Since the inception of AfriCam Graham had wanted a truly mobile camera, called Virtual Game Drive, or VGD, that would be able to transmit images from the game-drive vehicles during game drives.

Basically the rig on the vehicles would be in the form of a regular camcorder with a control box that would convert the picture into a sound wave. This sound wave would then be sent back to the base station at Gowrie via two-way radio, reconverted back into a picture, and then sent out to San Francisco via Johannesburg and onto the internet. All of that, from image capture to transmission on the internet, happened with a mere time delay of less than a minute, so in effect live, or real, time.
With money coming in from the sale of company shares, this VGD became a reality. It was cutting edge technology for its time and, after months of trial and error, we got it to work. Initially we thought we could pop the camera into the hands of the ranger or tracker accompanying the guests and carry on from there. This was not to be, because we quickly realised that our guests were not getting the undivided attention of their guides. The problem was solved in the form of virtual game rangers. They were employees of AfriCam who would come and live at Djuma for six weeks at a time, hopping onto the drives with guests. Most of them were fabulous to have around, their love of the bush being foremost in their minds, and some even had a touch of technical know-how thrown in. In this regard they were most helpful in moving Skedonkie around, or repairing broken cables, etc. The problem was that this meant we always had people in our house, which, although fun for the most part, was quite exhausting in the long run. The inconvenience was sorted to some extent by moving them down to one of the old Gowrie Camp chalets, but, with all the builders’ rubble and the builders themselves on the Vuyatela construction site, it was not practical in the long term. We ended up by converting Charmian and Graham’s garden cottage into the VGD accommodation.
We evolved another extremely exciting camera, or rather, we took the technological guts out of Skedonkie and a new and improved trailer was converted to form what was to be called Wild Dog cam. Djuma Game Reserve was fortunate enough to have a pack of African Wild Dogs den and breed on our property for the two years prior this time. We started seeing signs that the dogs may return for a third season and this encouraged Graham to get things set up to film the activities around the den. Once again the camera rig was in a trailer form, but this time there was a hydraulic antenna that could be erected by a nifty foot-pump. Although the rig was about five kilometres away the day-time camera could be panned, tilted and zoomed to capture fantastic images. At night time a second camera with infra red capabilities captured any action that occurred. It was extremely important to be able to move the trailer into place without disturbing these highly endangered animals at such a sensitive time in their life cycle. Even more important we wanted to leave the camera there for a few months without altering the dogs’ behaviour. Jurie and I enjoyed having the ability to link the technology of internet cameras, record the fascinating daily activities of the animals at Djuma, and share the moments with people all over the globe. AfriCam was way beyond being an entertainment website, it was educational too.
Once the Wild Dog pack and alpha female had selected a termite hill to use as a den the AfriCam team took the trailer and headed out east to set up the rig. Less than a kilometre from the den site they performed a last and final test to make sure everything was working, lest something go wrong on site. Lo and behold, while grainy test images were being submitted back to my office where I was monitoring the progress, the unmistakable shapes of African Wild Dogs appeared on the screen. It was a superb coincidence that this pack of Wild Dogs happened to pass by close enough to the place the technicians had chosen to test the camera. This sighting confirmed that the pack was away from the den, allowing the technicians to move in and place the trailer where it was to stay for a couple of months, and document the Wild Dogs behaviour day in and day out. Soon after the camera was put into place, the alpha female produced a litter of twenty-two pups. It was fascinating watching the pups emerging from the den for the first time after weeks of being concealed beneath ground. The rest of the pack would return to the den several times a day and regurgitate meat after long hunting trips in the bush. If the mother accompanied the pack she would leave a subordinate female in charge of keeping an eye on the youngsters. We even watched a warthog showing interest in the burrow only to be chased off by one of the sentries. After dark we could observe the pack regrouping at the den and performing their intricate greeting and bonding ritual with one another.
A fabulous sequence of events, starting at Gowrie dam, took place early one morning. From my desk, in my office which is about five-hundred meters west of the dam, I saw on my monitor (and confirmed this by looking out the window), some of the adult dogs milling about, and next thing I saw was a splash in the water. I panned Gowrie cam in that direction and saw that the pack had chased an antelope into the water. I alerted the closest game-drive vehicle, which happened to have the VGD crew on board, who reached the scene as the dogs killed the buck, and captured it on camera. The dogs ate the meat rapidly and then started off towards the den at a fast pace. About twenty minutes later they arrived at the den to be greeted by the hungry pups and their mother. From that point we started filming the action from the trailer. We marvelled at the co-operation between pack members and how each member got their fair share of meat, all of which was so different from the pecking order observed at lion kills. With lions the male takes “the lion’s share” with the lionesses moving next and if they are lucky enough, the cubs will be allowed scraps after all the other pride members have had enough to eat.
By that stage I had little reason ever to leave my desk at all. I could be on cyber-safari all day long, doing my AfriCam job, watching all the cameras, and controlling Gowrie and Wild Dog cam, as well as conducting running dialogues in the chatroom and the Boma. This was when I became quite friendly with a regular visitor in the AfriCam chatroom, called Shelley. She lived in Washington DC, and after getting on rather well in our cyber world, she announced she was coming to South Africa to meet other AfriCammers in real life! I jumped at the chance to invite her to come and stay at Djuma – not as a guest at the lodges, but with Jurie and I at home. The weeks leading up to her visit were a bit nerve-racking as I doubted if it was the right thing to be inviting a virtual stranger into our home. However, I need not have worried, as we got along very well and had a great time together. The following events happened one afternoon after we had decided to sit at the Wild Dog den and watch the pack in real life. As is customary in the bush, a cooler box of refreshments – that day, lots of gin and tonic - is standard on any game drive, as one never knows how long one may be out there. Jurie, Shelley, myself and Wally, who was visiting from the Cape, set out towards the den. Hours of exciting dog-watching and several G&Ts later we decided to move along, mostly because we had to have much needed wees! We stopped on the wall of Buffelshoek dam for some quiet time to watch the sunset while we poured another drink.
When Shelley first arrived at Djuma I had explained the finer details of going to the loo in the bush. The most useful tip in my opinion was to go right behind the vehicle, for two reasons. The first: one was able to balance by holding onto the rear bull bar. The second: no one could see one, as one was in effect right beneath the rear game-viewing seat. If one tried to find a bush to squat behind, it was useless, because everyone could see you through the scrubby vegetation. OK, so there we were in this beautiful setting and I climbed off the vehicle and went to the rear of the vehicle, pulled down my jeans, and held onto the bull bar. By then the afternoon’s G&Ts had done their work, and I lost my balance – tumbling down the steep ten-meter embankment of the dam wall – thank goodness, in the opposite direction to the water. All I thought of while I was bare-butt to the world was that, if I kept really quite, I could climb back up to the top and no one would notice. However, this was not to be, because as soon as I realised I was not hurt and saw the humour in my predicament I burst out laughing. When I did try composing myself I saw Jurie, Wally and Shelley all looking on, laughing out loud!
Those were happy days at Djuma: lots happening and never a dull moment with all the fun and excitement around us. There were plenty of distractions created by AfriCam, all of which helped release the tension built up by the more serious work of building the new lodge and expanding our business.

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

Our African Way