It’s that time of year again in South Africa and the trees are just beginning to sprout leaves after having appeared dead for the last few months while in their dormant state. The first leaves always appear to be the greenest and the wildlife that feeds on them can’t get to the new shoots fast enough. This might be since most females have been pregnant and need to feed themselves as well as their growing fetus from the little available food. But now we are experiencing the spectacular change of seasons, and the perfect time to be on an African Safari adventure! Temperatures are already soaring, the rain has teased us with a few sporadic showers and babies will soon be seen around almost every corner!
The long-awaited impala lambing season has finally begun. Six and a half months prior the impala rams gurgling roar filled the air, enticing the females into oestrus. As an end result we hope we will soon be seeing more and more adorable impala lambs bouncing about. Their legs are so long one wonders how they manage to stand and wobble about within 20 minutes of being born.
The mother licks the newborn clean of its placenta and in doing so also keeps it completely odorless, a way to keep predators at bay for the first day or two while the lamb and mother bond. Each ewe only has one lamb, but the short breeding season means that every able female should give birth within about 3 to 4 weeks. After mother and lamb re-joining the herd one starts to see small nurseries of impala lambs as they huddle together for warmth and safety while allowing the adults to wander a short distance to feed.
The birth of a baby giraffe is also quite an event. The baby falls from its mother’s womb, some eight feet above the ground onto its head. The mother giraffe will kiss the baby giraffe followed by kicking the young giraffe, again, and again until the trembling and tired baby, pushes up on its limbs and for the first time learns to stand on its feet.
Not too far away a mother warthog is lying in her burrow, dug out in an old termite mound, waiting for the first signs of daylight. This for her, also means that most of the nocturnal predators will soon become less active and lies about seeking shelter from the hot sun. Soon she will not be alone and snuggled up to her will be 6 piglets fighting for a teat. The 450 to 900 gram piglets will remain in the burrow for about a week or so before re-joining the sounder. They grow at an alarming rate and are often seen rooting bulbs at only a few weeks old although they will still suckle for around 6 months.
Unlike human infants, wild babies must adapt quickly to the dangers of life in the bush. Prey animals like the impala and warthog must be able to run within a few hours of being born and even predator cubs must learn quickly how to avoid danger. Generally, the prey animals will have their offspring in the spring or summer months at the arrival of the first rains. The predators however have shorter gestation periods and most can give birth throughout the year with the young being dependent on the mother’s hunting skills for roughly the first year and a half before the females mate again.
This year on Kapama some of our predators have timed their births with the birthing season of their prey and we have been fortunate to have had a plethora of lion cub sighting over the past month.
Two of our lion prides have recently grown with cubs being born in the last couple months. Lion cubs are often born as part of a litter of up to six siblings. They ‘re blind for the first week but can crawl within a few days, learning to walk at around 3 weeks. The first months are the most vulnerable and the mother hides her cubs in long grass or as in the case of our one pride, in a narrow dry riverbed while she goes hunting. The biggest threats during this time are starvation and infanticide which can occur when a new male takes over the pride and kills the offspring of his predecessor. Luckily for our new lion cubs, a coalition of three male lions have taken over huge parts of the reserved and together provide ample protection for their offspring.
Unlike lions which are social predators, leopards being solitary, tend to have fewer cubs and are far more reluctant to bring their cryptically colored youngsters into the open for us to see. The determined guides of Kapama though, have had a keen eye and managed to spot multiple females each with their cubs. They range in ages with the youngest estimated to be only a few weeks old.
With all of these youngsters around on our reserve we can expect to have amazing sightings in the future, with the cute factor leaving all our guests in awe, and ahhhh!! as they learn what it takes to grow up in the wild.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Head Ranger – Rassie Jacobs, video by Karula Ranger Andrew Taylor
Communities surrounding the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, a famous and wildlife rich African Safari park, often face huge losses due to elephant conflicts. The booming development of the Luangwa Valley has resulted in more farms and infrastructure being built, which has caused an increased level of human-wildlife conflict in the community. During the crop-growing season, elephants cross the Luangwa River and enter the surrounding villages, where they raid crop fields and damage property in their forage for food. This can result in devastating outcomes for local farmers who lose their livelihood, and the elephants who are met with negative retaliations.
