Cute lion cub action!

Sausage Tree Safari Camp’s safari game drive lion encounters are invariably entertaining at the moment, thanks to the Takazile pride’s energetic cubs who frequently put on a fabulous show for our guests. The Takazile pride is made up of 24 lions – three large males, seven females and no less than 14 cubs of various ages, the youngest of which are just a couple of months old. It’s our resident pride and often seen in the camp’s traversing area that gave them their name, having arrived in the region just two short years ago from South Africa’s Timbavati Private Game Reserve.

It’s led by the impressive Machaton males – originally a coalition of four males, all of whom are most likely related, one of which died shortly after their relocation to the Balule. The three remaining males are now in the region of nine years old and are exceptional in terms of their size and the way they look after their pride, which is good news as in their youth, the Machaton males had a reputation as lion killers and pride busters – taking out pride males, killing cubs and even females before moving on.

 

 

Lion pride in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

The seven females in the pride also have impressive lineage, being descendants of a legendary local male named Big Boy, who survived well into his teens, reaching 15 years of age before succumbing to old age. They’ve become extraordinarily successful as both hunters and mothers, cementing the stability of the pride and its place in this area.

 

Lion and lioness in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

As with all lion prides, the size of the pride and its success are related more to the space it controls than the number of females under the protection of the males. Generally speaking, the more males in a coalition means a the bigger the territory they control, keeping all other males out and securing the future of their cubs in the process.

So the Machaton males have achieved considerable success in looking after the Takazile pride’s “turf” – allowing the pride’s numbers to swell, raising a good number of healthy, well protected cubs in the process.

Sadly, at nine years old, they’re now getting to the stage in their lives where their ability to fend off other interested males will start to deteriorate as old age creeps in, making them slower, less able to recover from fights and quicker to succumb to wounds.

But we hope that they are able to protect the pride for some time still to come, looking after the cubs currently under their protection

 

 

 

Lionesses in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

It’s this level of protection that allows the cubs to be adventurous and curious and relaxed in their environment, all of which makes viewing them an absolute pleasure as we get to watch their interactions with one another and the rest of the pride members without negatively affecting their behaviour.

As our collection of videos and images shows, watching the Takazile pride is far from boring as the cubs are always up to something, pouncing on one another, testing their stalking skills and generally finding ways to keep themselves amused, often to the chagrin of other members of the pride!

It’s always good to see a successful, stable pride because the challenges facing our wild lion populations are enormous, with numbers across the continent plummeting as a result of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching (lion bones and body parts are highly prized in Chinese traditional medicine).

We need to be doing all we can to ensure that these incredible, iconic big cats are protected for generations to come so that lion cub encounters like these shown in our videos do not become consigned to history.

 

 

Two lionesses in Balule Nature Reserve


Cats Camouflage

Now that the bush has undergone its transition from its lush, green summer look to the various shades of winter browns, the cats that live out here gain the ultimate advantage.

Camouflage!

Cheetah’s with their tan coats and black spots makes them almost invisible in their habitat in the winter. Although their coats are strikingly beautiful when out in the open, once they slip into the tall brown grass they disappear. I witnessed this firsthand by nearly driving right by and missing an incredible sighting of a female cheetah in her element.

My River Lodge guests would have been highly disappointed, but with luck being on our side, she looked up as she heard the vehicle approaching, and in that second, I caught a glimpse of her small, round ears twitching. We carefully slowed down to a stop, making sure she was happy with our presence. We noticed that she was relatively restless, so we decided to wait in the hope of seeing some activity. We were sitting in anticipation, hoping to see her show off her long, slender body and beautiful spotted coat.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheetah’s, unlike their feline cousins, lions and leopards, are diurnal, meaning they are mainly active during the day. They prefer to hunt during the mornings and early afternoons while the light is still good. A cheetah has amazing eyesight during the day and can spot prey from 5 km away. They reach incredible speeds when hunting and therefore wouldn’t be successful running down prey at night!

When hunting during the day and night are compared, diurnal predators, like the cheetah, rely heavily on camouflage, as it plays a vital role in their hunts being successful. As most people know, speed is how these cats catch their prey or rather a sprint. Cheetahs have a very different approach to stalking than their cousins. Stalking is a fine art and one that they have mastered. They generally stalk until they are within 100m from their prey, and then the chase begins. They use their long, large tail as a rudder to steer at speeds upwards of 100km/hr. They can reach this speed in just a few seconds. Without this trait of blending in, combined with its stalking skills, a cheetah would not survive.

As we had hoped, she started grooming herself, a common sign of cats getting ready to move. She got up, stretched and slowly started moving off. As my guests and I watched her walk away, the feeling of awe and utter euphoria set in, as she effortlessly faded into the long brown grass.

