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.


World Giraffe Day 2019!

Giraffes were thought to be a common plains game, an iconic animal in Africa that was abundant throughout its range. Today, Giraffes are considered vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (estimated population of +-100 000 individuals) with some subspecies listed as endangered or critically endangered. World Giraffe Day is celebrated on the 21st of June each year in an attempt to spread awareness for these incredible and iconic animals.

Giraffes were previously thought to be one species with nine subspecies or races. Today, thanks to further DNA testing, there are a total of four species of giraffe consisting of five subspecies. They are as follows:

Masai Giraffe (found in Tanzania and central/southern Kenya)

Reticulated Giraffe (southern Somalia and Ethiopia and northern Kenya

Northern Giraffe

    • Nubian Giraffe (found in western Kenya and Ethiopia, northern Uganda and South Sudan)
    • Kordofan Giraffe (found western South Sudan, northern DRC, northern Cameroon and southern Chad)
    • West African Giraffe (found in Western Niger)

Southern Giraffe

The previous subspecies known as the Thornicroft’s Giraffe has been found to be the same as the Masai Giraffe and the Rothschild’s Giraffe is the same as the Nubian Giraffe.

In the majority of Southern Africa, and on Kapama Private Game Reserve, you will find the South African Giraffe. South African giraffe is doing very well, with their numbers on the rise. We are very fortunate, here at Kapama, to have a very healthy population of Giraffe that provides us with many great photographic opportunities.

A few interesting facts about Giraffe:

– A Giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground, so you will notice, it awkwardly spread its front legs or kneels to reach the ground for a drink of water

– Like human fingerprints, no two individual giraffes have exactly the same pattern of spots

– Giraffes only need about 5 to 30 minutes of sleep in a 24-hour period, normally taken in short naps of a few minutes at a time

– Giraffes spend most of their lives standing up; they even sleep and give birth standing up

– If nutrients are lacking in their daily diets, they will eat bone to get phosphorous and calcium their bodies require

I personally love Giraffe and love photographing them. So, in light of World Giraffe Day, I decided to share a collection of interesting, iconic and wonderful Giraffe moments.

 

Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger – Mike Brown   


Women Join the Borana Anti-Poaching Team!

Borana Conservancy has welcomed a new team of women who will play a vital role in supporting our conservation  efforts. We interviewed a few of these ladies for an insight into how and why they have decided to join Borana Conservancy. They join our staff as gate keepers, fence maintenance crews, radio operators and general security.

 

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“My name is Joyce, I am 22 years old and I am from Ethi and my favorite animal is an elephant.”

Ethi is a village to the South of Borana Conservancy. A large number of employees on Borana Conservancy have family in Ethi village, Borana has a 95% local employment rate across the entire conservancy. Joyce found out about female ranger recruitment via an advert at the village centre.

“I wanted to become a ranger to protect wild animals from poachers. I like wild animals and Borana is a conservancy where I can share their environment.”

When asked what the hardest part of recruitment was, Joyce simply answered “ha!”. Joyce had been through the recruitment process for the Kenya Defense Force but is glad to now be a female ranger on Borana Conservancy.

 

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“My name is Elisabeth, I am 18 years old, I am from Ethi. I saw the advert for recruitment to become a female ranger when I was on my way to the market. My dream was to become a policewoman, now my dream is to become a ranger for Borana Conservancy, so that I can take care of the wild animals and serve the community of Ethi.”

“The most exciting part of my new job is my uniform, I have never had a uniform before, and I have a hat!”

When asked about the recruitment process Elisabeth seems to have taken it in her stride:
”I think the recruitment went well, I did not find the physical exercise challenging.”

The entirety of the security team on Borana are employed from surrounding communities.

The armed anti-poaching unit are registered as Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) and provide support for local communities which are often too remote for fast response from the Kenyan Police. The KPRs on Borana Conservancy deal with anything from domestic violence to livestock theft.

