It has been a little quieter as of late – we had around 50mm of rain yesterday and in some parts of Leadwood up to 75mm. Great news!
Game Drives were quite a challenge as it was VERY wet – animals were hiding away. It rained nearly the whole day yesterday. We couldn’t take photos as we were hiding away in our Ponchos.
We have been tracking the Lions for around two days now – and searched all around the Blaauwbank portion of the reserve – it feels
like all the animals have migrated here.
We finally found two lionesses and spent around 45 minutes with them until it started raining. The rain chased us back to the lodge. This is rare, but it happens. Rain over here, when it happens, is usually short and strong, and more often than not it happens at night. Typical monsoon type of rain.
This morning it was still overcast and quite windy but we managed to track down some Rhinos on Leopards bend and spent quite a considerable time with them. The sun peeked out of a couple of seconds which made for some great photos. We also saw Giraffe, Zebra and I managed to snap a quick photo of a Grey Duiker. That's rare actually, as they are chronically skittish. Great work!
Overall, despite the rain and all, looking through the photos, it's been a great 24 hours, and our guests had an amazing time.
Given that land for wildlife is scarce, very scarce actually anywhere in the world, and also in Africa (only 1-2% if African land is still available to wildlife, sadly enough), one can understand why male rhinos defend their territories so ruthlessly. This is of course not the reason at all, they are always territorial, especially male rhinos. It is in their genetic code.
Rhinos are, in general, solitary animals that prefer to live an independent life. White Rhinos tend to be a little more social. However, they all demand their own territories, particularly male rhinos. In order to ensure that they can secure their territory, certain behaviors patterns have been established. This behavior is sometimes aggressive, and sometimes displayed merely as a warning.
As rhinos have poor eyesight, mock charges can go wrong, and end up in a tree or a bush. And often an attack ends up being deadly. Even female rhinos get regularly killed by aggressive males (not very romantic, in my opinion).
In general males "control" an area of 1-4 square kilometres, so that's not that much. This territory, however, is fiercely defended, and also marked, by means of urinating on trees and bushes, as well as spreading dung. This sends "boundaries" to other rhinos, so if they don't get it that way, then ... good luck.
Here two photos taken a few days ago, of this phenomenon. Fascinating stuff.
As you can see, our rhinos are all de-horned to protect them against the scum of the earth: poachers.
... and there is a herd of elephants!
Every sighting is always a bit of a surprise, especially when the bush is as thick and lush as it is already now. But for a herd of elephants to creep up right behind you is definitely unusual. That said, elephants can be surprisingly silent. I have driven past a bull elephant more than once, that was literally 5 yards away, and did not see him standing behind a bush. They blend in much better than one would suspect, and they know how to be discreet.
We found this herd just south of an area we call "Big Dam". We were tracking them for a while, and we knew they were close ... but that close? Yet another great sighting, well done.
See for yourselves!
While I report often on the fascinating (and plentiful ) amounts of impressive large game, it is often forgotten that in reality, this reserve is about so much more. One of the most astonishing facts is the sheer amount of bird wildlife here. We have over 400 species of birds on this reserve. We have more different types and Eagle species on this 36,000 acre reserve than in the whole of North America! So the message to our fellow birders out there: this is heaven for you guys! We have some of the world's rarest bird species here too (saddle billed stork, for one ...), and while the photos don't reveal it, but some of these birds are HUGE. Think several meters of wingspan, that sort of huge.
We spotted a beautiful Eagle yesterday, and Uyai managed some nice shots of this bird: a Wahlberg Eagle
Wahlberg Eagles are medium-sized raptor birds, weighing in at a little below a kg, so they are light. But the wingspan can still reach up to 1.5m! It feeds on other little birds, reptiles and small mammals. It is quite common, and in general not considered to be under threat. The name of the Eagle was coined after the Swedish naturalist Johan August Wahlberg (sounds German though, doesn't it?). Wahlberg was a keen African explorer, and he sent thousands of specimens back to Sweden for taxonomy reasons, over almost 2 decades of travels in Southern Africa. He was tragically killed in Botswana by a wounded elephant in the Okavango area, in 1856. He died doing what he loved. But he is one of those rare people having left a mark on this world, and 4 animals species and one tree type have been named after him, one being the Wahlberg Eagle.
Yesterday was a very unique day ... but then again every safari game drive is unique. But this one was really special!
There are sightings in our line of work that are considered so rare that even seasoned rangers consider them real privileges. Wild dogs is one of them, but then there is another one ...
Yesterday's late afternoon/evening game drive was already unusual enough, with a hyena pup sighting, so everyone was happy and having fun.
Nearing the lodge, on the way back, Uyai spotted something moving in the bushes on the side of the road and guess what?
A PANGOLIN!!! It is one of those sightings that some guides wait their whole careers for! I know guides that have waited 20 years to see one. It was fabulous. I sent Christopher and Janus to go and see it too, as they have never seen one. We spent quite some time with it, and while our guests were maybe not fully aware of the extraordinary nature of this sighting, we certainly were ... and our guests really enjoyed inspecting and observing this highly unusual animal.
