Gladiators of the Plains

It was a relaxing afternoon game drive. We took a slow cruise through the open plains enjoying the general game grazing, with the fantastic view of the Drakensberg Mountain range in the background. As the sun slowly made it’s decent, it signaled time for our regular sundowner stop for my Buffalo Camp guests to enjoy a few South African treats.

On our way to the middle of the plains, in order to get to the side we needed to be we ended up driving through a herd of Zebras. As we made our made, suddenly there was a commotion behind our game drive vehicle. Two male Zebras were having a go at each other. I turned the vehicle around for us to witness the strength of the “Gladiators of the Plains”. Even though this wasn’t a full on fight, they still put on a great show for us.

The testosterone was high between these two Zebra males and they were holding nothing back. They went full force at each other, biting each other’s legs, trying to get their opponent to fall down for an easy kick to the face. When the biting didn’t work they decided to show their real skills. Jumping up, standing only on their behind legs, bodies straight up in the air, they pushed and shoved each other back and forth.

They touched down for a second then began again with another round. Even in the air, they continued to bite each other’s face and neck. This continued for a while, chasing each other up and down the plains testing the strength and stamina of their worthy opponent.

Even though this was not a full on dual, it’s good for males to practice their fighting skills and technique as the day will come when they will need to challenge a stallion of a herd for a chance to start his own harem.  Harem consists of a male and a number of females. This is the prime cause of fighting between male Zebras, but not necessarily the only reason. Especially in times of drought with lack of water,  two dominant stallions will fight for the right over the waterhole making sure that his family has a better chance of survival.

This particular duel was not too serious and neither of them was seriously injured. Fights can become extremely dangerous and actually kill each other or cause serious injuries leaving them weakened and easy prey for predators. Conflicts like this can last from a couples of minutes to over an hour.

After a while of watching, we decided to move off a bit to the spot I had eyed out for our refreshments. We could still see them from our vantage point and their sparring match seemed far from over.  As we enjoyed our snacks and sundowners, the sun slowly descended on the duo as they tried to work things out, leaving us all with a wonderful story and memory of our Kapama game drive.

From small to the large animal, they will always fight for survival. Whether it’s for food, water, territory or a mating opportunity. The bush is definitely not for the weak. From sunrise to sunset, surviving the long night and not being eaten, always remains the challenge, for when predators waken from their slumber they are hungry and ready to pounce.

This is the African bush and only the strong will make it, unfortunately, this means a fight to survive.

Story and photos by: Ben Scheepers – Buffalo camp.       


Our Madikwe Cheetah!

The African Safari Co. team is at Madikwe Safari Lodge, in South Africa, and have had an incredible game experience in just the first 24 hours! From giraffic jams to an amazing rhino sighting with a young one, a beautiful young lioness and a parade of an elephant herd just outside the room, we ARE NOT disappointed.

Of all the wonderful things we’ve seen, the pair of large male cheetahs was perhaps the best. Not only are they incredible cats to come across, but at Madikwe in particular, they have been fought hard for and the efforts continue. Learn more about Madikwe’s cheetahs below. While the two females mentioned in this blog re-post unfortunately didn’t make it, three more females have been introduced in the past year and are doing wonderfully!! Now it’s up to them. Fingers crossed for some healthy cubs in the near future.

 

The 5 Cheetahs of Madikwe

Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animals. But what they have gained in speed, they have compromised in strength. They’re lighter and weaker, which does not stand in their favour when it comes to conflict with other carnivores such as lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs.

The 5 Cheetahs of Madikwe

This has led to the poor survival rate of cheetahs within Madikwe Game Reserve. The lions had successfully wiped out the cheetah population before 2 males were introduced to the reserve in 2012. The wild dogs then killed one of the males, but the other managed to survive.

 

The 5 Cheetahs of Madikwe

Early in 2013, a coalition of 4 brothers were brought in from the Eastern Cape, and to date they are thankfully doing very well. The reserve total is now up to 5. The 4 brothers are seen frequently by our guides, and are often seen on kills. The solitary male will not join the brothers as they are not related.

To expand the population, and to ensure the continued success of the cheetahs, the reserve introduced 2 females into the boma (a holding area before they are released onto the reserve).


IBM joins the anti-poaching efforts in Africa!