To help mitigate this conflict, 20 volunteers from Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) have been using ‘chilli balls’ (ping pong balls filled with chilli oil) to deter elephants from crop fields. With the support of Flatdogs Camp, volunteers in Kakumbi Chiefdom have been equipped with boots, rain jackets, overalls and torches to enable them to patrol high-risk zones that are likely to be raided by elephants. The volunteers patrol during the night as this is when the elephants are most active in the village.
Once an elephant begins to approach a crop field, the CSL volunteer ‘chilli patrollers’ fire a small chilli ball at the hindquarters of the elephant to deter it. The balls leave chilli oil on their skin, causing them no harm other than a mild discomfort due to the smell of chilli, which acts as enough of a deterrent.
The chilli blasters are simple devices, designed to deter but not hurt an elephant. To fire a chilli ball, the wide end chamber of the chilli blaster is unscrewed and a ping pong ball filled with chilli oil is placed inside it. Flammable insect spray is sprayed into the chamber, and then it is quickly closed. There is an igniter mounted at the back of the device which when clicked provides a spark that ignites the gas, firing the ping pong ball out of the narrow tube with a loud bang. For each round the device needs to be unscrewed and re-loaded. So the chilli patroller is careful to fire with control and make every shot count.
The ball explodes when it hits the hindquarters of the elephant, the gas quickly evaporates, leaving some chilli oil on the skin. When the elephant uses its trunk to investigate the spot, it finds the unpleasant chilli mixture. It usually takes a few attempts for the combination of the loud bang and the chilli oil to take effect, and for the elephant to decide to move on and feed elsewhere. The oil is then easily washed away when the elephant next mud bathes or sprays itself with water.
If communities are not supported in wildlife conflict zones, then they often resort to throwing rocks, fireworks, or will even use illegal firearms. All of these cause much more harm to elephants than the chilli patrollers with their blasters.
The chilli-patrolling efforts are utilized with chilli brick burning, elephant restraining fences, as well as the use of safe-grain stores which elephants cannot break into. These initiatives, combined with support from the local community, have been key to the success of the project. During this year’s farming season, over 3,000 incidences of human-elephant conflict were averted – 1,363 of these being in the Kakumbi Chiefdom.
Due to the success of the project, CSL are planning on increasing the number of patrollers to 30 for next year’s crop-growing season to continue working side by side with the community to minimize this conflict.
Emma Robinson, HWC Program Manager says: “The nine Flatdogs-sponsored chilli patrollers achieved 1,333 man-nights, firing 839 chilli ping pong balls to deter over 1,363 elephants in four months. This real practical help makes such a difference to the farmers, who are supportive of the project. In return, they help the patrollers by clearing pathways to their fields, so they can move around easily and safely after dark. They also increase the patrollers effectiveness by raising an early warning when they see approaching elephants. Not surprisingly, it’s much easier to move an elephant on, before its found a plentiful supply of deliciousness.”
“Before the patrollers started, farmers could lose their entire harvest, whereas working with the chilli patrollers they will always harvest at least two bags of maize. We hope that by increasing the number of patrollers next year and adding a fourth chiefdom, we will be able to see the benefits of reduced human-elephant conflict, reaching even more farmers.”
To find out more about this project which is supported by Flatdogs Camp, WWF Zambia and The High Five Club, please visit www.cslzambia.org.
Story & Photos By Flatdogs Camp
Developing and uplifting neighboring communities of our reserve has been part of South Africa’s Sabi Sabi ethos spanning over four decades. The conservation of our precious wilderness can flourish only in an integrated and participatory relationship with sustainable ecotourism operations and community involvement and the fragile balance between this trinity of components ultimately result in the successful running of Sabi Sabi.
Our staff have long been recognized as our greatest asset, the majority of whom hail from local communities and many of whom have been part of our story from the beginning. Forty years of empowering and recognizing our highly skilled team have gifted us with second generation employees based across our four five-star lodges in the hospitality and African safari spheres.
