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!
Cheetahs are becoming, well no, they have become almost a "staple" sighting on our reserve now. We see them 2-3 times every week now, and I don't remember a single week for months that we wouldn't have found them at least once. That's a truly remarkable development. These two brothers were born on our reserve and they are very unbothered by the presence of game drivers. So if you are interested in seeing this rarest of all cats, then there is yet another reason to visit us. If you are staying 5-7 nights here, then you will see them, that's quasi guaranteed.
So we saw them again 2 days ago, in the North of the reserve, near the Khaya Ndlovu portion of the conservancy. Uyai managed some amazing shots (see below!). All of a sudden, a lioness emerged from the thick bush and chased after one of the two cheetahs. Gone they were! Our guests were stunned by what had just happened within a flick of a second. Uyai and Mike were worried that one of them might have gotten killed by the lioness. To all our relief, we saw them both again yesterday, so they live to tell yet another tale. Great news, way to go!
Huge (on a conservationist's scale) sighting yesterday!
One of our guests, Scott K., spotted something odd-looking in the grass while out on safari. Our ranger Themba couldn't believe his eyes! A super-rare Pangolin! He radioed in all other game drivers, and within seconds they all responded, amazed by this news. What an opportunity to show our guests this rarest of all sightings. This was to be the talk of the day, as most rangers, even many of those with decades of experience, have ever seen a Pangolin in their whole lives. That's how rare one of those sightings is. Within 12 months, however, this has been our second sighting, so that goes a long way to show how deep and wide the wildlife spectrum is on our reserve.
So why are these sightings so rare? Well, one of the reasons is that they are rare themselves. They are poached and hunted for their scales, which, surprise surprise (not!) are considered valuable in "traditional" (ie. dumb) Chinese medicine. So yes, yet another animal that bites the dust because of someone's lack of education and lack of sympathy for nature. Enough said.
Pangolins are also called scaly anteaters, which is what they are, but their most popular name comes from the Malay word "penguling", which means translated "something that rolls up", and that's also something they definitely do. On the sighting yesterday, this Pangolin did the usual, and rolled himself up to defend himself (or herself?).
I know, I know, I wrote about a recent elephant sighting just a few days ago, but I cannot help it. The photos that Uyai took on this sighting are too good to be withheld from our guests and fans. This sighting happened yesterday, on the Moditlo portion of our reserve, just south of the Mbezi River. Uyai had been tracking the elephant bull for a while, and eventually they found the whole herd. The male, typical for his character, gave us a colossal display, just making sure everyone is aware of who is the boss, that sort of thing ... we humans are not foreign to this sort of vanity. the way he does it is stomping with his feet, blowing his trumpet, waving with his large ears, and throwing up dust. When you see that, then stay at a safe distance to him, and one should NEVER move towards an elephant in those moments. But "fleeing" is also not right, as it teaches the elephant that we must be chased, and that therefore he is entitled to do this every time. One has to stand firm, but not be seen as a threat to him by approaching him.
Anyway, after that he returned to what elephants do 20 out of 24 hours: eat leaves. Lots of them. Actually up to half a ton of them, every single day!
Gilles has produced the first "seen from above" film of the Vuyani Safari Lodge with our brand-new drone. It gave us some impressive footage, and a completely new perspective of this place. It really shows what it means to be nestled right in the middle of the bush.
So, without any further ado, here is the video! Please like it (if you do that is).
There are many good reasons to go on a private game reserve instead of going to large public parks such as the National Kruger Park (and don't get me wrong, the Kruger is also great in its own right!), and one of them is that one can go off-road if there is a terrific sighting, and one can enjoy these sightings in peace and calm on our reserve. A good example would be a super rare sighting of a Southern Ground Hornbill, one of the rarest birds in South Africa, and a very peculiar one at it. This is a large bird, it is the largest of the Hornbill family, and measures easily over a 1m in length.
The Southern Ground Hornbill lives very long, over 60 years, and they are famous for their low fertility levels. They raise only one chick at a time, and that can take 2 years. Plus the previous "generation" helps with the rearing of the latest addition, in order to acquire the required skills of offspring rearing. Without this "school" (and studies show that they need at least 6 years of such schooling), they have been found to be incapable of doing so. So they are smart, and they lead a very distinct kind of complex social life. They stay together as couples for life, and only lay an egg in perfect conditions, and those conditions have become rare. So as a consequence, the bird has also become rare.
We have 2 successful couples on the reserve, and we see them now and then. And every time one does, it's such a joy. We did see them yesterday, with the male showing off his beautiful white wing feathers. Here the photos that Uyai took. Enjoy!
A bit less than two years ago we published a video of a lion kill on our reserve that we were lucky enough to get brilliant footage of. Well, that video kind of went viral! Of all our videos posted on Youtube, this one turned out to be by far the most successful. About 100-200 people see the video on a daily basis, on average, so that's brilliant stuff.
