7 Facts About Giraffes

Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals and the largest ruminants on the planet. They’re also one of the most iconic animals in Africa!

Here are some interesting facts about them that you may not know:

1. Three decades ago, giraffe species in Africa numbered about 150,000 individuals across their range. Today that figure has dropped by about 40% to around 95,000 animals. The reasons for the decline are habitat loss and degradation, and poaching. Southern African populations appear fairly stable but habitat loss and the threat of inbreeding of smaller populations are real threats.

2. Giraffe are often seen as single animals or in loosely associated groups with frequent splitting and joining up occurring – a process known as fission-fusion.

3. People are often taken by surprise to see a giraffe lying down, although it is common behaviour while resting or sleeping. However, lying down can make a giraffe more susceptible to predation by lions and even a single lioness is capable of catching and killing an adult giraffe in this position.

4. Giraffe will feed on forage that is usually beyond the reach of other herbivores. This reduces the competition and stress on the local wildlife. With a tongue of up to 50cm in length, even branches that are well protected by thorns or spines are not impervious to the attention of these incredible creatures.

5. The ‘horns’ on a giraffe are more correctly known as ossicones – conical protrusions of bone that will grow throughout the life of a bull giraffe.

6. Giraffe have a wonderful (albeit ungainly) way of drinking water. Unfortunately, they are most vulnerable to predation in this position, and many bear the resulting scars of lion attacks on their backs and flanks.

7. The distinctive pattern on every giraffe has been used by researchers to identify individuals within a population. The pattern also provides excellent camouflage amongst the woodland habitat in which they usually occur, despite their size.

Written, and photographs, by Dylan Smith, Executive Head of Tswalu’s Dedeben Research Centre

Taking Flight!

It’s a great privilege for us to work and live in the bush with all the big and small miracles surrounding by on a daily basis. As someone who has worked in the African bush for over eight years, I often find myself taking our beautiful surroundings for granted. That is until I come across something so wonderful, it invigorates that appreciation once more.

Just the other day, as I was walking about Kapama River Lodge, I was lucky enough to discover a small and amazingly crafted nest that had been built by a Dark-capped Bulbul. It was not long after discovering this wonderful nest hat we noticed there were three small eggs inside. This Dark-Capped Bulbul was getting ready to experience motherhood and her perfectly weaved nest would be home for her little ones for two weeks at least. We left it alone and let nature take its course. Soon enough we could hear the chirping of the new hatchlings. It was wonderful to not only see them first hand, but also to follow the growth of the little ones as they became stronger and stronger.

The Dark-Capped Bulbul nests are cup-shaped and made out of roots, grass and twigs. They are generally placed among dense leaved in bushes or trees. Dark-Capped Bulbuls can be described as greyish brown above and whitish brown below with a distinctive dark head and point crest on top of the head. The Dark-Capped Bulbul is monogamous and will lay an average of three eggs. The female will incubate her eggs for about two weeks while the male brings back food and defends the nest. Once hatched it takes the chicks about two weeks to leave the nest although they usually stick close by to nesting tree for a while longer. They feed mainly on fruit, berries and seeds, but will also eat nectar, flower petals and small invertebrates like termites. Dark-capped bulbuls are mostly seen in pairs, singly or in small groups.

 It’s not often that we get to see something like this at such close range and we were lucky enough to experience this scene of nature right before our eyes with their mom close by. 

With over 350 different species of birds available on Kapama, you do not need to be an avid birder to appreciate and admire the beauty and wonder of the different birds that can be spotted on across this 15,000 Private Game Reserve. From the iconic sound of the African Fish Eagle, to the colourful Lilac Breasted Roller, to the small Dark-Capped Bulbul bird, Kapama has it all.

What bird is on your bucket list?

Story and photos by: Trichia Swanepoel – River Lodge          

Tanzania’s New & Invaluable Reserve!

Udzungwa red colobus © Andrew Marshall, wildlife



A rich African forest teeming with unique and endangered wildlife in Tanzania has finally been placed under protection, supported by World Land Trust and other partners.

The new Magombera Nature Reserve now protects 6,425 acres (2,600 hectares) of tropical forest and grassland, managed by the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG). Without acquiring this land and creating this reserve, this habitat was under threat from conversion to a sugar plantation.