With this in mind, Sabi Sabi has always endeavored to focus its community involvement on projects that benefit and involve our staff, their families and respective communities. Our mission is to make a difference in the communities our staff come from by nurturing and supporting our neighbors. The rural Shangaan villages of Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia have a great need for implementation of projects of a sustainable nature that afford ownership and accountability to its people. Engaging with these communities to instill positive change is a long-term commitment aimed at seeking solutions for the challenges our staff members face on a daily basis.
We believe that education is a cornerstone of community empowerment and have facilitated a number of projects that afford the key to a brighter future. Together with the Good Work Foundation (GWF), Sabi Sabi partnered to provide a digital learning platform with the opening of the Lillydale Digital Learning Centre (LDLC). Located in Lillydale, this campus serves as a hub for all schools in the area where advanced technology is utilized to offer Grade 4 – 8 pupils the opportunity to strengthen their ability to navigate the online world and all the benefits it has to offer in securing a successful future. The two available programs incorporate theoretical and practical components – the Open Learning Academy (OLA) for grades 4 – 8 and the Bridging Academy (BA) for all school leavers and second chance learners who wish to improve their knowledge in this technological age. This hub was launched just over a year ago and we have seen remarkable progress being made in these young children.
Under the auspices of Reservations Africa, the Mazinyane Pre-school was built and opened in 2002, with the day to day co-ordination and assistance of Sabi Sabi. Our staff have been instrumental in maintaining the structure of this facility and their relationship with the project has continued to strengthen over the years. Many of the children attending the pre-school are the children and grandchildren of staff members of Sabi Sabi, and this environment is vital to these staff so that they are afforded care and basic education whilst their parents are at work.
The diversity of sport has the potential to bring together communities, provide a cultural impact, reduce crime and promote social interaction. Sabi Sabi has been involved in the Dreamfields program since 2008, which includes funding sports kits for soccer and netball teams for more than a dozen schools in the local community. These include balls, boots and uniforms, items which are completely out of reach of the general village family.
Vulnerable children in our neighboring communities are exposed to neglect, danger and abuse. The Swa Vana Care Centre is a Sabi Sabi supported initiative that comprises a care center for HIV orphans and children, providing day care facilities for children living with guardians. The center offers meals, educational activities and a safe after-school environment.
Sabi Sabi has a global reputation for serving gourmet meals to our discerning guests, under the watchful eye of outstanding South African Chefs, but our commitment and passion extend beyond creating world class meals. Training youth in neighboring communities in the culinary arts is the brainchild of Bush Lodge Executive Chef Wilfred Mtshali, who realized that untapped talent was going to waste. In 2015 the Chefs Mentorship Program was born and supports aspiring cooks by registering them with the South African Chefs Association and training them in the kitchens of our lodges.
Our efforts in finding equilibrium between the cornerstone pillars of conservation, sustainable ecotourism and community are ongoing, as are the challenges. We strive to be able to contribute to solving these challenges and to be part of conservation of community, culture and nature for all future generations. With this in mind, Sabi Sabi has formed the Sabi Sabi Foundation, with the commitment to growing custodians of our natural heritage. Custodianship through education, employment and conservation. The Foundation’s mission is to make a difference by fostering the success and upliftment of our neighbors in the communities bordering the reserve. Financial benefits by employment are significant, but not the only contributor to benefits. Benefits from the tourism operation extends beyond the boundaries of our Protected Area and to the people in these communities. By supporting various projects and promoting participation, accountability, transparency, democracy and good governance and ‘putting the last first’, one hopes that this can be achieved and for the legitimate recipients.
As summer approached in South Africa and hit us with its usual heat, we were all hoping that the rain would soon follow. Our rainy season goes hand in hand with the summer. So in the area of Kapama Private Game Reserve, we have wet, hot summers and dry cooler winters.
One day it was predicted to reach 41 degrees Celsius or 105,8 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, this is pretty hot but that afternoon as we were preparing to leave Kapama Southern Camp for our game drive, we noticed there was a storm approaching from the west where the mountains lay.
The safari game drive started hot and humid with the clouds building to our west. We were lucky to see a group of Buffalo as well as one of the prominent Males lions sleeping under a bush, all at the same watering hole!
Whilst we were taking in the beautiful sighting I pointed out the cloud formation overhead to my guests and that there was a good possibility of it raining quite soon so we got the ponchos out just in case.