These women have taken their first step to becoming fully fledged wildlife rangers on Borana Conservancy.

 


There’s More To Hyenas!

Hyena cubs

 

One animal that Africa’s Sausage Tree Safari Camp has become synonymous with is the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). We’ve been lucky enough to have several dens in our traversing area here on the Balule Private Nature Reserve, and have been following one particular female for several years now – through four dennings. Her clan consists of five adults and several sub-adults and cubs, and we often pick up their tracks on our game drives, leading to some great sightings.

Hyena are not everyone’s favorite mammal, which is sad because we think they’re pretty amazing. Perhaps it’s because they look rather odd. With their front legs longer than their hinds legs, and that large and chunky look, they most certainly are not the best-looking mammals in the bush. Add to this the menacing “grin” and jaws that deliver one of the biggest bite forces in the animal kingdom and you have an animal that’s sometimes loathed rather than loved.

Hyena are generally portrayed as the “bad guys” of the bush – just think Shenzi in Disney’s Lion King! That bad reputation is completely undeserved. Far from being snide, sneaky, double crossing scavengers, they are in fact clever and successful predators with an amazingly complex and competitive social structure.

The largest and most widespread of Africa’s three species (the others being the brown and striped hyenas), spotted hyena clans are presided over by a matriarch or alpha female – usually the oldest and most experienced female member of the clan. In this matriarchal society, the females are larger than the males and dominate them physically, so that even the lowest ranked female will be dominant over the highest ranked male!

 

Hyena

 

Unlike other carnivorous mammals, spotted hyena cubs are born with their eyes open and with teeth, and will readily attack each other, often killing weaker cubs, especially in same-sexed litters. This behaviour is called neonatal siblicide and kills an estimated 25% of cubs in their first month.

The cubs grow strong quickly, thanks to milk which has extremely high fat and protein content, which they drink for up to 16 months. They can process solid food from three months of age.

Of course, the hyena’s success is dependent on the ongoing competition with their closest rival – the lion. These age-old enemies’ fates are interlinked because they occupy the same ecological niche and are in direct competition with one another, hunting the same prey species. They will also steal each other’s kills. In fact, research has shown that lions steal more from hyena than the other way around, dispelling a common belief that hyena are the “thieves” of the African wilderness. Hyenas often wait in the wings for lions to finish their meal before edging in to take what’s left, although if they have significant numerical advantage they may barge in earlier, to take the main course! Which is one of many reasons why all of us here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp love them, and love showing them to our guests.

Sausage Tree Safari Camp is an intimate, family-run luxury tented camp in the Balule region of Greater Kruger who’s proud to have been consistently rated No.1 in Balule by Tripadvisor. 

 

Spotted Hyena Den

 

 


Friends of the Badger

Did you know, Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa has over 350 species of birds? An absolute dream location for birding enthusiasts, or anyone that just loves the sights and sounds of nature. One bird that falls under this list is the Dark-chanting Goshawk. It is a medium sized raptor or bird of prey that is mainly found across sub-Saharan African.

These birds are fairly easy to identify as they are predominantly grey in color with bright orange legs and beak. There is one confusing species, the Pale-chanting Goshawk, but at Kapama we don’t need to worry too much about them as they are a rarity in our area.

Dark-chanting Goshawks are territorial nesting birds, which means the nests are constructed within a territory that is actively defended by the males. Both male and female play a role in the construction of the nest, which is a flat platform made from sticks and is then lined with spiderweb or other soft materials to add comfort and warmth to the new additions. Sometimes mud is also used to bind the sticks together. One to two eggs will be laid by the female and she is responsible for their incubation, while the males role is to provide her with food during this time.

