An unexpected visitor

Recently we have been extremely lucky to have a pack of wild dogs join us on Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa. The African Wild Dog, or “painted dog” is listed as endangered on the IUCN RED LIST and is the second most endangered mammal in Africa. With home ranges of up to 1000 square km and almost always on the move, together with numbers thought to be less than 5000 and not even 300 in the Kruger area, you can imagine the excitement amongst the rangers.

The first time I heard them being called in, I was very confused. When rangers talk about animals over the radio, we use the local Shangaan names for the animals. I heard them call the wild dogs by their Shangaan name, I had to ask my tracker Godsave, what was being called in, as it was a first for me. Once I knew what the species was, my heart rate and excitement skyrocketed.

The ranger that had spotted them earlier said it looked like they were ready to be on the move again. Now just keep in mind that when wild dogs are on the move, they can travel incredible distances in a short period. So, I knew that keeping up with them would be extremely difficult. But with hopes still high I made my approach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily, they decided to hang around the dam for a bit longer and as we arrived, we got to see them. I was so excited, and my excitement filtered through onto my guests. I had no words and couldn’t speak; my guests were very understanding because they realized how special it was to be a part of this pack’s morning activities. You realize something is truly special when your ranger is at a loss for words and takes out their camera to capture the moment.

We sat for a while just observing their behavior and what they were doing. What made this even more special, was not just a pack of wild dogs, but we could see young pups with them as well.

The pups were having an absolute blast of a time trying to pull a stick out from the water, they eventually got it right and proceeded to play with it, just like most dogs would.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the adults just ran around sniffing the ground and making sure the pups were well behaved. After a while, I managed to regain composure and could then explain a bit about these incredible animals to my guests.

– Pups are born in a den and remain there for the first 3 months
– All pack members help take care of the pups
– Wild dogs are regarded as one of the most successful hunters with a success rate of over 80%
– As they have so much stamina, they chase their prey over large distances tiring them out
– The weakest fall behind and become prey
– Females are generally bigger than males
– The coloured pattern of each dog is unique and is used for individual identification
– They lack dewclaws on the front legs, unlike other canid species

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After admiring them for a while suddenly the adult individuals ran towards the pups and they were all interacting with each other by rubbing themselves against one another. That happened for a brief moment and they all got up and ran off into the distance.

We tried to follow them but like I mentioned before, they can travel long distances in a short period, so it was difficult to keep visual. They then disappeared into the bush, but we got to be a part of their morning routine, even if it was only for a short time.

Story and photos by River Lodge Ranger Brian Dann & Tracker Godsave


Shining a Spotlight on the Painted Wolves

It’s hard to believe that Africa’s beautiful painted wolf (African wild dog) is still stigmatized in spite of its endangered status, but that’s the cold truth about these beautiful, but highly efficient predators with both formal and informal livestock farmers across the continent still regarding them as a pest.

Indeed, in South Africa of old, the painted wolf (its name comes from its latin name, Lycaon pictus) was persecuted, shot and killed with the government rewarding such actions with 5 shillings per animal! Thankfully those days are consigned to the history books and anecdotes of yesteryear and today, here in the Balule Private Nature Reserve, we are always extremely glad to see them, which we do frequently on our game drives. Or even driving along the R40 north of the small town of Hoedspruit which dissects a major portion of their local range!

 

Painted wolf crossing the road, African wild dog

 

 

Here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp we are currently spotting a small pack of three painted wolves with seven pups in our area, which are always a special sighting for our guests. The reserve’s research team also recently collared an alpha male in our area, so we are fortunate to be ‘in the thick of it’ when it comes to dog activity.

There is no underestimating the critical role that painted wolves play in the ecosystems they inhabit. Their presence helps to regulate prey species and, as a result, help to shape entire vegetation landscapes. They are Africa’s most successful predator in terms of kill rate, and also its rarest. Their fascinating and intricate social system is also the subject of much research and through this we have discovered that they are one of the few species that actively looks after their sick and old, highlighting an incredible bond that all pack members share.