The video has now been seen by 100,000 people! New record! For all those who haven't seen this spectacular lion kill yet, here it is:
What is unusual here is that it is the male lion teaching the youngsters how to hunt. That is not really observed in nature, so this male lion has a very soft side to himself. He always was (and still is), very close to his offspring. Maybe it is because he was still very young as a father, or maybe it is because he doesn't have too much competition. And another fact: dad taught them well, the two girls that are fully grown now, have become prolific warthog hunters. It is their favorite thing, still now.
That said, we have also seen giraffes killed by them, so their range of hunting and killing skills is very, very wide.
The beauty of going out on safari with us is that you simply never know what you're going to get (a bit like that chocolate box, I suppose).
Yesterday, after a steaming cup of coffee and a perhaps one too many of our lovely homemade rusks, our guests headed off into the bush with Jesse, Uyai and Mike for their morning safari adventure.
Whilst driving around they managed to pick up fresh Rhino tracks, following them for about 50 minutes. Just before dawn, they finally tracked down the 4 Rhinos. Amongst them, one big male with the female and their offspring. The mother was very protective of her calf and was rather aggressive. In the haste and excitement Uyai took a photo, but it is quite blurry, but you get the picture!
But that was just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, our guests were also treated to a Wild dog sighting. Wild dog sightings are extremely rare so this small pack of three had guests delighted. Wild dogs are deemed to be the rarest carnivores in Africa, with only 2000 species known to still live in the wild, so this is the cherry on the cake.
If this wasn't good enough yet, a Fish Eagle was spotted along the dry riverbed. One of Africa’s most romanticized birds is the African Fish-Eagle. Its distinctive, echoing call is a common sound in the riverine forests where it nests. Although the African Fish-Eagle is a common sighting because it is found on all the major rivers, there are actually surprisingly few birds.
And then, to top it all, a Saddle-billed Stork was also spotted close to a small pond in the river. It is estimated that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of Saddle-billed Storks in the greater Kruger area (and the KNP area is bigger than Wales!!). These numbers make them far rarer and more threatened than animals such as cheetah and wild dog, not to mention the big 5. So all in all this bird is exceptionally rare in the area and any sighting is a real treat. If, on your safari, you get lucky enough to see a Saddle-billed Stork it is important to take a moment to reflect that even though they may not be as glamorous as the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo, they are in fact under the hammer and in dire need of our time and effort! What a pleasure to see a pair doing so well on our reserve. That's what real conservation is all about!
After having seen some of the world's rarest and most beautiful animals, Mike and Uyai also spotted a newborn giraffe, in fact so recent born that her umbilical cord was still intact.
This concluded an incredible safari day, one of those truly exceptional days when everything just comes together. I wish I had been out on safari with the guests, lucky them!
Jesse and Uyai struck gold again yesterday and got our guests an amazing up-close sighting of our stunning male lion.
They were following lion tracks for around 45 minutes, passing hippos, and giraffes along the way, until they found their jackpot: three lionesses and the male. In the Safari world, it doesn’t get much better than this. The pride was spotted in the Esam Open Area of our 36,000 acre reserve.
The sighting in question involved a mating ritual of sorts, the mating ritual in lions involves a lot of physical rubbing and presenting leading up to the copulation event. The male usually initiates copulation with a mating snarl which is intended to excite the female. The females however, would not have any of it this morning. The male lion tried to lick her neck, back and shoulders in an attempt to get the lionesses to comply. His failed attempts were met by female growls as they defended themselves against his advances. The females are not in heat at the time and therefore it is quite common for them to turn males down. Next time!
Trying his luck with the ladies …
I sometimes feel that I drone on too much about all the large game, and that's really not fair to all other species. Size is not all!
I read recently that "birding" is the most popular hobby in the US, with over 60 million fans. Incredible. And yes, we do have regular birders here, and they have hundreds of reasons to love it here. In fact about 400 reasons, as that is the estimated amount of bird species that have been seen on our reserve. That might be the highest bird life density to be found anywhere, so there's a strong message to all birders out there.
Uyai took a wonderful shot of a Martial Eagle yesterday. See the photo! Well done.
We have about half a dozen different eagle species on our reserve, but this one is a very, very large one. Its wingspan can go up to 2.6m (yep, that's not a typo, I triple checked), and a length of almost a meter for the body. It is the largest eagle in Africa, and the fifth heaviest eagle in the world.
The Martial Eagle is one of the world's most powerful avian predators, so it has no real "natural" predators. They hunt smaller birds, such as Egyptian Geese, but also large lizards (such as the rock monitor), snakes (boomslangs, puff adders, green mambas, cobras and even pythons)
Due to poisoning, drowning risks in farm water reservoirs, as well as hunting and habitat encroaching, this bird has greatly suffered, and it is now ranked as "vulnerable" in Africa. So it is superbly rewarding to see this eagle do well on our reserve, they need this kind of space.
Here another photo. Just beautiful.