Botswana’s Savute is a truly remarkable Africa safari destination and the recently re-opened Belmond Savute Elephant Camp is quite gorgeous. A visit to this area highlights Savute’s natural beauty, its history (some of the great explorers visited Savute), prolific game and abundant birdlife.
Located on the bank of the Savute Channel in the southern part of Chobe National Park, the region is dry and harsh with an almost desert like landscape characterized by the Gubatsa Hills, a small hilly outcrop which forms a prominent landmark in the otherwise flat landscape, open savannah and extensive grasslands. The dominant feature is the Savute Marsh, a relic of a large inland lake that is fed by the erratic Savute Channel which has wound its way from the Linyanti River. Currently dry, the Savute Channel has a history of flooding and drying up independently of good rainy seasons and Okavango Delta flood levels.
The lodge boasts 12 luxurious tented rooms under thatch, each with a view of the Savute Channel and/or water hole (tent 7 has the best view). With an undoubted wow factor, the contemporary interiors have been designed with detail and comfort in mind. The bedrooms are furnished with a four poster bed, mosquito net, sofa, chair, writing desk and well positioned plug points. Well laid out bathrooms have a double vanity, huge indoor shower, outdoor shower, separate w.c, plenty of hanging space, yoga mat, digital safe and hairdryer. Encouraging relaxation, the private decks are furnished with a daybed as well as two comfortable armchairs, tables and a fully stocked cocktail mini bar fridge.
The main areas are designed to blend seamlessly into the landscape with open fronted public areas and stylish and beautiful designs. The fresh modern look incorporates soft woods, natural materials, canvas, eye catching furnishings and an earthy palette of sand, beige, grey and cream that perfectly complements the untamed natural surroundings. The lounge has a bar to one end, a seating area where daily high tea is served, lots of comfortable sofas and chairs and a small separate TV lounge with DSTV. Overlooking the water hole and channel is a raised dining room with steps that lead down to the heated swimming pool deck. Under the pool deck is a viewing hide which offers a birds eye view of game at the water hole below. Last but not least is the fire pit, traditional boma and attractive tented spa.
Activities: morning and afternoon game drives which may incorporate a trip to the 9 km long Savute Marsh and a visit to the Gubatsa Hills to view ancient San rock art sites. Between Nov-Feb bright sunshine and golden light is the stuff photographers dream of. One of the senior guides, Mighty, who appeared in the No 1 Lady Detective Agency series has been guiding in Savute for 25 years.
Game Viewing: after the first rains towards the end of November thousands of zebra migrate from the Linyanti and Chobe river fronts in the north through Savute to the ripe grasslands of the Mababe Depression in the south. In February they start their trek northwards. As with any migration predators follow closely behind in the hope of a quick meal. During the dry season months of June to October when the pans are dry the animals, especially elephant congregate around a handful of artificial waterholes. Raptors are present year round but are especially good in the rainy season which heralds the arrival of many species of water birds.
Recently at Tswalu Kalahari, a cheetah gave birth to five cubs… beautiful bundles of claws and fur that spend their days climbing on mom, pulling her tail and playfully stalking and biting her. Unfortunately, only a few of these little cubs have a chance of reaching adulthood and independence in the African Bush. Percentage wise, only 50% live to be three months old and even fewer will make it to a year old.
Mother cheetahs have an extremely tough time protecting their young from predators such as hyenas and lions. It takes a lot of skill to be a good cheetah mom. She cunningly hides her cubs in tall grass or thickets and moves them frequently. In the Kalahari, the cheetah mom may need to leave her cubs unattended for long periods while she hunts, and they are extremely vulnerable during this time. But by the time they are six weeks old, they are able to stay with her as she moves through the grasslands.
The mother cheetah will nurse her cubs until they are about three months old, but they start tearing at meat from as young as five or six weeks old. A few weeks later they are fit and strong enough to follow mom when she hunts small mammals and even birds, and start to learn the art for themselves. The cheetah mother will often bring live prey back to her young and teach them how to kill. They start hunting from about eight months and by twelve months are able to make their own kills.