 

 

 

 

Story and photos by Kapama River Lodge Ranger -Tasha van den Aardweg  


This is My Tree

On a morning safari game drive a few days ago, we were lucky enough to find a young male Leopard that was lying in a beautiful large Knobthorn tree. My Buffalo Camp guests were ecstatic as Leopard, being one of the Big Five and very elusive, was high up on their bucket list. It was Rulani, a young male of about 15 months old. He is the son of Imbali and is normally found roaming about with his sister Ntombi. However, on this particularly beautiful morning, he was all by himself. ‘Rulani’is a Shangaan word that means ‘relaxed.’ He was given this name, as from a very young age, he has been incredibly comfortable and at ease with our game vehicles.

From what we could see, he was extremely intrigued by a few Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills that were sitting in the same tree as him, enjoying the warm sun. Birds will often sun themselves to help locate and dislodge parasites in between their feathers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no reason for the leopard to be alarmed by these birds but after about 5 minutes of lying down and watching them, he suddenly jumped up and went for the hornbills! It seemed as if he was not trying to catch them but rather trying to get them out of the tree.

Time and again, he would get up from his comfortable lying position, crouch down on the branch and then suddenly dart towards the birds and chase them off. It was incredible to witness this agile cat jumping from branch to branch and scaring these beautiful birds. However, it seemed that the birds thought it was some sort of game. Each time they were chased away, they would return to their perching spots and start calling as if to tell the Leopard that they were back for another round.

The Yellow-Billed Hornbill has a very distinctive call and once one bird starts, the whole group will join in, creating a cacophony of sound. This was clearly highly irritating for the Leopard whose lazy morning was being disturbed. Some birds will often give out alarm calls when they see a predator like a Leopard. This is an issue for the Leopard as it gives away their position and any possibility of hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After almost 20 minutes of chasing birds, the leopard eventually gave up and went to lie back down, defeated. Shortly after the Leopard had settled down, the Yellow-Billed Hornbills took off, signalling the game was over and they had won.

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Head Ranger – Rassie Jacobs 


Elephants Being Elephants

We left Buffalo Camp, in iconic South Africa,  for the first African safari game drive of the day with the bite of the chilly morning air hovering around us. With guests huddled under blankets and hot water bottles on their laps, our sunrise African adventure began.

We slowly made our way along the reserve road, admiring all the sights and sounds nature had in store for us that day. As we turned the one corner, there in front of us we saw a very young elephant calf.

This young elephant was only a couple of months old. It was being rather silly and excitedly ran between other members of the herd, then back to mom for some assurance and then back to the others once again. Up and down the whole time, keeping its poor mom busy. The young elephant also attempted to mimic what the other older elephants were doing with their trunks, with not much luck. This is school for baby elephants and how they learn, especially on what to do with their trunk.

 

 

 

 

 

When elephants are about 6 – 8 months old they start to learn how to use their trunks to eat and drink. It takes elephants some time to fully understand the ins an out of their trunk. It is no wonder it takes them long as:

  • an elephant’s trunk has over 40,000 muscles
  • elephants use their trunks as snorkels and by holding them above water, can cross rivers totally submerged
  • The sense of smell of elephants is four times that of a bloodhound
  • An elephant trunk is incredibly versatile and can be used to eat, drink, smell, snorkel, breathe, touch, feel, hold, lift, grab, pull and even communicate

While watching the little calf, we heard crashing of trees and breaking of branches. Two big young elephants bulls came crashing through the trees onto the road out of nowhere, pushing and shoving each other. It was not as serious as the sound of the commotion we herd. It was just boys being boys, testing each other’s strength, like an arm wrestling contest. They pushed their heads against each other using their tusks, to see who was stronger. I explained to my guests, that this particular behavour was more playful than actual fighting, yet still an impressive demonstration of their strength.

  • This playful behaviour is very important for young elephant bulls
  • This is how they practice for when the day comes when they need to fight a big dominant bull in the area to prove their strength and be able to mate with the females
  • Only the strongest bull elephant can mate with females
  • So this means as much practice as possible.

 

 

 

 

The two elephant bulls continued going at each for a while, then stopped and joined the rest of the herd, who during this time had remained quite relaxed. Mom elephant was still keeping a watchful eye on her baby, as he still seemed adamant on causing his own little bit of havoc around him with his constant running.

It’s great to watch elephants in the wild carrying on with their normal behavour, especially when every single elephant has its own personality, from a young calf doing silly things to teenagers being rebels and the older and wiser elephants taking everything in their stride.

