I noticed an amusing phenomenon a few days ago when I was enjoying yet another spectacular African sunst at the Vuyani Safari Lodge. As I looked towards the right wing of the lodge, I noticed lots of dark bis on the wall, and quickly realised it must be lezards.
Craig explained to me that this is very common, especially in the winter season, as the lezards are trying to catch the maximum amount of sunlight before a long and chilly night, so they seek out the warmest and most sun-exposed parts to do so in the sunset. This particular part of the lodge is perfect for this, so up to a dozen lezards can be observed enjoying their late day sun basking.
They must be English lezards, so much they seemed to enjoy the sun
I took my phone and took some photos of them, and slowly approached them to catch one up-close, which I succeeded at with one of them.
Enjoy the photos!
Sunset at the Vuyani Safari Lodge
Lezards on the Vuyani Safari Lodge
I got very close to one of them! One of them was hiding behind the African shield, you can see its paw poking out
I am astonished by the volume and quality of sightings over recent weeks. We seem to spot cheetahs now on a weekly basis, for example, and each one of them close-up. They seem to be extremely relaxed around the game drive vehicle, making for incredible safari photo opportunities.
Mike and our new tacker found a small cheetah family (a mother and her cubs) in a nearby riverbed, relaxing in the daylight.
Of all cats, cheetahs are not nocturnal but daytime hunters, so it is nice to see them so chilled during daytime. Many cheetahs are quite skittish, so these are a welcome exception. The mother is obviously passing on this behavior to the cubs, which is great news for the future as well.
OK, enough of background explanations, here the photos that Mike took yesterday when he saw them with our guests. Amazing shots, well done!
No comment … life is good on our reserve
Super chilled cheetah
Closest shot you’ll ever get of a cheetah in the wild
Mike took some beautiful shots two days ago of a kudu, one of our lionesses and also a bunch of rhinos that they saw in the Diep Dam area of the conservancy when they were out on safari. The rhinos are dehorned, so that they don’t present any value to the poachers. As the international press has highlighted recently, poaching for rhino horn is on the rise again, so these measures are taken to ensure this species will survive the recent bout of poaching. Indeed rhino horn is now more valuable than gold, so protecting these animals has become paramount. Fact of the day: 90% of all of Africa’s rhinos live in South Africa, and almost all of them live in the Kruger Park area of course. The proximity to relatively lawless Mocambique is making matters even more complicated. So far our conservation efforts are showing good results, and additional anti-poaching measures are as well.
Fingers crossed this will stay that way!
Many thanks to Mike for taking these beautiful photos. As of late we are seeing the lions very regularly, between 2 and 3 times a week, so that’s brilliant. The offspring is now starting hunting as well, which is nice to see.
A few days ago our guests witnessed one of these things that are so rare, you know they will not be seen again by them. In fact, most rangers will only witness a lion kill a very few times in their entire career, so this is not standard stuff!
So what happened?
Mike, one of our rangers, had found the lions chilling in the riverbed near the Vuyani Safari Lodge. They must have been successful the night before, as they looked very well fed and calm. The male lion had walked of for a stroll, and after an hour of observing the lionesses (and the cubs), the male lion called them, and so they started moving towards him. Right at that moment an unsuspecting warthog mother, with her little ones wandered foolishly into the riverbed, right into the lions. She shrieked of anguish and started running away at full speed. But, alas, it was too little, too late. Right in front of our guests (lucky them!!), the lions leapt towards the warthog, pounced upon her, and took her down within seconds. The warthog tried to kick and scream her way out if it, but the end was inevitable, and brutal. This is nature, and it is survival of the fittest after all.
This kill was completely opportunistic, and the young lions were pleased with their kill, and didn’t let the male lion even get close to it. This was theirs, and they were going to keep it! Well, let’s say that they were lucky he wasn’t hungry anyway, otherwise he would have insisted quite a bit more than he did.
His involvement with teaching and raising them is in any case very much unusually high, so he seems to have moved with times as well.
Mike managed to tape most of the kill, and we have edited it into a movie clip, and uploaded it.
Please bear in mind though that this is only the second kill we have seen in 4 years, so it is important to know that one should not visit and expect to witness such a rare event. It happens, but it is just the cherry on the cake!
We have been very lucky with lion sightings as of late! They are hanging around near the lodge a lot of nights, and many guests can hear their roaring in the night. About 3 days ago, we spotted them in the riverbed not too far from the lodge, resting after a successful kill somewhere. They looked well fed and very relaxed.
One of our guests, Courtney Glenn, has emailed some of the stunning photos she took of them. Thank you very much!
Pride of lion in the riverbed near the Vuyani Safari Lodge
This is one of the rarest animals to see in Africa, a highly endangered species: the Southern Ground Hornbill. Only about 1500 still live in the wild. We saw this couple yesterday, while heading from the staff village to the Vuyani Safari Lodge, when Craig suddenly spotted them walking down the main path. We got very close to them, watched them for about 10 minutes, and then they flew off, and I managed, by some sort of a miracle, to catch one of them in full flight, with my (admittedly awsome) Lumia 920 phone. Fantastic shot, I was very pleased.
