World Giraffe Day 2019!

Giraffes were thought to be a common plains game, an iconic animal in Africa that was abundant throughout its range. Today, Giraffes are considered vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (estimated population of +-100 000 individuals) with some subspecies listed as endangered or critically endangered. World Giraffe Day is celebrated on the 21st of June each year in an attempt to spread awareness for these incredible and iconic animals.

Giraffes were previously thought to be one species with nine subspecies or races. Today, thanks to further DNA testing, there are a total of four species of giraffe consisting of five subspecies. They are as follows:

Masai Giraffe (found in Tanzania and central/southern Kenya)

Reticulated Giraffe (southern Somalia and Ethiopia and northern Kenya

Northern Giraffe

    • Nubian Giraffe (found in western Kenya and Ethiopia, northern Uganda and South Sudan)
    • Kordofan Giraffe (found western South Sudan, northern DRC, northern Cameroon and southern Chad)
    • West African Giraffe (found in Western Niger)

Southern Giraffe

The previous subspecies known as the Thornicroft’s Giraffe has been found to be the same as the Masai Giraffe and the Rothschild’s Giraffe is the same as the Nubian Giraffe.

In the majority of Southern Africa, and on Kapama Private Game Reserve, you will find the South African Giraffe. South African giraffe is doing very well, with their numbers on the rise. We are very fortunate, here at Kapama, to have a very healthy population of Giraffe that provides us with many great photographic opportunities.

A few interesting facts about Giraffe:

– A Giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground, so you will notice, it awkwardly spread its front legs or kneels to reach the ground for a drink of water

– Like human fingerprints, no two individual giraffes have exactly the same pattern of spots

– Giraffes only need about 5 to 30 minutes of sleep in a 24-hour period, normally taken in short naps of a few minutes at a time

– Giraffes spend most of their lives standing up; they even sleep and give birth standing up

– If nutrients are lacking in their daily diets, they will eat bone to get phosphorous and calcium their bodies require

I personally love Giraffe and love photographing them. So, in light of World Giraffe Day, I decided to share a collection of interesting, iconic and wonderful Giraffe moments.

 

Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger – Mike Brown   


Women Join the Borana Anti-Poaching Team!

Borana Conservancy has welcomed a new team of women who will play a vital role in supporting our conservation  efforts. We interviewed a few of these ladies for an insight into how and why they have decided to join Borana Conservancy. They join our staff as gate keepers, fence maintenance crews, radio operators and general security.

 

.jpg

 

“My name is Joyce, I am 22 years old and I am from Ethi and my favorite animal is an elephant.”

Ethi is a village to the South of Borana Conservancy. A large number of employees on Borana Conservancy have family in Ethi village, Borana has a 95% local employment rate across the entire conservancy. Joyce found out about female ranger recruitment via an advert at the village centre.

“I wanted to become a ranger to protect wild animals from poachers. I like wild animals and Borana is a conservancy where I can share their environment.”

When asked what the hardest part of recruitment was, Joyce simply answered “ha!”. Joyce had been through the recruitment process for the Kenya Defense Force but is glad to now be a female ranger on Borana Conservancy.

 

JPG

 

“My name is Elisabeth, I am 18 years old, I am from Ethi. I saw the advert for recruitment to become a female ranger when I was on my way to the market. My dream was to become a policewoman, now my dream is to become a ranger for Borana Conservancy, so that I can take care of the wild animals and serve the community of Ethi.”

“The most exciting part of my new job is my uniform, I have never had a uniform before, and I have a hat!”

When asked about the recruitment process Elisabeth seems to have taken it in her stride:
”I think the recruitment went well, I did not find the physical exercise challenging.”

The entirety of the security team on Borana are employed from surrounding communities.

The armed anti-poaching unit are registered as Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) and provide support for local communities which are often too remote for fast response from the Kenyan Police. The KPRs on Borana Conservancy deal with anything from domestic violence to livestock theft.

These women have taken their first step to becoming fully fledged wildlife rangers on Borana Conservancy.

 


There’s More To Hyenas!

Hyena cubs

 

One animal that Africa’s Sausage Tree Safari Camp has become synonymous with is the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). We’ve been lucky enough to have several dens in our traversing area here on the Balule Private Nature Reserve, and have been following one particular female for several years now – through four dennings. Her clan consists of five adults and several sub-adults and cubs, and we often pick up their tracks on our game drives, leading to some great sightings.

