BUSHVELD MOBSTERS

Real-life gangs of the bush are every bit as strategic, calculating and ruthless as their human counterparts. African bushveld thugs combine for a specific purpose to either expand territory, steal food or overthrow social structures, operating under dubious means in the brutal animal kingdom.

DELINQUENT DECOMPOSERS

Sabi Sabi Dung Beetle

As the strongest insect on earth, the dung beetle is able to pull 1000 times its own body weight, equivalent to a person dragging six fully-loaded double decker buses. It is also the only known animal to orient itself using polarised moonlight and the Milky Way as a compass to find its way home at night. During a single night time outing, a dung beetle can bury dung 250 times heavier than itself. These robust insects are classified into four groups that either roll dung (telecoprids), buries dung (paracoprids), lazily dwell in dung (encdocoprids) or steal dung (kleptocoprids). The latter are clandestine Good Samaritans that appear to offer assistance to a struggling telecoprid to roll its dung over rocks and other obstacles in its path. However, as soon as the dung rolling beetle gets close enough to the robbers, they use brute force to overpower it and scurry off with the stolen goods.

BAD BADGERS

honey badger at sabi sabi

The reputation as the world’s most fearless animal belongs to the honey badger.  Up to a quarter of the honey badger’s omnivorous diet consists of venomous snakes, and while hunting for this source of protein, the honey badger will often sustain a deadly snake bite. As the venom seeps through its body, the honey badger slips into a coma for a couple of hours, only to awake and finish off the snake. The ferocious defense abilities of a honey badger, or ratel as they are also known, are witnessed when standing its ground against lion, hyena, wild dog and leopard. Skin as thick as armour (6 millimetres) is loosely connected to muscle, making it nearly impossible for a predator to get a grip on a honey badger as it escapes in a Houdini like act, turning itself around and counter-attacking the predator in whose jaws it has been trapped. Honey badgers derived their names from their love of bee honey and will sustain an onslaught from a swarm of bees, unaffected by their stings, as it feasts on its favourite snack.  Uncannily intelligent and one of only a few species known to be capable of using tools to hunt, the honey badger eats every part of its prey, including the bones.

BABOON GOON

sabi sabi safari scene

Chacma baboons can live up to 45 years in troops that vary between a few dozen to a few hundred. The Al Capones of the primate world thrive in a complex and unstable hierarchy, led by a dominant, aggressive male who is supported by less dominant, but mutually aggressive henchmen. These low-ranking males occasionally form coalitions with other partners to gang up against the dominant male, toppling the hierarchy and establishing a new social order, often committing infanticide in order to mate within its harem of females.

HOODLUM HYENAS

sabi sabi safari scene

The shrill cackle of a clan of hyena as they move in unison at full speed, leaves even the king of beasts cowering. Lions are naturally bigger and more powerful, but hyenas won’t shy away from an attack or stealing their food when the odds are in their favour. A coordinated onslaught, led by dominant female hyenas, is initiated by recruiting other members through loud and incessant vocalisations. Once numerous hyenas are present, a coalitionary attack ensues, overwhelming lions and driving them away from a recent kill, leaving the attackers to feast.

So the next time you are on safari, and our Sabi Sabi rangers and Shangaan trackers come across these species, know that these are some of the real mobsters that reign in the wild.


China’s Next Generation: Reconnecting, Inspiring, Protecting

A group of three students and their professors from the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University recently visited Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park as part of a campaign in which students utilize creative design skills to inspire change within their communities. The initiative, known as the “Xi” – meaning both rhino and cherish – campaign has been a part of the university’s formal curriculum for the past two years and is the outcome of a partnership between Peace Parks Foundation and Tongji University.

Each year, Peace Parks Foundation brings the top performing students to South Africa where they educated on the reality of the rhino poaching crisis through direct interaction with people who have been involved in rhino conservation for many years.

“This an opportunity for them to come to the South African bushveld and immerse themselves in the subject of rhino conservation. Their time here is spent gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of that which influences and informs some of the design activities that they are engaged in China,” says Brad Poole, Peace Parks’ Chief Operations Officer.

