You enjoying it? Yes, so am I but certain events leave me ‘cold’. Call me an alpine atheist but stoic cross country ski-ing v. lunatic downhill boarders? Be serious.
Esoteric sports are much like the minority animals in the African bush: the players that never share the spotlight with the A-listers. A momentary glimpse of a bushbuck or a Narina trogon drogon at two miles may be etched indelibly into the itinerant archive but do they really compare with a cheetah in full flight?
Fortunately the Mara Conservancies have almost the only growing lion populations in Africa and it is they that get the podium love this week. Whether it is sleek and fast females slaloming through the oat grass towards their prey, or shaggy hipster sub adults getting some big air these are the species that you can stick in your half pipe and smoke.
There are precious and pious people and indeed camps who would try to preach otherwise, not me, not Kicheche and right now there is nowhere better to enjoy these feline disciplines than in these priceless Conservancy parcels, with downhill and cross country permitted on or off the piste.
By the way can anyone tell me an animal that reminds them of the glorified housework of curling? Didn’t think so.
Image: James Nampaso, photographer guide, Kicheche Bush Camp
Story and lion cub photos by: Head Ranger Francois van Rhyn – Southern Camp
Not too long ago, while out on a game drive, as we drove past the bird hide one of my guests pointed to something in the distance and asked: “ Francois, what is that?” A memorable smile crossed my face and I began to remember that wonderful story…
The morning started off like any other early morning game drive. The sun rising over the horizon, the open game drive vehicle, allowing the wind to blow through our hair, birds singing their morning song and the fresh smell of that clear air filling our lungs.
Soon enough my guests had settled into the drive and were looking left, and looking right, trying to identify and piece together what animal activity transpired the night before.
It had not been very long since we had set out from Kapama Southern Camp, we came across a very sad scene!
We happened to stumble upon an animal in deep distress. The poor thing found himself in a position no one would ever want to find themselves; He was busy drowning…
Assessing the situation for a few moments, I could come to only one conclusion, The tallest, darkest most matured Giraffe I have ever laid eyes on, must have gone down to this dried-up river bed to drink from the muddy water the rain provided the night before not knowing that such a natural act would lead him into such peril.
Giraffes are known for going days without drink water, they get most of their fluids from the fresh leaves at the tops of trees. Tall, curious and elegant! As good as their eyesight might be, no Giraffe could possibly have seen this ending coming.
It had been a fairly dry season and desperate for water, this Giraffe could clearly wait no more. This Dark, muddy and stinky water was too good to refuse! Was it really worth it Mr Giraffe?
As he went down to drink the dark smelly water, he must have lost his footing and slipped…falling hard in the sludgy mess of a mud pool and was unable to get back up. His head would have been the first thing to hit the water. Due to the murkiness of the drinking pool, he found himself completely stuck – and exposed to elements of the wild. It was a natural occurrence. We could do nothing but watch as the light of this magnificent and elegant giraffe’s last days drew closer and closer, until, with a final stifled laboured breath, … finally … quiet … peaceful. Death drew over the Giraffe like a blanket
It was a difficult moment for all of us. We felt frozen in our seats just staring at the mud pool, unable to utter a word.
But the story did not end there!
As sad as this encounter was, nature always has its own system of balance. The inevitable circle of life.
The next day, we returned to the scene to see what activity this tragic death might have conjured up. We were by no means disappointed. Over the next couple of days, we were presented with numerous activity around this unfortunate incidence. First up, as we approached the mud hole we spotted a few young lion cubs. We spend an hour or so just observing the interaction between the lion cubs (8 – 10 Months) as they battled it out to see who would get first dibs on the soft tender meat around the face? Isn’t it amazing how instinct guides them to these small wonders?
However, would you believe it, of all creatures great and small, the fish actually beat them to it and got to feast on the soft tender parts of the poor giraffe first? Yes, the catfish that were in that river when the water level was higher were forced to retreat underground due to the drought – once again another miraculous survival trait of nature. They received a second chance at life when water from the rains flooded the surface again. The fish could happily swim out and gorge themselves on the Giraffe corpse, with the drought long forgotten.
