The Vuyani Safari Lodge

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19Aug/140

Time again for a bird

I personally love observing and learning more about birds. I grew up with lots of budgies, and I even had them breed, which was fascinating to watch. In fact, I learnt then how surprisingly complex and fascinating their social lives are, and how much love there is in their lives. Birds are not stupid, very, very far from it! They are adorable creatures. And with over 400 species of birds on our reserve alone, there is hardly any better place on earth to observe the diversity of birdlife than here.

Chad, who is helping out as part-time ranger at the moment (we have a full camp these days), took a beautiful shot of a "Hammerkop", meaning, literally, "Hammer head". I think if you look at the photo, it is very obvious where the name came from.

Hammerkop, seen and photographed on our reserve

Hammerkop, seen and photographed on our reserve

The Hammerkop is a very common bird, near ponds and lakes, across Africa all the way to Arabia.

But the Hamerkop's behaviour is different to many other birds. One unusual behavior pattern is that where up to ten birds join in "ceremonies" where they run circles around each other, all calling loudly, raising their crests, fluttering their wings. Another is "false mounting", where one bird stands on top of another and appears to mount it, but they may not be mates and do not copulate. Odd!

Hammerkops also build huge nests (the bird itself is only 470g in weight approx.), up to 1.5m in size, built with up to 10,000 sticks and strong enough to support a man's weight. If there ever was over-engineering, then this is it.The construction is very elaborate, with a platfrom made of sticks and mud, and then a buildup on top. Fascinating.
They also love to build, as they build up to 5 nests/year, whether they are breeding or not. They've got to love it! ;-)

16Aug/140

Luc Schneider – the full photo report

Luc is one of our very biggest fans, and that's me putting it mildly. Luc was in fact the very, very first guest we had at the lodge quite a few years back now, and he returns every 2 years. A keen photographer, he knows full well that it is hard to match the sort of quality sightings one gets here, and the support of the team to find as many photo subject as possible. And so, last week, Luc was back, and in my opinion, him and his guests have seen more than ever in the 6 nights that they stayed with us.

He has also sent in some of the prettiest photos I have ever seen taken on our reserve, and he has kindly allowed me to post some on this blog, to share them with you. Now this is professional photographer's stuff!

The photos are in low res, they wouldn't fit on the blog otherwise, but they give you a very good idea.

Enjoy!

Zebras

Zebras

Wild dogs

Wild dogs

Rhino

Rhino

Panorama Route

Panorama Route

Male lion

Male lion

Lake on Moditlo

Lake on Moditlo

Ostrich

Ostrich

Hyena cub

Hyena cub

Elephants with offspring

Elephants with offspring

Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon

 

13Aug/140

First the lions … then the vultures

Yes, that's the pecking order.

A couple of days ago, we spotted the lions on a rare giraffe kill. Giraffes can be a difficult kill for lions, as they have a mean kick, and can easily kill a lion if they get a little lucky. Usually lions take on smaller prey before giraffes, but then again there are lion prides that specialise in giraffe kills. It usually takes the participation of a strong male lion to bring down a giraffe, and as our male lion is an unusually keen hunter, that really helps. It looks like he played his part in this kill too.

Male lion is watching the goings-on

Male lion is watching the goings-on

...while the lionesses are enjoying their meal.

...while the lionesses are enjoying their meal.

With a giraffe, there was enough to go around for everyone. Our guests were very lucky to witness such a rare sighting, as this kill was as fresh as it gets. Truly amazing.

And where there is a lion kill, a vulture isn't far away, hoping to get some left-overs.

Hungry vulture nearby

Hungry vulture nearby

So the day after (ie. yesterday) we returned to the same spot to see what had happened to the carcass, and, not to our surprise, a huge flock of vultures was feasting on the remains of this (unlucky) giraffe.

Yes, that's the circle of life. And also the pecking order.

11Aug/140

Rhinos – and their safe home with us

Because of the regularity with which we spot rhinos on our reserve it is easy to forget that we are looking at one of the most acutely endangered species on earth, and most definitely in Africa. Poaching has become such an issue again that it is making international headlines. China's new wealth, coupled with ancient (and totally wrong) beliefs, is putting immense pressure on these beautiful animals. Sometimes we feel like tearing our hair out. OK, so here it is again, for all Asian buyers of rhino horn: it is the same as finger nails! Same stuff. It does NOTHING in terms of ANYTHING. Go buy Viagra, that will work, you sad people.

About 5-7 years ago only 13 rhinos were poached in the KNP area (which is the area we are in) in the whole year, but this year it is about 100 rhinos ... per month! So there is a war raging out there, protecting these animals with ever more boots on the ground, drones, patrols, car searches, de-horning. Some reserves have been properly militarised, and ours is no exception. We have patrols all over, with regular checks, and we also keep our ears open when out on safari. We also de-horn our rhinos, which is very effective. So, another message to our fellow poachers out there: no need to come here!

Our rhinos are as safe as it gets, and that's good news. Hopefully over time South Africa (where 90% of the world's rhinos live), will find a solution to this issue, such as rhino farming. In fact, I personally believe that this is the way forward. Legalise it, and make it a business, which will take the profits out of poaching. Fingers crossed!

Safari tourism also is a key driver, as it produces the required funds to protect these animals. So we are eternally grateful to our guests for contributing to the conservation of some of the world's rarest animals. No need to feel guilty for visiting here, quite the opposite. Our guests are our salvation!

Hippos as seen yesterday

Hippos as seen yesterday

9Aug/140

The Cheetahs and Wild Dogs are making a comeback

Our rangers had not seen the Cheetahs for over two weeks, and that's very rare. They had also not seen the Wild dogs in a very, very long while, so they were starting to get seriously worried for their whereabouts already, when, to our delight, we spotted them on game drive two days ago.