Magombera Forest is internationally recognized for its diverse landscapes and unique wildlife. In addition to holding charismatic African megafauna such as African elephants and hippopotamus, it has also been identified as one of the top 20 Priority Primate Areas in Tanzania, and until now has been the only one without protected status. It is home to at least five primate species: Udzungwa red colobus (an endangered species which can only be found in this valley and the neighboring Udzungwa Mountains), Angolan black and white colobus, Sykes’s monkey, greater bushbaby and Udzungwa galago.


Magombera forest © Andrew Marshall


WLT’s Director of Conservation, Richard Cuthbert, said “We are proud to have been a part of this project, protecting a globally important forest remnant and ensuring the future of its unique wildlife. The botanical diversity of Magombera is particularly striking, with more than 500 plant species including a number of rare and endemic trees”.

In an ecological report from 2008, Dr Marshall predicted that the forest understorey would be gone by 2018 if the rates of logging of young, straight trees continued without intervention. The landscape had suffered drastic deforestation since the 1950s and some 988,420 acres (400,000 hectares) of this habitat in the surrounding Kilombero Valley had been lost, and Magombera Forest was all that remained.


Magombera chameleon © Andrew Marshall, wildlife


Having been closely involved in the establishment of the Udzungwa Forest Project (UFP), under UK conservation zoo Flamingo Land, TFCG, and the University of York, Dr Marshall said, “This wonderful news has followed more than 40 years of research and consultation. When I first began work in the forest 15 years ago it was clearly a biologically important place, but it rang with the sound of axes and machetes. Over the past few years the Udzungwa Forest Project has worked with local villages to find alternative sources for wood and has even managed to reduce the frequency of wildfires in Magombera, leading to thousands of small trees now growing back into the once empty forest understorey”.

Under the UFP, local communities have shown strong support for the conservation of Magombera Forest. In addition to the benefits such as regulating climate, preventing flooding, and maintaining soil fertility for crops, villagers will now benefit from entrance fees paid by tourists to visit the forest. A group of villagers also recently showed their support by travelling 40 km to protest to the district government against forest encroachment by a wealthy landowner.

Besides support from the local villages, this project has come together thanks to the collaboration of numerous organisations. TFCG was able to purchase 3,030 acres (1,227 hectares) of this reserve from a sugar company thanks to the joint support of World Land Trust (WLT), Flamingo Land, Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, and Rainforest Trust. The remaining 3,395 acres (1,374 hectares) already belong to the Tanzanian government and will now be protected as Magombera Nature Reserve, the highest level of protection available under the Tanzania Forest Service.


Mwanihana Peak from Magombera sugar plantation © Andrew Marshall


Press release by World Land Trust

Painted Wild Dogs of Luangwa Valley

Recent painted wolf – also known as the African wild dog – conservation success in the Luangwa Valley has it estimated to now have the largest population of painted wolves in the whole of Zambia.Despite being one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, painted wolves in and around the South Luangwa National Park have enjoyed several years of increasing numbers, and there are now estimated to be approximately 350 adults and yearlings living in the Luangwa Valley.

This is largely due to the collaborative efforts of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), and Conservation South Luangwa (CSL). Successfully increasing the painted wolf population in the Luangwa has required joint conservation endeavours to reduce the impacts of snaring, which has had devastating impacts on painted wolves in the past.


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia 

ZCP Ecologist and Graduate student Henry Mwape (L) takes measurements from an immobilized painted wolf with CSL-ZCP vet Dr. Mwamba Sichande as part of the collaborative work with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Conservation South Luangwa. Painted wolves easily moving over hundreds and even thousands of square kilometres of remote Luangwa Valley bush these collars and intensive field efforts have helped keep the painted wolves on the landscape, especially in and around South Luangwa. © Matt Becker

As a result of intense monitoring of approximately 150 to 180 wolves by ground-based field crews, aerial tracking and satellite-GPS collar technology, teams from DNPW, ZCP and CSL have been able to detect and treat snared wolves. The data provided by collared wolves is also used in anti-poaching patrols, which target snare removals in high snaring risk areas for wolves.

“We have seen pretty devastating impacts of snares on wild dogs over the years in the Luangwa,” said CSL CEO Rachel McRobb. “Until recently most of a pack or key individuals like an alpha could suddenly be gone as they get caught in a snare set, and the pack would dissolve.”