Rampant poaching in South Africa is threatening the extinction of rhinoceroses.

In response, rangers are putting IBM Watson IoT sensors on zebras and impalas — who run when threats are near — to help locate and capture poachers.

Francois Spruyt, Chairman Welgevonden Game Reserve

Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa features 37,000 hectares (the equivalent of just over 90 thousand acres) of diverse landscapes and geology, and is home to much of the African continent’s stunning wildlife. South Africa is also home to most of the world’s remaining rhinos.

At Welgevonden you will also find something which, at first glance, may seem a quite out of place. Words like IoT, cloud and predictive analytics are typically outsiders at a game reserve, but they belong in Welgevonden for a very good reason – each is part of our attempt to stay one step ahead of poachers and help save what’s left of our country’s dwindling rhino population.

Consider these numbers:

  • Over the past decade, more than 7,000 rhinos were killed across the African continent
  • In 2016, more than 1,000 were killed in South Africa alone
  • If this rate continues, some say, the rhino could become extinct in less than a decade

Recent statistics suggest that the increase in the rate of rhino poaching has stabilized, but the absolute number being killed is still dreadful. And amid increased collaboration between the SA government and the private sector to fight this war, this ‘stabilization’ has come at an outrageous cost to the country. And it is a war in very real terms – more heavily armed poachers that have to be confronted by more heavily armed anti-poaching units.

How the IoT can protect rhinos from poachers

For several years, we at Welgevonden have been working on smarter solutions to curtail this scourge. Together with our partners, we now believe that the fate of these rhinos may not rest on the presence of more guns, but on something far more powerful: data. That’s where IBM Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and other components become part of a winning formula.

In recent years, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Welgevonden conducted a study that opened many eyes to these new alternatives to protect our rhino friends. What the research found is that prey-animals react differently, depending on the type of threat they encounter, whether it’s coming from predators such as a lion or a human nearby, who might be a reserve employee, a tourist or a poacher.

This research fueled the idea of harnessing IBM Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics technologies to combat the poaching of endangered rhinos at Welgevonden. These new technologies are aimed at making poaching predictable and therefore nearly impossible – effectively replacing guns with IoT technology, predictive analytics and collars with embedded sensors that are placed on typical prey-animals, including zebra, wildebeest, eland and impala – but not the rhinos.

Following the sentinels

Rhinos are excluded to ensure that their precise whereabouts remain unknown. So how can these rhinos be protected if they are not being tracked? Rather than follow the rhino, all eyes are focused on observing how the prey-animals respond to disturbances, including the presence of potential poachers, versus a tourist or an employee traveling across the reserve in a vehicle. Through IBM’s IoT platform, teams monitor and collect sensor-information related to location, movement pattern, direction and average speed of travel of these animals; and are using this movement and other data to create rule-based patterns, or algorithms, built on the prey-animals’ response to perceived threats.

As a result, animals such as the Zebra become sentinels to their rhino brethren, and their response patterns trigger an early warning system that allows the reserve to proactively respond as soon as poachers are detected, long before any attack on a rhino might occur. This idea of a proactive, predictive system is something that existing technology-based solutions have been unable to provide, and for Welgevonden Game Reserve, it represents the next level of defence.

Based on early results, the IoT may be the answer to an age-old problem, one that could remove threats that have haunted rhinos for years. But it doesn’t end there. These same solutions will protect other African animals that are targeted by poachers, such as the African elephant, lion and other predators. It could also be used to help the plight of other animals threatened by poaching all over the globe.


Tourism Helps Boost “Baby Boom” in Mountain Gorillas!

Sourced from third-party site: AP News, written by Rodney Muhumuza (and AP video journalist Joshua Moturi in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda contributed)

Uganda has begun counting its population of critically endangered mountain gorillas amid confidence their numbers are steadily rising, boosting prospects for its tourism industry that relies heavily on the primates.

The last census in 2011 showed the East African country had 480 mountain gorillas in two protected areas, or about half of the world’s surviving population. The others are in neighbouring Rwanda and Congo’s forested mountain areas.

Since March a census team has been traversing Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, collecting the gorillas’ dung and examining their nests for hair samples and other clues. Their data, which will be subjected to genetic analysis in Europe, is far more reliable than a head count, wildlife officials said.

The census ends in mid-May and results are not expected for several months.