Packs can be large with up to 30 individuals, but only the alpha female usually breeds, although sometimes (depending on conditions) the beta female will also produce pups, but the alpha female will raise them all nonetheless. The role of the pack is to look after the alpha male and female, with the betas waiting in the wings to step in if the alphas are lost. It’s a strict hierarchy that drives potential new alphas and betas off on their own, splitting large packs to form new, emerging packs. Once they reach maturity it is the males that tend to stay within their family pack, while the females leave to form or join new packs.

 

Painted wolf puppies, African wild dog puppies

 

Painted wolves range over huge distances, only staying in one spot when they den and the pups are born. They breed seasonally, with pups being born usually in the dry season when the hunting conditions are at their best. When the pups are ready to eat solid food they are given priority when the pack makes a kill, even over the alpha pair, so that they grow as quickly as possible, enabling them to keep up with the pack and speed up the process of leaving the den site.

It’s been known for a single pack to range over as much as a 1,500 km distance, which is why seeing painted wolves is such a privilege. That is an enormous home range, so let’s put it into perspective: imagine an area the size of Greater London, home to some 7.5-million people. This huge city would only be able to support only one or two packs of painted wolves!

Because of this huge range and their need for space, the loss of habitat is a major concern and perhaps the greatest threat facing the painted wolf.

Fortunately for us, we tend to see them once a month or so, and usually more regularly in summer because of the plentiful prey species – especially impala. Of course, their presence in our area depends on other predator activity and we find that if we are seeing a lot of lion and hyena, painted wolf sightings tail off.

 

 

African wild dog, Painted wolf

 

 

Their coats are something to behold. Each of the spotted, mottled patterns is unique – like a fingerprint. Their large, round ears are perhaps their most distinguishing feature and allow for exceptionally acute hearing that can pick up the calls of other pack members over long distances.

Everything from hares and warthog to impala and kudu is on the painted wolf menu, and they have even been known to hunt larger species such as buffalo –concentrating on the immature and weakened animals, as well as calves. They are exceptionally intelligent hunters and display remarkable hunting strategies that see some members flank prey while others fall behind or take up ambush positions further ahead.

Ultimately, this beautiful, clever canid is part of our wilderness landscape here in Africa and the priority for several large conservation organisations that are working together to secure its future. So the next time you stroke your pet dog, or rub its tummy, think about its African ‘cousin’ out here in the wilds of Africa – our very own ‘wild dog’.

 

 

Two painted wolves playing, African wild dogs playing

 

 

 

 

 


A Very Spotted Safari

We were ready to set out on our evening safari from River Lodge and everybody made sure they had a warm jacket packed in. Although we are officially in South African Spring, the evening air still packs a slight bite as the sun begins to drop.  As we set out on our way I was asked a question – “Can we try and find things not often seen?”

Now as difficult as it is to grant a request like that I was smiling because I knew about a Leopard that was seen on a kill during the morning game drive and I was confident it will still be in the same area.  So that was the initial plan my tracker Collin and I decided upon. We slowly made our way to the area and hoped that luck was on our side. When we got to the area the Leopard was not there and the excitement started to drop.

Now what?

We decided to try and go to all the nearby water sources, and see what nature had in store for us. Nothing was found near the water sources so we decided to go back to the kill site and follow the tracks from there. But that was not necessary! When we arrived at the kill site the Leopard was back! Excitement as always because Leopards are solitary and very elusive. They almost try “not” to be seen.

 

 

 

 

It was already time for sundowners by now so that’s just what we did. Of course, everybody still talking about the amazing Leopard sighting! After drinks, we were lucky enough to bump into some Spotted Hyenas. They were not just Hyenas, but young Hyenas suckling on their mother. Hyenas are one of those ‘Have to see animals.’ They have a very interesting social structure with the females being bigger and stronger than the males, yes with Hyenas the ladies are in charge. Also, the Hyenas have a ranking system, it has also been seen that young females will babysit the young of others to score points as a favorite to be ranked higher at a later stage. The lowest ranking female is still higher ranked than the highest-ranking male. Unlike lions, Hyenas will not let another female’s cubs suckle on them, only their own.