 

Chinese students in the African bush

 

Through workshops students heard personal accounts of the costs involved in anti-poaching operations, the sacrifices it demands and the rewards when animals are saved. In turn, the students shared a bit of Chinese conservation history and provided an in-depth overview of the research involved in creating their designs.

Jabulani Ngubane, Ezemvelo’s park manager for iSimangaliso Wetland Park, commented, “I was very happy to see people from China take the initiative to change perceptions, especially those of the youth, because if you want to make a real investment, that is where you start.”

 

Rhino at a rehabilitation centre

 

Solving the rhino crises requires multiple levels of intervention from boots on the ground, law enforcement strategies and demand management initiatives.

For Edward Goosen, Cluster Conservation Manager for the Mkhuzi section of the Isimangoliso Wetland Park, the experience of engaging with the students was memorable. He says, “At times you may feel that you are fighting this battle on your own. Coming out here and hearing other people’s perspectives and seeing how they are holistically addressing the problem is really encouraging.”

 

Dr Liu Jing and Prof Jan von Holstein with learners at a local school

 

A bookmark like none other

The class of 2018 created an array of innovative design concepts to convey the message of rhino protection that included a range of merchandise, educational games and interactive e-books, with one group even writing and recording a beautiful song to underscore an animated story on the issue.

The winning team this year created a beautiful reimagination of a bookmark for the modern world.

Design student Hao Siqu explains, “Our project looked at developing a range of bookmarks that people will find in bookstores. It has a pop-out panel which can be folded into a small rhino origami figurine. The figurine can then be scanned with a cell phone which will direct the user to a website containing rhino conservation information. The remaining part can be used as a beautiful bookmark and when placed correctly, it would seem as if a tiny rhino is peering from out of the book. People will also be able to donate towards the cause from the accompanying online social and interactive platform”.

 

Chinese students and professors during a visit to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Peace Parks Foundation

 

Reading physical books bought from bookstores rarely happens in western countries as people tend to order books online, or use e-readers. In China, however, reading books in cosy stores offer a relaxing haven from buzzing and over-crowded streets and malls.

It is still a large part of Chinese culture and with this modern rethink of the traditional bookmark design, it is hoped that a very wide audience will be reached and engaged.

 

A delegation from Tongji University with rhino protection experts in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

 

Reconnecting people with nature, reconnecting people with people

After listening to the students present this idea, Jeff Cooke head of KZN Wildlife’s Game Capture Unit, said, “I think the way they are tackling the problem is very innovative. It is remarkable how they are trying to get into the psyche of the Chinese people and their culture, how they’ve managed to tap into digital media, and how they can manipulate those processes to get their message across. We as game rangers are not always able to think along those lines, so it was interesting to see how they perceive the problem and the different solutions that they’ve come up with. Awareness is what it’s all about, and the long-term strategy that we must aim for is to change perceptions and make it socially less acceptable to consume rhino horn.”

This project is quickly gaining momentum. Mix Lab, which is a Tongji University-enterprise exchange and practice platform, brings together technological innovation, creative design and cultural strengths. The Lab identifies viable designs to produce and take to market, thereby increasing the awareness impact and reach of the projects. Reflecting on the road ahead, Dr Liu Jing, who heads up Mix Lab, said that her experiences during her visit here has inspired her to work even harder to secure a future for wild animals and the spaces they live in.

 

White rhino in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

 

Several universities from other large cities in China have approached the partners to launch similar projects in their institutions. Prof Cai Jun joined the group on their visit to South Africa and will be launching a similar project at Tsinghua University, Beijing later this month.

Doug Gillings, Manager of Peace Park Foundation’s Combating Wildlife Crime programme, shared, “The programme has grown so much; it started off with one university and now we’re expanding to others who are looking at how to include this into their formal curriculum, which is really significant. I think there is huge potential to partner with even more organisations in China to share the benefits we have in Africa and thereby reconnect them with nature.”

The Xi Campaign forms part of Peace Parks’ Rhino Protection Programme under which rhino horn demand management initiatives in key consumer countries is a primary focus.

