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
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.
Information sourced from RFI
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.
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
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:
|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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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