 

 

 

 

On the way back home, we spotted yet another secretive animal, a Large – Spotted Genet! Genets are some of the less known cat relatives found in Africa and are considered solitary animals. They respond defensively by arching or rounding their back and lifting their hair to make them seem bigger.

 

 

 

 

After spotting the last animal that was when one of my guests said “Now that was a spotted safari”! Referring to the spots of the Leopard, the Spotted Hyena and the Spotted Genet.

Story and photos by River Lodge Camp Ranger Francois with Tracker Collin


A Head to Head!

Coming across two male giraffe in a clearing, on an African game drive with my guests from South Africa’s River Lodge, started off to be quite relaxed or seen as a normal sighting of two “long necks”. As we approached, we discovered that there was more to this meeting than we thought. These two were sizing each other up!

Giraffe males will stare at each other to either intimidate the other into submission or determining where to place the first blow. Male giraffe will make use of their necks and heads as powerful hammer action tools to either unbalance or knock down the other individual in order to establish dominance. The neck is supported by powerful muscles and reinforced ligaments.

This action is commonly referred to as necking, but in fact is known as ‘sparring’. ‘Necking’ refers to the behavior between males and females during courtship or bonding. Younger males have also been observed displaying this behavior, but more for practice to use when they are older.

The sparring session between two males will not determine dominance over a herd but rather over mating privileges when a female giraffe goes into oestrous. The two males will continue swinging their head and necks at each other in the hope to land a well-placed blow that will either knock them over, knock them out or encourage them to submit defeat and move away. Giraffes are not predators and will not kill other animals. Their huge skeletons do require more calcium and phosphorous than they can get from eating leaves, so are known to eat the bones of other animals to supplement their diets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hitting their heads against each other causes the hair on top of the ossicles(horns) to rub off and cause their skulls to grow bumps. The bold horn tips are also an easy sexing tool because female will have black tuffs of hair on their ossicles. Giraffes still only have seven vertebrae in their necks – the exact same number of bones as a human neck!

These two males went about their business for a good 20 minutes with a few well-placed blows that could be heard from a distance. The commotion even attracted some onlookers. Other giraffe had ring side seats to this showcase of dominance. Even some blue wildebeest stopped to watch for a few minutes while passing by.

 

 

 

 

 

After a while the smaller bull gave up and moved away in submission with the ‘champion’ following him to make sure that this matter was dealt with. Both males made their way back to the tree line and continued feeding now that dominance was determined.

Story and photos by: River Lodge Ranger Ian De Weerd

 


A Lucky Day Indeed!

The day started with the usual morning coffee and meeting my guests before our safari game drive at Southern Camp. I set out on drive hoping to see maybe some Lions or even the gentle giants of the bush veld.

Not even 5 minutes from Kapama Southern Camp, we encounter one of my favorite animals, a Pangolin!

These little nocturnal anteaters are super cute but are also highly endangered. They are covered in keratinous scales which help protect them from predators as they curl up into a ball, similar to an armadillo (but not related in any way). They are currently the most trafficked mammal in the World… So immediately I start cheering, having a mini attack of excitement, as these animals are very rare to see.

There was also a lot of joy in having found this one myself and with it being so early in the morning. It was probably finishing its nightly activities and getting ready to find a safe burrow and rest for the day before going out again that night… So I grabbed my camera and I started explaining to my guests about this awesome find, they were a bit tentative at first but we disembarked the vehicle, giving our little friend enough space of course.