They used to have two chicks with them, one sub-adult, and one young chick,. The sub-adult seems to have moved on, and regarding the young chick, we are not sure. Maybe something tragic happened … ? But maybe this is a new couple .. .that would be tremendous news indeed!
Our reserve is perfect for them breeding, as we have a lot of large trees, which are perfect for them, while we don’t have too many elephants (which disturb their breeding through destroying the natural habitat of these birds by destroying trees).
Here my two shots that I managed. Nice!
Ground hornbill near the Vuyani Safari Lodge
Ground hornbill near the Vuyani Safari Lodge in full flight
I took three of our guests to the Elephant Whispers, the famous elephant sanctuary that is quite close to our lodge. Many of our guests go there, and it is always an unforgettable experience. Never will one get closer to an elephant!
Elephant Whispers is home to elephants that, for various reasons, needed a home, and were brought here. They have a large reserve (over 8000 acres) to live on, and they really enjoy displaying their skills to visitors. It is truly incredible to witness the kindness and intelligence of these animals. We highly recommend visiting this centre during your stay at the Vuyani Safari Lodge!
Baby baboons and toddlers are as naughty as human children!
In many ways baboons have a lot of human traits, amongst others a very social behavior (but they can be selfish like us too!). They have been observed to adopt orphaned young children amongst them (in fact studies show that orphans are almost always adpted), so they seem to have developed a sense of “morality” that is otherwise very rare and unusual, and in most cases unthinkable in the animal world. The differences between humans and animals are often more blurred than we imagine it.
Baboons are able to acquire orthographic processing skills, which form part of the ability to read! Baboons are very smart.
There are 5 kinds of baboons. The baboons on our reserve are chacma baboons.
Their only predators are lions, hyenas and leopards (and in some areas humans). They are a tough prey to leopards though, as often large males will try to fend them off, and sometimes even pursuing a leopard.
Below a photo that Justine took a few days ago, of a toddler baboon, near the staff village. He’s (or she’s) up to no good, that’s obvious!
Tracking is one of the most important skills of a great guide. These are one of the most telling signs (but there others!) when it comes to knowing what animals are in the area, which way they are heading, and how close they are. Tracks show you the species, as well as the moving pace, and many other clues.
So, this track is clearly a cat track. Given the large paw size as well as the large paw finger sizes, as well as the depth of the tracks (due to the cat’s heavy weight), this is a very clear lion track as Pierre spotted it a few days back.
Our guides at the Vuyani Safari Lodge constantly look out for these tracks, as they tell a story, and to the trained eyes, these stories are unfolding in their minds, while the untrained eye barely spots these clues. Learning to identify the most common tracks (such as lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, …) and in fact any others, is a lot of fun, and our guides are always happy to show and teach our guests. With hundreds of species on our reserve, one never runs out of new tracks to learn about!
Justine just sent in the photos she shot last week when she spotted the cheetahs on our safari game reserve for the third time last week. These are the closest photos we have ever managed to take of a cheetah on our reserve, and this cheetah is a particularly beautiful animal.
She was very relaxed around the vehicle, so she must be offspring of a cheetah from another busy game reserve, so she is used to seeing vehicles and know they do not present danger. That is great news, as she will pass on this behavior to her cubs, ensuring that the unique safari experience that we have on our reserve at the momemt is enhanced even further in the future.
So what is unique about the cheetah, and why is it classified as endangered?
The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth, reaching speeds of up to 115 km/hour on distances of up to 500m! So they combine two things that other cats don’t achieve at the same time. Extraordinary speed (the cheetah is much faster than a lion), and somewhat more endurance (the lion cannot keep up a chase for up to 500m). That said, the cheetah is a smaller animal, and therefore it is vulnerable to other cat predators, and so the survival chances of cubs are also smaller. The cubs also require a lot of training before they can set off on their own, and Cheetahs’ hunting techniques are very sophisticated. Timing and tactics is everything, and this is an acquired skill. Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching!
Another interesting fact: the genetic diversity of cheetahs is very low, as it is believed that they went through a period of inbreeding during a bottleneck period at the last ice age. As a result, a skin graft from any cheetah used on any other cheetah is not rejected. That’s how low the genetic diversity is. This has caused low sperm numbers, birth defects and other issues leading to higher cub mortality. That said, the claim that cheetahs are endangered because of this is probably false. Cheetahs did very well for thousands of years after the ice age, and so it’s more recent troubles must be caused primarily by other factors: human activity and habitat destruction on a massive scale, as well as hunting and targeted killing by farmers are the main culprits.
Today, only about 12,500 specimen are living in the wild, in 25 different African countries primarily. The numbers seem to be stabilizing, and is some rare cases, to be rising, but only very modestly. So the fact that the number of cheetahs has risen so fast on our reserve, as the increased occurrence of sightings suggests, is of great importance to this threatened species. and quite simply great news.