Moving to the other side of the watering hole we observed the Buffalo cross the clearing in front of us. As we watched we felt the first, fat, heavy drops of rainfall. Not thinking much of it we continued to watch and photograph the Buffalo.
Suddenly the rain pelted down with great force, almost like a dam wall had burst! I didn’t even put on my rain jacket, I was just enjoying the cool, wet rain! It was the first proper rain we had experienced in months and was very much needed!
It was short-lived though. The rain was gone in just over 5 minutes. It hadn’t done much else than get everyone wet and dampen the earth a little. But the storm was travelling east and we watched it move over our heads and approach the Kruger National Park.
A spectacular sunset broke through the clouds after that and we sat for a couple of minutes and marveled at the wonders of nature. How there could be such beauty after such a big, sudden storm.
Moving on after the sun had set, we found a spot where we could have our drinks stop. It was nice and open and we were still able to watch the storm as it moved away from us. There was an awesome “lights show” as we watched the lightning flicker and flash across the sky.
After getting down from the vehicle we noticed that there were two Leopard Tortoises not too far from us. Poor creatures were probably thirsty after the dry season and were hoping for the rain to quench their thirst. Unfortunately, there was not enough rain to form any puddles for them to drink out of.
But not to worry, this was just the beginning! The rainy season has started and there are going to be many more storms and cloud bursts to look forward to!
Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger – Rayna
African safari goers are often drawn in by the big guys, the ones with fur and tusks, those who move with majesty and grace. As guides, we frequently hear cries for the Big 5, but little do safari adventurers realize is that there is a whole menagerie of weird and truly wonderful creatures just waiting to steal the show – the lesser-known, but no less marvelous, ‘Small 5000’.
Now 5000 is not a precise species count (were we to start counting we would be laughably short of the mark), but we can definitely say there is an incredible and diverse array of small creatures just waiting to be discovered! So come and join us around the campfire to learn more about our spookier residents and their dastardly habits… but be warned, life in the wild is not for the faint of heart, it might not seem like it but these creatures will get your Halloween chills up and running!
Red velvet mites are fascinating creatures. They look, to the untrained eye, a bit like a furry strawberry on legs. These wonders are seldom seen and when they are, they turn the head of even those not typically ‘arthopodically inclined’. But don’t let yourself be fooled, although they appear sweet and fluffy these animals are anything but!
As an intrinsic part of their life cycle, the larvae need to find an insect host, climb onto its back, drill a hole through its exoskeleton and feed on the (still living) insect’s bodily fluids! Whilst it is being quietly sucked dry, the insect is still mobile – this is key for the mite’s survival – allowing it to end up far from where it originally hatched, therefore reducing competition for food and living space. Once it has drunk its vampiric fill, the larva will drop off and pupate into a nymph where it transforms into an active predator and preys on every insect it can find!
Once it has fed until sated, the mite enters a dormant stage before transforming into an adult. Intriguingly, the adult is typically a less voracious predator than the nymph, focusing its diet on arthropods and their eggs, and, in this part of the world, they are especially fond of ants and termites. They spend large periods of the year inactive underground and are typically spotted at the surface after it rains. In some areas adult mites may only forage for a few hours per year!
Aside from their carnivorous habits these mites have a romantic side. Their mating rituals are seldom seen but carefully choreographed. First comes the courtship where the mites become acquainted by circling one another, tapping with their forelegs. Meanwhile the male has already deposited a spermatophore (a sperm filled parcel) onto a bed of leaves and twigs and laid down a silk trail leading to the prize. When the female has indicated her acceptance of the courting male (which presumably chiefly comprises of not eating him) he leads her down his silken trail and stops when she is positioned directly over the parcel. The parcel is hooked to her underside and the sperm fertilize her eggs. After mating she can lay as many as 100,000 eggs, enabling the whole cycle to start over again.
Few creatures in life can claim quite as many phobias created as spiders. The next character we explore is the banded-legged nephila. My favorite description of this spider has to be that it is “non-aggressive and relatively harmless”. A description which is usually followed by the disclaimer that it can deliver a painful bite if “severely provoked”. Its venom is not considered serious and merely causes redness and blistering (that well-known “harmless” symptom)!