Later that evening on another game drive, when we passed by again for another assessment, we discovered that Hippos, to our surprise, showed up after dark and nibbled away on the unexpected feast. As Hippos are mainly herbivores, in dry conditions they are known for consuming meat as a protein boost.
But of all the animals we encountered flocking to the muddy carcass, day after day, I must say, watching the lion cubs intrigued me the most.
As the cubs battled to get on the bloated Giraffe; they could not help but get covered in mud. These young inexperienced cubs weren’t going to break through the tough giraffe skin that easily. They would return day after day. Each day they tried their luck, wasted their time and energy, endlessly trying to break trough that tough hide, but with no luck.
It took about 9 Days before there were only skin and bone that remained.
Between the fishes, the cubs, the hippos, vultures and the Hyena, they made light work of the 1200 kg Giraffe carcase.
As a guide, we get exposed to animal kills and carcases but this surely was one to remember.
I can’t drive past Mongoose dam without thinking of this Giraffe and his amazing story. He served a purpose even in death. Nature never seems to disappoint.
…So on the game drive that fine morning, when my guest pointed in the distance and asked:
Francois, what is that?…
I sadly told them it was a Giraffe skull, lying there almost like a monument, reminding us of the beauty behind nature and how this one animal kept so much of the reserve fed because he stopped for a drink of murky water!
Rest in peace, Mr Giraffe!
Arriving at Bush Lodge is akin to being welcomed into a luxurious, contemporary home in the heart of the African bushveld. An amalgamation of warm hospitality and an eclectic sense of style brings about a breath-taking expedition through one of the world’s premier safari destinations, South Africa.
When the Loon family, wanderlusters and visionaries Hilton and Jacqui, first created the concept of a “luxury home in the bush” almost 40 years ago, their dream was a sanctuary where families could spend their time relaxing, indulging and making life long memories in the tranquility of the bush.
Varied paintings, objet d’arts and artefacts, reflect the continent that has inspired them for almost 4 decades, with the inspiration stemming from their extensive travels and their passion for people, arts and culture. Through these travel adventures, Bush Lodge represents a veritable museum that displays and preserves a unique collection of styles and pays homage to the customs of Africa.
Emerald green, royal-coloured pantones and crackled gold leather adorn the Persian rugs and upholstered sofa’s. Black and white flooring, reminiscent of the colonial travellers of the 1900’s, underpins the vibrant mix of furnishings and plush fabrics.
The lodge remains unmistakably African with custom made wooden and leather furniture. An enormous thatched roof extends its cover over the “indoor/outdoor” dining area, huge viewing deck and safari lounge. Large ottomans, African stools, scatter cushions and wooden benches complete the picture in the chic safari lounge. The centrepiece chandelier, suspended from the beams of the viewing deck, is a fascinating mix of hand-woven, mismatched baskets which have been repurposed into lights.
All 25 luxury suites, including the Mandleve Deluxe Suite and the Mahlatini and Tumbela Luxury Villas, feature organic and sumptuous finishings, all with endless views of the natural surroundings. The spacious Luxury Villas feature a master bedroom with private dressing room and en-suite bedroom, a private pool, library/lounge and beautiful patio facing a waterhole. The Mandleve Deluxe Suite, with its luxurious interiors, is perfect for honeymooners.
Wilfred Mtshali, Executive Head Chef at Bush Lodge, is an outstanding chef from humble beginnings. He runs a programme for school leavers who show an interest in cookery, taking them under his wing and training them in the hope of furthering their careers in the hospitality industry. Over and above this, Chef Wilfred produces gourmet meals prepared to the highest standards with locally sourced, fresh ingredients. These culinary delights are of course paired with a range of craft beverages and South African boutique wines.
Children of all ages are most welcome at Bush Lodge, a rarity in the ultra-luxury game lodges of Africa. The EleFun Centre is a facility dedicated to children where they can enjoy environmentally themed activities, designed and supervised by qualified childcare professionals. The beautifully planned centre is strategically placed within the lodge environs, allowing parents to relax, knowing that their children are safe and happy.
