Analysis Suggest Elephant Poaching On Decline

 

Elephant poaching rates in Africa are declining, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

The annual poaching mortality rate fell from a high of more than 10% in 2011 to less than 4% in 2017, but the researchers warned that current levels were still unsustainable and could spell trouble for the future of the animals on the continent.

An estimated 350,000 elephants remain in Africa, but 10,000 to 15,000 are killed by poachers every year.

The team, from the University of York, University of Freiburg and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, analysed data from 53 protected sites across 29 countries between 2002 and 2017.

They observed a decline in the annual poaching mortality rate – the percentage of elephants killed through poaching each year – and found it was linked with reduced demand for ivory across China that may be linked to a drop in the Chinese economy. The number began to fall before the introduction of a ban on ivory trade in the country in 2017, they said.

Differences in poaching between sites was found to be linked with levels of corruption and poverty.

“We are seeing a downturn in poaching, which is obviously positive news, but it is still above what we think is sustainable so the elephant populations are declining,” said Dr Colin Beale, co-author of the study from the University of York.

“The poaching rates seem to respond primarily to ivory prices in south-east Asia and we can’t hope to succeed without tackling demand in that region.”

The researchers called for continued investment in law enforcement to reduce poaching, alongside action to cut ivory demand and tackle corruption and poverty.

Severin Hauenstein, from the University of Freiburg, said: “This is a positive trend, but we should not see this as an end to the poaching crisis. After some changes in the political environment, the total number of illegally killed elephants in Africa seems to be falling but, to assess possible protection measures, we need to understand the local and global processes driving illegal elephant hunting.”


The Lilac Breasted Roller

The Roller family; Coraciidae, gets its name from the acrobatic aerial displays that these birds perform during courtship and territorial displays.

 In southern Africa there are five Roller species, and here at South Africa’s Kapama, in amongst our 350 bird species, we are lucky enough to get 4 of these, The Lilac-breasted Roller, the European Roller, the Purple Roller and the sort-after Broad-billed Roller. These are all equally beautiful birds, and luckily for us there are beautiful visual differences between them.

I’m going to focus on the lilac-breasted Roller. They are one of my many favorite birds because of their beautiful lilac patch on their breast and in flight they have unmistakable bright blue flight feathers. These birds in flight will make any birder or non-birding persons jaw drop. Both sexes look alike with the lilac-breasted Roller, they are the only species with a lilac throat patch and the distinctive bright blue belly and body.

 

 

Both sexes look alike with the lilac-breasted Roller, they are the only species with a lilac throat patch and the distinctive bright blue belly and body.

Their name comes from their unique flight displays they perform. They will perform a fast, shallow dive from a considerable height with a rocking and rolling motion and a distinctive high-pitched vocalization call. These displays are used to attract females for mating purposes as well as to defend territories and to chase threatening males away. These birds have been recorded to be monogamous, they have also been recorded to breed “on the wing” (in flight), so they mainly do these displays to advertise and defend territories.

 

 

Their feeding behavior is also unique, in the fact they use a “sit-and-wait” technique, this basically means they sit on a perch and wait for an insect to fly by and then they will dart down and catch it. They then return to the perch to devour their meal. One other typical aspect of their feeding behavior is to prey on insect and invertebrate species that are fleeing from bush fires.

These birds are commonly found in the Northern parts of Southern Africa, they are not threatened and will be found in open savanna plains and woodland areas.

 

 

Recently, while out on a game drive with guests from Kapama River Lodge, we were lucky enough to witness a flight display from a male lilac-breasted Roller, right in front of our vehicle. He then came over and perched right next to the vehicle and posed for us. To date, that was my best bird sighting ever. The bird even left a memento for us, a flight feather. I have it safely kept in my collection, and every time I see it, it brings back very fond memories of the amazing flight display I witnessed.

