Amusing Antics of Young Leopards

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Post  by Umlani Bushcamp 

 


Kapama’s Spotty Cats!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Hancho Olivier


Hippos Roam The Streets!

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

STROOP Wins Again!

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

STROOP

About 

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


Safari Bush Walks!

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

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

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

1. Experience a true connection to nature

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

 

 

 

 

2. A less intrusive option

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

3. Appreciate the smaller details

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

 

 

 

 

4. Grow your awareness and knowledge

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

5. Explore areas inaccessible to vehicles

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

By Rhino River Lodge


Growing Up Wild

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 


Chilli Balls, Zambia & Elephants……..

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


Awesome Work Sabi Sabi!

GROWING CUSTODIANS OF NATURAL HERITAGE

 

 

Developing and uplifting neighboring communities of our reserve has been part of South Africa’s Sabi Sabi ethos spanning over four decades. The conservation of our precious wilderness can flourish only in an integrated and participatory relationship with sustainable ecotourism operations and community involvement and the fragile balance between this trinity of components ultimately result in the successful running of Sabi Sabi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our staff have long been recognized as our greatest asset, the majority of whom hail from local communities and many of whom have been part of our story from the beginning. Forty years of empowering and recognizing our highly skilled team have gifted us with second generation employees based across our four five-star lodges in the hospitality and African safari spheres.

With this in mind, Sabi Sabi has always endeavored to focus its community involvement on projects that benefit and involve our staff, their families and respective communities. Our mission is to make a difference in the communities our staff come from by nurturing and supporting our neighbors. The rural Shangaan villages of Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia have a great need for implementation of projects of a sustainable nature that afford ownership and accountability to its people. Engaging with these communities to instill positive change is a long-term commitment aimed at seeking solutions for the challenges our staff members face on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We believe that education is a cornerstone of community empowerment and have facilitated a number of projects that afford the key to a brighter future. Together with the Good Work Foundation (GWF), Sabi Sabi partnered to provide a digital learning platform with the opening of the Lillydale Digital Learning Centre (LDLC). Located in Lillydale, this campus serves as a hub for all schools in the area where advanced technology is utilized to offer Grade 4 – 8 pupils the opportunity to strengthen their ability to navigate the online world and all the benefits it has to offer in securing a successful future. The two available programs incorporate theoretical and practical components – the Open Learning Academy (OLA) for grades 4 – 8 and the Bridging Academy (BA) for all school leavers and second chance learners who wish to improve their knowledge in this technological age.  This hub was launched just over a year ago and we have seen remarkable progress being made in these young children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the auspices of Reservations Africa, the Mazinyane Pre-school was built and opened in 2002, with the day to day co-ordination and assistance of Sabi Sabi. Our staff have been instrumental in maintaining the structure of this facility and their relationship with the project has continued to strengthen over the years.  Many of the children attending the pre-school are the children and  grandchildren of staff members of Sabi Sabi, and this environment is vital to these staff so that they are afforded care and basic education whilst their parents are at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diversity of sport has the potential to bring together communities, provide a cultural impact, reduce crime and promote social interaction. Sabi Sabi has been involved in the Dreamfields program since 2008, which includes funding sports kits for soccer and netball teams for more than a dozen schools in the local community. These include balls, boots and uniforms, items which are completely out of reach of the general village family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerable children in our neighboring communities are exposed to neglect, danger and abuse. The Swa Vana Care Centre is a Sabi Sabi supported initiative that comprises a care center for HIV orphans and children, providing day care facilities for children living with guardians. The center offers meals, educational activities and a safe after-school environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sabi Sabi has a global reputation for serving gourmet meals to our discerning guests, under the watchful eye of outstanding South African Chefs, but our commitment and passion extend beyond creating world class meals. Training youth in neighboring communities in the culinary arts is the brainchild of Bush Lodge Executive Chef Wilfred Mtshali, who realized that untapped talent was going to waste. In 2015 the Chefs Mentorship Program was born and supports aspiring cooks by registering them with the South African Chefs Association and training them in the kitchens of our lodges.