With free time, parents can while away the afternoons with a rejuvenating and relaxing spa treatment. Experienced therapists at the Bush Lodge Amani Spaawaken the senses with infused aromatic oils, gently tending to strained and tired muscles. The soothing rustle of the Lowveld breeze, combined with earthy scents, create a haven of tranquillity.
A “luxury home in the bush” is what you’ll find when visiting Bush Lodge and our world class hospitality will make it hard to leave. Our new video will take you on a breath-taking expedition through Africa, and we look forward to welcoming you soon.
The hunt for Lions was on. Straight out the gate from South Africa’s Kapama’s Buffalo Camp we were on the look-out for any possible signs of Lions. I was sure to select the roads that had previously shown great potential for spotting Lion activity, hoping to please my guests. However, nothing is guaranteed in the African bushveld. After a few moments of driving, suddenly my tracker Sonnyboy slowly and deliberately, raised his hand from the front of the vehicle, motioning me to stop. This could only mean one thing.
He had spotted Lion tracks on the road.
Off we went, following the tracks, eager to reveal where to or on what adventure they would ultimately take us. The tracks led us in and out, this way and that. Eventually, we got a clearer indication of what direction the tracks were heading – and east it was!
While we following the easterly direction of the lion tracks, I could sense the anticipation building on the vehicle. My guests were getting rather excited and nervous soft whispers could be heard from behind me.
We slowly approached the area the tracks had lead us to. As we got nearer the scene revealed itself. Not just one, but several Lions graced our view. They were walking in the tree line just off the road we were on.
Suddenly their behaviour changed and our attention was pulled forward. The Lions spotted something moving in front of them. A small group of Kudus, completely unaware of the Lions heading in their direction. The one female Lion moved quickly out of our view making her way behind them, and the other female position herself flat on the ground, her back legs ready for a sprint. I told my guests we might see a Lion hunt and in one motion all cameras aimed forward.
Suddenly without any warning, the Kudus started to run in one direction. The one female Lion bolted towards them as if running for an Olympic Gold medal.
Animals were running all over the place, filling up the air with a dust storm. We tried to keep up with them. Then something caught my eye on the left. A young Kudu calf got separated from the rest of the group with all the commotion and confusion. But she was not alone. Two lions were on her tail running behind her. All we heard was a hard thump, like something hitting the ground, followed by a short deep bellow, then… silence… as if nothing had happened.
Two Lion cubs about 6 months old crossed the road in the direction from which the noise had come. We immediately made our way there. What success for the Lions. They had managed to catch the young Kudu calf. Without any hesitation, they started to feed in a chaotic manner. Each Lion for itself.
What an amazing experience this was. To witness a Lion hunt as well as watch them make the kill is extremely rare. This was by far one of my favourite sightings I have had as a ranger on Kapama and my first Lion kill. My guests, snapping away with their cameras had been exposed to such an incredible act of nature, with wonderful memories of Africa to take back home with them.
Not even 10 minutes had passed and the whole small Kudu had just about been completely consumed by the bigger Lions. The young Lion cubs had to fight, claw and growl their way into the feeding frenzy in order to secure their meal. Mommy Lion was not willing to share as she most probably had not eaten for a long time.
It just shows, you never know what will happen in the unpredictable African bushveld while on safari. From starting off just following tracks thinking we will get sleeping lions under a tree, only to be submerged in a truly incredible moment with a front row seat to nature in the act.
Story and lion photos by: Ranger Ben Scheepers – Buffalo camp.
At a press briefing in Johannesburg today (February 7), tourism heads of industry had a strong message that Cape Town is open for tourists.
The briefing was attended by SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona; Wesgro CEO, Tim Harris; Satsa CEO, David Frost; COO Tsogo Sun Hotels, Ravi Nadasen; and Hospitality Property Fund (HPF) CEO, Keith Randall, and was followed by a presentation and engagement with the tourism industry.