Hyena are not everyone’s favorite mammal, which is sad because we think they’re pretty amazing. Perhaps it’s because they look rather odd. With their front legs longer than their hinds legs, and that large and chunky look, they most certainly are not the best-looking mammals in the bush. Add to this the menacing “grin” and jaws that deliver one of the biggest bite forces in the animal kingdom and you have an animal that’s sometimes loathed rather than loved.

Hyena are generally portrayed as the “bad guys” of the bush – just think Shenzi in Disney’s Lion King! That bad reputation is completely undeserved. Far from being snide, sneaky, double crossing scavengers, they are in fact clever and successful predators with an amazingly complex and competitive social structure.

The largest and most widespread of Africa’s three species (the others being the brown and striped hyenas), spotted hyena clans are presided over by a matriarch or alpha female – usually the oldest and most experienced female member of the clan. In this matriarchal society, the females are larger than the males and dominate them physically, so that even the lowest ranked female will be dominant over the highest ranked male!

 

Hyena

 

Unlike other carnivorous mammals, spotted hyena cubs are born with their eyes open and with teeth, and will readily attack each other, often killing weaker cubs, especially in same-sexed litters. This behaviour is called neonatal siblicide and kills an estimated 25% of cubs in their first month.

The cubs grow strong quickly, thanks to milk which has extremely high fat and protein content, which they drink for up to 16 months. They can process solid food from three months of age.

Of course, the hyena’s success is dependent on the ongoing competition with their closest rival – the lion. These age-old enemies’ fates are interlinked because they occupy the same ecological niche and are in direct competition with one another, hunting the same prey species. They will also steal each other’s kills. In fact, research has shown that lions steal more from hyena than the other way around, dispelling a common belief that hyena are the “thieves” of the African wilderness. Hyenas often wait in the wings for lions to finish their meal before edging in to take what’s left, although if they have significant numerical advantage they may barge in earlier, to take the main course! Which is one of many reasons why all of us here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp love them, and love showing them to our guests.

Sausage Tree Safari Camp is an intimate, family-run luxury tented camp in the Balule region of Greater Kruger who’s proud to have been consistently rated No.1 in Balule by Tripadvisor. 

 

Spotted Hyena Den

 

 


Friends of the Badger

Did you know, Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa has over 350 species of birds? An absolute dream location for birding enthusiasts, or anyone that just loves the sights and sounds of nature. One bird that falls under this list is the Dark-chanting Goshawk. It is a medium sized raptor or bird of prey that is mainly found across sub-Saharan African.

These birds are fairly easy to identify as they are predominantly grey in color with bright orange legs and beak. There is one confusing species, the Pale-chanting Goshawk, but at Kapama we don’t need to worry too much about them as they are a rarity in our area.

Dark-chanting Goshawks are territorial nesting birds, which means the nests are constructed within a territory that is actively defended by the males. Both male and female play a role in the construction of the nest, which is a flat platform made from sticks and is then lined with spiderweb or other soft materials to add comfort and warmth to the new additions. Sometimes mud is also used to bind the sticks together. One to two eggs will be laid by the female and she is responsible for their incubation, while the males role is to provide her with food during this time.

 

 

The Dark-chanting Goshawk will feed on small mammals, birds, snakes, lizard and insects. They will hunt these creatures from a perch, which is mainly how we will spot them while on a safari. If you are lucky enough to spot one of these amazing birds, don’t only look at the bird, keep an eye out on the ground. The goshawk family has a unique symbiotic relationship with honey badgers or Southern ground-hornbills. They have been recorded to follow these two species while they are foraging for food. The goshawk will then sneakily swoop down and steal their meal. This is an example of a commensalism symbiotic relationship, which means one party benefits while the other is neither helped nor harmed in the process.

 

Recently I saw a few Dark-chanting Goshawks perching, waiting patiently for a meal to come past, but no luck in spotting the other party in the symbiotic relationship. I was, however, fortunate to see a juvenile Dark-chanting Goshawk on the ground, that was finishing up a small rodent snack. It was an interesting sighting, not only the feeding action, but the fact that the young bird had me stumped for a while in terms of identification. After the snack was complete the bird scurried along the ground before it took flight, and that was the moment when we could 98% positively identify it as a Dark-chanting Goshawk because of the distinctive orange legs. To make 100% sure of our decision, I then played the vocalization call of the dark-chanting Goshawk, to which it responded. Everyone, even the folks that previously had no interest in any feathered creatures, as well as myself and my tracker were extremely happy that we got a positive identification on an incredible sighting of this young bird devouring a small rodent.