 

 

 


The Maasai Mara Butterflies

The rolling savanna grass plains of the Maasai Mara may not automatically spring to mind as a hotspot for butterfly diversity; yet lepidopterists and amateur butterfly lovers alike are in for a treat when they stay at one of the Governors’ Camp Collection properties.

These four camps are all situated along the banks of the Mara River, amongst ancient riverine forest trees that provide the perfect habitat for a plethora of butterflies and moths. Vibrant flowers attract the huge swallowtails (Papilionidae), and rotting fruit, tree sap and animal dung act like magnets for a variety of brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae).

 

 

Delicate, inconspicuous glass flowers attract some of the smallest species of the ‘blues’ and ‘coppers’ family (Lycaenidae).

The ‘whites’ and ‘yellows’ (Pieridae) are often seen drifting past on the breeze, sometimes briefly gathering in their hundreds to “mud-puddle” at moist patches found on the cool forest floor where they, along with members of the other families, soak up essential nutrients and minerals found in the tropical soil.

 

 

The best time to witness this spectacle of butterflies is during the rainy season (April – June and October – November), specifically, after a rain shower once the sun is shining and the air is warming up.

It’s handy to wear muted-colored clothing and move quietly if you are hoping to photograph some of these animals.

 

 

There is a butterfly garden at Governors’ Camp which is the best place to photograph the swallowtails who gracefully flit between the blooms drinking the nectar. Some of the most common species seen here are the African, noble, green-banded, narrow blue-banded and Constantine’s swallowtails.

 

 

Some of the fast flying charaxes can often be found congregating around wounds in tree trunks, where sap oozes out. Look carefully for these for they are extremely camouflaged when they keep their wings closed!

The green-veined charaxes is lovely with luminous green veins running across the underside of it’s wings.

 

 

High ISO, high shutter speed and a wide open aperture are important when trying to capture these often overlooked animals on safari.

 

 

Photos By: Alisa Bowen


Swimming With Whale Sharks!

There are plenty of fish in the sea off the coast of Thanda Island in the Shungimbili Island Marine Reserve of Tanzania, but none as impressive to behold as the biggest fish of all: whale sharks. The gentle, slow-moving giants of the deep will soon be feeding just south of Thanda Island, offering guests the memorable opportunity to swim up close with the largest living nonmammalian vertebrates on the planet in the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Tanzania Luxury Safaris

The seas surrounding Thanda Island are filled with plentiful marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs. Indeed, depending upon the season, guests may be able to watch turtles nesting and their eggs hatching. Five species of marine turtles can be found off Tanzania including green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback, two of which – green and hawksbill – have recently returned to nest on Thanda Island.

Image result for thanda island turtle nesting

Meanwhile, the season to spot whale sharks is just about to begin. From October to March the chances for up-close encounters with the gentlest giant of the ocean will be extremely high. Their sheer size, calm nature, and tendency to swim at the surface at known sites make whale sharks a focal species for marine tourism in the area: They can be observed while snorkeling, scuba diving or viewed from Thanda’s luxury adventure vessel, ably commandeered by a trusted captain.

Image result for thanda island whale sharks

Depending on guests’ vantage point of choice, whale shark photographs can be uploaded to ecoocean.org and whaleshark.org, two photo identification sites that study the unique pattern or ‘fingerprint’ of each whale shark.  The information is used to learn more about their little-known feeding, migratory and breeding patterns. To retain memories of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Thanda Island marine guides are equipped with GoPro cameras to record guests’ time with the whale sharks.


Leopard Tracking

It was still dark out. I waited for my guests to join me for our first early morning cup of steaming coffee. Buffalo camp is so quiet this early in the morning, you can hear a pin drop. We were eager to begin the day with our first game drive. After delicious treats and snacks and the second cup of freshly brewed coffee for me, we were ready to set off at 6 am. As we boarded the vehicle the sun started to show the first signs of its golden rays, for a new day in the bush to begin. Exited guest with big expectations for the day, snuggled up on the back of the vehicle trying to escape the early morning chill with blankets and hot water bottles.