Commonly known as a golden orb-web spider these arachnids are easily recognized by the golden-yellow color of their webs. This is believed to serve two (nefarious) purposes. First, it helps the web to blend with the surrounding foliage when it is cast by shadows, ensnaring unsuspecting insect prey. Secondly, and conversely, when in the sun it is thought to attract bees due to their preference for the color yellow.
Females are noticeably larger than their male counterparts who need to remain constantly alert to avoid being eaten by the ladies. Post-coitus cannibalism is common with this species. To avoid coming to a sticky end the males will often distract the females with a food offering or wait until she is consuming a meal before sidling in to fertilize her and then retreating to a safe distance, living to see another dawn!
by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga
The debilitating drought that ended last year saw South Africa’s Kruger National Park lose almost half of its hippo population, with an estimated 4,000 of these water-dependent animals dying – not as you’d imagine from a shortage of water, but due to a shortage of food.
Drought always hits hippo populations hard as they depend on good grazing when they leave the safety of the water at night, travelling up to 20 km away from the water to feed mostly on grasses. They can consume up to 50 kg of grass in one night, acting like a biological lawnmower. Here in the Greater Kruger’s Balule Private Safari Nature Reserve, while we didn’t lose thousands of hippos, we did notice a significant drop in numbers during the drought, as with most of our larger herbivores. Thankfully numbers are now recovering nicely, which is good for the Olifants River and the other water sources on the reserve.
Hippos are critical for healthy rivers for an unusual reason – their poop. Hippo dung provides valuable nutrients for fish and other aquatic species, so when you see a hippo defecating in the water, think positive thoughts! However, as with any good thing, too much of it can cause problems. When water sources like dams and seasonal rivers shrink, too much hippo dung can prove toxic to aquatic life, primarily because of the absorption of dissolved oxygen.
Hippos are fascinating creatures, and here we share some interesting facts about them:
Hippos spend their days in the water, and can move through it quite rapidly when they need to. They’re not good swimmers, but generally walk or run along the bottom of rivers or dams, surfacing every three to five minutes to breathe. They can sleep underwater too, thanks to the process of surfacing to breathe being a subconscious one.
Hippos are trailblazers. Literally. They have an enormous impact on the land surrounding river systems and dams as they generally take the same paths each night to feed, clearing vegetation and creating hard surfaces as they constantly move across the ground. These paths are followed by other animals as they offer direct access to water.
Hippos are very dangerous due to high levels of aggression, especially in bulls who are extremely territorial. They are also exceptionally nervous and when out of the water will seek to escape to it when startled or alarmed. Their bite can be fatal, thanks to their long, sharp incisors and canines which brush past one another in a scissor action.
Territorial bulls preside over a relatively small stretch of river, or waterholes and dams. In its territory a mature bull will preside over a pod of females and babies, as well as juveniles and younger bulls which are allowed to stay in the pod as long as they remain submissive. Territories primarily exist to establish mating rights with the females and fights between bulls invariably revolve around dominance.
Before coming to blows, bulls will gape at one another, opening their huge mouths to almost 180 degrees, showing off their canines and incisors in a threat display. The incisors point forward, like tusks, and can reach up to 40 cm in length. The super-sharp canines can grow up to 50 cm in length. They are used in combat and play no role in feeding.
A hippo’s skin has very little hair. It is also very sensitive to the sun, which is why hippos prefer to stay submerged during the hottest periods of the day. They secrete a red-coloured oily substance that acts as a natural sunscreen, but they still need to stay in the water as much as possible as too much exposure to the sun causes their skin to crack.
Hippos are very vocal animals and are able to communicate above and below the water at the same time. They achieve this courtesy of a fatty area around their necks which vibrates when the hippo vocalizes through its nose, sending the sounds waves out into the water at the same time. The sounds are amplified by the water and can be heard over large distances, and express important information like “this is my territory” and “I am here, so stay away”.
We love the sounds the hippos make, which always remind us of someone laughing heartily at a particularly rude joke!
by Sausage Tree Safari Camp
The Cape Buffalo falls part of the notorious Big Five, which everyone wants to find when out in the African bush. The other animals that make up the Big Five are Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard.