 

 

So, if you lucky enough to spot this incredible bird you might be in for an unexpected surprise of an incredible sighting of either a honey badger or a ground-hornbill.

 

 

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


Kiss of Death

They are fast, large, agile snakes, highly venomous and very aggressive when threatened. This is not a snake you want to upset! They are the largest venomous snake in Africa and are blamed for numerous deaths. Any guesses what this snake might be?

 Another hint…They are actually dark olive to greyish brown in color. They get the name from the blue-black of the inside of their mouths which they display when threatened. If you guessed black mamba, you are correct.

You must be wondering why I chose to elaborate more about a snake. Well, it’s actually very simple. This was a very special sighting for me and my River Lodge guests,  as I had never seen one in the wild before. This beautiful snake was very relaxed and was laying in the road reaching a length of just less than 2m. This is still a small specimen, as the black mamba can reach lengths of up to 4m. That is a very big snake, when you compare it to the average human height of about 1.6m.

We viewed this snake for a good few minutes. You could see how the tongue slowly came out of the mouth, picking up pheromones. This could have been a male that was seeing if there were any females in the area. The males will engage in combat, twisting their bodies and necks around each other, trying to push the competitor to the ground. After mating the female will lay clutches of eggs of 6 -17 eggs. After some photos were taken the snake decided it was time to say his goodbyes and headed off into the bush.

 

 

They are mainly terrestrial, but can often move off into the bushes and shrubs. This is exactly what this individual snake did. They often come to open areas like roads to bask in the sun, as reptiles need sunlight to become active.

They are active foragers and will feed on any suitably sized mammals like squirrels, rodents and other small mammals. You can also find these snakes in a wide variety of habitats like forest, bushveld, savanna, and selected rocky areas that offer suitable retreat sites.

 

 

The black mamba is shy and will almost always seek to escape when confronted. When they are however concerned they will raise their heads, sometimes with two thirds of their bodies off the ground, spread their cobra-like neck-flap, and open their mouth to show you the blackness, then proceed to hiss. If the attacker persists, the mamba will strike, not once, but repeatedly, injecting potent neurotoxic venom.

The symptoms of the bite rapidly increase, beginning with excessive sweating proceeding to paralysis and respiratory failure, sometimes within an hour. Urgent hospitalization is essential. There is a polyvalent antivenom available, but the symptoms must be correctly identified before treatment can start. Unfortunately, the antivenom is not available in the rural parts of Africa, and this is usually where most of the bites occur

 

 

Even though they are very deadly, they still have a very special place in nature and in my heart.

Story by River Lodge Ranger Lisa and photos by – Mike Brown & Lisa    


Meet Ezulwini

Since first being spotted in the Timbavati way back at the start of the millennium, the huge tusker known as Ezulwini has become legendary, and very much part of the landscape here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp on the Balule Private Nature Reserve.

We’ve had regular sightings of this magnificent elephant bull over the years, and some extraordinary close encounters, the most recent of which was captured on video by guide Matthew Sussens and is shared below.

Simply put, Ezulwini lives up to his name, which means “from heaven” in the Zulu vernacular. He’s a true gentle giant and seems somehow drawn to people, almost taking pleasure from being with them.

 

Tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

As with all elephant bulls, Ezulwini has an enormous home range and is prone to wandering, most often alone, but sometimes in the company of younger bulls or shadowing breeding herds. This movement can cover hundreds of kilometres and some have even been tracked on journeys of thousands of kilometres lasting years. This tendency to explore highlights the importance of the Greater Kruger initiative and the removing of fences between the Kruger National Park and neighbouring reserves like Balule, expanding the home range of our incredible elephant population and creating space for this natural movement and roaming.

What sets Ezulwini apart from other elephant bulls in the area, apart from his impressive ivory, is his extraordinarily gentle demeanour which apparently persists even when he is in musth.

Musth is a state of heightened sexual activity characterized by often highly aggressive behavor, the streaking of temporin from the temporal glands and a constant dribble of urine that often stains the hind legs a pale green and smells, well, “musthy”!

During musth testosterone levels in elephant bulls can be up to six times greater than normal, so the accepted rule is to avoid musth bulls at all costs. Except that Ezulwini has evidently not read this memo and somehow manages to stay exceptionally chilled and relaxed in spite of the hormones raging through him during this time.

