Elephants Resurface in War-Torn Area

In an exciting discovery in Africa, a large herd of about 250-300 elephants has been spotted in Nigeria’s far northeast corner, close to the borders with Cameroon and Chad. It is the first reported sighting of elephants in the region since Boko Haram invaded the area a decade ago.

Up until a decade ago hundreds of elephants used to migrate through the region, with three major migration routes passing through Sambisa Forest, a reserve in Nigeria’s Borno State that is the size of Belgium and The Netherlands. This reserve became synonymous with Boko Haram terrorism as the same migration routes were used by insurgents to escape military bombardment. The heavy exchange of artillery fire between the military and the insurgents drove most wildlife away from the reserve. 

Up until now, it had been unclear what happened to the elephants that once roamed the Sambisa Forest and savannahs in Borno and Yobe states.





This large herd of elephants was spotted a few kilometres from Rann during a humanitarian mission carried out by helicopter. Rann has become a place synonymous with the horrors of the insurgency.

“We have dispatched our director of forests Peter Ayuba, to confirm the sighting and to carry out an impact assessment,” said Kabiru Wanori, Borno State’s environment commissioner.

Although the great elephant census did not cover Nigeria, it was estimated that there are 250 in the country with the largest concentration (100-150) being in Bauchi State in the Yankari Game Reserve. Yankari, under the management of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which operates under challenging political, economic, and security environment. This sighting of a perviously unknown herd would therefore effectively double the estimated Nigeria elephant population. Nigeria’s elephant population includes scattered populations of both savannah elephants in the north of the country and forest elephants in the south of the country.

Information sourced from RFI

Survival Against The Odds

Elephants are one of the most iconic African Safari wildlife. These are the stories of two elephants who display enormous tenacity and will to survive, despite significant obstacles. As told by Dr. Michelle Henley – Elephants Alive Director, Co-founder and Principal Researcher.




Most of the staff and residents of the Associated Private Nature Reserves  Klaserie, Umbabat, Timbavati, Balule & Thornybush (APNR) in the Greater Kruger  have come to know Matambu. He is a true gentle giant amongst elephants, in every sense of the word, often bestowing on us the great honor of contact rumbling when he senses us. This could be because we have regularly visited him since first sighting him on 16 June 2005, and so he has come to recognise the sound of our research vehicle and the scent of its passengers. You see, Matambu is almost totally blind. During our recent annual aerial census, Matambu was seen walking closely on the heels of a younger bull, tracking him as he weaved his way through the bushveld. We have often found him in the company of Whispers, who would protectively charge at us when we immobilise his ailing companion  surely a sign of loyalty and concern for his safety.

In May of this year, we thought we were going to lose Matambu after he suffered a severe infection near the base of his tail and his underparts, probably after being attacked by another bull. We turned to Wildlifevets (Drs. Ben Muller and Joel Alves) three times to treat Matambu’s wounds.





A deep sadness hung over our team at Elephants Alive when we were told during the last treatment that we needed to let him pass on. But, as we mentally prepared ourselves, Matambu had other plans and a clear will to live, and slowly but surely his condition improved. Almost six months after his injury he is still thin, and has a less severe infection, but the flushing green grass will hopefully give him the kick-start he needs to boost his immune system and fight off the infection. We are delighted to be approaching the festive season and the New Year with this special elephant. Keep fighting Matambu, as we need your continued existence to bring us added joy!




Rhandzekile, meaning ‘loved’ in Shangaan, was first sighted in 2009 in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve as a young sub-adult cow. Through the years since then people who see her have expressed shock and awe that she has kept going. Rhandzekile has a large hole below her forehead, through which she breathes. Our vets suspect that her handicap is congenital. She appears on and off in the APNR and recently was seen lactating, with a calf in tow.

The hole in her forehead was recently oozing puss, and so we again called Wildlifevets to the rescue, who examined her and administered booster injections. Miraculously, only 2% of her breathing is through her trunk – the rest is via the hole in her forehead, with much audible sucking and blowing. Subsequent to this treatment she moved out of Balule Private Nature Reserve all the way down to Skukuza over the period of a month, clearly showing us that her handicap does not hold her back in anyway.





Rhandzekile has the company of her family herd, and we wonder who in that herd helps her to drink by squirting water into her mouth, as she will not be able to suck water very effectively?

So it is in the lives of elephants  they care for each other  and sometimes we are privileged enough to catch a glimpse into their world of absolute bonds and friendships that last a lifetime and allow handicapped individuals to live long and fruitful lives.





Thank you to all the landowners of the APNR for reporting sightings of this cow. We would like to monitor her more closely and fit a collar so your sightings are valuable. Thank you to the wardens and especially to Ian Nowak (general man ager of Balule) for helping with the location of this cow for examination.




Amusing Antics of Young Leopards

Usually when we see leopards out on safari we see them alone, the exceptions to this rule is mothers and their cubs or on the rare occasion when these elusive big cats are mating. However, a few weeks ago we had reports of a young male leopard (who was reaching independence) who had killed an impala and had hoisted it high up into the branches of a tree that was over hanging one of our large dry riverbeds.