“We have some hope that we shall register a few more individuals because we feel that we have been doing some things right,” said Simplicious Gessa, a spokesman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority. “We have had a huge baby boom over the years in our habituated groups.”

The habituated gorillas – those comfortable in the presence of humans – in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and nearby Mgahinga National Park have become Uganda’s main tourist attraction. A gorilla tracking permit costs a tourist up to $600, and last year thousands paid for the opportunity to see the primates in their natural habitat.

The region’s mountain gorilla population dropped sharply in the past century because of poaching, illness and human encroachment. Mountain gorillas have been listed as critically endangered since 1996, although their numbers are now growing.

In the past few years some of Uganda’s gorillas died of natural causes, with some falling from trees and others killed in battles between males fighting for territory or dominance.

“We need to regularly take stock of them and knowing how many they are, that gives us an opportunity to come up with practical action plans for improved conservation of this mountain gorilla,” said John Justice Tibesigwa, a senior warden in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

In Rwanda, where tourism is the top foreign exchange earner, the country has prioritised the protection of its gorillas in a public way, even launching a naming ceremony for the baby primates.


MANY STRINGS TO THE HADZABE BOW

I’m a child of the eighties born into the western developed world and named after a ridiculous pop star with a regrettable haircut. This means that in my lifetime I will eat about two and a half tonnes of chicken, perhaps the same amount of beef (though hopefully less). I’ll drink around 15 thousand beers (that’s probably too modest, I’m British). I’ll brush my teeth with one hundred and fifty toothbrushes and I’ll sing horribly in about thirty thousand showers sending 2.6 million litres of water down a drain.

Njile, Gunga and Tabu are Hadzabe. This means they won’t.

My life allows me on occasion to wander way off the beaten path and I’ve shared in adventures and experiences that I would never have dreamed of at the cusp of my twenties in the UK. Wildlife, conservation, Africa’s wilderness and biodiversity represent not only the great love of my life but also my career, my dreams and aspirations.

Yet regardless of these robust green-leanings the fact remains that in my first year on the planet, my new-fangled disposable nappies alone created a greater carbon footprint than Njile will in his entire lifetime.

Perhaps it was the discomfort of this reality that made me nervous when first approaching Njile, Gunga and Tabu, asking them if they would spend two or three days with me, in their ancestral lands, teaching me how to make a Hadza bow and arrows from start to finish. I’ve been dreaming of learning bush-craft first hand from people that use it in their daily lives since I was a school boy. These three are rock stars when it comes to this kind of stuff and to be honest I think that’s why I felt bashful.

The Hadza are an indigenous ethnic group from North Central Tanzania, they speak with a captivating lilt and a percussive clicking tongue that I love. Though they bear several lifestyle similarities to the San and Khomani “bushman” tribes of southern Africa, there is no evidence that they are in any way related.

There are about one thousand three hundred Hadzabe in Tanzania and of these some seven hundred, Njile, Gunga and Tabu included, live an entirely traditional life. A purest, hunter-gatherer existence that paleoanthropologists agree has been practised by this tribe and their ancestors, in this very place, for tens of thousands of years. The Hadza land is just fifty kilometres from Olduvai Gorge, what we dramatically refer to as the “Cradle of Mankind”, it would be reasonable to consider it more their cradle than anyone else’s left on our planet.

My three companions took me to camp in a clearing within Comiphora woodland, up on the plateaux to the North West of Lake Eyasi. The spot was perfect, we had a bubbling stream behind us with crystal water, to keep the pathetic Englishman hydrated, and all the various plants I would use for the task at hand.

Njile showed me how to choose an ideal branch from a Grewia tree for the bow itself. He showed me how to roast, skin and straighten the arrows using my teeth as a vice. He showed me how to perfect the finish by rolling the arrow up and down my calf while running a blade along the shaft (this made me yelp a bit as it pulled all the hairs out of my left leg). He found me feathers from a Magpie Shrike to fletch the arrow and taught me how to pull and plat fibres from the branch of a Lanea tree to make the string, though they would have preferred to use tendon from a vanquished Zebra.

It took two and a half days and I’d never have come close to finishing without their constant help and guidance. It was fabulous.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story, I’ve waffled on a bit much here. When I finally got to shoot the thing at the trunk of an acacia I didn’t embarrass myself too much. In fact, I nailed it. I shot the sharpened stick into that hard stem from ten meters and felt like Robin Hood as I bellowed, “bloody hell this thing will put some holes in ya!”. My three companions laughed.