Pangolins are very shy, and they are also heavily hunted for the scales, as some Chinese &%^#&$ seem to believe they have some curative powers. They don't actually, but nonetheless ... can't trump "tradition" I suppose.
Pangolins' name is derived from a Malay word meaning "something that rolls up", and one can see how that name came about.
This is the second such sighting this year alone, and the third ever on our reserve, so this super rare animal seems to be thriving on our reserve. Yet another conservation success ...
Very eventful Safaris yesterday indeed! We started the afternoon with some Kudu and spent some time with a Dung Beetle. Eventually we were tracking cheetah tracks.
Uyai picked up fresh Cheetah tracks and we investigated. The two brothers had caught a young Kudu and were feasting away just off Nyala Road. We spend around 45 minutes taking photos and watching them much away. Truly fascinating stuff!
We then drove around for a while and then suddenly we spotted VERY fresh Ellie tracks. We followed up on them and low and behold the whole herd was just north of False Thorn Plains. Wow!
We spent quite a long time with them and took some (very close-up photos) photos, as you can see below.
The next morning was all about Rhinos and Uyai and Themba tracked down a little family of them, we spent around 20 minutes with the animals – they were incredibly relaxed and even took a short nap. That's rare to see, and shows how well our conservation efforts are working. All rhino horns have been cut to render the animals worthless to poachers, so there is no reason for them to come here. It is sad that this is necessary, but it is extremely effective.
Enough of only talking about the big game! Because we see so much of the large game, I all too often forget to talk about the hundreds of small and weird animals we see, and quite frankly, these are often the ones that amuse and entertain our guests the most.
So the other day we saw an animal called "Dwarf Mongoose". The photos (see below) are a bit hazy, but it gives you an idea.
These animals are VERY social, living in families and groups of up to 30. We have one resident family living just behind our Boma, so you can spot them at daytime quite frequently here. They are quite skittish, but these ones have become a little more used to the presence of humans, so you get a chance to see them, right next to the lodge. Very cute animals indeed.
They are also prolific migrants (they don't have to worry about anti-immigration nasty politics), so if a dominant female loses the "top slot" to, say, a sister, then they migrate elsewhere, and young males do this too, and that's how new families are formed.
They raise their pups a little bit the way I am involved with my own litter these days. They have someone stay behind to babysit the little ones, while everyone else is foraging.
Anyway, I digress, here the photos that we took of our sighting yesterday.
While most safari guests say they are most interested in the Big 5, the fact though is that most are not 100% sure who the 5 Big 5 animals actually are. I always test this by asking the question, and I almost never get a 100% correct answer.
Fact also is that one of the most memorable moments for most of our guests is an up-close cheetah sighting, and of those we have MANY! Mind that the cheetah is just extremely rare, and literally right on the brink of extinction in the wild. Only about 3000 specimen are estimated to be left in the wild, and only 300 of them in South Africa. So this IS the cherry on top-kind of sighting, to be sure.
We have several cheetahs on our reserve, and in particular 2 brothers (they were born on the reserve). They are very relaxed, and, due to having seen game drivers very early onwards in their lives, they don't mind being seen from very close. We can show you these rarest and most beautiful of all cats from literally a few yards away, right in the wild. We sometimes even walk close to them, which is one of the most spectacular experiences our guests mention to me when they get back from the drive. And rightfully so ... to be out in Africa, right in the bush, and have the privilege to spot and observe one of the rarest animals on earth ... that's all worth the flight and travel from far afield!
Here a cheetah sighting, very fresh, happened yesterday.
We tracked and found the Cheetah Brothers in an area we call "Anaboom Camp". We spent quite a while with them – around 45 minutes to an hour maybe. They were VERY relaxed and posed beautifully for the cameras. Very photogenic Cheetah indeed. See for yourselves!
I know, I know .... I shouldn't write two blog stories about the same animal in a row.
But I really love lions, and quite frankly, who doesn't? And those who don't, well, that's usually because they haven't see any yet (time to change that and come and visit here for the safari of a lifetime).
This morning Mike was determined to find the Lions for some of our guests. Uyai was not in as he is completing his First Aid course – so Mike was tracking and driving, after spending the whole morning determinedly tracking he found them!! The whole pride, they were just relaxing under some shrubbery. The male's eye is MUCH better (he got stung by bees very recently)
We spent around 40 minutes with the Lions and took some great photos! I love the shot of the lion's paw. That's how close you get to them here (well, not quite, a zoom was used of course).
The thing about lions is that it is quasi impossible to guess on photos how immense they really are. But they are huge! A male lion can weigh in excess of 250kg, so about 3 times the weight of a fully grown man. Just imagine ... and if you find that hard to believe, book your safari here, and come and see one of these cats up-close. You'll never forget it, and that's guaranteed.
Yesterday afternoon we had a rather quiet safari drive at first, and we saw mainly plains game like Giraffe, Kudu and wildebeest. On our way back to the lodge however, we heard the male lion roaring so we investigated and found him chilling very near the lodge. We spent around 20 minutes just watching him. And he gave us a very nice performance! Our guests loved observing this most African of all animals, and the King of them all, the lion!
This one is one of the largest I have ever seen, and he is just beautiful, And he seems to know it. Judge for yourselves