Of all the animals in Africa, perhaps the most beloved and revered is its one true giant – the African bush elephant. The world’s largest land mammal is also Africa’s biggest icon, and, sadly, one of its most threatened, thanks to the demand for ivory.
Some conservation organizations suggest that we lose around 100 elephants a day in Africa to ivory poaching. That’s potentially one elephant every 15 minutes. Gone. Forever. On the Balule Private Nature Reserve, home to Sausage Tree Safari Camp, our elephant population is well-protected and shared with the Greater Kruger. They move between the reserves that make up this amazing grouping as well as the legendary Kruger National Park itself, that borders the Balule.
We regularly see large breeding herds on game drives, as well as some magnificent individual bulls and bachelor groups. We consider it a privilege to see them and switch off our vehicles so that we can spend time quietly observing them and appreciating their presence.
Elephants are, quite simply, incredible mammals. Intelligent, emotional, empathetic and acknowledged as being sentient. They are capable of using tools, recognize themselves in mirrors, have incredible spatial awareness and recent research has even shown that they have the ability under certain circumstances to identify potentially dangerous humans.
Elephants are thought to “grieve” for their dead and have been recorded offering assistance to distressed members of their family unit. The oldest members of herds have acquired “wisdom” and store both knowledge and experience of their social groups and environment. They can communicate over enormous distances through low frequency, infrasonic rumbles which resonate at a frequency that other elephants can detect through the ground. For this reason, elephants have enlarged ear bones and sensitive nerve endings in their feet that “hear” these sounds through the soft skin pads on their feet, picking up the sensitive, seismic vibrations. They are also thought to also lay their trunks on the ground to detect vibrations.
There is so much written about elephants: so many facts and figures, and so much research that sheds light on their way of life. There is much being done throughout Africa to try and protect them from their biggest threat – us. It’s sometimes hard to cut through this mountain of information and focus on what we can do to help ensure our children and grandchildren live in a world where African elephants still roam wild and free. Here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp we believe that protecting their habitat is key to the survival of elephants. Their range is hampered by human expansion and human competition for the same resources – access to water and food. It’s restricted by the fence lines we put up to protect both them and us. Elephants need space, and it’s up to us to ensure that there is enough space for them, and that we learn to live alongside them through better understanding their needs.
Our role is easy – by helping our guests to understand these incredible animals we create elephant ambassadors who help to fuel and drive conservation programs. And through these programs, we are slowly finding ways to co-exist with this wonderful African icon to create hope for their future.
Blog & Photos by Sausage Tree Safari Camp
Summer in the South African bush is something to behold. Trees, shrubs and plants that have endured our long dry season have transformed into lush, verdant thickets and forests and the Balule Private Nature Reserve is green, green, green! The perfect time for an African Safari Adventure!
This is the difference that rain makes to our water-scarce environment. The clouds began to build up in mid-November last year as the heat built to a crescendo and our first storms of the season were a blessing. Within a few days, new growth began to appear everywhere, from the first tentative blades of grass that pushed their way through the soil to buds forming on every tree and shrub. Slowly but surely the bush rejuvenated, given new life with every downpour.
The coming of the rains is a signal to our wildlife that the season of plenty is about to begin. Many species time the birth of their babies perfectly to take advantage of the increase in food sources. Impala and wildebeest are what we call synchronous breeders – this means they synchronize mating and giving birth and you know that after spotting the first lamb or calf of the season, there will soon be many more! In fact, research has shown that as many as 90% of impala births happen in a three to five-week period each lambing season.
The secret to synchronized birth is synchronized breeding, so animals like impala have a breeding or mating (rutting) season and the birth of the young will happen more or less at the same time following the gestation period. It’s a survival strategy – births are synchronized to mitigate the high mortality rate of young from predation.
It’s always lovely to see a range of baby animals on game drives here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp, and summer is most definitely “baby heaven”, as we regularly see the young of many different species: from impala lambs and zebra foals to cute warthog piglets and baby giraffes. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to see a newborn, still wobbly on its legs, or cute goslings following their Egyptian geese parents across dams and waterholes.
Here’s an interesting fact – the young of antelope species and others like zebra, buffalo and even larger species like rhino and elephant are known as precocial – they can stand within a few minutes of being born. The big cat babies, on the other hand, are what’s called altricial – born underdeveloped – and they remain completely dependent and relatively immobile for the first few weeks of their lives. As the reasons for this difference are clear: the first group of animals are prey species and the big cats, of course, are predators. It makes sense that prey species have evolved to get up and running as quickly as possible! Predator species like lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs and hyena are all altricial and use a den to hide their young.
Summer in Southern Africa is also the season for amazing birding, as the bush is filled with both endemic and migrant species, many of which choose this season to breed and hatch young. The Wahlberg’s eagles arrived at the start of the season and immediately began nesting, as did the African paradise flycatchers, whose impressive russet red tail plumage gives it away as it flits between branches in riverine and savannah thickets. The male has beautiful elongated tail feathers more than twice its body length during the breeding season, making it one of the stand-out species to spot.