Our efforts in finding equilibrium between the cornerstone pillars of conservation, sustainable ecotourism and community are ongoing, as are the challenges. We strive to be able to contribute to solving these challenges and to be part of conservation of community, culture and nature for all future generations.  With this in mind, Sabi Sabi has formed the Sabi Sabi Foundation, with the commitment to growing custodians of our natural heritage. Custodianship through education, employment and conservation.  The Foundation’s mission is to make a difference by fostering the success and upliftment of our neighbors in the communities bordering the reserve.  Financial benefits by employment are significant, but not the only contributor to benefits. Benefits from the tourism operation extends beyond the boundaries of our Protected Area and to the people in these communities. By supporting various projects and promoting participation, accountability, transparency, democracy and good governance and ‘putting the last first’, one hopes that this can be achieved and for the legitimate recipients.


The Rain has come…

As summer approached in South Africa and hit us with its usual heat, we were all hoping that the rain would soon follow. Our rainy season goes hand in hand with the summer. So in the area of Kapama Private Game Reserve, we have wet, hot summers and dry cooler winters.

One day it was predicted to reach 41 degrees Celsius or 105,8 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, this is pretty hot but that afternoon as we were preparing to leave Kapama Southern Camp for our game drive, we noticed there was a storm approaching from the west where the mountains lay.

The safari game drive started hot and humid with the clouds building to our west. We were lucky to see a group of Buffalo as well as one of the prominent Males lions sleeping under a bush, all at the same watering hole!

 

 

Whilst we were taking in the beautiful sighting I pointed out the cloud formation overhead to my guests and that there was a good possibility of it raining quite soon so we got the ponchos out just in case.

Moving to the other side of the watering hole we observed the Buffalo cross the clearing in front of us. As we watched we felt the first, fat, heavy drops of rainfall. Not thinking much of it we continued to watch and photograph the Buffalo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suddenly the rain pelted down with great force, almost like a dam wall had burst! I didn’t even put on my rain jacket, I was just enjoying the cool, wet rain! It was the first proper rain we had experienced in months and was very much needed!

It was short-lived though. The rain was gone in just over 5 minutes. It hadn’t done much else than get everyone wet and dampen the earth a little. But the storm was travelling east and we watched it move over our heads and approach the Kruger National Park.

A spectacular sunset broke through the clouds after that and we sat for a couple of minutes and marveled at the wonders of nature. How there could be such beauty after such a big, sudden storm.

 

 

 

 

Moving on after the sun had set, we found a spot where we could have our drinks stop. It was nice and open and we were still able to watch the storm as it moved away from us. There was an awesome “lights show” as we watched the lightning flicker and flash across the sky.

 

 

 

After getting down from the vehicle we noticed that there were two Leopard Tortoises not too far from us. Poor creatures were probably thirsty after the dry season and were hoping for the rain to quench their thirst. Unfortunately, there was not enough rain to form any puddles for them to drink out of.

 

 

 

 

But not to worry, this was just the beginning! The rainy season has started and there are going to be many more storms and cloud bursts to look forward to!

Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger – Rayna

 


Things that go bump in the bush!

African safari goers are often drawn in by the big guys, the ones with fur and tusks, those who move with majesty and grace. As guides, we frequently hear cries for the Big 5, but little do safari adventurers realize is that there is a whole menagerie of weird and truly wonderful creatures just waiting to steal the show – the lesser-known, but no less marvelous, ‘Small 5000’.

 

 

 

 

Now 5000 is not a precise species count (were we to start counting we would be laughably short of the mark), but we can definitely say there is an incredible and diverse array of small creatures just waiting to be discovered! So come and join us around the campfire to learn more about our spookier residents and their dastardly habits… but be warned, life in the wild is not for the faint of heart, it might not seem like it but these creatures will get your Halloween chills up and running!

 

 

 

 

Red velvet mites are fascinating creatures. They look, to the untrained eye, a bit like a furry strawberry on legs. These wonders are seldom seen and when they are, they turn the head of even those not typically ‘arthopodically inclined’. But don’t let yourself be fooled, although they appear sweet and fluffy these animals are anything but!