 

 

Story by River Lodge Ranger Brian and photos by – Mike Brown      


Amazing Safari Lodge Pools

Check out some of &Beyonds incredible African safari camp and lodge pools!

Certainly one of the golden rules as a child, and one that is guaranteed to put you in good stead for the summer holidays, is to always be nice to friends with a pool. If I think back to the long, carefree summers of my own childhood, this was definitely one of the age-old, unwritten rules of summer. Keep your enemies close and your pool-owning friends even closer. There wasn’t much that could tear us away from the water and our friends.

Yet as adults, many of us tend to grow out of our swimming pool obsession. Why though? Water does the body good and nothing beats the summer heat like a quick dip in a refreshing pool. Time spent in, or next to, the pool eases the mind, soothes the soul and gives us a healthy measure of vitamin D to boot. So if you don’t have access to a daily dose of vitamin ‘sea’, then go for the next best thing and soak up the glorious sunshine next to a picturesque pool.

We’ve taken our own childhood advice and continue to make friends with some of the best pool owners in the world. Here are 20 of the world’s best pools with a view… relax, soak up the remarkable scenery and let your troubles float away.

1. &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge, Ngala Private Game Reserve, South Africa

2. The Silo Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

3. &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namib Desert, Namibia

4. &Beyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

5. &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

6. &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Sightings Galore!

South Africa’s Tintswalo has always been famed for its lion sightings, but for the month of April it has been something special as we saw over 50 different lions in just two weeks!

One of the biggest surprises for us has been the arrival of five little bundles of joy from the Talamati pride. We are so privileged that the Talamati lionesses trust us enough to bring out the cubs at such a young age. Our guests have been watching them for hours, playing and tackling each other and getting to know their new world. The young Avoca males are doing an incredible job looking after these females, and we may soon have another set of cubs appearing near the lodge.

Love is certainly in the air when it comes to the big cats of the Manyeleti.

 

Mating leopards in Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge

 

The impressive S8 male leopard was seen mating with an unknown female in the south of the reserve. Nompethu female is showing signs of being pregnant again and we hope this amazing female has better luck this time with her litter of cubs.

Rolling on with the month of love, a pack of eight painted wolves (African wild dogs) were also seen in the south of the reserve and we had the privilege of witnessing the alpha pair mating. Mothers gestate their pups for around 90 days, so we hope that this pack will choose the Manyeleti again this year as their denning area. Exciting times ahead!

 

Painted wolves, African wild dogs in Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge

 

The cheetah sightings have been incredible lately with seven different individuals showing up and numerous sightings across the reserve. Three young sub-adults continue to be seen in the south of the reserve and are looking very confident in an area that is full of lions.

Two males have been seen regularly in the north of the reserve and have made a number of kills up on the open plains.

 

Cheetah in Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge

 

If you love elephants, Tintswalo Safari Lodge is the place to be at the moment. The lush grass and massive water supply are drawing elephants in from all over Kruger.

We are seeing massive herds in the area, and plenty of herds coming down to the dams to drink. During one morning drive, we counted 200 elephants!

 

Elephant in the water in Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge

 

The beloved Mbiri pride, our resident lions, are seen almost daily — all 12 members accounted for.

We watched in amazement one night when the pride took down a wildebeest right in front of the safari vehicle, and proceeded to feast on the animal. The sounds of their growls and roars right beside us were something to behold; and a reminder that the Manyeleti remains as wild as ever.

 

Lioness with carcass in Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge


The Scavengers!

Recently an old male Buffalo died in the middle of a muddy waterhole at South Africa’s Kapama Private Reserve. The cause of death was difficult to determine as there could have been numerous reasons. But one thing we could be certain of was that the carcass of the Buffalo would not go to waste. In nature, every little bit gets used.

We discovered the dead Buffalo during our afternoon safari game drive with our Buffalo Camp guests. It seemed no other animal had noticed it yet as the Buffalo carcass was in a very difficult spot in the middle of a muddy waterhole and really difficult to get to, unless you were happy to get wet and muddy. 