Cheetah cubs normally leave their mother at between 12 and 15 months old. Young males may form coalitions that last for life, allowing them to be much more effective hunters and go after larger prey. Females may stay with their male siblings initially but typically disperse a few months later and conceive before they are two years old.
Cheetah females are not territorial so it is possible that the mom and five cubs at Tswalu will decide to settle in an area close to each other where guests will have the opportunity to see them often and follow them as their lives unfold.
While on an African safari, we encounter different types of predators. Most of the time they are relaxed, cool, calm and collected. Lazing around during the heat of the day, beautiful and majestic and most of the time fear nothing. However, this can all change in a matter of seconds if a different predator is in the vicinity
On a beautiful crisp winter morning, my tracker, Safary and I set off with guests from Kapama Private Reserve’s Buffalo Camp in the South African bush. We were full of excitement with high hopes of experiencing amazing sightings. The guests were cozy and comfortable on the game vehicle, snuggled up upped under blankets with hot water bottles to keep them warm from the brisk early morning chill. Top of our guest’s bucket list was, of course, the predators, preferably one of the big cats. However, it’s up to nature, in the end, to see what she will surprise us with on any given day.
Not too long after leaving camp, Safary motioned for me to stop the vehicle as he saw some tracks on the road. I stop the vehicle and climb out to help him identify the track and confirm if it worth following. Looking around we found a dragline that indicated something had dragged its prey. On closer investigation, we both concluded that it looked like a Leopard had crossed this way and dragged a small antelope. We decide to follow up as we might have the privilege of watching this rare and beautiful creature feeding.
The tracks indicated that the prey has been dragged into a small thicket just off the road into the bush. We decide to get as close to the bush as possible to see if we could get a better glimpse. We rounded a small thicket and to our amazement, a young male Leopard was lying at the base of a big tree on the side of a large termite mound with its freshly killed duiker just a few feet away.
While enjoying this amazing view I heard a rustle in the bushes to the side of the vehicle. Out of nowhere, a big male Lion came running out of the bushes gunning straight for the Leopard. The Leopard, just as surprised as us, senses it’s a life-threatening situation and decided to abandon the kill and scaled the big tree to get away from the male Lion.
As predators from different species do not get along and compete for the same food source, they do not like each other. With a big growl, the Lion attempted to follow the Leopard up the tree but soon realized it’s not worth the effort lay down at the base of the tree waiting for the Leopard to come down.
Leopards are comfortable in trees and can spend hours up in them so this would be a long wait for the Lion.
The Lion soon got bored and moved off with the Leopard’s kill leaving us with a sighting of a lifetime and a terrific campfire story. We left the Leopard in peace and returned to camp with happy guests and another item ticked off their bucketlist.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Chris Reiner
As the rest of South Africa celebrates the end of another winter and looks forward to the longer, warmer days of spring, the Balule Private Nature Reserve, home of Sausage Tree Safari Camp, is already noticing the distinct shift in the seasons. The mornings are drawing in much earlier and sunsets are gradually getting later. Acacias are slowly coming into bloom along the Olifants River with their distinctive yellow flowers brightening up the riverbanks. The knobthorns are also beginning to put out their catkin-like blooms and soon the weeping wattles and apple leaf trees will start to bloom as well.
We’ve already started to hear the frogs and toads giving their hallmark evening serenades in camp and have noticed a few scorpions on the prowl in the early evenings, as well as some snake activity here and there.
A lot of people still misunderstand what causes the seasonal changes. Seasons happen because of the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis either away or towards the Sun as it travels along its year-long orbital trajectory around it. The planetary tilt is 23.5 degrees relative to what is known as the ecliptic plane (the imaginary surface formed by the planet’s almost circular path around the Sun). This means that different parts of the planet receive the Sun’s most direct rays at different times of the year. For example, when the North Pole is tilted towards the Sun it’s summer in the northern hemisphere and winter here in the southern hemisphere, and vice versa.