We set off looking for anything that nature would provide. That is what I love about game drives. You never know what you will find when out and about on the Kapama Reserve. With the crisp air and rising sun my tracker (Safary) yes his name is actually Safary, picked up on some fresh Leopard tracks. I gazed alongside the vehicle and make a quick judgment call.  I decide they are fresh enough to follow.  To make the drive a bit more interactive, at one point I stopped the vehicle, got out and took a couple of seconds to point out to my guests what we were looking at and what the fresh tracks looked like.  I explained to them how to identify the difference between Leopard and Lion track as well as the difference between cat and dog tracks as they can look pretty similar. Leopard tracks are similar to those of a Lion, however, they are smaller. The stride distance is about 1 m. As Leopards are solitary animals, usually there is only one set of tracks, unless a cub is with a mom, whereas with Lions, as they are very social cats, normally there is more than one set of tracks that can be found together.

With me back on the vehicle, fresh tracks at our disposal we started to pursue this amazing creature. The tracks headed straight down the road. Animals often traverse on the roads as it is easier and quicker to get from point A to B. We noticed that the general direction of the tracks was taking us straight to a watering hole. We approached the watering hole with anticipation, looking left and right eager for what we might find.  To our utter disappointment, we found nothing. I could hear a deep sigh from the back of the vehicle, clearly, my guests were disappointed.

I surveyed the land for a moment to rethink our plan and figure out where to go next. Suddenly something caught my eye in the distance. At first glance, I thought it was an impala. I was in no rush to approach it as they are plentiful especially this time of the year but as I was not 100% sure I decided to slowly move in that direction.

As I approached the area, something did not seem right. If it was an impala there would have been more in the vicinity. I once again stopped the vehicle to confirm what had in fact crossed the road. To my amazement as we stopped my eye caught the prize. In the top of a beautiful Marula tree there lay a beautiful leopard, just relaxing in the tree.

We sat and watched the leopard for a while, giving my guests the opportunity to take some beautiful photos. Not long after that the Leopard jumped down and made its way across the grass and disappeared

What a wonderful morning. From Safary picking up that first fresh tracks, to following it all the way to the watering hole. At first being highly disappointed, only to finish off with a magnificent sighting of this beautiful lying leopard.

Story and Photos by: Ranger Chris Reiners Buffalo Camp


The Little Things

We as Guides get Guests from all over the world and the one thing that we hear on a daily basis is a request to see the Big 5. However, although magnificent and amazing to see in their natural environment, sometimes it is just as exciting to move away from the Big 5 and focus on a few of the smaller things in nature.

Recently I had a couple from the U.S stay at Kapama River Lodge for 3 nights. I picked them up from the Hoedspruit/ Eastgate airport. This is always a great way to get to know each other a bit better. Questions I ask are: “Is this your first time to South Africa?”  or “Have you ever been on a safari before?” etc. Then I usually ask my guest if there is anything in particular that they would like to see during our game drives and day-after-day, to no surprise, I get a request for the Big 5. This is completely understandable and expected as most people venture all the way to South Africa to experience these magnificent creatures.

But on this particular day, I got the best surprise ever when the husband said, “Please, Just not the Big 5”. I stopped and asked why, eager to know why he was so adamant Elephant, Lion, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino were not on their bucket list.  He replied that at a lodge where they were prior to Kapama, the guide only concentrated on the Big 5 but didn’t stop at all for the smaller things. “We  have been on numerous Safaris in South Africa and have most definitely seen all of the Big 5. So please, on at least one game drive can we only concentrate on the smaller things.” He almost pleaded. I got so excited and immediately nodded in agreement. I knew I had a kindred spirit on the game vehicle, and that our time together would be something special.

That afternoon we left the comfort of River Lodge to begin our exploration of the marvels of the bushveld. We started off, not with a one of the Big 5, but rather one of the Little Five. We found a Leopard Tortoise slowly making its way along one of the roads. They get their name from the yellow and black spots on their shell and they are the world’s fourth largest tortoise species.

 

 

Although we did not spot them, the rest of the Little Five is made up of Red-billed Buffalo-weaver, The Elephant Shrew, the ant Lion and last but certainly not least the Rhino Beatle. They are so called as the male Rhino beetle has a signature horn on the top of its head. A Rhino beetle can also lift 850 times its own body weight!