Ntshona voiced frustration at the message carried by global media about the drought situation and a simplistic view around Day Zero. While the situation is serious it is not unique and is being managed. To help fight perceptions, Ntshona will be going on a global roadshow to engage with trade to address confidence in the destination.
Harris echoed Ntshona’s sentiments, adding that, unfortunately, the ‘Day Zero’ campaign, which was aimed primarily at reducing residents’ water consumption had had a negative impact on the tourism perception and was causing worries about booking Cape Town. Residents make up 70% of the water usage in the city.
“The cost-benefit equation for Cape Town tourism during the drought is still overwhelmingly that it’s a benefit, even during the drought. International tourists only make up 1% of the population of Cape Town, however economically they pack a punch. They make a R40 billion (€2.7bn) economic contribution and support 300 000 jobs,” said Harris.
He also pointed out that many tourist destinations around Cape Town were not under the same restrictions as Cape Town. Places such as the Overberg region have very light water restrictions in place.
Harris is confident that Day Zero won’t be reached and ‘Plan A’ is that it won’t be reached, while also maintaining a high growth tourism environment. In the unlikely event that Day Zero is reached, it is likely that most tourists won’t be affected.
Most hotels will fall into Business Protection Zones (BPZ), to which the City of Cape Town will continue to supply water. While the exact BPZ areas have not been finalised they will include areas with the highest number of jobs.
Many hotels are being proactive about creating their own water supply alternatives. Nadasen outlined plans undertaken to implement a desalination plant to supply The Westin, The Cullinan and Waterfront hotels, removing them from the reliance on water from the City. The plant will produce 400 000 litres of water a day by the middle of April. This is one of many plans being implemented to augment the City’s water supply.
Randall outlined additional plans at other HPF hotels to further augment alternative water supplies and ensure continuity at hotels and the comfort of tourists.
Frost said tourists must feel they are not suffering for choosing Cape Town as a destination. When you come on holiday you are looking for comfort – that means a shower, being able to drink the water and to relax and have a swim – these are all still available in Cape Town.
The message from Team SA is clear – the situation is manageable, tourists are welcome and are a great benefit to the people of Cape Town, and that while tourists should be mindful of water usage, their holiday will still be comfortable.
Where can you experience views of the towering Mount Kilimanjaro, endless savannah brushed in greens and golds, flitting wildlife dodging trees and scrub in panicked escape from big predators and at night, the ominous glow of a leopard’s eyes in the still night? Well, ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya of course.
The efforts of pairing conservation with class, ol Donyo Lodge pays tribute to Kenya’s heritage of both nature and culture. A 275 000 acre land named the Mibirikani Group Lodge hosts the immaculate ol Donya Lodge, a space rented by the Great Plains Conservation from Kenya’s noble Maasai people, a tribute to the respect of culture, space and preserving the earth’s natural heritage. The Maasai are the gatekeepers of Kenya, a nation whose culture and traditions are so deeply enmeshed in occupying the Kenyan plains that we cannot understand one without the other.
Between the lines
Ol Donyo lies at the foot of the Chyulu hills, a middle ground between the famed Tsavo East and Amboseli National Park. Towering in the backdrop is Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in the whole of Africa and the third tallest mountain in the world. These snow-capped mountain brag of their size in the settling African sun, effecting shadow play across the horizon.
The ol Donyo Lodge offers guests a variety of unique villas interspersed between the characteristic Kenyan foliage. No two suites are the same, giving guests the option of tailoring their expectations to match the reality of their safari. A visit to this impressive site might beguile safari-goers into believing that they’re in a lush forest paradise rather than on the doorstep of the wilderness. Serene and impossibly central, ol Donyo is an accommodation hotspot.
Constructed from raw concrete brushed lava rock, stone and thatch, ol Donyo is committed to making the lodge as inconspicuous as possible, another way in which the respect for nature is maintained and placed above profit. This is an example of luxury with a conscience. Spend your stay taking a dip in the pool or staring into the unspoilt night sky where the stars hang like globes of sparkling light.