Of course, our changing climate has been responsible for some strange anomalies when it comes to the changing seasons. This year, for example, our winter (which generally takes place from June to August each year) has been exceptionally mild in terms of temperatures, but as usual, terribly dry. We are hoping against hope that our rains come on time in October as other parts of Southern Africa suffer in the grip of debilitating drought.
In the build-up to our rainy season the game viewing is probably at its best because the bush has thinned out, making spotting considerably easier. The bush around the camp is also tinder-dry so much of the game activity is concentrated around water sources like waterholes, dams and the Olifants River.
Spring is a fantastic time for birding in the Balule. Soon we’ll be seeing the first migrant birds making their annual visit to the reserve – we’ve already spotted a few yellow-billed kites and the Eurasian bee-eaters, and the rollers won’t be far behind! There’s also an increase in the number of predatory birds, especially where African harrier hawks are concerned, all waiting for the champion of the intra-African migrant raptors – the Wahlberg’s eagle – to arrive.
As spring moves on the cuckoos will start to call noisily and weaver nests will become a hive of activity, with some birds developing their breeding plumage. While the 1st September is the official start of spring, October is the traditional start of our rainy season. However, our climate is becoming less and less predictable so we can only hope for an early deluge or two to kick-start the growth of fresh grasses and foliage, combined with an on-time rainy season (last year the first rains only arrived at the end of November!).
Our intra-African migrant birds and European visitors like the Eurasian roller should be arriving in huge numbers during October as our insect activity increases significantly. Some of our fruiting tree species will be starting to bear fruit, triggering even more insect activity and the nesting cycle of insectivorous birds.
By November we should be seeing a flush of green throughout the reserve, providing that the rains are on time and bless us with their life-giving water, while temperatures will continue to soar and the insect breeding season will reach its height. We’ll be expecting the arrival of kestrels and late summer migrants from both Europe and Asia and the first impala lambs should be ready to drop by now.
So spring means so much more to the African bush than just warmer days and nights! It signals the arrival of a time of plenty and the start of another phenomenal year of growth on the Balule.
By Sausage Tree Safari Camp
It was an afternoon African Safari game drive and my River Lodge guests and I were on the search for the last of the Big 5. The only one they had not yet seen was elephants. With a baby Elephant weighing as much as 100kg and adults about four to six tons, It is usually assumed that due to their massive size, these animals are easy to find. I mean how does one not notice a six-ton, three-meter-tall animal in the bush?
On this particular drive, my guests quickly realized that finding Elephants was not as easy as it seemed. Elephants can travel tens of kilometers in a day with the utmost of ease, leaving a trail of large circular tracks, dung balls and broken trees as they do so.
After tracking the Elephants for quite some time, my tracker Phanuel and I realized we needed to find these animals fast as the sun was almost setting. Elephants are diurnal creatures, meaning they are active during the day, for this reason, we do not view them after dark. For both their safety and ours. Luckily, we found fresh dung, so now the search was on.
Around a bend, like a dust storm, the entire herd of Elephants emerged out of the bushes.
The only sounds we heard were the cracking of trees as they fed. It was as if they were putting on a show, the entire herd gathered in the middle of the dirt road and started throwing themselves with dust.
There was so much dust in the air it concealed some of the smaller Elephants, with only silhouettes visible. This behavior is known as dust bathing, many animals do this besides Elephants. They would throw themselves with the fine sand from the road, coating themselves in a brown or red sand jacket. Even though their hides seem to be rather tough, Elephants have sensitive skin. The dust helps serve as a sunscreen from the harsh South Africa sun. It also helps to remove unwanted insects such as tics.
Watching these gigantic animals going about a mundane routine of theirs was magical for not only my guests but for myself as well. The entire experience made our long search worth it.
As the dust settled and the Elephants moved off further into the bush we drove away with big smiles, happy hearts and the utmost appreciation for these incredible creatures.
Story and photos by River Lodge Ranger Tasha van den Aardweg
It’s been another magnificent month of superb sightings in the Manyeleti Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Greater Kruger. The predators have been stealing the show as they make use of the dry African bushveld for finding and catching their prey.
