Turtle Safari

After recently studying about the Leather-back and Loggerhead turtles that nest off the shores of Sodwana Bay (an hours drive from Phinda Mountain Lodge) we headed out to witness first hand this once in a lifetime experience.

Led by seasoned ranger and Phinda Ecologist, Ross Goode and a few staff members we drove onto the beach at low tide at 22:00pm. We had to look for the distinct large tracks of the turtles heading up the sand dune to find a nesting site. And tonight we were in luck! The first set of tracks we came across were very wide, a Leatherback Turtle! They can grow to enormous sizes and the largest recorded female here so far has measured roughly 2 metres and 20 cm in length. The flipper span can be more than 2 metres wide.

We switched off the vehicle lights and stopped to listen. There was no sound. Ross, Matthew and I stalked up the dune, and stopped to listen with the turtle lying a few metres away. She had already dug a neat flask shaped hole and was staring to lay eggs. During this process the turtle will enter into a trance and this allows us to safely view her from the sides or behind without her even knowing that we were there. For research purposes we measured her length and width, checked for any tags. We also take DNA samples and leave a marker at the nest site so that after the incubation period of roughly 70 days we can come and watch the tiny hatchlings scurry across the beach to the safety of the water.

When she finished laying she began covering the nest. This massive turtle was exhausted, and after a few backward flipper sweeps she would pant and breathe, preparing for another attempt. Then when this was complete she sluggishly made her way into the warm Indian Ocean waters, possibly to return in 15 days to repeat the whole process again, laying a total of 1 000 eggs.

We had seen the one species and I was so confident that we were going to see the other. It was not more than 15 minutes and we came across the Loggerhead turtles tracks. I was ecstatic! And again we saw the egg laying process. The big difference in behaviour between the two species is that the Loggerhead can be very nervous upon moving up and down the beach and we took extra care not to over stress the female on her return trip to the ocean. We also managed to take wonderful pictures in the dark of the turtles and of them reaching the sea shore.

Due to our success we were finished at about 00:30am far earlier than the previous trips that had ended at about 4 o clock in the morning, the same time the rangers prepare to head out for the morning game drive!

Posted: Phinda by Ryan Archibald

Website: http://www.andbeyond.com

Turtle Safari

Turtle Safari

Turtle Safari

Turtle Safari

Turtle Safari