As we moved on from the Leopard Tortoise, nature just kept on surprising us with snakes, birds, wildflowers, snails, mushrooms and so much more.

 

 

 

 

 

As we moved on from the Leopard Tortoise, nature just kept on surprising us with snakes, birds, wildflowers, snails, mushrooms and so much more. We ended the night off with a beautiful flap-necked chameleon. A few interesting facts about these interesting creatures:
–      They normally rest on weak hanging branches as heavier predators cannot balance on the branches
–      Their name comes from the flap at the back if its neck and helps with its camouflage
–      You will normally see them moving with staggered motions. This is to replicate wind blowing through trees

 

 

My guests and I agreed that our 3-hour game drive was not enough to appreciate the smaller things we had discovered and decided to do it again the following morning.

The point is that we always try to focus and spend lots of time, if not all our time, on finding and tracking the big and scary things out there, without realising that true beauty lies right in front of us. All we have to do is to take a breath of wilderness air, open our eyes and mind and let the bushveld tell us its stories.

 

Story  and photos by Ranger Rassie Jacobs River Lodge


Dozens of elephants killed near Botswana wildlife sanctuary

Carcases of nearly 90 elephants have been found near a famous wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, conservationists say.

Elephants Without Borders, which is conducting an aerial survey, said the scale of poaching deaths is the largest seen in Africa.

The spike coincides with Botswana’s anti-poaching unit being disarmed.

Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, but poachers have been breaching its border.

Some readers may find the image below distressing

The scientist carrying out the extensive wildlife survey said many of the 87 dead elephants were killed for their tusks just weeks ago – and that five white rhinos have been poached in three months.

“I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,” said Dr Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders.

“When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa.”

That census estimated a third of Africa’s elephants had been killed in the last decade and 60% of Tanzania’s elephants had been lost in five years.

Aerial view of a poached elephant in Botswana

 

Botswana has had a reputation for an unforgiving approach to poachers and had largely escaped the elephant losses seen elsewhere.

Despite a lack of fences on the international border, data from tracking collars showed elephants retreating from Angola, Namibia and Zambia and deciding to stay within the boundaries of Botswana where it was thought to be safe.

Incidents of poaching in the country were rare because of armed and well-managed anti-poaching units.

With 130,000 elephants, Botswana has been described as their last sanctuary in Africa as poaching for ivory continues to wipe out herds across the rest of the continent.

The first sign that was changing came two years ago when the BBC flew with Mr Chase close to the Namibian border and he discovered a string of elephant carcasses with their tusks removed for the first time.

But these latest killings have been found deep in Botswana – close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, which attracts tourists from around the world.

“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” said Mr Chase, who pointed to the disarmament of the country’s anti-poaching unit as a cause.

“The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world’s largest elephant population and it’s open season for poachers.

“Clearly we need to be doing more to stop the scale of what we are recording on our survey.”

Picture of Dr Mike Chase

The government disarmed its anti-poaching units in May – a month after President Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn into office.

The units have focussed much of their effort on the border regions, which have historically been more vulnerable.

A senior official in the president’s office, Carter Morupisi, told journalists in Botswana at the time that the “government has decided to withdraw military weapons and equipment from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks”, but he did not explain why.

Botswana’s 2018 Wildlife Aerial Survey is only half-way through and conservationists fear the final figure of poached elephants will be a lot higher.

The survey area is split into sections, or transepts, and the plane flies back and forth like a lawnmower cutting the grass – turning at each end to ensure nothing is missed.

“Fresh carcasses” are those lost within the last three months, but many of those recorded had been killed within the last few weeks.

Conservationists fear the scale of this new poaching problem is being ignored as it is bad for the country’s reputation.

“This requires urgent and immediate action by the Botswana government,” said Mr Chase.

“Botswana has always been at the forefront of conservation and it will require political will.

“Our new president must uphold Botswana’s legacy and tackle this problem quickly. Tourism is vitally important for our economy, jobs, as well as our international reputation, which is at stake here as being a safe stronghold for elephants.”

It has also not gone without notice, and blame, that Trump lifted the ban on hunters abilities to bring their “trophies” back into the country.