She was initially curled up, I think the noise of the vehicle spooked her slightly, but she peeked her face out from her body, sniffed around and then started wandering off into the thickets. Luckily, we got to see her and take nice photos of her uncurling and walking away. It was truly a breath-taking experience seeing one again but also just watching her being in her natural habitat and going about her business as usual.

So we left her to her own devices and set off again to see what else we could find.

 

After a couple of minutes of driving, we saw a blur of something running off the side of the road not far in front of us. It was a Leopard! She was hunched down and looking very uncomfortable. I looked past her and we saw that Nyala were staring right at her and also barking their alarm calls. These barks are quite loud and almost explosive sounding, so no wonder the Leopard looked weary as she was probably feeling very exposed. As we watched her run across the road and disappear in the thick bush we were still being bombarded with barks from the Nyalas. The Leopard sighting was so quick none of us could even think of taking any photos so I tried following up on where she had disappeared hoping for another look. We had one fleeting glimpse of her heading straight into a large drainage line. As we moved past we discovered an Impala kill stashed in a tree not far from where we had the last sighting of the Leopard. Putting 2 and 2 together we assumed it might be this Leopard’s kill. I didn’t want to disturb her too much so we waited for a couple of minutes to see if she would return but she was still a bit too shy to show herself and we left her in peace somewhere probably watching us.

We continued with our drive. As we made our way closer to a large open area, there was suddenly a low roar in the distance… We stopped to listen and sure enough, it came again. It was a male Lion calling not too far off. Then…silence. No other calls after that and soon I was doubting whether he was even one of ours at all. We were close to the river, which forms part of our boundary with one of the neighbouring reserves. As we did not hear the roar again, we decided to enjoy the beautiful morning with a signature Southern Camp coffee stop, taking in the wide-open view that this area has to offer while Giraffe and Zebra walking in the distance kept us entertained. Once we had warmed ourselves with refreshments, we continued our morning safari!

I made my way north along the river to see if maybe we could spot a crocodile or even some Hippos, when we had the best possible surprise and sighting of the morning! We came across our one-eyed male Lion King of Kapama!

 

 

 

 

 

Watching him is always a pleasure as he is just such a handsome, awe-inspiring Lion. What a magnificent sight! We sat in silence and watched him as he made his way past us, stopping to look around every so often. It was with amusement that we saw him try and chase a big male Giraffe. But there wasn’t much heart in the chase and he immediately gave up and lay down in some thick bush after the seemingly unsuccessful yet exhausting attempt. We left him alone to take a snooze in the morning sun.

Wanting to make my way to that Leopards kill, from earlier, I started heading back that side, and just as we left the river, there was another Leopard! What are the chances? This female was much more relaxed and was strolling from a termite mound back into the bush. She even looked back at us as she nonchalantly walked off… We determined that there were a lot of Impalas in the bush not far from her and so we were willing to wait and hear or see what happens. I made my way to the other side of the block that she was walking through and waited in a spot where I thought she might pop out. Not long after that, you could hear the impala’s alarm calls startup. If nothing else the impalas were giving us a good indication of the direction that this leopard was heading.

After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting we saw the female leopard’s head pop up on top of a large termite mound in front of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly approaching as not to scare her off, we made our way closer to see her better. She watched us from a distance then made her way past us, in a very stealth manner and was gone in a drainage line that runs to the river.

I always say to my guests it is all about Luck and Timing… and in this case, our morning drive was about BOTH. What a day!

Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger Rayna Schultz


The Black Cat of the Serengeti

There has been a rustle of excitement amongst experienced guides and African Safari goers as a rare melanistic serval has been recorded in the eastern plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti near Lemala Nanyukie as the words “paka mweusi” (“black cat”) get murmured between passing vehicles.

 

 

Melanistic serval in Serengeti, Tanzania

 

 

For some it is a sighting worth sitting and waiting for, while other, less experienced guides look confused not knowing what a “paka mweusi” is. Having never seen a black cat on safari before they tend to hurry on to find the next thing on the safari checklist.