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia 

Dr. Mwamba Sichande (L) and Henry Mwape treat a painted wolf snared through the mouth © Fred Watson

While this population increase is encouraging news, the painted wolves still face an uncertain future, particularly outside the areas in the Luangwa where they are not intensively protected.

“Conservation successes are hard to achieve, and we cannot relax, as they can quickly be undone if we are not vigilant,” said ZCP Ecologist Thandiwe Mweetwa. “Nevertheless, we should celebrate this conservation success for Zambia and the region’s wild dogs.”


Wild dog conservation, tracking, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


With multiple safari camps in the South Luangwa National Park, Robin Pope Safaris actively supports the wonderful conservation efforts of the ZCP through a mandatory Conservation Fee levied on every bed night through their South Luangwa camps and by hosting their base camp at Nkwali Camp.

The Robin Pope Safaris guides also play a part in assisting the ZCP teams not only providing the ZCP information when an injured animal is spotted but also help with the man-power when needed.


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


During Robin Pope Safaris’ Carnivore Week in November, guests are given the opportunity to learn about and view carnivores as well as gain some exclusive insights into the ZCP under the guidance of project manager, Dr Matt Becker and his team. Furthermore, guests staying with Robin Pope Safaris in South Luangwa also indirectly help this great cause through the conservation and community funds paid during their stay.

A huge congratulations and thanks to all those involved in this project!


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


Many people refer to painted wolves as wild dogs, a term which is also used around the world to describe domesticated dogs that have gone feral, rather than to refer to indigenous species of the Canidae family (of which the painted wolf is a member). To fully understand this interesting topic, read ‘What’s in a name? Dogs or wolves, painted or wild’


With their small size, big eyes, and playful demeanour, baby animals are always fun to watch!

baby animals 3

With impala lambing season at an end, the bush is filled with young, thin-legged antelopes scrambling to keep up their mothers.

Several guides were lucky enough to view a family of bat-eared foxes on the plains with, again, 4 puppies. These pups were seen poking their noses out of the den in response to their mother’s call, or playing outside.

On one occasion, they were even spotted foraging at night with the adults, licking ants off the ground and digging for larvae.

Some of us have also been seeing four black-backed jackal puppies on the road that leads to the plains. They are very relaxed around vehicles, and display curiosity and playfulness.

baby animals 2

During one sighting I had a few days ago, we watched them even show aggression towards each other as they were fighting over an impala leg – even though they are siblings, their survival instinct is strong.

baby animals 4

Hippo, elephant, rhino and lion babies are also flourishing, and all this youthful energy has been rejuvenating for both Marataba’s animal and human inhabitants.

Words by: Helene Mertens
Photos by: Scott Fraser, Adriaan Mulder and Charlotte Arthun


About 8 months ago, South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve received a wonderful treat when two leopard cubs, a male and a female, were born on the reserve.

When leopard cubs are born in the African bush, they are extremely vulnerable. They are blind for the first week of their lives, and rely heavily on their mothers for protection and food.

Cubs will stay with the mother for up to two years, gaining the skills and experience they will need to be able to live alone.

Being a leopard cub in Madikwe can be challenging, as cubs share the area with many other large predators who are all competing for the same resources.

After a few months of the cubs being kept out of sight and away from danger, we started to spot the brother and sister duo on our safaris, frequently moving between their favorite hiding places.




One of their regular hangouts is a vacant aardvark burrow, where they enjoy playing hide and seek while escaping the heat during the day.

We all knew these cubs were special from a very young age. They seemed to be very relaxed and comfortable around vehicles even without their mother present.

The mother, who has hardly been seen and is extremely shy, seems to leave her cubs to their own devices. In reality, I’m sure she is watching over them from a distance! Her presence is only revealed when she leaves meals for them up in the trees.

The female cub is far more adventurous than her brother, who tends to be the lazier one. Even though they are quite young, the cubs have already matured so much and are becoming somewhat independent.

One of the cubs even made its first kill, managing to hunt a mongoose, and was clearly proud to bring it home to her mother that evening.

We are so lucky to watch these cubs grow up and develop their own personalities. Stay tuned as we continue to follow the cubs into adulthood.

Words By: William Knight
Photos By: Stephanie Hornsey