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers   


South Africa Trip Report!

African Safari Co. & Expeditions spent the last month exploring South Africa’s camps, lodges and hotels as well as meeting with our Africa travel partners and enjoying some beach time with our Director of Chaos! 

We arrived into the Cape Town airport by our jovial driver and headed directly to the Queen Victoria Hotel at the V&A Waterfront. After settling into our spacious and lovely room, we ordered a room service dinner and were not disappointed! We were up early the next morning to get in an early breakfast, where we were greeted by an incredibly friendly staff, and then on to meet our transfer. Though we only had one night to spend here before heading out on safari, we highly recommend this luxury hotel!

 

 

From Cape Town, we had a 3 hour drive through some beautiful scenery and interesting little towns to Sanbona Gondwana Lodge. The reserve was beautiful with lovely accommodation and great food. This area was originally farm land and is currently in the status of reintroducing wildlife. The conservation efforts were clearly at the forefront of this safari experience and we can’t wait to see the progress in the future! After two nights here, we headed back to Cape Town and on to one of our favorite hotels, The Oyster Box, on the shores of the Indian Ocean for some beach time.

 

 

 

 

The Oyster Box is an incredibly beautiful hotel with spanning decks that overlook the waters and towering lighthouse. Just below the deck is a large swimming pool, bustling with guest soaking up the sun and kids playing. However, if low key is more your speed, as it is ours, there a quite pool surrounded by palms with a dedicated server tucked at the far end of the hotel by the spa. One of our favorite parts of the Oyster Box is the resident cat who clearly runs the show. She can be found lounging out front, refusing to move for anyone, best just to go around, or perched on her pillow thrown on the couch in reception.

 

 

 

After two nights, we loaded our bags into the vehicle and introduced ourselves to our driver, whom we would continue to have throughout the trip and can easily say was one of the most considerate and engaging people we have ever met, we headed to Phinda Vlei Lodge. While we try not to have favorites, this is certainly one of them! Not only is the main lodge area immaculately decorated while staying perfectly luxurious and the rooms leaving nothing to be desired with private plunge pools and full privacy, but the food is fantastic and only made better by the incredible chef Happiness, whose name could not be more on point. The guides are experienced with a wealth of knowledge and the reserve rich with wildlife, breathtaking scenery and incredible sand forests. It goes without saying that this is one of our top picks for custom client safaris.

 

 

 

 

Next up was Manyoni Private Reserve, where we had the rare opportunity to participate in a rhino dehorning. While this is a controversial issue in conversation, it has unfortunately become necessary due to poaching and after following it from start to finish we can say that it has been perfected by an incredible anti-poaching unit and extremely experienced vet and did not impact the animal. Game drives here were lovely and the wildlife in abundance. We had some especially nice elephant sightings, even having to move out of the way quickly at one point when a herd decided that we were in their road! This reserve has a brand new luxury camp, Rhino Sands, with just four enormous tents and is wonderfully hosted by owners Dale & Shannon Airton.

 

 

 

Next, it was back to Durban for a few nights at the Zimbali Hotel and epic celebration of the 10 year anniversary of one of our longest standing Africa partner, and friends, New Frontiers. There dancing, dinning and drinks. The night was filled with good times, great people and a true love and respect for this amazing company and it’s incredible owner. We also had a lovely breakfast before heading off again……. at least until it was rudely interrupted by some very cheeky monkeys!

 

 

 

 

Wrapping up our safari portion, we bid the bush a sad farewell and headed to Cape Town for the We Are Africa conference to meet with camps, lodges and our Africa based partners. The We Are Africa event is a combination of trade show, conference and family reunion – for Julia, it’s an intense three days of 72 meetings, countless smiles and hugs from friends from all over the world and a deep dive into what’s new with our favorite camps and an introduction to recently launched experiences. What’s extra exciting this year? The Congo Conservation Company has expanded their adventure options into the Central African Republic, Bryce & Nicola at Kambaku River Sands launched a beach getaway, Nicky & Kate at Angama Mara are bringing farm-to-table out in the Mara through a Shamba maze and one of our most loved camps, Kanana, got a face lift.

 

We would now like to take the opportunity to share with you the new definition of how to hold a dinner meeting according to our Director of Chaos.

 

 

 


Family fun in Ecuador’s cloud forest!!

Seeking family adventure in South America, look no further than Ecuador’s cloud forest! The Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena region extends from Columbia to Peru. This biodiversity hotspot is incredibly important to preserve, and for the conservation of flora and fauna. Ecuador’s slice of the pie is beautiful, accessible and ripe for adventure for all ages. All of our recommended lodges in the cloud forest are an easy drive from Quito (so the kids won’t get bored or restless!), have family-friendly activities, excellent guides and lots of birds, insects, plants and animals to keep the whole family interested.