Now we cannot seem to get enough of them. Yesterday on drive Themba, Uyai and Chad followed up on the Cheetahs and Wild dogs in the morning and afternoon. The Wild  Dogs were seen on the boundary of Khaya Ndlovu and we suspect that they are on their way again – vagabonds of the African Bush. They are constantly on the move. And just before the sun set the pack started running after some Impala – unfortunately it was too dark to take any pictures and the pack moved into the thicket – we don’t’ know if they were successful or not. But what a sighting for our guests! A sighting of a Wild Dog is considered as one of those "cherry on top" sightings, as it doesn't get any rarer than a Wild Dog sighting in the African bush. I have met many rangers who have never seen a Wild Dog out in the bush in their entire careers, so that means something ...

The Cheetahs on the other had caught an Impala and their bellies were so full they didn’t dare move. They were sleeping off the big meal in the warmth of the sun. After around 15 -20 minutes they decided to get up and move – only to plonk down again in the shade of a Guarri bush. They were clearly done moving for the day.

Cheetah with full belly as seen yesterday

Cheetah with full belly as seen yesterday

The two cheetah brothers...

The two cheetah brothers...

Priceless!

Priceless!

Enigmatic shot in the half-dark of an enigmatic animal

Enigmatic shot in the half-dark of an enigmatic animal

And off they are .... !

And off they are .... !

7Aug/140

Rules are there to be broken

The rule is that one should never do two blog stories about the same animal. Fair enough, that makes sense. And as we see so many different animals here at the Vuyani Safari Lodge all the time, it's never been difficult to follow that rule. But now and then, I feel like breaking my own rules. ;-)

For instance the appearance of a new baby elephant! I was very moved to see the photos of yesterday's elephant sighting. We got closer shots of the new-born, and so I just had to share this with you right away. I love the way the lady elephants are all around the little one, and protecting him from any harm, and they all seem very happy and pleased by the little monster. He (or she) seems to be having a lot of fun and is playing around a lot. Hopefully there will be a little brother or sister in the near future for him.

5Aug/140

Glimpse of an elephant baby

As promised yesterday, here the photos of the elephant sighting we had a couple of days ago. On one of the photos you can catch the tiny little elephant baby, the newest arrival. Maybe 1-2 months old or so. The herd is very protective of their little ones, and so they shield them as much as only possible. Great news for the reserve, and an adorable sight for our guests! We are looking forward to seeing him (or her?) grow up in the next years. Our elephant herd has grown nicely, from an initial 9 animals to now about 15, if I am not mistaken, so that's great as a conservation effort and success. The reserve is now so large (36,000 acres), with ongoing discussions to hopefully enlarge it even further in the future, that there is plenty of room for the elephant herd to grow in size. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that we need about 50-60 elephants to keep the vegetation in check, so there is plenty of scope for more. What an exciting future.

Elephant herd

Elephant herd

Elephant up-close

Elephant up-close

Glimpse of a tiny elephant baby

Glimpse of a tiny elephant baby

4Aug/140

Sleepy lions next to the staff village

We spotted the lions a couple of nights ago, right on our portion of the conservancy, the Moditlo Private Game Reserve (which forms part of the 36,000 acre Blue Canyon Conservancy on which the Vuyani Safari Lodge rangers traverse). They were sleeping right next to the staff village, keeping the staff up for some of the night with their loud roars. Quite some alarm clock indeed! Like the elephants, they have now been on Moditlo for several weeks, they seem to like it in this area at this time of year. We also saw the elephants with their newest baby elephant, I will publish tomorrow on this blog some photos of their most recent sighting yesterday.

1Aug/140

Lions on piedestal

A couple of days ago, when Mike and Uyai were on their way to work, in the early morning, stumbled across the lions. Posing as statues!

They had decided to use the new bases for the reserve signage, which had been built a few weeks ago, as a piedestal. I suspect it it because they retain heat very well, and now in the winter season, this comes as a welcome radiator to them. Whichever the reason they did it, it was a hilarious sight. Maybe we shouldn't finish the signage, and just keep the bases for lions as they are.

30Jul/140

Brown spotted hyenas – the cubs

This is one of those rarer sightings: brown spotted hyenas. Mike and Uyai, as well as our colleagues at the MRL lodge, know about this den on the Blauwbank portion of the reserve. Though it is far away from our lodge (meaning we have to base our entire safari around this sighting), they try to go there regularly to keep them as relaxed as they are right now. And they really are! One will not get closer to spotted hyenas pretty much anywhere else. These two cubs are just adorable, and our guests loved to observe them play around the game driver. They will grow up knowing that game drivers present no danger, and pass on that behavior to their offspring.

Hyenas are considered as non-threatened, but their numbers are on the decline in most of Africa. Only in South Africa are they rising in numbers, due to successful nature protection, of which our safari conservancy is a typical example (on a side note: what we do here is paramount to the long-term conservation of African nature, so all our guests are key to the success of what we do here). Up to 45,000 specimen of spotted hyenas are estimated to still exist in Africa. A relatively high number but obviously not a huge number. That said, it is one of the most common carnivore in Africa. Makes one realise how extremely threatened and rare all others have become.

Hyenas are very good hunters, running at speeds of up to 60km/hour, with great endurance. They have a very large heart, weighing in at about 1% of their total body weight, which is what gives them this endurance. A lion's heart only weighs 0.45% of its total body weight, as an example.Their spots vary in color, pattern and size, and they tend to fade with age. On the photos below, one can see them very clearly, as these hyenas are still young cubs.

Many thanks to Uyai for taking these night photos. What a joy for everyone. Well done!

Brown spotted hyena

Brown spotted hyena

Up close ...

Up close ...

.... and here both of them

.... and here both of them