 

 

Melanistic serval in Serengeti, Tanzania

 

 

Caused by a recessive gene that produces excessive melanin and turns the serval’s coat completely black, rather than its usual golden spotted pelt, makes the serval stand out during the daytime.

And for those that spot it they are awarded with a sighting of a lifetime, a sighting that the experienced guides will brag about for years to come.

 

 

Melanistic serval in Serengeti, Tanzania

 

 

Contrary to the common superstition around black cats, in the Serengeti it is incredibly good luck to spot a black cat crossing the dirt road! With only four records of black servals in East Africa,  it truly is the holy grail of safari sightings.

 

Melanistic serval in Serengeti, Tanzania

 

Written by Rebecca Phillips

 

 


Hyenas in the Lowveld

The one animal that has fascinated me the most, is the Spotted Hyena.

One early morning safari drive I was interpreting a termite mound with my Southern Camp guests, when my assistant guide, Oris, and I heard Hyenas calling in the distance. Our guests didn’t know it was Hyenas as most people associate Hyena calls with a high-pitched laughing sound like in the movies. I then told my intrigued guests that it is spotted Hyenas calling and smiles spread across their faces!

Hyenas are a well-known animal as they have featured in a few TV shows and movies, with probably one of the most famous being The Lion King, housing a reputation and a bad one at that. There was excitement buzzing around the group. Oris and I looked at each other, trying to decide if it was close enough to try and find. He smiled at me and we all hopped back onto the game vehicle to follow what we heard. The sound was more like a long ‘whooo-op’ like noise which Spotted Hyenas use as communication calls.

Upon following the noise, we came across four Hyenas that appeared out of the bush and continued to start crossing the road! We heard more ‘whooping’ and these four were heading straight in that direction. One large female stopped in the middle of the road, lifted her head and pointed her ears in the direction of the calls, taking in all the senses available. She then dropped her head and continued towards the calls.

 

 

 

 

I was practically bouncing out of my chair as it was my first time seeing these amazing animals up close for the first time! I took advantage of this incredible experience to take in everything I could. I noticed their sloped back and short back legs, their longer front legs leading to big strong shoulders, their massive head, and their rounded ears. There were beautiful!

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of misconceptions around Hyenas as they are seen as dirty, mean animals that steal and kill. Ecologically, they are a very important part of the food chain.

A few interesting facts about Spotted Hyenas:

– They don’t just scavenge for food but hunt and kill most of their food

– They will eat bones and rotten meat which in turn stops the spread of various diseases

– Spotted Hyenas are social mammals and live in structured groups, called clans

– The females are the dominant ones, larger and more aggressive than the males

– Female Hyenas give birth to one or two cubs a year, which she nurses in a den

– They are nocturnal (night hunters)

– The biggest of the Hyena species is the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

 

 

 

 

In my opinion, they have a unique beauty to them and they make for excellent and interactive sightings and this one will be one I will never forget.

Story and photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Josh Venter


Cute lion cub action!

Sausage Tree Safari Camp’s safari game drive lion encounters are invariably entertaining at the moment, thanks to the Takazile pride’s energetic cubs who frequently put on a fabulous show for our guests. The Takazile pride is made up of 24 lions – three large males, seven females and no less than 14 cubs of various ages, the youngest of which are just a couple of months old. It’s our resident pride and often seen in the camp’s traversing area that gave them their name, having arrived in the region just two short years ago from South Africa’s Timbavati Private Game Reserve.

It’s led by the impressive Machaton males – originally a coalition of four males, all of whom are most likely related, one of which died shortly after their relocation to the Balule. The three remaining males are now in the region of nine years old and are exceptional in terms of their size and the way they look after their pride, which is good news as in their youth, the Machaton males had a reputation as lion killers and pride busters – taking out pride males, killing cubs and even females before moving on.