Freedom of movement
Wildlife are free to roam the plains unhindered and this natural interaction between species competing for their place as top dog in this untamed environment. Enjoy experienced game drives during daylight and at night; a photographers dream. The iconic image of a giraffe silhouetted against a burning sunset is yours for the taking.
Rejuvenate with a spa treatment, venture these lands on horseback or picnic in the bush; your experience is up to you. The only thing on your mind will be how affordable a five-star safari experience can be.
As ol Donyo is Maasai country, the opportunities to learn about this formidable group of people and their intriguing culture can be witnessed in person as these cattle farmers seek grazing lands for their cattle each dewy morning, while employing age old experience in avoiding top predators. Warriors prove their mettle by single-handedly outsmarting lions, using a simple spear, inherent wisdom and quick thinking.
Written by Andrew Hofmeyer
Imagine the possibility of walking with pangolins. Adrian Steirn’s recent photographic series The Pangolin Men captures a unique and exceptional scenario of beasts and men. The images are captivating. The skin of the minders glows as they walk alongside these armour-plated, cat-size mammals. It is intriguing to wake up and discover the possibility of something that you never knew existed. I scratched a little to find out more about these images, about pangolins and the Pangolin Men.
Pangolin: The Most Trafficked Mammal in the World
Let’s not beat around the bush. This diminutive mammal is under threat of extinction before most people even know it is in danger. For the pangolin this is the reality. There are eight species of pangolin, four in Asia and another four in Africa. The appetite of the Asian black market has seen millions of these mammals butchered for their meat and their scales. While the flesh is considered a delicacy, the scales – made of keratin – are used in a powdered form to treat anything from stomach cramps to impotency.
In June 2016 a shipment of 4 tonnes of pangolin scales was seized in Hong Kong. Pause for a second to process this figure which represents a conservative estimate of 10-20% of the actual trade. One shipment from one place. Not of heavy flesh and blood wriggling animal but dry, lifeless, nail-like scales. While a live pangolin, bones and all, can weigh between 2 and 35 kgs, the dry weight in scales is a fraction of this. 4 tonnes of confiscated scales represents between 1100 and 6600 wild animals. In Pangolin numbers this drop in an ocean of illegal trafficking represents the demise of a species.
The Tikki Hywood Trust
Lisa Hywood founded the Tikki Hywood Trust in 1994 in the memory of her father who she says “looked to the future with optimism”. It is this ethos that drives the Trust’s work, an ethos says Lisa, that has not changed in over 20 years.
The Trust has a three pronged approach, Conservation, Legislation and Education and they all have an important role to play. “It’s no good” says Lisa “if the law enforcement officers don’t know what the penalties are or the judges aren’t aware of the sentences”. Education for the Tikki Hywood Trust means a focus on ALL stake-holders, the public (especially children) and conservation personal as well as law enforcement from police officers to judges.
In addition to this the Trust focuses on changing legislation itself. Lisa pointed out that South Africa has the strongest legislation for pangolin trafficking. If caught in possession of a pangolin the fine in South Africa is a whopping US$ 694000 and 10 years imprisonment. However, she drove her point home by asking me if I knew how many convictions there had been? “None?” I ventured. “Exactly”. There is a massive disconnect between the laws, the judiciary, law enforcement and conservation. If all stake holders are not informed and aware then criminals and poachers simply fall through the cracks.
In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, the approach of educating all stakeholders has yielded tangible results. “We have 9 years on first offence, 11 years on second offence and a $5000 fine. In 2015, 47 pangolin poachers were sentenced to 9 years in jail”. Magistrate Tendai Mahwe said “This is a serious offence which is now prevalent and deterrent sentences are called for if pangolins are not to face extinction”. With sentences like this being passed it results in a substantial deterrent for would-be poachers.
Lisa is adamant that conservation is all about awareness. Knowing about the plight of pangolins, who to contact and what to do translates directly into saving pangolin lives across the globe. “Conservation is about all of us, not just one animal. We need all the animals”. In addition to this Lisa says that for her, conservation is a team effort. Enter the Pangolin Men and Adrian Steirn.