The next morning we decided to drive past the Buffalo carcass again just to see if there was any activity. As we approached we spotted a clan of Hyenas. They have an extremely good sense of smell and probably smelt the dead carcass. The spotted Hyena can detect carrion by smell, noise of other predators feeding on the carcass or even by observing Vultures descending on a carcass.  Its hearing is so incredible that they can pick up noises coming from predators killing or feeding on prey over a distance of up to 10km.

When we got closer we noticed about ten Hyenas had surrounded the carcass.

 

 

It was no longer in the middle of the muddy waterhole, but had been moved to the side. They dragged it there as this would have made it easier to feed on than where it was first discovered. We sat there and watched the hyenas eating on the carcass as they filled their already full bellies, as they must have been feeding for most of the night. Some of the hyenas already started to get to the bones.

One of the hyenas decided to have a piece of Buffalo rib. We could hear rib  bones being crunched into pieces with his strong jaws from where we were sitting on the vehicle. Hyenas are well known for chomping on bones. They are able to crush through bone with their powerful huge jaw muscles, which is then digested in their incredibly strong stomach acids.

 

 

Eventually the Hyenas had their fill and decided to move off as it got hotter. They tend to sleep during the day and become more active at night. With the spotted Hyenas gone the Vulture’s took their turn and swooped in to finish off the remains. There must have been over 50 Vultures that began descending on the leftovers.

Chaos reigned as the Vultures fought to get the best spot to feed, pushing each other out of the way to get further inside the Buffalo carcass. The Hyenas had ripped the tough skin of the Buffalo, making it easier for the Vultures to get inside. Vultures made quick work of the carcass, consuming the meat at an alarmingly fast rate not wanting to share with their neighbor.

 

 

Suddenly without warning the feeding frenzy ceased and all the vultures took flight as a small black backed Jackal come charging in. Considering the number of vultures that were feeding, this little Jackal was exceedingly confident. He lost no time chasing the vultures away, so that he could also get his fair share of the carcass. Jackals are omnivores and will eat anything that they can get, but a big dead Buffalo is too good of an opportunity to miss. After a while the vultures started to return, one after the other.

 

 

Did you know: when it comes to a Vulture group feeding around a carcass, they are called a wake, and when they are in flight formation, they are known as a kettle.

As their numbers grew once more, it became too overwhelming for the Jackal and he decided to move off. I explained to my guests that  by the end of the day, the only thing that would remain of the Buffalo carcass would be some skin and bones. 

Together in nature, Hyenas, Jackals and Vultures all play a huge part in the cleaning up process by eating all the unwanted rotten meat from carcasses so that diseases wont spread. Through such a collaborative feeding frenzy, nothing in nature goes to waste.  

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers  


An Amazing Sundowner!

Stopping for a sundowner drink in the middle of the South African bush while on safari,  can lead to unexpected visitors coming to join you. This is exactly what happened to me and a couple of guests not too long ago. We were in for the surprise of a lifetime.

We left Buffalo Camp in the afternoon to see what else we could find while out on safari on Kapama Private Game Reserve. The past few game drives we were fortunate enough to see most of the animals that Kapama has to offer, including the Big Five. With this drive being particularly quiet and only the sights and sounds of an array of colorful birds, we decided to go for a sundowner stop where we could enjoy a refreshing drink and a few delicious some snacks.

As we set up the drinks stop and viewed a beautiful sunset, we talked about the earlier morning sightings and what they still wanted to see while staying at Kapama. Just before we started to pack up my tracker – Vusi heard something. I passed him the light and he went off to investigate further as to what might have made the noticeable noise. With the biggest smile, I had ever seen on Vusi’s face, excitement bouncing off him, Vusi motioned for me to come over to where he had just been, and to bring our guests. It seemed we were in for a surprise that I never would have expected.