A few interesting facts about Buffalo:
- Cape buffalo can weigh anything between 300 to 900kg
- They can run at speeds of 55km\h,
- They are extremely aggressive and unpredictable animals and will charge suddenly without giving any sighs, making them one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
- Buffalo is dimorphic that means there are little differences between the male and female.
- The male is bigger and more bulker then the female the male have a helmed like structure in the middle of the head that links the two horns the helmed structure is called a boss and acts like a helmet if male buffalo will head clash can cause serious damage.
- Female buffalo is more of a red-brown coloration and have more narrow horns than the males.
- They are a social animal and are found in medium to large herds.
Buffalo are also found in bachelor herds of males only. This happens when males have reached the end of their sexual maturity and are no longer competing for the attention of females. When there are just males they are referred to as dagga boys that mean mud boys.
- Within the herd, both male and female have a hierarchy.
- Females that go into oestrus will attract many males that will compete for breeding and only the strongest male will have breeding rights.
- Female has an 11 months gestation period and a two-year interval between breeding again.
- The buffalo herd is led by what we call a pathfinder. They are not necessarily the dominant animal but acts as the leader of the group and determines where the herd will move.
- Buffalo is not a territorial animal because they are bulk grazers and need to find suitable grazing and water on an ongoing basis so they are always on the move.
- When they drink water they can consume 35l of water at a time.
- They don’t have the best eyesight but an extremely good sense of smell and hearing that can detect any threat toward them.
- When there is a threat such lions they all will come together keeping all the small calves and females in the middle and all the stronger males will be at the end defending the group.
- They are known to kill lions when lions try to hunt them and even go out of their way to charge and mob lions to make sure they are chased out of the area where there are small calves.
The African buffalo are unique animals and dangerous giving the title of being part of the big five.
Facts and photos by Buffalo Camp Ben Scheepers – Buffalo camp.
The Government of Zimbabwe and conservation non-profit African Parks signed a 20-year agreement on Friday 1st November for the management of the iconic Matusadonha National Park. At 1,470 km², the park stretches from the Matusadonha hills down to the shores of Lake Kariba. African Parks, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority will implement management strategies to secure the park and restore the once iconic African wildlife populations, unlocking its ecological, social and economic value enabling communities to derive long-term benefits. Matusadonha is the 16th protected area to join African Parks’ management portfolio.
“Zimbabwe is among the world’s richest nations in natural resources and wildlife. These are assets which have drawn millions of visitors annually and form a vital base for our economy, requiring adequate management to enhance their contributions to development,.” said Mr. Fulton Mangwanya, Director-General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. “Our public-private partnership with African Parks to restore Matusadonha helps to leverage conservation further as a sustainable mechanism for growth, promoting a tourism economy to benefit people while ensuring the protection of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.”
Matusadonha is an ecologically diverse landscape in the Zambezian biome. It is flanked by the Ume and Sanyati rivers, with 700 metre-high hills descending to its northern boundary on the shores of Lake Kariba. Mixed woodlands and scrublands cover the slopes and ridges of the escarpment, the plateaus and the plains, and a forest of trees semi-submerged by the lake stretches the length of the shoreline.
The park harbors more than 240 bird species, baobab woodlands and wildlife including elephant, lion and buffalo. However, decades of poaching coupled with insufficient management resources contributed to its decline. Elephant numbers have been drastically reduced and the once abundant population of black rhinos have been largely eliminated.
The Zimbabwe Government and African Parks will fully restore the park, implementing good infrastructure, law enforcement, conservation and community development programmes. Once a stronghold for black rhino, the park will be secured and reestablished as a sanctuary for these critically endangered animals and other key species. Matusadonha holds a special place for Zimbabwe as a tourism and heritage area, with its spectacular position on Lake Kariba. A management priority will be to enhance this status, enabling local communities to benefit from sustainable tourism.
Matusadonha National Park is the first protected area in Zimbabwe to come under the management of African Parks, a new milestone which expands their portfolio to sixteen protected areas, covering almost 11 million hectares across ten countries. The Wyss Foundation, Oak Foundation and Stichting Natura Africae are strategic partners of African Parks and are contributing part of the operational support for Matusadonha’s management.