 

 

Lion pride in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

The seven females in the pride also have impressive lineage, being descendants of a legendary local male named Big Boy, who survived well into his teens, reaching 15 years of age before succumbing to old age. They’ve become extraordinarily successful as both hunters and mothers, cementing the stability of the pride and its place in this area.

 

Lion and lioness in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

As with all lion prides, the size of the pride and its success are related more to the space it controls than the number of females under the protection of the males. Generally speaking, the more males in a coalition means a the bigger the territory they control, keeping all other males out and securing the future of their cubs in the process.

So the Machaton males have achieved considerable success in looking after the Takazile pride’s “turf” – allowing the pride’s numbers to swell, raising a good number of healthy, well protected cubs in the process.

Sadly, at nine years old, they’re now getting to the stage in their lives where their ability to fend off other interested males will start to deteriorate as old age creeps in, making them slower, less able to recover from fights and quicker to succumb to wounds.

But we hope that they are able to protect the pride for some time still to come, looking after the cubs currently under their protection

 

 

 

Lionesses in Balule Nature Reserve

 

 

It’s this level of protection that allows the cubs to be adventurous and curious and relaxed in their environment, all of which makes viewing them an absolute pleasure as we get to watch their interactions with one another and the rest of the pride members without negatively affecting their behaviour.

As our collection of videos and images shows, watching the Takazile pride is far from boring as the cubs are always up to something, pouncing on one another, testing their stalking skills and generally finding ways to keep themselves amused, often to the chagrin of other members of the pride!

It’s always good to see a successful, stable pride because the challenges facing our wild lion populations are enormous, with numbers across the continent plummeting as a result of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching (lion bones and body parts are highly prized in Chinese traditional medicine).

We need to be doing all we can to ensure that these incredible, iconic big cats are protected for generations to come so that lion cub encounters like these shown in our videos do not become consigned to history.

 

 

Two lionesses in Balule Nature Reserve


Cats Camouflage

Now that the bush has undergone its transition from its lush, green summer look to the various shades of winter browns, the cats that live out here gain the ultimate advantage.

Camouflage!

Cheetah’s with their tan coats and black spots makes them almost invisible in their habitat in the winter. Although their coats are strikingly beautiful when out in the open, once they slip into the tall brown grass they disappear. I witnessed this firsthand by nearly driving right by and missing an incredible sighting of a female cheetah in her element.

My River Lodge guests would have been highly disappointed, but with luck being on our side, she looked up as she heard the vehicle approaching, and in that second, I caught a glimpse of her small, round ears twitching. We carefully slowed down to a stop, making sure she was happy with our presence. We noticed that she was relatively restless, so we decided to wait in the hope of seeing some activity. We were sitting in anticipation, hoping to see her show off her long, slender body and beautiful spotted coat.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheetah’s, unlike their feline cousins, lions and leopards, are diurnal, meaning they are mainly active during the day. They prefer to hunt during the mornings and early afternoons while the light is still good. A cheetah has amazing eyesight during the day and can spot prey from 5 km away. They reach incredible speeds when hunting and therefore wouldn’t be successful running down prey at night!

When hunting during the day and night are compared, diurnal predators, like the cheetah, rely heavily on camouflage, as it plays a vital role in their hunts being successful. As most people know, speed is how these cats catch their prey or rather a sprint. Cheetahs have a very different approach to stalking than their cousins. Stalking is a fine art and one that they have mastered. They generally stalk until they are within 100m from their prey, and then the chase begins. They use their long, large tail as a rudder to steer at speeds upwards of 100km/hr. They can reach this speed in just a few seconds. Without this trait of blending in, combined with its stalking skills, a cheetah would not survive.

As we had hoped, she started grooming herself, a common sign of cats getting ready to move. She got up, stretched and slowly started moving off. As my guests and I watched her walk away, the feeling of awe and utter euphoria set in, as she effortlessly faded into the long brown grass.

 

 

 

 

Story and photos by Kapama River Lodge Ranger -Tasha van den Aardweg  


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.