By Nic Kershaw with photographs by Jana Arnhold


Wild black rhinos to return to Chad

Sourced from third-party site: African Parks

Through rare institutional cross-collaboration, an initial consignment of up to six black rhinos are being translocated by air over 3,000 miles from South Africa to Zakouma National Park, a secure park in Chad managed by African Parks in partnership with the government since 2010. The announcement of this unprecedented international conservation initiative happened on Thursday, 3rd May, and is thanks to the collaboration of South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Chadian Government, conservation non-profit African Parks and South African National Parks (SANParks).

The project is being undertaken to aid the long-term survival of the species on the continent and to contribute to restoring biodiversity as a national asset for Chad. While the country’s last black rhino was recorded in 1972, over the past seven years African Parks has implemented extensive measures to practically eliminate poaching in Zakouma, making it possible to reintroduce this critically endangered species after almost half a century of its absence, establishing Chad as a new range state for the species.

The governments of South Africa and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2017 to enable the translocation of up to six black rhinos to Zakouma National Park in southern Chad with the aim of returning the species to the nation almost fifty years after its local extinction. Following two years of substantial planning to ensure the animals’ safety and well-being, on Thursday six wild black rhinos were moved from a holding facility in South Africa’s Eastern Cape to begin a 3,000-mile translocation by air to Zakouma. Following their arrival in the park, the rhinos will be released into specially built bomas (or enclosures) for a short period of time to enable close monitoring and acclimatisation before being released into a wider, intensively protected sanctuary.

One of the black rhinos in the holding boma

One of the black rhinos in the holding boma @ GovernmentZA/Twitter

The cross-continent translocation culminates in the return of rhinos to a country that is exercising a bold vision in securing its wildlife and natural landscapes, building a future in which biodiversity has a firm place in contributing to socio-economic growth for its people.

“We are resolved to create a secure and prosperous future for wildlife and people, so that generations of Chadians can experience the benefits of healthy and intact natural landscapes. It is a mark of the strength of our partnership with African Parks and the transformation of Zakouma in to a secure sanctuary that we are now able to bring rhinos back to Chad where they will receive enduring protection,” said Chad’s Ambassador to South Africa Sagour Youssouf Mahamat Itno. “Their reintroduction signifies an important advancement in the restoration of the park, furthering its potential as a conservation area to contribute through tourism to local economies and social development”.

Last year the Chadian Government signed an agreement with African Parks to expand their management mandate for Zakouma to include critical peripheral reserves and adjoining wildlife corridors, which was followed soon after by an agreement with African Parks for the management of the 40,000 km² Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve, a World Heritage Site in the north-east of the country. The conservation of these important areas is possible because of the significant support of the European Union.

The rhinos ready for relocation

The rhinos ready for their 3,000-mile translocation by air to Zakouma @ GovernmentZA/Twitter

“All too often, headlines on rhinos are about their demise as they teeter on the brink of extinction. However, today we are participating in an historic event and peering into a brighter future for this species which has persisted on this planet for millions of years,” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks.

He continues, saying: “Regional cooperation is critical if we are to give these iconic animals a future on this continent. Our collaboration with the Chadian and South African governments and SANParks gives us a unique opportunity to encourage population growth, expand rhino range, and contribute to restoring biodiversity in Chad. The extraordinary gains made in protecting and revitalising Zakouma result from our partnership with the Government of Chad and their commitment to conservation, enabling this profoundly important reintroduction to take place and providing a truly hopeful story for rhinos across Africa”.


One Lazy Leopard

I was on my way back from dropping some guests off at Eastgate airport, which is just a short drive away from Kapama Buffalo Camp.  I was met with a terrific sighting of a big male Leopard, sleeping quietly on a branch of a Marula tree. When I returned to Buffalo camp, I arranged with my guests to leave earlier than normal, to see if he was still sleeping in the same spot.

We nibbled on a few delicious snacks at high-tea and as 4 o’clock came around, we set off.  Unfortunately just as we set off I heard from a different guide that the Leopard had moved off, but that there was a female Leopard in the area as well. Knowing that there was a female close by, meant the male would not venture too far off and he would most probably try and find her.