We made our way to the sighting, and on arrival found the young male lying in the dry riverbed. The setting was absolutely beautiful with the stunning cat out in the open and an even more stunning backdrop as nature had painted the sky with the colors of sunset.





The following morning we returned to the area only to find another young male leopard in the tree feeding on the impala carcass and no sign of the original youngster we had seen the previous day. He fed for a while before making his way down the tree, when all of a sudden the original leopard showed up and quickly climbed up to reclaim his kill. He was immediately followed by the other young male who was half his size and half his age.





There was a short struggle as the two leopards had a tug of war over the carcass. The larger male soon managed to muscle it away from his smaller competitor and once he had secured the carcass in a fork of the tree he viciously attacked the smaller male.

The struggle was brief but it resulted in the smaller male losing his grip and plummeting down to the ground, a drop of over 10 metres.





The saying “a cat always lands on its feet” was not the case here as the male landed on his back. For a few seconds he lay stunned on the ground at the base of the tree before getting up and slinking off into a nearby thicket. We were left wondering if he was going to be okay.

However later that evening when we returned to the site we found the two young males together yet again, though this time they were in the company of a female leopard  the mother of the older leopard cub.





The trio of leopards seemed to have settled all differences and we saw them walking together and at times even playing with each other. This is something that is hardly ever seen where a female ‘adopts’ another female’s youngster and was truly a memorable sighting for all of us who witnessed it.





Post  by Umlani Bushcamp 


Kapama’s Spotty Cats!

For many of the guests visiting South Africa’s Kapama Private Reserve along their African Safari adventure, it is their first visit to the  continent. They are always so excited to see the variety of wildlife the Reserve has to offer. Many of the wildlife species guests know from documentaries but some they still get confused with or swap the names around, especially when it comes to the spotted cats. The two that get swapped around the most when seen while out on a game drive are the Leopard and Cheetah.

Because both of them are fairly difficult to find while out on safari, our guests are generally quite confused as to which one is which. I decided to talk a little bit about the main obvious differences between them and also some not so noticeable differences!

Here are a couple of the main differences listed from most noticeable to least:

Leopard Cheetah
Large head and skull with strong neck and body Smaller head, slender body with longer legs
Rosette patterns on body Body covered in black spots
No tear marks visible on face Tear marks visible down side of nose
Powerful muscular attacker relying on camouflage for stalking Sprinter lacking strength relying on speed to catch prey
Prey normally hoisted up into trees Always feeds on the ground
Leopards have bigger front feet than back feet The Cheetah on the other hand has really big back feet
A Leopard’s tail is much more tubular in shape A Cheetah’s tail is  much more flat in shape

This is just a couple of the more obvious differences to be on the lookout for next time you see one of the spotted cats while out on safari. If one compares the size of these cats you will notice although a Cheetah might stand taller than a Leopard, the Leopard is much heavier than the Cheetah. The simple reason is that Cheetahs do need to have a more slender build for them to obtain their speed of up to 112km/h whereas Leopard needs the extra muscles to be able to drag their prey up into a tree out of danger from other predators.

Although you might sometimes see Cheetahs up in a tree it will always be one easy enough for them to jump in as they are not as good climbers as your Leopard. Reason being that a Cheetah’s claws don’t retract as they need it for traction when running at such high speeds. Thus the edges are not as sharp to be able to grip and climb into trees. Whereas Leopards have retractable claws to protect them to stay sharp at all times and grip trees as they are climbing!

Hope next time you visit a reserve that features both of these incredible cats, that this information will help you.

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Hancho Olivier

Hippos Roam The Streets!

“Do wildlife roam your streets?” This is a question that South Africans are sometimes asked when travelling overseas. For the most part this question will be met with much derision and the rolling of eyes, but not by the residents of St. Lucia!

St. Lucia is a small town along the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa that first started out as a little holiday fishing village. It is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site – the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – and is not much bigger than it was all those years ago. The only difference today is the roads are now tarred and the safari tourists have discovered it, although it still remains one of those hidden little gems with unique opportunities to experience nature in all its magnificence.





Hippos are dangerous and great care must be taken when coming across these animals. Residents have become accustomed to them, but caution is still practiced. The hippos have adjusted to the residents and visitors to the town, negotiating the traffic and tolerating the paparazzi that follows their progress through the streets.

One of the first things you are told when checking in to the various accommodation establishments is to respect the hippos, and how to take precautions in order to remain safe. The residents believe strongly that the town belongs to the hippos and they should have the freedom to roam and graze.





Other wildlife also roam the area, such as leopards who live in the surrounding bush and forests. They are shy and pose little threat to residents and visitors, and if you are very lucky you may even see one crossing a road on the edge of the town before slinking back into the bush.

Besides leopards and hippos, you can find bushbabies in the trees at night calling one another, or even duikers darting across the road into the bush as they forage for food. Vervet monkeys are commonplace, and can be seen from the verandah of most of the local guesthouses. On occasion even hyenas have been known to venture into town.