 

Black and white image of tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

 

Indeed, Ezulwini is the epitome of Zen, making him an absolute delight to come across on game drives and even on walks. When he is in our area and we find him and position ourselves at a respectful distance, he very often chooses to approach the game viewer and pass by alongside, often with millimetres to spare!

Being so at ease in the company of humans is a double-edged sword for elephants like Ezulwini, as they obviously make easy targets for poachers. Africa is currently losing up to 100 elephants a day – that’s one every 15 minutes – to ivory poaching and our big tuskers are under enormous threat as a result.

Luckily, with his huge home range across most of the Greater Kruger area combined with the size of the Balule Private Nature Reserve (around 400 km²) and the constant presence of humans in this area, the threat to Ezulwini is minimized.

It’s sad that demand for ivory has created such a crisis for these magnificent animals. Elephant tusks are actually a single pair of upper incisors that continue to grow throughout an elephant’s life. In Africa’s elephants, both bulls and cows grow tusks, whereas in the Asian species only males have tusks. While they never stop growing, the growth rate of tusks slows as elephants get older, meaning that the great tuskers are also among the oldest of their kind.

Ezulwini is in his prime and is estimated to be around 45 to 50 years old. Elephants live to as old as 70 so with luck we’ll continue to see and interact with this magnificent bull for some years to come!

WATCH as Ezulwini casually makes his way past a game drive vehicle (filmed by guide Matthew Sussens):

 

Since first being spotted in the Timbavati way back at the start of the millennium, the huge tusker known as Ezulwini has become legendary, and very much part of the landscape here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp on the Balule Private Nature Reserve.

We’ve had regular sightings of this magnificent elephant bull over the years, and some extraordinary close encounters, the most recent of which was captured on video by guide Matthew Sussens and is shared below.

Simply put, Ezulwini lives up to his name, which means “from heaven” in the Zulu vernacular. He’s a true gentle giant and seems somehow drawn to people, almost taking pleasure from being with them.

Tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

© Sausage Tree Safari Camp

As with all elephant bulls, Ezulwini has an enormous home range and is prone to wandering, most often alone, but sometimes in the company of younger bulls or shadowing breeding herds. This movement can cover hundreds of kilometres and some have even been tracked on journeys of thousands of kilometres lasting years. This tendency to explore highlights the importance of the Greater Kruger initiative and the removing of fences between the Kruger National Park and neighbouring reserves like Balule, expanding the home range of our incredible elephant population and creating space for this natural movement and roaming.

What sets Ezulwini apart from other elephant bulls in the area, apart from his impressive ivory, is his extraordinarily gentle demeanour which apparently persists even when he is in musth.

Musth is a state of heightened sexual activity characterised by often highly aggressive behaviour, the streaking of temporin from the temporal glands and a constant dribble of urine that often stains the hind legs a pale green and smells, well, “musthy”!

During musth testosterone levels in elephant bulls can be up to six times greater than normal, so the accepted rule is to avoid musth bulls at all costs. Except that Ezulwini has evidently not read this memo and somehow manages to stay exceptionally chilled and relaxed in spite of the hormones raging through him during this time.

Black and white image of tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

© Sausage Tree Safari Camp

Indeed, Ezulwini is the epitome of Zen, making him an absolute delight to come across on game drives and even on walks. When he is in our area and we find him and position ourselves at a respectful distance, he very often chooses to approach the game viewer and pass by alongside, often with millimetres to spare!

Being so at ease in the company of humans is a double-edged sword for elephants like Ezulwini, as they obviously make easy targets for poachers. Africa is currently losing up to 100 elephants a day – that’s one every 15 minutes – to ivory poaching and our big tuskers are under enormous threat as a result.

Luckily, with his huge home range across most of the Greater Kruger area combined with the size of the Balule Private Nature Reserve (around 400 km²) and the constant presence of humans in this area, the threat to Ezulwini is minimised.

It’s sad that demand for ivory has created such a crisis for these magnificent animals. Elephant tusks are actually a single pair of upper incisors that continue to grow throughout an elephant’s life. In Africa’s elephants, both bulls and cows grow tusks, whereas in the Asian species only males have tusks. While they never stop growing, the growth rate of tusks slows as elephants get older, meaning that the great tuskers are also among the oldest of their kind.

Ezulwini is in his prime and is estimated to be around 45 to 50 years old. Elephants live to as old as 70 so with luck we’ll continue to see and interact with this magnificent bull for some years to come!

WATCH as Ezulwini casually makes his way past a game drive vehicle (filmed by guide Matthew Sussens):