There it was between the grass, as relaxed as one can be, the most trafficked animal in Africa and a very rare animal to see in nature, the Pangolin.

Currently, It is so endangered that it is under the protection of international law.

 

Seeing this animal was one of the best moments in my life as we know how rare it is to spot such an endangered animal out in the wild. I explained to my guest just what a privilege it was to have spotted one. I ran back to the vehicle, grabbed my camera and took a few pictures to document the incredible experience. Vusi and I spent time with the guests and this most amazing animal.

The main reason why it is the most trafficked animal is that it is believed that parts of a Pangolins body possess spiritual and curative powers. The Pangolin is often used for traditional medicine and spiritual purposes as well as hunted and trafficked for their meat.

Pangolins are truly unique animals and anyone that is lucky enough to observe them in their natural environment will come to see that there are no other species quite like them in the animal kingdom.

 

 

Besides their uniqueness, they are characteristically shy, solitary and primarily nocturnal.

A few other interesting facts about pangolins are:

1.)    Pangolins roll up into an endearing, impregnable ball when threatened, protecting its feet, soft belly and interesting face. They also protect their young by curling up around them.

2.)    They are the world’s only truly scaly mammals. Covered in hundreds of individual scales comprised of keratin – similar to our hair or fingernails which continues to grow throughout their lives.

3.)    The pangolin has a strong and sticky tongue in place of teeth. It uses this tough to catch its food which is longer than its head and body when extended.

4.)    Pangolins are capable swimmers. Some pangolin species like the African ground pangolin are completely terrestrial, while others like the African tree pangolin are very good climbers, and use their claws  and tail to get the bark to get up trees

5.)    Mother pangolins keep their young down in burrows. They only start to be mobile when they old   enough to ride on their mom tails.

6.)    Their diets consist mainly of insects like ants and termites.

7.)    Adult pangolins are very solitary animals, almost like hermits. They prefer living a solitary life rather than in pairsor families.

What an amazing find and what a privilege to share such a great animal with guests while out on safari in the South African bush!

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Hancho Olivier


A Courageous Lion Cub

A true African drama has been playing itself out in South Africa’s Rietspruit Nature Reserve near the bushveld town of Hoedspruit and the Kruger National Park, and residents of Leadwood Big Game Estate (a private residential estate inside the reserve) have been on the edge of their seats, hoping that a tiny female cub will overcome enormous odds to survive.

Two lion cubs were recently born to lions introduced to Rietspruit Nature Reserve in June 2018, and the mother was doing a great job of hiding them from other pride members and from predators such as leopards, hyenas and pythons (as mother lions do for the first few months). BUT then the tiny female cub left her mother and brother to go walkabout with the three pride males who visited the den site for a few days. When the males left to go hunting the female cub followed them. She was only five weeks old at the time, and still totally dependent on her mother for milk.

After 10 days this tiny explorer was still hanging about with her giant male travel companions, and looking gaunt and weak. During that time, she had not been with her mother and so had no milk, and although she was seen at a giraffe carcass with the males it is unlikely that she ate any meat.

Lion cubs only start eating meat at about three months old, although there have been anecdotal reports of younger cubs nibbling on small quantities of meat. The tiny cub was seen drinking water on a few occasions.

Quite how she had survived to this point with no nutrition is a mystery. Considering that her constant desperate calls would attract hyenas and leopards, and her proximity to a giraffe carcass which was bound to attract hyenas, the odds were well and truly stacked against her. Hyenas and leopards regularly kill lion cubs.

The adult males were very attentive of her, often doubling back during their wanderings to make sure she was keeping up, but of course they could not provide her with the necessary nourishment. She was seen trying to suckle from the males, obviously to no avail.

 

The female cub tries to suckle from one of the male lions. Screenshot from video © PaintedDog.TV

 

In the meantime, the mother was seen moving her male cub between dens in the dense riverine thickets some distance from the female cub, as they do to keep the location a secret from other predators. This too was reducing the cub’s odds of survival – finding her mother being her only chance.