Even though we may not see much of the wildlife during the day, many of them do come out at night and explore the town while everyone is asleep. As you can see, St. Lucia is a very unique place to visit and is sure to provide visitors with some great wildlife sightings!

STROOP Wins Again!


The multiple award-winning wildlife crime thriller, ‘STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War’ received its 26th award this past weekend when the documentary’s filmmakers, Susan Scott and Bonné de Bod were honored with the SANParks Kudu Award for Best Television Journalism for 2018/2019.

Hosted annually, the Kudu Award is one of the country’s top conservation prizes given by the South African National Parks (SANParks) to recognize deserving conservationists including SANParks staff, NGO partners as well as the media.





According to Fundisile Mketeni, SANParks CEO, “Awareness of conservation issues is of vital importance and if we want to better protect our national parks… we need to educate and inform the public. The media are key in this role. Tonight we honour those leading the way in informing the world”.

The panel of judges went on to confer the award, stating that the filmmakers were being recognised for creating an outstanding rhino awareness tool through the medium of storytelling and that they had made an immense contribution to dissemination of conservation information through the use of television.





In addition to the coveted Kudu trophy, the award comes with a R20,000 cash prize which the filmmakers will be giving to the Special Ranger K9 Unit based in the Kruger National Park.

“So thrilled that we can give back to fight on the ground,” said television presenter and filmmaker Bonné de Bod at the glittering award ceremony held at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand on Friday 29th November, adding “the dogs are a successful component to the unit and despite being ‘low-tech’, they are costly to have and we urge those in the public to give if they can to efforts there”.





Director Susan Scott added, “this very unit is featured in STROOP and they allowed us access into their closed world for several years, which of course is just incredible to have that kind of access at the epicentre of the rhino horn war, but this was hugely brave of them to trust us to tell their story to the world. It’s only fitting that we give back to them and we also know they will put this money to better use than we ever will!”

The filmmakers will be donating the full cash prize to the SANParks Honorary Rangers who will ensure that the elite fighting unit in the Kruger will receive the donation. Scott and de Bod already have an established relationship with the SANParks Honorary Rangers who receive a percentage of STROOP DVD sales from the Park’s Shops inside the Kruger National Park. The filmmakers have stipulated that these funds directly benefit the ranger efforts inside the park

The eye-opening, world-acclaimed documentary had its African television premiere on M-Net on World Rhino Day and screened in Afrikaans on kykNET back in September.

STROOP is currently available to watch on ShowmaxiTunes, Amazon and Google Play. DVDs can be purchased via www.stroop-film.com.







The South African feature documentary STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War is an independently made film about the rhino poaching crisis – released in 2018. Expect unique footage – from the killing fields of Kruger to bush town courtrooms and the dingy back rooms of Vietnamese wildlife traffickers. This multiple award-winning feature documentary is available for digital download here.

Safari Bush Walks!

If you only do one thing while on an African safari, make sure it’s a guided bush walk.

Often overlooked in favor of game drives, bush walks are one of the best ways to experience the African wilderness on a more personal and connected level. Many of our guests rate it as a highlight of their safari experience.

Here are 5 reasons to leave the comfort of the game vehicle and enjoy a bush walk with an experienced game ranger:

1. Experience a true connection to nature

If a game drive is like watching a movie, a bush walk is like acting in it. The sounds of leaves crunching beneath your boots harmonized by a myriad of bird calls, the feeling of being utterly surrounded by nature and the anticipation of the unknown  a bush walk not only engages your senses but opens your mind to a whole new world. Out in the wild, you experience things on nature’s terms, and it challenges you to be engaged in your environment, rather than just observing it from a distance.





2. A less intrusive option

Bush walks are much less intrusive to the wildlife and environment. The noise of a car engine could scare off potential sightings before you even get to them, however bush walks allow you to quietly move through the terrain without much disruption. While there are predators in the reserve, humans are regarded as apex predators by wild animals and therefore they’re not likely to approach us while walking. Experienced game rangers also know all the do’s and don’ts to adhere to when walking in the wild and are well versed in reading animals’ body language which also reduces the risk of any dangerous incidences taking place.

3. Appreciate the smaller details

Being on foot allows you to notice the little things that you previously would have driven straight past, such as insects, animal tracks, and plants. The slow pace of a bush walk lets you properly absorb your surroundings and take in all the sounds, smells, and interesting little sightings that you would have otherwise missed.





4. Grow your awareness and knowledge

Bush walks leave you with a greater understanding of nature, and as a result, a deeper connection with it. Our game rangers love sharing their bush knowledge with anybody who is eager to learn. Whether you’re learning facts about a termite mound or animal spoor, the guides can teach you how everything is connected and important to the environment.

5. Explore areas inaccessible to vehicles

Possibly the most exciting part of a bush walk is getting to explore areas that are completely inaccessible to vehicles. Venturing into the untamed bush along footpaths created by animals is truly exhilarating… not to mention more environmentally friendly.





We could go on and on about all the other benefits of a bush walk but we’ll leave it at that for now. You’ll just have to come and find out the rest for yourself!





By Rhino River Lodge