So the cat and mouse game began! A great test of our tracking skills. When we arrived at the last seen spot of the male Leopard, we looked for any signs he might have left behind in order for us to get a direction of movement. We found some tracks moving in a westerly direction. Unfortunately for us, there are a variety of different roads to maneuverer  and it was a difficult decision to pick one. That is when the art of tracking comes into play! Tracking is not always purely about looking and following the tracks. There is so much more to it. Things like: Listening for sounds and alarm calls. The different kind of birds that can indicate an animal close by or understand the animal behaviour, or even placing yourself in the animal’s position to figure out where he would have disappeared to. These are all factors that you can use when searching for an animal in the African bushveld.

Knowing the reserve, I knew there was a nice small drainage line with a lot of shade and trees where Leopards have been known to hang out and keep cool from the hot sun. After a few rounds of stopping… listening… looking, stopping… listening…looking, eventually, we came across some fresh tracks heading straight into the drainage line. The tracks were too small to be the male Leopard, I had first seen on my way to Camp, it must have been the female. As we rounded the corner, the road split and I needed to make the right decision. Which way should I go?  With a decision made, we drove not even 200m along the road, when there, right before us was a small female Leopard sleeping inside the small of a tree, the branch just big enough for her to lie on.

What a view!  We had a perfect vantage point of her, in direct line of sight. She seemed so relaxed with us being there, not even lifting her head up to see what we were doing. This gave us all the perfect opportunity to take some amazing photos of her.

After a couple of minutes, she started to yawn. With cats, when they start to yawn it is the first sign they are going to get active, followed by stretching of the back and forelimbs. After all the yawning and stretching she sat up straight, giving us a perfect shot of her just before she jumped down and slowly walked away from us into the thick lush bush.

We left her in peace, with ample time to find other animals in the African bushveld before sunset. What an amazing game drive this was? Not just seeing a wonderful Leopard sighting, of her sleeping in a tree, but of the entire experience of tracking her down.

My guests loved the first-hand experience of an actual animal tracking, to be topped off with the reward of being able to find her.

 

Story and photos by: Ranger Ben Scheepers – Buffalo Camp


A Model Leopard

Written, and photographs, by Greg McCall-Peat

I believe that every safari-goers dream is to see a leopard when out on an African game drive – that sense of accomplishment when finding Africa’s most elusive big cat just cannot be beaten. The only thing that could potentially make it any better is when that elusive cat is so relaxed around the presence of the vehicles and people that it poses for photos in just about every angle that you could wish for!

This was the case a couple of weeks ago at Umlani Bushcamp in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa, when we found one of our resident female leopards (showing signs that she is suckling cubs) clearly on the hunt. It wasn’t long before she went up into a marula tree to get a better view of things, and this was when things became amazing for us onlookers.

Close up of a leopard sitting in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

As we were alone at the sighting, it made it possible for us to position our vehicle at any angle in order to get the best photo opportunities that the leopard presented us with. We really got to spend some quality time with her, which is something that doesn’t happen every day.

Leopard sitting in a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

Her focused stare only seemed to enhance her beauty – which is why they are probably one of the most photographed animals in Africa. Even in black and white, her markings were stark and striking.

Black and white photo of a leopard in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

At one point an approaching kudu bull caught her attention. Even though leopards eat a variety of different prey, for a female leopard like herself, an adult kudu bull is just too big for her to handle.

Leopard sitting in a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

It was a cloudy day so the white bright background created an amazing silhouette of her up in the tree.

Leopard silhouette in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

When the sound of impala rams rutting nearby made her glance in their direction I couldn’t help but feel like she really was just posing for photos.

Leopard sitting in a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

Eventually she locked onto a potential target, and the leopardess readied herself to descend the tree.

Leopard sitting in a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat

Just before she descended she gave a good stretch and then held the position as if she was holding a yoga pose – an almost comical scene!

After such an incredible sighting I often wonder what the animals we photograph really think. Is it a case of them not caring or not even really noticing our presence? Or do they put on a bit of a show for us? It’s a question we will never get answered, but whatever the case may be, one thing stands out for sure… leopards really are the models of the bush in our eyes.

Leopard stretching in a tree in Kruger National Park, South Africa

© Greg McCall-Peat