The Pangolin Men
“It was a moment where time stood still” says Lisa Hywood recalling her first encounter with a trafficked pangolin. “I received this foul smelling sack and inside was this heavy lump. When I opened it there was this one eye looking at me. It was the saddest most enduring eye that I have ever experienced. In that one look I felt that she understood me and I had no idea about her”.
This particular pangolin, a female who Lisa called Negomo, survived the early days of the Trust’s ignorance. Through working with her, Lisa realised that pangolins, like baby elephants, needed specialised one-on-one care and attention to successfully rehabilitate them and return them to the wild. “I would spend many many hours just foraging and walking and looking and watching and studying these animals to see if I could get an inner idea as to what we were missing, why were these animals so difficult to keep in captivity”. Lisa realised fairly quickly that their best chance of recovery and survival meant being in as natural an environment as possible.
“A pangolin will forage from anywhere between 3 to 4 plus hours” she says “so it is quite a labour intensive job”. Rescued pangolins are often extremely compromised, suffering from stress, malnutrition and dehydration. The pangolin minder accompanies the pangolin into the bush so that they can forage without being disturbed. A relationship naturally develops between the minders and the pangolins.
The Pangolin Men are employed by the Tikki Hywood Trust who screen and vet candidates. “It is a process that is fairly lengthy and stringent and we look for specific qualities in each individual”. Individuals are then trained in all things pangolin. Every day the pangolins are weighed, observations are recorded, the temperature, weather conditions and the movement of the pangolins. Lisa, resident zoologist Ellen Connelly and local and international vets are co-authoring papers about pangolins. The data collected is being used to make a real contribution to our knowledge and understanding of pangolin behaviour.
The work that the Pangolin Men do is fundamental to the lives of these animals. It is the relationship between these men and the pangolins that is so captivating. Today there are 20 of these Pangolin Men.
Collaboration is Key
For the last three years, the Tikki Hywood Trust has been working with Patrick Mavros Jewellers to create a range of pangolin inspired jewellery. Through this collaboration Adrian Steirn was invited to capture the images of these men as they walked with the pangolins.
Having a natural affinity with animals naturally lead Adrian to wildlife photography and today he travels around the world capturing rarely seen and exotic animals. On shooting the Pangolin Men Adrian says “It was amazing. I’ve been shooting in the bush for many years and I have never seen a pangolin in the wild. To go in there and have an opportunity to get the access to photograph those men and what they do every single day was truly something that I cherished”.
“I always wanted to tell stories that create positive change” says Adrian. To translate the world into a single image that conveys at a glance the importance of the subject matter is a huge challenge. “I wanted to ensure that people sat up and looked and watched and understood and incentivise people who may not be very green or conservation focussed to be enthralled by the beauty of the natural world and I guess, let art pull them into the space where they cared for the first time”.
The result is the series of photographs called the Pangolin Men which appeared on Steirn’s project “Beautiful News”. The photos were launched in London alongside the Patrick Mavros Jewellery collection and a percentage of proceeds from both collections will go directly to the Tikki Hywood Trust.
Looking to the Future with Optimism
Despite working with these creatures for over twenty years, Lisa says that the first time they made it into the news was 2015 and 2016. The focus is always on the flagship species. While this is important and needed it also leaves a whole host of animals in the blind-spot of mainstream media. The pangolin is one of these casualties, and bears the unfortunate title of the most trafficked animal in the world.
In October of 2016 at the CITES convention in Johannesburg, all eight pangolin species were bumped up into Appendix 1, meaning that all trade in the animals is prohibited by international law. I asked Lisa Hywood if she was pleased about this and was rather surprised and sobered at her response. “The fact that we are only doing this now means that we have already failed them”.
It is not all doom and gloom though and she continued to say that, as an African, she was incredibly proud to see the African delegates take responsibility and act unanimously in favour of protecting these animals. When I asked her what people in cities, at home, in other countries – people who are disconnected from the ‘wild’ in their day to day lives – can do to contribute towards the process of conservation, she replied without hesitation:
“wildlife touches each and every one of us, take responsibility”