 

 

The Dark-chanting Goshawk will feed on small mammals, birds, snakes, lizard and insects. They will hunt these creatures from a perch, which is mainly how we will spot them while on a safari. If you are lucky enough to spot one of these amazing birds, don’t only look at the bird, keep an eye out on the ground. The goshawk family has a unique symbiotic relationship with honey badgers or Southern ground-hornbills. They have been recorded to follow these two species while they are foraging for food. The goshawk will then sneakily swoop down and steal their meal. This is an example of a commensalism symbiotic relationship, which means one party benefits while the other is neither helped nor harmed in the process.

 

Recently I saw a few Dark-chanting Goshawks perching, waiting patiently for a meal to come past, but no luck in spotting the other party in the symbiotic relationship. I was, however, fortunate to see a juvenile Dark-chanting Goshawk on the ground, that was finishing up a small rodent snack. It was an interesting sighting, not only the feeding action, but the fact that the young bird had me stumped for a while in terms of identification. After the snack was complete the bird scurried along the ground before it took flight, and that was the moment when we could 98% positively identify it as a Dark-chanting Goshawk because of the distinctive orange legs. To make 100% sure of our decision, I then played the vocalization call of the dark-chanting Goshawk, to which it responded. Everyone, even the folks that previously had no interest in any feathered creatures, as well as myself and my tracker were extremely happy that we got a positive identification on an incredible sighting of this young bird devouring a small rodent.

 

 

So, if you lucky enough to spot this incredible bird you might be in for an unexpected surprise of an incredible sighting of either a honey badger or a ground-hornbill.

 

 

Story by River Lodge Ranger Brian and photos by – Mike Brown


Kiss of Death

They are fast, large, agile snakes, highly venomous and very aggressive when threatened. This is not a snake you want to upset! They are the largest venomous snake in Africa and are blamed for numerous deaths. Any guesses what this snake might be?

 Another hint…They are actually dark olive to greyish brown in color. They get the name from the blue-black of the inside of their mouths which they display when threatened. If you guessed black mamba, you are correct.

You must be wondering why I chose to elaborate more about a snake. Well, it’s actually very simple. This was a very special sighting for me and my River Lodge guests,  as I had never seen one in the wild before. This beautiful snake was very relaxed and was laying in the road reaching a length of just less than 2m. This is still a small specimen, as the black mamba can reach lengths of up to 4m. That is a very big snake, when you compare it to the average human height of about 1.6m.

We viewed this snake for a good few minutes. You could see how the tongue slowly came out of the mouth, picking up pheromones. This could have been a male that was seeing if there were any females in the area. The males will engage in combat, twisting their bodies and necks around each other, trying to push the competitor to the ground. After mating the female will lay clutches of eggs of 6 -17 eggs. After some photos were taken the snake decided it was time to say his goodbyes and headed off into the bush.

 

 

They are mainly terrestrial, but can often move off into the bushes and shrubs. This is exactly what this individual snake did. They often come to open areas like roads to bask in the sun, as reptiles need sunlight to become active.

They are active foragers and will feed on any suitably sized mammals like squirrels, rodents and other small mammals. You can also find these snakes in a wide variety of habitats like forest, bushveld, savanna, and selected rocky areas that offer suitable retreat sites.

 

 

The black mamba is shy and will almost always seek to escape when confronted. When they are however concerned they will raise their heads, sometimes with two thirds of their bodies off the ground, spread their cobra-like neck-flap, and open their mouth to show you the blackness, then proceed to hiss. If the attacker persists, the mamba will strike, not once, but repeatedly, injecting potent neurotoxic venom.

The symptoms of the bite rapidly increase, beginning with excessive sweating proceeding to paralysis and respiratory failure, sometimes within an hour. Urgent hospitalization is essential. There is a polyvalent antivenom available, but the symptoms must be correctly identified before treatment can start. Unfortunately, the antivenom is not available in the rural parts of Africa, and this is usually where most of the bites occur

 

 

Even though they are very deadly, they still have a very special place in nature and in my heart.

Story by River Lodge Ranger Lisa and photos by – Mike Brown & Lisa    


Meet Ezulwini

Since first being spotted in the Timbavati way back at the start of the millennium, the huge tusker known as Ezulwini has become legendary, and very much part of the landscape here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp on the Balule Private Nature Reserve.