 

 

 

 

For the ultimate in biodiversity, along with amazing food, lodging and amenities, we recommend a stay at Mashpi Lodge in Mindo. This National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World property is the largest of the recommended cloud forest accommodations and offers high-end accommodation, expert guiding and a huge range of adventures. From hiking the cloud forest’s vegetation-laden trails and streams to riding eye-level with the forest canopy on a ‘sky bike’ or their unique ‘dragonfly’ chairlift, there’s plenty to keep everyone not just entertained but thoroughly engaged with the world around them.

For a more intimate experience in the same ecosystem, we love El Monte lodge. Designed to be and stay small, the lodge owners decided that there should be a ratio formula between guests at the lodge and amount of land owned to keep the ecological impact to a minimum. Even meals are designed to be low on the food chain and with a small ecological footprint. While non-red meat is sometimes served, the lodge is a great choice for vegetarians. Guests can enjoy a variety of activities in the cloud forest including horseback riding, whitewater rafting and incredible birding.

 

 

 

 

Recently Tropic’s Jascivan Carvalo, our trusted ground partners GM, visited Kapari Natural Lodge & Spa on the western side of the Andes with his family and came back raving. Guide Francisco ensured a fantastic experience for the whole family, but most especially the kids. Jasci called him the ‘master of kids’ – Francisco made the forest and the night skies come alive for them, and made their stay a very special and memorable one.

Cabanas San Isidro are found on the Amazon side and offer families everything from fishing and river swimming to archaeology excursions and cooking classes. Wildlife viewing and birding are rich in this area and can be done on the local trail system, which is appropriate for most fitness levels. Meals aren’t an afterthought – the food at Cabanas San Isidro will not only keep your clients fueled for all of their activities, they will delight with their thoughtfulness and local flavors. A stay at the Cabanas explores a range of Ecuador’s ecosystems, as well as local culture, arts and foodways.

 

 


Buffaloes at Balule!

There’s no doubt that the drought that ended in November last year hit buffalo numbers extremely hard here at Sausage Tree Camp in the Balule Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. The drought accounted for a drop of some 50% in the Kruger National Park’s buffalo numbers so it’s easy to understand how numbers in the surrounding Greater Kruger reserves were also devastated.

We were certainly battling to see any buffalo at all on game drives, and the animals that survived were inevitably weakened and often diseased, meaning that predation – primarily by lions – increased exponentially.

But now there is good news as their population numbers are bouncing back after life-giving rains finally broke the drought! We now regularly see a herd of some 70 or 80 animals on our game drives, and there have been a huge number of calves born during the rainy season so that number is steadily increasing.

 

Buffalo eating in Balule, Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa

 

Buffaloes perform a critical role in an ecosystem in alleviating the pressure of ticks from other mammals. They carry a huge infestations of these parasites, providing much-needed sustenance to the red-billed and yellow-billed oxpeckers that are always seen hanging on to their hides, keeping these disease-bearing biters at bay. Without the buffalo, tick populations explode, negatively impacting the other animals they feed on to the point of killing them – literally bleeding them dry. We saw several incidences of tick-infested impala who had died as a result of anaemia caused by the ticks literally taking too much blood out of their system to allow them to recover the red blood cells and associated oxygen levels needed to survive.

Another important thing buffaloes do is fertilize soil through their dung. Yes, buffalo dung, though smelly, is extremely good for the earth, helping to restore much needed nutrients and nitrogen levels that in turn are needed to help seeds germinate and plants grow. So fewer buffalo means less fertile soil, which in turn compounds the effects of the drought. Thankfully, the surfeit of buffalo manure since the rains came has made this latest green season one to remember!

Of course, the buffalo is also a vital food source for our predators – lions, hyenas and leopards – so the increase in numbers is good news for buffalo-eaters, putting healthy red meat firmly back on the menu!

 

Lion with buffalo kill in Balule, Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa

 

Lions, like those from our resident Takazile pride, use strength of numbers to overcome adult buffaloes, usually attacking from the rear in an attempt to get them off balance and bring them down. Hyenas use similar methods, usually singling out smaller, weaker-looking animals as their targets. Leopards, on the other hand, opt for a more patient and stealthy approach, attacking calves and then waiting for them to weaken and fall behind before closing in to finish them off.

However, hunting buffalo is far from easy for these predators, as they are famous for their defense of one another and will retaliate readily, chasing and charging down predators. Their horns are lethal, as are their hooves, and many an unwary lion has been fatally wounded in the resulting skirmishes.