As an intrinsic part of their life cycle, the larvae need to find an insect host, climb onto its back, drill a hole through its exoskeleton and feed on the (still living) insect’s bodily fluids! Whilst it is being quietly sucked dry, the insect is still mobile – this is key for the mite’s survival – allowing it to end up far from where it originally hatched, therefore reducing competition for food and living space. Once it has drunk its vampiric fill, the larva will drop off and pupate into a nymph where it transforms into an active predator and preys on every insect it can find!

 

 

 

 

Once it has fed until sated, the mite enters a dormant stage before transforming into an adult. Intriguingly, the adult is typically a less voracious predator than the nymph, focusing its diet on arthropods and their eggs, and, in this part of the world, they are especially fond of ants and termites. They spend large periods of the year inactive underground and are typically spotted at the surface after it rains. In some areas adult mites may only forage for a few hours per year!

Aside from their carnivorous habits these mites have a romantic side. Their mating rituals are seldom seen but carefully choreographed. First comes the courtship where the mites become acquainted by circling one another, tapping with their forelegs. Meanwhile the male has already deposited a spermatophore (a sperm filled parcel) onto a bed of leaves and twigs and laid down a silk trail leading to the prize. When the female has indicated her acceptance of the courting male (which presumably chiefly comprises of not eating him) he leads her down his silken trail and stops when she is positioned directly over the parcel. The parcel is hooked to her underside and the sperm fertilize her eggs. After mating she can lay as many as 100,000 eggs, enabling the whole cycle to start over again.

 

 

 

 

Few creatures in life can claim quite as many phobias created as spiders. The next character we explore is the banded-legged nephila. My favorite description of this spider has to be that it is “non-aggressive and relatively harmless”. A description which is usually followed by the disclaimer that it can deliver a painful bite if “severely provoked”. Its venom is not considered serious and merely causes redness and blistering (that well-known “harmless” symptom)!

 

 

 

 

Commonly known as a golden orb-web spider these arachnids are easily recognized by the golden-yellow color of their webs. This is believed to serve two (nefarious) purposes. First, it helps the web to blend with the surrounding foliage when it is cast by shadows, ensnaring unsuspecting insect prey. Secondly, and conversely, when in the sun it is thought to attract bees due to their preference for the color yellow.

Females are noticeably larger than their male counterparts who need to remain constantly alert to avoid being eaten by the ladies. Post-coitus cannibalism is common with this species. To avoid coming to a sticky end the males will often distract the females with a food offering or wait until she is consuming a meal before sidling in to fertilize her and then retreating to a safe distance, living to see another dawn!

 

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

Let’s hear it for hippos!

The debilitating drought that ended last year saw South Africa’s Kruger National Park lose almost half of its hippo population, with an estimated 4,000 of these water-dependent animals dying – not as you’d imagine from a shortage of water, but due to a shortage of food.

Drought always hits hippo populations hard as they depend on good grazing when they leave the safety of the water at night, travelling up to 20 km away from the water to feed mostly on grasses. They can consume up to 50 kg of grass in one night, acting like a biological lawnmower. Here in the Greater Kruger’s Balule Private Safari Nature Reserve, while we didn’t lose thousands of hippos, we did notice a significant drop in numbers during the drought, as with most of our larger herbivores. Thankfully numbers are now recovering nicely, which is good for the Olifants River and the other water sources on the reserve.

 

 

 

 

Hippos are critical for healthy rivers for an unusual reason – their poop. Hippo dung provides valuable nutrients for fish and other aquatic species, so when you see a hippo defecating in the water, think positive thoughts! However, as with any good thing, too much of it can cause problems. When water sources like dams and seasonal rivers shrink, too much hippo dung can prove toxic to aquatic life, primarily because of the absorption of dissolved oxygen.

Hippos are fascinating creatures, and here we share some interesting facts about them:

Hippos spend their days in the water, and can move through it quite rapidly when they need to. They’re not good swimmers, but generally walk or run along the bottom of rivers or dams, surfacing every three to five minutes to breathe. They can sleep underwater too, thanks to the process of surfacing to breathe being a subconscious one.