We’ve had regular sightings of this magnificent elephant bull over the years, and some extraordinary close encounters, the most recent of which was captured on video by guide Matthew Sussens and is shared below.

Simply put, Ezulwini lives up to his name, which means “from heaven” in the Zulu vernacular. He’s a true gentle giant and seems somehow drawn to people, almost taking pleasure from being with them.

 

Tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

As with all elephant bulls, Ezulwini has an enormous home range and is prone to wandering, most often alone, but sometimes in the company of younger bulls or shadowing breeding herds. This movement can cover hundreds of kilometres and some have even been tracked on journeys of thousands of kilometres lasting years. This tendency to explore highlights the importance of the Greater Kruger initiative and the removing of fences between the Kruger National Park and neighbouring reserves like Balule, expanding the home range of our incredible elephant population and creating space for this natural movement and roaming.

What sets Ezulwini apart from other elephant bulls in the area, apart from his impressive ivory, is his extraordinarily gentle demeanour which apparently persists even when he is in musth.

Musth is a state of heightened sexual activity characterized by often highly aggressive behavor, the streaking of temporin from the temporal glands and a constant dribble of urine that often stains the hind legs a pale green and smells, well, “musthy”!

During musth testosterone levels in elephant bulls can be up to six times greater than normal, so the accepted rule is to avoid musth bulls at all costs. Except that Ezulwini has evidently not read this memo and somehow manages to stay exceptionally chilled and relaxed in spite of the hormones raging through him during this time.

 

Black and white image of tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

 

Indeed, Ezulwini is the epitome of Zen, making him an absolute delight to come across on game drives and even on walks. When he is in our area and we find him and position ourselves at a respectful distance, he very often chooses to approach the game viewer and pass by alongside, often with millimetres to spare!

Being so at ease in the company of humans is a double-edged sword for elephants like Ezulwini, as they obviously make easy targets for poachers. Africa is currently losing up to 100 elephants a day – that’s one every 15 minutes – to ivory poaching and our big tuskers are under enormous threat as a result.

Luckily, with his huge home range across most of the Greater Kruger area combined with the size of the Balule Private Nature Reserve (around 400 km²) and the constant presence of humans in this area, the threat to Ezulwini is minimized.

It’s sad that demand for ivory has created such a crisis for these magnificent animals. Elephant tusks are actually a single pair of upper incisors that continue to grow throughout an elephant’s life. In Africa’s elephants, both bulls and cows grow tusks, whereas in the Asian species only males have tusks. While they never stop growing, the growth rate of tusks slows as elephants get older, meaning that the great tuskers are also among the oldest of their kind.

Ezulwini is in his prime and is estimated to be around 45 to 50 years old. Elephants live to as old as 70 so with luck we’ll continue to see and interact with this magnificent bull for some years to come!

WATCH as Ezulwini casually makes his way past a game drive vehicle (filmed by guide Matthew Sussens):

 

Since first being spotted in the Timbavati way back at the start of the millennium, the huge tusker known as Ezulwini has become legendary, and very much part of the landscape here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp on the Balule Private Nature Reserve.

We’ve had regular sightings of this magnificent elephant bull over the years, and some extraordinary close encounters, the most recent of which was captured on video by guide Matthew Sussens and is shared below.

Simply put, Ezulwini lives up to his name, which means “from heaven” in the Zulu vernacular. He’s a true gentle giant and seems somehow drawn to people, almost taking pleasure from being with them.

Tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

© Sausage Tree Safari Camp

As with all elephant bulls, Ezulwini has an enormous home range and is prone to wandering, most often alone, but sometimes in the company of younger bulls or shadowing breeding herds. This movement can cover hundreds of kilometres and some have even been tracked on journeys of thousands of kilometres lasting years. This tendency to explore highlights the importance of the Greater Kruger initiative and the removing of fences between the Kruger National Park and neighbouring reserves like Balule, expanding the home range of our incredible elephant population and creating space for this natural movement and roaming.