Following the lion cub during this time were film-making crew Brent Leo-Smith and Wium Dornbrack of Painted Dog TV, whose four videos of this saga appear at the end of this post. The videos tell the story as it unfolds, and make for compelling viewing. Brent, who is a safari guide and presenter for Painted Dog TV, was concerned about how gaunt the tiny cub had become, after so long without nutrition.

He had this to say: “At first we enjoyed observing and filming the cub as she followed the big guys around, and cuddled with them whenever they rested. This was a unique situation, and we enjoyed making the most of the opportunity. But after a while she became hungry and weak, and started calling for food, and even tried to feed from the males. We then became stressed about the situation, and documenting her probable death was not easy for Wium and I. It was really tough to be following the cub and watching the sad saga unfold, hearing her call desperately for food, and yet having to simply observe, record and not get involved.”

 

The female cub was extremely gaunt and malnourished © PaintedDog.TV (Screenshot from video)

 

After 10 days had passed, and with the weakening cub looking increasingly gaunt and desperate, the decision was made by Rietspruit Nature Reserve to intervene. The plan devised was to attempt to get the males and mother lion together, and so allow the female cub to once again join her mother.

Meat from a culled impala (this being a fenced reserve, where culling is necessary to prevent over-population) was used to create two pieces of bait – one for the mother and one for the males. The lions followed their respective baits, and met as planned, but in the ensuing frenzy the female was chased away by the males. While the meat was distracting the adult lions, Brent and Wium went back to the female cub that had got left behind. Thinking quickly, they devised a plan to catch the cub and move her closer to the den where her brother was in hiding. After receiving permission via mobile phone from reserve management for this spur-of-the-moment change of plan, Brent called to the cub, imitating a lion contact call.

 

The female cub approaches Brent who was imitating a lion contact call © PaintedDog.TV (Screenshot from video)

 

She approached cautiously out of the shrubs, and Brent threw a blanket over her, wrapped her up and placed her in a bucket usually used for dangerous snake relocations.

 

Brent with the female cub © PaintedDog.TV (Screenshot from video)

 

The intrepid film crew then dashed over to where the last known den site for the male cub was, and left the female in nearby shrubs. They then left the scene and went home for some much-needed sleep, hoping that the brave female cub would be re-united with her mother and brother, but fearing that the morning would bring bad news…

 

The last-know den site for the mother and two cubs © PaintedDog.TV (Screenshot from video)

 

Before first light they headed back to the den site, and were delighted to see the wandering female cub back with her mother and brother. The size difference between the two cubs was obvious, and it remains to be seen if the female can overcome 10 days of insufficient nourishment at such a young age.

After enjoying watching the three lions reunited, Brent and Wium left them to themselves.

 

Shortly after being reunited. The male cub (foreground) is noticeably larger than his malnourished sibling © PaintedDog.TV

 

Kevin Leo-Smith, a resident of Leadwood Big Game Estate and conservation manager of Rietspruit Game Reserve, had this to say: “Wild lion cubs have a high mortality rate, and we usually do not interfere with natural incidents such as this, because it is important that nature takes its course. This is how nature determines which individual animals survive the rigours of life in the bushveld, ensuring that the species as a whole benefits by way of natural selection. In this instance though, we decided to make a one-off exception, and authorised the moving of the female cub to within a close proximity of her mother. This was a unique situation, truly extraordinary, and I have not found anyone that has heard of a similar story.

“Big cat expert Dr. Luke Hunter was totally correct in his analysis that this entire saga was due to an adventurous cub – his main point being that lions have personality. This cub proves his point in so many ways.  I would like to thank to Brent and Wium for their bravery, common sense and dedication.”

 

The gaunt female cub shortly after being reunited with her mother © PaintedDog.TV