 

 

 

Hippos are trailblazers. Literally. They have an enormous impact on the land surrounding river systems and dams as they generally take the same paths each night to feed, clearing vegetation and creating hard surfaces as they constantly move across the ground. These paths are followed by other animals as they offer direct access to water.

Hippos are very dangerous due to high levels of aggression, especially in bulls who are extremely territorial. They are also exceptionally nervous and when out of the water will seek to escape to it when startled or alarmed. Their bite can be fatal, thanks to their long, sharp incisors and canines which brush past one another in a scissor action.

 

 

 

 

Territorial bulls preside over a relatively small stretch of river, or waterholes and dams. In its territory a mature bull will preside over a pod of females and babies, as well as juveniles and younger bulls which are allowed to stay in the pod as long as they remain submissive. Territories primarily exist to establish mating rights with the females and fights between bulls invariably revolve around dominance.

Before coming to blows, bulls will gape at one another, opening their huge mouths to almost 180 degrees, showing off their canines and incisors in a threat display. The incisors point forward, like tusks, and can reach up to 40 cm in length. The super-sharp canines can grow up to 50 cm in length. They are used in combat and play no role in feeding.

 

 

 

A hippo’s skin has very little hair. It is also very sensitive to the sun, which is why hippos prefer to stay submerged during the hottest periods of the day. They secrete a red-coloured oily substance that acts as a natural sunscreen, but they still need to stay in the water as much as possible as too much exposure to the sun causes their skin to crack.

Hippos are very vocal animals and are able to communicate above and below the water at the same time. They achieve this courtesy of a fatty area around their necks which vibrates when the hippo vocalizes through its nose, sending the sounds waves out into the water at the same time. The sounds are amplified by the water and can be heard over large distances, and express important information like “this is my territory” and “I am here, so stay away”.

We love the sounds the hippos make, which always remind us of someone laughing heartily at a particularly rude joke!

 

 

 

 

by Sausage Tree Safari Camp

The Cape Buffalo

The Cape Buffalo falls part of the notorious Big Five, which everyone wants to find when out in the African bush. The other animals that make up the Big Five are Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard.

A few interesting facts about Buffalo:

  • Cape buffalo can weigh anything between 300 to 900kg
  • They can run at speeds of 55km\h,
  • They are extremely aggressive and unpredictable animals and will charge suddenly without giving any sighs, making them one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
  • Buffalo is dimorphic that means there are little differences between the male and female.
  • The male is bigger and more bulker then the female the male have a helmed like structure in the middle of the head that links the two horns the helmed structure is called a boss and acts like a helmet if male buffalo will head clash can cause serious damage.
  • Female buffalo is more of a red-brown coloration and have more narrow horns than the males.
  • They are a social animal and are found in medium to large herds.

 

 

 

 

Buffalo are also found in bachelor herds of males only. This happens when males have reached the end of their sexual maturity and are no longer competing for the attention of females. When there are just males they are referred to as dagga boys that mean mud boys.

 

 

 

 

  • Within the herd, both male and female have a hierarchy.
  • Females that go into oestrus will attract many males that will compete for breeding and only the strongest male will have breeding rights.
  • Female has an 11 months gestation period and a two-year interval between breeding again.
  • The buffalo herd is led by what we call a pathfinder. They are not necessarily the dominant animal but acts as the leader of the group and determines where the herd will move.

 

 

 

 

  • Buffalo is not a territorial animal because they are bulk grazers and need to find suitable grazing and water on an ongoing basis so they are always on the move.
  • When they drink water they can consume 35l of water at a time.
  • They don’t have the best eyesight but an extremely good sense of smell and hearing that can detect any threat toward them.
  • When there is a threat such lions they all will come together keeping all the small calves and females in the middle and all the stronger males will be at the end defending the group.
  • They are known to kill lions when lions try to hunt them and even go out of their way to charge and mob lions to make sure they are chased out of the area where there are small calves.

The African buffalo are unique animals and dangerous giving the title of being part of the big five.

Facts and photos by Buffalo Camp Ben Scheepers – Buffalo camp.