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  Ellie's diaries from South Africa
Updated 20 May 2004, 13.23
Ellie with the rhinos
Newsround's Ellie went to South Africa to help set some rare Black rhinos free. They'd travelled all the way from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent.

Here she reports on what it was like.

Day 1: Sunday 22 February 2004

8pm: Just boarded the plane, ready to take off. I'm on the most ENORMOUS jumbo jet - there's an upstairs! I'm really impressed - I've never flown as far away before.

I just hope the 10 hours will fly by (no pun intended) before we arrive at Johannesburg, and I'll get some shut-eye. Also hope there's a good in-flight movie!

Day 2: Monday 23 February 2004

11am: Feels weird to think it's Monday morning and everyone will be starting the working week at Newsround.

I know this isn't a holiday though. Foreign work trips are often even harder work than being in the office - you have to work long hours and fit in a lot of filming.

There won't be much time for sight-seeing, but I'm hoping to get a look at Johannesburg before we leave for the farm where the rhinos are going to be looked after, tomorrow.

The flight was fine - I watched School of Rock (great) and even managed a few hours sleep.

2pm: Don't think we will see much of J'burg after all - we've met our crew, who are lovely, and they reckon it's too dangerous for us to go downtown. Apparently there's a lot of crime here.

So instead I'm taking advantage of an afternoon off to catch up on a bit of sleep, after that long plane ride.

Plus we have a very tough day to be lively for tomorrow - the rhinos are arriving at 5.15am and we want to be at the airport to film them touching down.

Day 3: Tuesday 24 February 2004

Midday: It feels like teatime, although it's barely lunchtime! I've been up for EIGHT hours - since 2am British time.

Had the most amazing day though. We welcomed the two rhinos - Tana and Kivu in at J'burg airport at 6pm - they got a bit het up when their crates were loaded onto a lorry ready to take them to their new home.

At one point Tana was repeatedly charging the front of the crate, which is only made of wood with a steel support, and the vet helpfully chose that moment to inform me she's more than capable of breaking out completely if she wants to... I kept my distance after that.

We're now on the way to the farm, where the rhinos will spend about six weeks in quarantine before being released into the wildlife reserve where they'll live.

The countryside here in South Africa is amazing, much greener than I thought, with lots of hills covered in shrubs.

We've seen herds of cows being walked along the verge and at one point had to stop off for a load of baboons on the road!

Amazing. I wonder how the rhinos will adjust to their new home.

Luckily the weather isn't too hot today, in fact it's grey and wet, much like what we left at Heathrow airport in London.

3pm: Just finished filming the rhinos arriving at the farm.

Wow. That was one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of my life - definitely not one I'll forget!

We're at the farm now, which is beautiful and absolutely huge. Kivu was put into her pen first from her travelling box. We all waited round the pen to see how she'd react to her new home.

She came storming out, grunting and snorting and promptly started charging towards us all. The fence physically shook as she hit it head-on over and over again.

Apart from her sheer strength, what also frightened me was her speed! She was like a boxer and a ballerina all rolled into one!

I kept thinking the fence would collapse at any moment and she'd be free to rampage all over us all. It really makes you respect nature when you see its force like that.

She eventually calmed down and Tana was less aggressive when she came out. I even managed a really nervous piece to camera in front of her pen.

We got loads of good footage anyway and it was a really successful day.

We then had a quick cup of coffee (no-one drinks tea here - I'm going nuts!) and then the farm manager took us for a quick drive around some of his 136 square miles of farm and wildlife reserve. What a place.

He has lions, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, antelope, buffalo, baboons, rhino and many, many more native animals living totally freely.

But they are protected because poaching is a huge problem here - certain animals, in particular rhino, are incredibly valuable and poachers will go to unbelievable lengths to get their horns.

The five owners, who we didn't meet, spend millions of pounds on two electrical fences that surround the park and guards sit for 24 hours a day at the two entrances.

The manager gave us a big talk about how important security is and said we are not to reveal the name or location of the farm.

About 30 minutes after we sent off a torrential thunderstorm made us turn back, but before that we did manage to see some amazing animals; buffalo, warthog (so sweet! They trot along like little piglets), baboons, antelope and huge white rhino, who are bigger, but less aggressive than their black cousins.

The latest two rhino to join here won't properly become wild for about two years, because they need to learn how to fend for themselves.

Day 4: Thursday 25 February 2004

11.30am: I didn't have time at all to write yesterday, because we were out on safari all day. It was fantastic.

It made me realise how vast this land is - to the animals it really must seem like they're in the wild. We drove for seven hours, and barely covered half the property.

We saw: giraffes, white rhino (I did a piece to camera on foot right near one!), loads of antelope and wildebeest, buffalo and even a huge snake that is apparently one of the most poisonous in the world.

Driving around was fantastic - it's not a public park, so we literally didn't see another soul all day. At times it was also a bit frightening, especially when we went further into the bush to look for a male black rhino who'd been spotted in the area.

I was anxious if we surprised him he would attack the car. Luckily we didn't see him, but the more we drove around, the more I realised I really needed to go to the loo!

Of course there aren't any ladies' toilets in the bush, so I had to go behind a tree. I was terrified the whole time that the black rhino would creep up on me.

It was a fascinating day anyway and to finish it off, although we were all exhausted, we went out for a pizza in the local town.

It's always good for everyone working on a TV programme to gather together after a long day's filming and have some food.

It helps everyone to relax and unwind if we can put work to one side and chat socially.

Day 5: Friday 26 February 2004

11.30am: We have just 'wrapped' our filming. That means the producer, who is in charge, says we've finished everything.

I thought I'd seen it all on this trip, but the best was last. This morning I went INTO a cage with two rare South China tigers.

They are only a year old, so not fully-grown and not quite confident enough to try and eat me!

There are only about 80 of these animals left, so it was a real privilege to meet these two. They are called Hope and Cathay and have been brought over to SA from a zoo in China to breed them and train them to live in the wild.

Then after a few years, they'll go back to their home country to live as wild tigers.

But as they are at the moment, it was safe for us to go into their pen in a truck, with their trainer who has also come over from China.

It was still pretty alarming though - they were really curious and kept coming right up to our truck! They are so beautiful - with gorgeous silky fur in stunning colours and huge big paws.

But they never let you forget they are hunters... they prowled and stalked all around the car and occasionally showed us their teeth, like my cat hissing at our neighbour's dog!

I took some great photos and we also got some fantastic footage for the programme.

I'm flying home tonight - pretty tired but after an incredible few days. SA has definitely been an unforgettable experience - I've seen and done things most people are never lucky enough to. Fantastic.


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