With the water sources evaporating quickly, the animals are concentrating around specific pans and dams – so we know exactly where to go to find the action.
The Nglala Pack – our resident painted wolves (African wild dogs) – have moved den sites twice this month. Moving dens is an important strategy for keeping the pups safe from predators. The den sites are usually formed in old termite mounds or abandoned warthog holes where the pups dig in and hide. After some time, the scent of the pups becomes too established and the parents need to move the site to keep them away from the smell of the other predators. With the impala herds gathering around waterholes, the dogs have been feasting on the abundant antelope, providing a lot of fresh meat for the growing pups.
The guests are just loving these rare encounters, and it’s wonderful to park the vehicle and wait a few moments as the puppies start to poke their heads out of the hole and then tumble out to play in front of us.
Nompethu, the beautiful female leopard and her cub, have been showing up on a regular basis. The cub is growing fast, and Nompethu is making regular kills to keep up with the little cub’s appetite. She is obviously a fantastic mother as the youngster is looking very healthy and growing by the day!
The Xirombe female is often around Tintswalo, and she too has a cub who is becoming more and more comfortable with our vehicles.
As usual, the lions of Tintswalo have been putting on a magnificent show. We have enjoyed regular sightings of the Mbiri, Nharu and Koppies prides near the lodge. The Koppies cubs are doing great and growing by the day – and it’s obvious that this pride is going to become a formidable unit!
The five young Nharu males brought down a huge buffalo, which is fantastic for these young teenager lions who will soon be leaving the females and heading out on their own. More great news from the Nharus: one female has given birth to new cubs! So we are soon to have a new generation of lions coming through.
It was a big surprise to find tracks of the Talamati Pride back in the Manyeleti. The pride disappeared into the Kruger over a month ago, and we were not sure if they would ever come back. Hopefully they will pop out soon and give us another view of their eight gorgeous cubs.
Last week, we witnessed a very unique and memorable moment when a hyena attacked an extremely rare pangolin. Pangolins have a very tough scales that they use to deter predators, but this was obviously not enough to stop the hyena from getting to its softer underbelly, an ordeal that unfolded right in front of our vehicle. While it was incredible to see such a rare occurrence, it was also sad to see such a highly endangered animal lose its life.
But that’s the African wilderness – raw, sad, scary, captivating and always beautiful.
Until next time!
Story by Tintswalo Safari Lodge
Today, the 22nd of September is labelled as, ‘World Rhino Day.’ A day that is dedicated to raising awareness in the plight of such an iconic animal. The Rhinoceros, which means ‘nose horn’ is often shortened to just rhino.
Currently there are five species of Rhino on earth, two species in Africa and three in Asia. All these species are on the IUCN Red List and are currently under threat.
The Asian species include the following;
- Javan Rhino (+-60 individuals) – Critically Endangered
- Sumatran Rhino (<100 individuals) – Critically Endangered
- Greater One-horned/ Indian Rhino (+-3,000 individuals) – Vulnerable
Although poaching is a big issue in these Asian Rhinos, Habitat loss remains the biggest risk to these prehistoric animals. As human populations grow, we require more land for residential, agriculture and industrial industries.
The African species include the following;
- White Rhino (+- 18,000 individuals) – Near Threatened
- Black Rhino (+- 5,500 individuals) – Critically Endangered
Poaching remains the biggest threat to these two species with an average of 1,100 individuals killed each year over the past five years. Rhinos are poached for their horns which are made of keratin, the same substance that makes up our own nails and hair. It has no medical properties even though being used in traditional Asian medicine. Its vital that we educate as many people as possible about the true facts.
Each and every time rangers on Kapama are able to share a Rhino sighting with guests it is a wonderful, privileged and special moment. Like this interesting video of a Rhino, out and about in its normal day, shared by Ranger Andrew. It gives us an opportunity to inform and educate guests on their interesting habits, their role in nature and the ecosystem and the importance to conserve them.
So not only today, World Rhino Day, but every day, help us spread the word and raise awareness for these incredible creatures so that generations to come, can appreciate their magnificence and beauty.
Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger Mike Brown