately we never saved any pictures from the internet of the event, but Jurie and I will never forget scurrying around so close to those magnificent animals and achieving what we set out to do.

Towards the end of 1998 AfriCam was growing in leaps and bounds. We created a chatroom dedicated to the site, and shortly had what could only be described as a cult following. Whereas the message board was somewhere to leave messages and check in later to follow threads of communication, the chatroom offered direct conversations with committed AfriCammers (a term created to describe the loyal participating community). Soon we added cameras at other locations: Orpen and Satara in the Kruger National Park, and one at Sabi Sabi, a private reserve in the southern Sabi Sand Wildtuin. In some ways this took a lot of the ‘content’ pressure off Djuma, but it increased the pressure on us to have better ‘content’ than the other cam sites, which meant that the mobile rig had to be moved frequently!

To read previous chapters of “Our African Way”, please click the following link:

Our African Way