What sets Ezulwini apart from other elephant bulls in the area, apart from his impressive ivory, is his extraordinarily gentle demeanour which apparently persists even when he is in musth.

Musth is a state of heightened sexual activity characterised by often highly aggressive behaviour, the streaking of temporin from the temporal glands and a constant dribble of urine that often stains the hind legs a pale green and smells, well, “musthy”!

During musth testosterone levels in elephant bulls can be up to six times greater than normal, so the accepted rule is to avoid musth bulls at all costs. Except that Ezulwini has evidently not read this memo and somehow manages to stay exceptionally chilled and relaxed in spite of the hormones raging through him during this time.

Black and white image of tusker elephant in Balule Private Nature Reserve

© Sausage Tree Safari Camp

Indeed, Ezulwini is the epitome of Zen, making him an absolute delight to come across on game drives and even on walks. When he is in our area and we find him and position ourselves at a respectful distance, he very often chooses to approach the game viewer and pass by alongside, often with millimetres to spare!

Being so at ease in the company of humans is a double-edged sword for elephants like Ezulwini, as they obviously make easy targets for poachers. Africa is currently losing up to 100 elephants a day – that’s one every 15 minutes – to ivory poaching and our big tuskers are under enormous threat as a result.

Luckily, with his huge home range across most of the Greater Kruger area combined with the size of the Balule Private Nature Reserve (around 400 km²) and the constant presence of humans in this area, the threat to Ezulwini is minimised.

It’s sad that demand for ivory has created such a crisis for these magnificent animals. Elephant tusks are actually a single pair of upper incisors that continue to grow throughout an elephant’s life. In Africa’s elephants, both bulls and cows grow tusks, whereas in the Asian species only males have tusks. While they never stop growing, the growth rate of tusks slows as elephants get older, meaning that the great tuskers are also among the oldest of their kind.

Ezulwini is in his prime and is estimated to be around 45 to 50 years old. Elephants live to as old as 70 so with luck we’ll continue to see and interact with this magnificent bull for some years to come!

WATCH as Ezulwini casually makes his way past a game drive vehicle (filmed by guide Matthew Sussens):

 

 

 

 

 


Analysis Suggest Elephant Poaching On Decline

 

Elephant poaching rates in Africa are declining, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

The annual poaching mortality rate fell from a high of more than 10% in 2011 to less than 4% in 2017, but the researchers warned that current levels were still unsustainable and could spell trouble for the future of the animals on the continent.

An estimated 350,000 elephants remain in Africa, but 10,000 to 15,000 are killed by poachers every year.

The team, from the University of York, University of Freiburg and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, analysed data from 53 protected sites across 29 countries between 2002 and 2017.

They observed a decline in the annual poaching mortality rate – the percentage of elephants killed through poaching each year – and found it was linked with reduced demand for ivory across China that may be linked to a drop in the Chinese economy. The number began to fall before the introduction of a ban on ivory trade in the country in 2017, they said.

Differences in poaching between sites was found to be linked with levels of corruption and poverty.

“We are seeing a downturn in poaching, which is obviously positive news, but it is still above what we think is sustainable so the elephant populations are declining,” said Dr Colin Beale, co-author of the study from the University of York.

“The poaching rates seem to respond primarily to ivory prices in south-east Asia and we can’t hope to succeed without tackling demand in that region.”

The researchers called for continued investment in law enforcement to reduce poaching, alongside action to cut ivory demand and tackle corruption and poverty.

Severin Hauenstein, from the University of Freiburg, said: “This is a positive trend, but we should not see this as an end to the poaching crisis. After some changes in the political environment, the total number of illegally killed elephants in Africa seems to be falling but, to assess possible protection measures, we need to understand the local and global processes driving illegal elephant hunting.”