The skies are also filled with European bee-eaters which spend the European winters with us, as do many of the swallow species and the gorgeous Amur falcon, which makes its way from Asia to make the most of our season of plenty!
And of course, the “creepy crawlies” are also at their most prolific during the summer, with an increase in insects and arachnid species. We’re seeing a lot of elegant grasshoppers at the moment, with their distinctive, bright red and yellow coloring. Color has a huge role to play where insects are concerned, often warning would-be predators that they are in for a nasty surprise if they’re thinking about an easy meal! And that is most certainly the case where the elegant grasshopper is concerned – it is full of unpleasant-tasting toxins, meaning that birds and other predators tend to steer clear. This method of warning predators is called aposematic coloration.
The elegant grasshopper has been exceptionally successful at warning off predators to the point that it has no real need to escape anything. As a result, the grasshopper’s wings, especially in the male, are very underdeveloped and while they can jump well, they often come back down to earth upside down or on their sides, before clumsily getting to their feet.
Content & Photography by Sausage Tree Safari Camp
It’s always absolutely amazing to see the miraculous transformation of the African bush as the wet season arrives and the grounds burst with an explosion of green and color. Dams fill up, and the almost incessant din of frogs calling all day and night becomes part of the soundtrack to the bush in summer. We have also welcomed all those unique migrant birds that fly down from the north to enjoy the summer rains here in South Africa. And, of course, there are the numerous impala lambs now littering the savannah as they wobble their way to adulthood and navigate their first frightening days in the bush.
It can be a little tougher to find animals in the rainy season as they tend to migrate away from the water sources with all the extra puddles, dams and rivers that form through the Manyeleti. But as is always the case here at Tintswalo Safari Lodge, it’s never a dull moment and we are blessed with incredible game viewing all year round.
The formidable Mbiri Pride has been hanging around the lodge area and they are constantly taking down great big buffalo – which is their specialty. The males are growing by the day and becoming very impressive figures – a dominant force in the Manyeleti to come. Some of the females are once again showing signs of oestrus, meaning they are ready to mate again. There’s also love inside the Koppies Pride, as some of these females have been mating with the Orpen Males.
Leopard sightings have been dominated by the beautiful Nompethu and her cub. She is outstandingly skilled at hunting duiker, and she seems to always have a fresh one at the ready for her growing cub. No doubt the young impalas will also start succumbing to her hunting prowess soon.
One particularly amazing sighting happened this month when a lioness tried to steal steal a warthog from a leopard – at the very top of a tree! The warthog had been hauled up into the tree and the lioness eventually gave up trying to pull it down, leaving the leopard to her meal.
© Lizi Andersen
The cheetah are regular visitors to the reserve, with six males making up the bulk of the sightings. The coalition of three brothers continue to roam the central and southern sections of the reserve. They are extremely relaxed with the vehicles and it’s been wonderful to see how they have grown used to our presence. The lone male seems to wander between the other two groups’ territories and is happy to go under their radar it seems. His range has shrunk quite a bit with the arrival of the other three males in the area. It’s a constant competition among the cats.
The lush greenery has drawn in big buffalo herds from the Kruger as they feast on the season’s bounty. It’s remarkable to see the effect that these herds have on all the animals of the area – from the birds who follow in search of insects, to the predators and all the seasonal dramas they bring along.
We look forward to updating you more in 2020! Until next time!
Leopards are solitary animals and very rarely seen together. The only times we will see them together is a female with her cubs or perhaps males fighting for territory or even mating leopards, but usually only the male and one female.
On one of our safari drives in South Africa’s Kapama Reserve, we were extremely fortunate to experience something truly special. Not only did we come across the elusive leopard, but it was leopards mating. However, what was even more special about this sighting was the male was mating with two females at the same time.
The two females were mother and daughter, who had such a close relationship that they did not mind sharing, as the male alternated between the two. This particular male was one of our big territorial males.
As you could see from the video clip when a female is ready to mate she will indicate this by moving in front of the male by rubbing her backside in front of him. The mating itself only last about 5 to 10 seconds then the male will rest for 15 minutes and begin again. This will go on for the next 5 days. During this time, they can easily mate over 250 times.
The female leopard is not a seasonal breeding animal, she can mate and have cubs any time of the year. The gestation period of a female leopard is between 3 month and 100 days roughly. When the cubs are born, they weigh less than a kilogram and are blind at birth. Leopard cubs are extremely vulnerable in the wild and the mother will hide them very well in dense vegetation or in old burrows or termite mounds. At the age of 6 to 8 weeks old, they will start to follow the mother. They are weaned at 3 months old. Leopard cubs will remain with their mother until about 18 months when they can hunt and defend for themselves.
We were lucky to come across this memorable moment and we were able to get some great photos and videos. After a while, they start walking into the bush and decided rather to leave them in peace so that they can have their privacy.
The three leopards where up and down walking and then just go lay down the male will mate with the one rest for 15 minutes mate with the other female and then start walking again. We were so lucky to experience this, leopards can be difficult to find and can be very elusive but able to see 3 at the same time was just a magical moment for me and my guest that was on safari with me.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers